What is ‘money dysphoria’: Gen Z gets its ‘keeping up with the Joneses’

Nowadays it is especially difficult to avoid the comparison game. We’ve never had such in-depth information about what others do and, more importantly, what they buy. Anyone with an iPhone can track their movements on Find My Friends, experience vacation envy on Instagram, experience FOMO on Snap, and experience career envy via LinkedIn.

The combined forces of all social media are taking a toll, even on established, successful adults: According to a recent survey by Intuit Credit Karma, nearly half (45%) of Generation Z and millennials are obsessed with the idea to be rich. Worse, that idea seems perpetually out of reach. 48% of Generation Z told Intuit Credit Karma they feel behind financially; 59% of millennials said the same thing.

This obsession – and the resulting feeling of underperformance – has led people to lose sight of the true state of their finances, culminating in what Intuit Credit Karma calls “monetary dysphoria.” This condition, of having “a distorted view of one’s finances that could lead them to make poor decisions,” occurs among people of all levels of financial stability, the survey finds, despite how wealthy they may actually be. Nearly 40% of respondents who admitted to struggling with money dysmorphia said they had at least $10,000 in savings; Twenty-three percent of the group had more than $30,000, which is significant compared to the average savings account balance, which, as Credit Karma pointed out, is just over $5,000 in the United States.

It is having a detrimental effect on mental health, survey shows. 69% of respondents with money dysphoria said they don’t think they’ll ever get rich, and 95% say their obsession has a negative impact on their finances. Worry has kept them from accumulating savings, buying a home or investing, and instead led them to overspend and even take on more debt.

It’s no wonder that money dysmorphia is so important: financial stability has never been more out of reach for many Millennials and Generation Z in particular. Accumulating any amount of wealth has been difficult for workers under 40 who have had to shoulder the burden of historic housing unaffordability, a financial crisis or two, crushing student debt and a stagnant minimum wage against a record inflation and booming child care. costs.

But despite these real uphill battles, workers’ sense of need and values ​​is constantly distorted. According to a 2023 Bankrate survey, the average American believes they need to earn $233,000 a year to feel comfortable, 310% more than the $75,203 the average full-time worker earned in 2021, according to the Census Bureau. To feel rich, more than just comfortable, respondents need to earn twice as much: $483,000.

Comfort is largely defined by the ability to shell out for occasional luxuries while maintaining monthly expenses, Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick wrote in the report. “Typically, people fantasize about getting ‘rich,’ but most aspire to make it or do something better.”

Keep your eyes on your paper

“Money dysmorphia is kind of like today’s version of keeping up with the Joneses,” Courtney Alev, a consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma, wrote in the report. “Many people look at their finances and compare themselves to their peers, to people on social media, and even to celebrities, which brings up feelings of inadequacy.”

The only way out of money dysphoria, Alev continued, is to rely on hard data: keep an eye on your finances, evaluate your goals and make a realistic plan to achieve them. It would also be helpful to minimize the time you spend comparing your situation to that of others, who often find themselves in mountains of hidden debt.

“Social media and celebrity culture can exacerbate money dysmorphia, because we see images of people living glamorous lives and spending money,” Scott Lieberman, founder of Touchdown Money, told GoBankingRates. “But again, we don’t know the truth about how they got that money and how much debt they accrued.”

Fortunately, respondents aren’t too thoughtful about cutting off friends to prioritize their own finances; a Credit Karma survey last summer found that a third of people said they had severed friendships with people whose financial decisions don’t align with theirs.

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