In Discussions, For Beginners, Money, Wealth

Being a big financial fish in a little money pond

I keep reading over and over again how if you are a big fish in a little money pond, you will be happier.

What they mean is that if you know you are the biggest earner on the block of people, you’re the happiest. If you make a lot of money but everyone else around you earns way more, you’re going to be far more dissatisfied with your life.

A lot of this rings true because no matter how terrible this sounds, it DOES feel good when you are the one who has your #$*# under control. When you are the one who is taking that big vacation, or driving that nice car.

No one really wants to be the one who drives the crappy beater car in a garage full of Porsches unless you truly do not give AF about that stuff and can rise above it all.

I know this FIRST HAND because I did for many years.

I live in a building where Ferrari cars are expected, and everyone owns a Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Audi as their “minimum”.

What did I drive? A $10,000 wreck I bought cash with dents on the side. I didn’t care about cars back then (to be honest, still don’t, except I do really love mine).

It was a huge honking minivan that was from the 90s. I parked it in my spot right in front of the Porsches’, and always got looks.

You know. LOOKS.


Not stares, but pitying sort of looks… bordering on distaste. Almost disgust, like — How is SHE living in this building where everyone else has a ton of money but she drives the crappiest car of all?

Then, I brought home my new car, it replaced my old one, and suddenly it was looks of bewilderment, bordering on jealousy/envy and surprise.

I started getting more “Hellos”, and people were far warmer / friendlier to me, which all the more disgusted me because if you weren’t polite to me before when you thought I had no money and was some broke ass squatter or renter in someone’s fancy apartment, I am sure as hell not going to be friends with you now.

So I am civil back, but not friendly.

But did any of that make me feel bad? HELL YES.

I FELT bad after a while for not driving a Porsche, or a brand new Mercedes G-Wagon. Isn’t that ridiculous? I was in a (then) perfectly fine, and functioning car that locked, had heat and was serviceable, and I felt BAD about my car.

I can completely relate to feeling like the small fish in a big pond.

Now, I guess with my car, I am just a fish in the same pond. Maybe a slightly more elevated fish, you know with sparkles because of my car.

At any rate, my status in the building has been polished off a bit in the eyes of others, and I can feel it. They’re on the verge of asking me how the eff I could go from a beater car to this, and probably think I won the lottery or someone gave me a lot of money (inheritance).

None of that is true, it is all my money but I don’t have to say anything to prove anything to these people. I live my own life.

And that is the crux of it all — it can be difficult, even if you are woke AF and completely self-aware and confident, to avoid all of this uncomfortable-ness.

This awkwardness of “oh I am not going anywhere this year, I am staying at home” when a neighbour talks about their latest trip to Paris.

We are after all, only human.

And I am very human in that I do and did compare myself to others even as I tried very hard not to.

It is just human nature.

So the best piece of advice is to be a big fish in a small pond which means:

  • Buy in a poorer not richer neighbourhood — A nice house, not in the slums, but middle-class, with salt of the earth folks; a starter home in a more affordable neighbourhood is better for your mental health than a small home in a huge McMansion community
  • Hang out with people who are not filthy rich — Very easy, trust me, not many people are but try not to seek them out to because you’ll end up feeling resentful when you hear them talk about their lives
  • Compare yourself to those who have just about the same as you, or less — This sounds terrible but as we are people who compare and judge constantly, you should just lower your sights. Stop comparing your life to the way a Kardashian on TV lives. Stop comparing your life to your in-law siblings who may make three times your income.

Do this, and you’ll feel much happier across ALL income ranges.

Have you ever felt like this?

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have paid my $600K home in cash (my half was $300K), my $180K casr in cash, worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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10 Comments

  1. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    I don’t know how we truly compare to our neighbors but I do know that I prefer to blend in with the less wealthy and look like we belong with them. I like it when the neighbors appear to be a bit flashier (nice new cars so I can then wonder how they can afford them with X kids and so on) so that our really old but luxury brand car doesn’t stand out as anything nice. As a boss once joked, she likes to be the poorest house on the block so the robbers pick her neighbors to target instead. I don’t like feeling like we stand out for having more saved. 😀 But it makes a big difference that we don’t necessarily see those people much or interact with them. I suspect it could be different if we saw each other every day.

    It’s also uncomfortable when we are the rich ones in comparison hanging out with people who make less than us, particularly if someone in the group is totally clueless about talking about spending big bucks as a value judgement. We’ve ditched that person of course but we are conscious of choosing activities that are frugal and fun to be respectful of everyone without having to talk much about it.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      That’s the best — not having to deal with any of these judgments and these money things hanging over our head.. but it can be hard. EVERYONE judges everyone.

      Reply
  2. Financial Orchid

    I grew up with a single mom so I never compared myself to others. I was always told I only had 1 parent to raise me so there’s no way I could expect to have the LV bag purse while all the other FOBs with 2 parents had the newest mini disc players, 1st MacBook Air, clothes from their summer trip to trendy Asia, and parents picking them up in Mercedes/BMW.

    I just quietly kept my head down and worked. I would skip lunch to save the $3/day lunch money for spending money when friends invited me out to the mall/ice cream.

    Now as an adult I’m perfectly fine pulling up to a coworker’s 6 bedroom house in a car2go while others pull up in Audi and Tesla. No one needs to know my properties are mortgage free.

    It’s a lot better in Canada than Asia/US already. Mostly, it’s just how you perceive people’s gaze really.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I think how you see their gaze is what you think of yourself. A reflection of that.

      Your mom sounds super grounded… and raised a great kid!

      Reply
  3. mia

    I think a trap people fall into is that they take great paying jobs that require you to deal with people with even more money on a daily basis, which leads to a distorted view.

    For example, imagine if you are a money manager for high-net-worth people. You probably make really good money but all your clients have tens of millions of dollars. Or say you are a corporate law partner making around a million dollars a year. But your clients you talk to on the phone are C-levels at Fortune 500s making even more. A plastic surgeon makes 500,000 an year in a big city–but what if your patients are making many times that?

    Reply
    1. mia

      Another good example: I have a friend that worked as a Hollywood agent. She made a great income, lived in Beverly Hills, great lifestyle compared to the vast, vast majority of people…problem was, she literally spent much of her day dealing with A-list celebrities and famous directors and the like that came by her office. So she had NO sense of perspective and always complained that she didn’t have enough compared to them.

      Reply
      1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

        That’s a perfect example — in all other aspects she was very well off but when you’re looking at people who are oozing money, it can be hard not to feel inferior.

        Reply
    2. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Oh yeah– and if you look at their bank accounts as a money manager, I am sure the envy creeps in.

      Reply
  4. Mia

    “A nice house, not in the slums, but middle-class, with salt of the earth folks; a starter home in a more affordable neighbourhood is better for your mental health than a small home in a huge McMansion community.”

    The problem in some American cities (a nice house not in the slums with salt-of-earth folks that is in an affordable community) like San Francisco is this literally does not exist anymore (unless you want a 3 hour commute each way to work).

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Unfortunately, true. Even here in Montreal, for lower cost homes, they are not close to the highways. Toronto? FORGET IT.

      Reply

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