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Last week, I wrote about how I cut our gas bill in half with just one phone call. Immediately after my phone call, I told a friend about the experience and he expressed surprise about how little gas we use – compared to him (he keeps records like I do) and compared to the national average, a figure he knew off the top of his head. Intrigued, I started looking up more and more information about average consumption figures – the boards at MoneySavingExpert are full of people talking about how much they pay, for what size of a house, and I also found a website which lets you compare your consumption with others locally and nationally, IN GRAPH FORM. (I like graphs.)

But then I stopped. I realised what I was doing. If I’d been doing it a year earlier when we first moved into our new house, I could have pretended I was looking up the info to get an idea how much I’d be paying over the year. But I knew exactly how much I should be paying. I was just doing it to gloat. To feel good about how frugal we are, how green we are, compared to the rest of Mr & Ms UK resident.

I’m terrible at making comparisons to make myself feel better about things. I think it’s partly (mostly?) to do with being insecure and generally having low-self esteem, but another part of it is wanting to proof my deliberately lifestyle decisions are making a difference.

I want to know that someone else spends three, four, five times as much as me on their weekly shop because I grow my own and spend time cooking from scratch to justify my time and energy. I want to hear the person who bought the 42″ plasma tv or the new BMW complain about not having any money at the end of the month, because it justifies my sensible attitude in not buying those things. I want to hear that the person who lives in t-shirt and shorts in the middle of winter is paying multiple-multiple times the amount for heating than woolly-clad me, because it means I can look down on them, on their wastefulness and how they’re SINGLE-HANDEDLY DESTROYING THE PLANET.

I’m not that bad really. But it’s there and it’s destructive.

For me, making “the rest of the world is stupid and here’s why” comparisons is bad on a number of levels. All it takes is for me to hear the opposite of what I want to hear to put me in a funk – why should I make the effort when it achieves so little?

And it’s easy for me to draw unfavourable (to me) conclusions because it’s all too easy to get bad information – I know a lot about me, what I’m doing, how I’m performing, but only what the other people want to say about themselves. They might be faux-complaining about the cost of their new clothes as a way of boasting without really boasting. Or they might know something about their financial situation that I don’t – I worry that a person is spending all their money on gadgets and toys instead building up a small rainy-day savings umbrella, but they might know that they don’t need it, that they’re due an inheritance or something in the near future, so while I see them spending a large proportion of their money on the latest iThing, to them, that’s a tiny drop in the future ocean. Or perhaps not the tshirt and shorts guy but perhaps someone else has to have their heating up really hot in the winter because they feel cold more acutely than I do. We have no way of measuring that so shouldn’t really compare.

The comparisons also invariably provoke negative judgements (“I’m better than X because of Y”/”X is better than me on Y but I’m better at Z and that’s more important”) and that’s a really bad way to view humanity. Rather than viewing other people with compassion and support, it becomes a competition – and it’s all to easy to let that attitude show when in conversation, which is annoying or demoralising for the other person.

Finally, by making comparisons against spendthrifts, I can feel better about my own want!want! spending. I have a lot of friends (mostly IT geeks) and friends of friends who are very very well paid, and think nothing of buying all the latest gadgets or spending £150 on a one-time-wear dress. Compared to them, I don’t feel so bad about buying a new £20 sink from eBay or dropping £25 on new yarn when my stash is already full to bursting. Compared to their spending, that’s nothing – “it utterly transformed the kitchen!”, “it’ll get used eventually!” – but it’s not necessary. Comparing myself to the wonderfully thrifty simple/DIY living people I know in person and online, I’d feel wasteful and silly so I selectively compare myself to the extravagant spenders to justify my own waste. That’s naughty and self-deluding.

As I said half way through, these are exaggerated examples – I’m not really that bad – but it’s there, I can see it’s there within me and I want it to stop. It shouldn’t matter what everyone else is or isn’t doing. I should only matter what I’m doing. In the future, I’m going to only try to make comparisons about my past self to measure my progress.

Have you got any tips or advice on how I can stop this bad behaviour?

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2 Comments on Why I’m trying to stop making comparisons

  1. Cecille says:

    Wow Louisa, that is quite a statement! I must say, you should be proud of yourself for recognizing that in yourself and trying to be better. bravo to you, that is quite bold and brave of you to admit. I tip my hat to you because I am guilty of that myself but I don’t think I would have thought to say, oh shame on me. I usually just try to focus on my blessings and keep trying to remind myself that God gives me everything I need and I should look at the positives in my life and not the negatives but to go where you have just gone, that is great! cheers to you! keep up the great work! Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. louisa says:

    Thanks for the comment. When I recognise these destructive feelings, I like to blog about them because it helps me get my thoughts in order and it also helps me feel accountable – I’ve admitted these things publicly, I *have* to change!

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