Stop comparing yourself to others

I really enjoy interacting with readers, whether it be via comments on this blog, emails, Twitter, or Facebook. I always appreciate when people take their time to write. If you are one of the people who commented/emailed/tweeted/Facebooked with me before, from the bottom of my heart, thank you! I hope one of these days we can connect in person and have a face-to-face personal chat. I really enjoy talking & connecting with like-minded people.

What I found interesting though, is the fact that in the last few months, I have been getting increasingly more and more emails asking me about our dividend income. There seemed to be more dividend-related emails whenever I published a monthly dividend income update.

Some of these emails have statements or questions like…

“Oh you guys are getting so much dividend income, I am so jealous.”

“I am just starting out; how do I get to the same dividend income level as you for as quickly as I can?”

“I am only getting single digits of dividend income per month, so looking forward to getting four-digit dividend income one day.”

“Your year-over-year growth has been impressive, what is your secret?”


Learning from your successes and failures

I have been investing in dividend growth stocks since 2007. To be honest, when I purchase my first dividend stock, I really had no idea what I was doing. I was banking with ING and thought owning ING stock would make sense. Little did I know that the ING shares I bought were for the insurance portion of the business, not banking. Later the insurance business was separated and became Intact Financial. Just before the financial crisis, I purchased Manulife thinking that the dividend was nice. Then Manulife slashed its dividend payout because it was not sustainable. So during the financial crisis, I saw the share price of both Intact Financial and Manulife collapse. At one point, I was looking at over 50% losses on paper.

However, when I calculated the numbers, it turned out my cost on yield was better than selling the stocks, taking the loss, and putting the money in GIC (Canadian version of CD) to earn measly interests.

So I held on the shares rather than selling them. I figured that the share price would recover one day.

It also helped that I had no need of the money invested in the next 5 years. Somehow, unknowingly, I had answered the 3 key questions to ask before pulling the buy trigger.

It was a wise decision to hold onto both Intact Financial and Manulife for almost 10 years. That was one of the good moves I made since I started investing in dividend stocks in 2007.

But I have also made my fair some stupid mistakes too. Like doing momentum day trades and taking a 15% loss in less than 10 minutes. Or not following through with my instinct.

In the short run, the market is a voting machine (i.e. irrational), but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.

As investors, we all need to remember this great quote.

Do your homework before purchasing an investment. Think about all the possibilities and really take apart your investment thesis, both reasons why you should go forward with the investment, and reasons against with the investment purchase.

We also need to remember not to boast our investment successes and not to dwell too much on our investment failures. Some of these successes and failures are purely due to luck. We have no control of the market. Therefore, we need to learn from these successes and failures and move on.


We all have a beginning

Not too long ago I looked at other bloggers’ dividend income updates and thought, wow that’s impressive. I imagined what it would be like to receive $100, $500, $1,000, or $5,000 per month in dividend income. To me, receiving that much money each month for doing absolutely at all was absolutely ludicrous. I was making a few dollars each month from dividends, and receiving that large amount of dividend income each month just seemed like a dream to me. Deep inside, I was so determined to pass some of these bloggers in terms of dividend income. I wanted to receive a large sum of dividend income so it can cover our expenses and we can call ourselves financially independent.

I wanted to be there with these bloggers and have a large sum of dividend income.

I wanted to expedite our financial independence journey so we can be FI as quickly as we can.


What I failed to realize is that many of these dividend growth investors that are ahead of me have been investing in stocks for much longer than I have. Some of them have been investing in stocks for decades. They have been slowly building their portfolio.

We all have a beginning. We all start somewhere.

Having been on my financial independence for a number of years, I realized that it takes years to build a dividend portfolio that would generate enough dividend income to cover our expenses. I also realized that a sizable dividend portfolio isn’t built in a short period of time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither should your dividend portfolio, or your passive income streams.

If you want to build your portfolio up quickly, so you can receive a large amount of dividend income, you might end up taking more risk.

You might end up purchasing higher yield dividend stocks that do not have a healthy or a sustainable payout ratio. You might end up purchasing stocks of shady businesses.

When it comes to building up your dividend income (or passive income in general), let time be your ally. Don’t’ work against it.

It is unfair to compare our dividend income with someone that just started a few months ago. And it is unfair to compare our dividend income with someone that has started decades before us.

We are all on our own personal journey, there is no need to compare. Rather than comparing, what we can do is to help each other along the journey, encourage each other, and learn from each other.


Expenses, Savings Rate, & Net Worth – unfair comparisons

I will be the first one to admit that I enjoy reading these annual expense reports and comparing our numbers with others. To me, it is interesting looking at other people’s annual expenses. But I realized I need to take these numbers with a grain of salt. There are so many different variables that can affect annual expenses – where people live, number of people in the household, what you eat, how you shop and buy, and people also value money differently. Someone might value home-made meals higher than eating out, while someone else might value dining out with friends and family over home-cooked meals.

Savings rate and net worth, on the other hand, are funny numbers to compare. People have different jobs, different income, different savings rate, and different types of investment. It simply isn’t fair to compare a family with dual income, no kids (DINK) to a family with single income, lots of kids (SILK). The income levels, the expenditures, and the savings rate are certainly going to be different between the two families. If you are a SILK family earning $50,000 per year and saving $10,000 a year (20% savings rate), is it fair to say that you are not as successful at saving when compared to a DINK family earning $200,000 per year and saving $100,000 per year (50% savings rate)? It is simply not fair to compare the two families. They have different annual spending and most likely will have different net worth.

The fact is, it probably will take the single income, lots of kids family longer to achieve financial independence compared to the dual income, no kids family.

That’s how math works.

Just because one family achieves FI faster, it doesn’t mean one family is more successful than the other family.

Success in life isn’t measured like that.

When I started reading personal finance and FIRE blogs many years ago (before I started blogging), I used to marvel at these bloggers that were already retired at a young age, or reached financial independence. I would daydream what it would be like if I were retired already and had the freedom to do what I wanted to do all the time, rather than working at my 9-5 job on weekdays. I wanted to be FIRE’d already so I could enjoy the “good” life.

But then I realized, it is not about how fast you achieve FI.

It is not about what age you achieved FI or retired from your 9-5 job.

It is not about how much money you have in the bank.

It is not about what kind of fancy car you drive.

It is not about what kind of vacation you are going on.

We can all be successful in our own ways.

And it is unfair to compare annual expenses, savings rate, and net worth. These are very personal numbers and will vary between each individual.

Rather than comparing your numbers with another person’s, compare your own progress each year. Are you spending about the same as previous years? Are you increasing your savings rate? Are you increasing your net worth? Is your net worth growing at an increasing pace each year?

We all need to stop comparing yours to someone who is way ahead of you, or someone that just started.

Start holding yourself to a higher standard. Challenge yourself on a daily basis. Become a better version of yourself each day.


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49 thoughts on “Stop comparing yourself to others”

  1. Amen, brother. Comparison done wrong is the thief of joy. Comparison done right, however, is the angel of gratitude. We need to compare ourselves to our earlier selves. If 2018 Mr. Groovy weighs less than 2017 Mr. Groovy, then zippity f&%king doo dah, life is good. It also wouldn’t hurt if we got in the habit of comparing our situation to the average inhabitant of this planet. Five hundred millions Indians, for instance, don’t have access to a toilet! Ruminating on that sober reality helps put things in their proper perspective. Great post.

  2. Spot on! When I received some criticism claiming we were “frugal” because of our expenditures, I had to explain that all of those factors make a huge difference in other people’s spending habits. We save over 50% of our income, so while it looks like we spend quite a bit, we also save quite a bit as well. I think good comparisons are through using great calculators from where you can compare other people across the US anyway who are in the same income/family boat. This way you get a sense of how well you’re doing in relation to not just your previous years, but true peers in the same financial situation.

    • Thank you Kate. Being able to save 1% more this year than last year already puts you ahead of the curve. If you keep comparing to others, you’ll never be happy.

  3. Thx for reminding me that comparing to others is mostly useless as indeed we all have a different story. What matters is your own progress year after year.

    One aspect that I find increasingly important is how happy all of that makes me. What if I cross a line in being frugal that makes me unhappy, I Might then revert back to a higher spending. Or I might dial back the work, earn less and save less to be more with family.
    To me, finding that balance is my personal challenge and I go back and forth between working harder, earning more and relaxing a bit and have more family time.

    • Hold yourself to a higher standard every day is the better way to live than constantly comparing yourself to others. And you’re absolutely right about finding the personal balance. What’s right for you isn’t right for me. 🙂

  4. I am curious to know what you plan to do. When the market crashes say in two years. Will you hold all your stocks or sell some of it?

    • I’ve experienced many ups and downs in the market over the past number of years. We’ll continue executing our investing strategy – buy more stocks and continue investing.

  5. Tawcan, Nice post. It’s kind of like blogging. I started 6 months ago and can’t compare to those who have been at it for years. It’s just not a fair comparison. On the other hand, I first started saving and investing over 40 years ago…..lawn mowing and paper route money, but we all get our start some where and starting early and staying with it our key.

    • It’s definitely not a fair comparison. Also, some bloggers made it big very quickly, some never made it big despite blogged for man years. But is it making it big “successful” ? Or is is successful simply being able to maintain a blog and express your opinion and learn from other people?

    • It’s definitely not a fair comparison. Also, some bloggers made it big very quickly, some never made it big despite blogged for man years. But is it making it big “successful” ? Or is successful simply being able to maintain a blog and express your opinion and learn from other people?

  6. Excellent post, and way to put it in perspective. My version of success isn’t going to match yours or any other blogger’s version of success. Heck, we’re debating if Mrs. SSC gets a job offer, of scrapping the Canyon Lake plan for her to take a job she’d most likely work for another 10 years. That’s not FIRE at all, lol.

    Our version of success is having the financial freedom to take a job like that, let me leave my company and high income, to be a SAHD, while Mrs. SSC gets to work at “her dream job”. That’s waht’s great about the Personal Finance space, its that it’s personal.

    • Thank you Mr. SSC. We are successful in our own ways. There’s no need to compare. Rather than comparing, what we can do is to help each other and encourage each other along the way.

  7. Again, great article! I was starting to feel down about savings rate 50% vs 70% and wondered how others do it. Especially if we choose to get a slightly more space next year, it would drop a bit more. Then I looked back at the year over year chart I started 3 years ago and was happy with my progress! While others are recovering from their late night drinking, I spreadsheet net worth update of the past year on New Years Day.

    • Thank you Whymances. When you look back and compare now vs. 3 years ago, you can only be happy with the progress you’ve made. Stop comparing yourself to others because that’s just a lost cause.

  8. Great advice.
    So hard to implement though, isn’t it? I will come back and read this several times more in the future as a reminder to myself.
    Wherever we are in life or on the wealth continuum or pay scale, there will be someone with less and someone with more. All we can do is live our own unique life to the best of our abilities.
    I love that quote from Ben Graham. His wisdom is timeless.
    Regarding the investing comments: we tend to look for the magic bullet or new investment technique. We don’t like hearing that it mostly takes earnings, savings, and time to compound the wealth. #getrichslowly

    • Thank you Wealthy doc. It is definitely hard to implement, that’s why I need to keep reminding myself whenever I feel the need to compare myself to others.

  9. I have not been investing directly in the stock for as long as you have been, but I think lessons you learn through you own mistakes are the best. Who else will teach you the patience you require if not yourself?
    Great post, comparison also does not bring happiness, joy or contentment.

  10. Mighty fine article Tawcan. I agree 100%. Comparing with this there is like having regrets, a complete waste of time and they hold you back from growing. You know what, every living being is doing one of two things; either Growing or Dying!

  11. Thanks for this post. The topic can’t be written about enough. Comparing yourself to others makes you want to press the fast forward button and just get there already. But there will always be folks ahead of you so what’s the point. I think once in a while we all need to unplug, stay off the internet and social media, and allow ourselves some space to rebalance.

  12. Preach! I totally agree. Because in FI we are all reaching for our goal, we also have to remember to enjoy the process and day to day life, not holding out for happiness in FI and rushing to get there.

  13. that’s a good point about different situations. i just looked at a piece of paper from 2009 that listed some numbers and we were about 90k in debt at the time (mostly house and student loan) and i’m guessing less than 200k in investments. fast forward 9 years and zero debt and seven figure net worth. here’s the thing: we were older (close to 40 in ’09) than many in the community and kid free. that meant we had already had some hard knocks type lessons and we had bought a lot of big ticket stuff like furnishing a house and house downpayment and stuff like that. we were set up, in many ways. we had enough respectable clothes and crap like that. somebody just starting out still might want a comfortable sofa and a fridge with no rust on it. so our last 8 years was kind of easy with 2 good incomes and a market tailwind. hell, we never even maxed out our 401’s, only the roths and got here with a rock’n’roll lifestyle. that pretty much says most anyone can do ok.

  14. There’s been a thread on the Rockstar blogger forums about email lists and open rates for bloggers. I have a pretty new blog, so when I saw the number of email subscribers other bloggers had I was thinking “How could I possibly get to that level!” But like you said, they started where I did and I have to realize that. Some may have moved up faster and some slower, who knows, but it’s useless to compare. I just have to do my thing and try my best.

    • You probably noticed that I don’t have any email list popups on my blog. I hate those popups, that’s why I don’t use them. I realized that the popups are good ways to grow your email list. But for me, if people want to sign up, they will. I’d rather have loyal readers than cramming my articles down their throats.

      But you’re right, it’s silly to compare email list and open rates because every blogger is different.

  15. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt. Nice Post, I think this is what gets most of the FI haters riled up. That they need to truly find out what makes them happy in order to really plan their FI. There is no coasting and being average like you can in school. Comparing yourself to others so you can just put in the minimum amount of effort to be average. In life there are no grades, marks, winners, or losers.

  16. I agree that people naturally compare and judge. And in the world of internet, gloating and bragging about retiring at age___ (insert a young age here) is commonplace . It’s all about how you look at it.

    I enjoy reading these types of financial things. But another person may feel differently. In my time, the object of the game was not to accumulate as much wealth as possible. But, get this, to pass away with not a penny left to your name. It meant that you didn’t outlive your wealth. And honestly, my husband and I are hoping to achieve that outcome. Not too much and not too little, but just enough.

  17. I just started tracking my finances and attempting to create multiple income streams in Jan ’17. Heck, I didn’t start a taxable account until this past November! Even still, I’m going to cross over $300 in dividends this month for the first time. My wife and I do not make a ton of money, but we save a lot of it. It can be done! Little improvements every month compound over time.

  18. You are hitting on such a key point here… excellent post! It can be so easy to compare ourselves in all facets of life (money, looks, stuff, wealth, parenting, education, etc etc etc) when all we really need to do is focus on our own situation, attend to our needs, find what works for us and makes us happy and fulfilled, and go on our merry way 🙂 Haha- easier said than done. I struggle with comparisons on a daily basis, but working to focus on positivity and my own situation is helpful. Again, thank you for this post!

  19. Good stuff Tawcan! I tell people to not worry too much about the size of their dividend income. Focus on the growth instead — saving more, finding better investments that will be able to grow dividend income over time, and so forth.

    We all start somewhere. It seems like only yesterday I made $2,000 in dividends per year. Now we do multiple times that per month. It happens faster than you think too!

  20. Exactly. The best measuring stick is the previous year. You can’t compare to other people. I think young investors have a tendency to compare and become discouraged. That’s not the right way to do it because bloggers are well into their journey. Comparing net worth, dividend income, and blog income isn’t very encouraging. There is always someone better. I’m still a little jealous of bloggers who make $100,000/month.
    Anyway, all of us need to keep improving every year.

  21. Good post Bob. Human beings in the modern world are driven to compare – right from early schooling age – so we can’t avoid comparison entirely. But we can improve it! The FIRE comparison, if focused on learnings, sacrifices and strategies, can be healthy. If focused only on the blogger’s numbers can lead to jealousy and therefore, unhealthy. I wrote a recent article about this topic titled “net worth angst”.


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