The Case for Having Tightwad Friends

Do you ever compare yourself to someone more savvy, self-disciplined, and generally on top of their money than you, even though you know it’ll make you feel like a wasteful idiot? Rest assured that the person you’re measuring yourself against is doing the exact same thing (although probably against someone else — sorry). Psychologists have a name for this universal human tendency: It’s called “upward social comparison,” also known as seeing how you stack up to those ahead of you in some way. And yeah, it makes most people feel bad. As Theodore Roosevelt put it, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Money isn’t always a metric for social comparison, but it’s often hovering in the background. Not that you’d even realize it. “We engage in upward social comparison all the time, but it’s usually an unconscious process,” says Martina Raue, a psychologist who studies decision-making at MIT. “Therefore, we usually don’t use it as a tool.”

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