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The Comparison Trap

Published by: Amanda Howerton, CFP® Date: August 27, 2015

As the parent of a young child, I can easily fall into the parenting comparison trap. This is especially true because my husband and I have a tight-knit extended family with several kids near our daughter’s age. I also find that scrolling through Facebook and Instagram leaves me subject to the comparison trap because several of our friends have young kids, and darn it, those kids are almost as cute as our own child.

The comparison trap is real because we want to know that our child is doing well, and we want only the best for our kids. And let’s face it – we want our kids to be the best, cutest, smartest, most successful child out there. We don’t mean to compare our child to our friends’ children, but it happens more often than we want to admit. Oftentimes we have to consciously work not to compare our child to kids in this digitally connected world where cute pictures, videos, and quotes are more rampant than videos of cute cats.

Some of the comparisons we make are superficial and cause minor (or major, in some cases) stress. However, some comparisons are important. There is a reason the doctor asks us to bring our children in and mark the check boxes for the activities/accomplishments our child has attained. My doctor wants me to bring my daughter in at least once a year to make sure she is physically developing as expected and emotionally/cognitively developing as other children her age. If we did not compare her to the expected path for a child her age, we might miss the opportunity to take action to get her on right track. We also might miss a potential medical issue.

A similar trap happens to all of us as investors. While we might not see our friends’ financial success splashed across social media, we do see evidence of it in pictures of fun vacations, new homes, lavish birthday parties and new cars. We might assume that in order to do and have all of that, their portfolio must be out-performing ours.

We naturally compare our portfolios to what we see online because we want our investments to hit the high numbers and grow. If we feel that our performance doesn’t compare, many of us experience high levels of stress. This is not the trap we should fall into.

If we are to compare our portfolios to anything, we should compare them to a personalized “Family Index” which is an investment plan tailored to our own family goals and money values. Are we on track to be able to do what we want to do? If not, what changes can be made to get us back on path? Just like the doctor check-up helps us identify and/or diagnose issues warranting change for our children, a financial check-up using our “Family Index” as the benchmark helps us know what action is needed. This is truly the only comparison that matters.

Amanda Howerton, CFP® is a financial advisor with Rather & Kittrell and can be reached at ahowerton@rkcapital.com