Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.
Money jealousy is a common struggle: Nearly 3 in 5 Americans (57%) have felt envious of someone else’s financial situation, according to a new NerdWallet survey.
The survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted online by The Harris Poll, asked Americans what emotions come up for them in relation to spending money. We also asked how social media impacts their finances and what types of things make them feel envious of other people’s financial situations.
Spending money and guilt often go hand-in-hand: More than half of Americans (52%) say they often feel guilty about how they spend money, according to the survey. And of Americans who say they overspend, 44% feel guilty about it.
Money envy can take a toll: The survey finds that more than half of Americans who have felt envious of others’ financial situations (54%) say this envy negatively impacts their mental health. This is truer for younger generations than their older counterparts.
Social media may lead to overspending and regret: Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) believe social media has increased overspending. Sometimes these purchases lead to buyer’s remorse: The survey shows that 18% of Americans have made a purchase because of something they saw on social media that they regret making.
“Given how easy it is to see an item advertised on social media and then to buy it with a few taps, it’s no surprise that consumers make a lot of impulse purchases,” says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. “That can lead to regret, guilt and other negative feelings that weigh on our mood and general well-being.”
Many purchases come with guilt
Costs have been going up, which can make essential expenses — like housing, food and medical care — harder to afford. So it’s probably not surprising that more than three-quarters of Americans (77%) say they feel guilty, at least sometimes, making nonessential purchases. This proportion is roughly the same for households with incomes less than $50,000 (77%) and those with incomes of $100,000-plus (76%).
Younger Americans are more likely to feel this way than the older generations — 88% of Generation Z (ages 18-26) and 86% of millennials (ages 27-42) say they feel guilty for making nonessential purchases, compared with 78% of Generation X (ages 43-58) and 66% of baby boomers (ages 59-77).
More than a third of Americans (35%) typically feel guilty buying something nonessential for themselves, as opposed to buying for someone else. Others typically feel guilty dining out (30%) or purchasing luxury items (30%).
Nonessentials aren’t the only thing that can cause spending guilt. More than half of Americans (52%) say they often feel guilty about how they spend money in general. And nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) feel guilty when they purchase something they know they can’t afford.
What you can do
We should all strive to avoid spending on nonessentials that aren’t in the budget. But for many, spending guilt might not necessarily be correlated with the amount of money they have available to spend. Consider where this guilt is coming from. Maybe you’re spending money in ways that don’t align with your values or goals, or maybe you internalized a lesson from childhood that spending is bad and saving is good. The why may differ from person to person, but everyone needs some money they can spend without feeling bad.
“There’s no shame in purchasing items that bring us joy or make our lives easier. To minimize any guilt associated with shopping, it’s worth taking a close look at when and why negative feelings pop up. If you feel guilty after making unplanned purchases, for example, consider giving yourself a 24-hour waiting period before buying anything in your online shopping cart,” Palmer suggests.
Envy is impacting some Americans’ health
More than 3 in 5 Americans (62%) say they have enough money to buy the things they want and need. But having “enough” doesn’t necessarily stop us from coveting others’ money positions: 57% of Americans say they’ve felt envious of someone else’s financial situation. This is truer for Gen Z than older generations: 77% say this, compared with 70% of millennials, 55% of Gen X and 41% of baby boomers.
Not everyone is envious for the same reasons: 30% of Americans say they’ve been envious of someone else’s financial situation for taking trips they can’t afford, 29% say for owning things they can’t afford and 28% say for having a higher income than them. Less than 1 in 5 Americans (18%) say they’ve been envious of someone for not having any debt.
All of this envy is taking a toll. The survey finds that more than half of Americans who’ve felt envious of others’ financial situations (54%) say financial envy negatively impacts their mental health. Gen Z and millennials are more likely to say this than older generations — 64% and 65%, respectively, compared with 49% of Gen X and just 33% of baby boomers.
What you can do
Jealousy is normal, but it can be harmful if it impacts your mental well-being. You don’t need to beat yourself up for being envious, but it’s smart to take steps to cope with money envy so it doesn’t make you feel bad on a regular basis.
“Sometimes envy can teach us something about what we really want, such as a vacation,” Palmer says. “But in other cases, it can help to realize that the seemingly perfect lives we see on social media are likely far more complicated behind the scenes. Someone’s beautiful home might come with a stressful mortgage payment, for example.”
Social media may lead to overspending
Between social media ads and influencers, it’s easy for scrolling to lead to buying. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) believe that social media has increased overspending.
Close to 3 in 10 Americans (28%) say they’ve made a purchase because of a deal or promo code they saw on social media. Not all of these purchases are good ones: 18% of Americans have made a purchase because of something they saw on social media that they regret making.
That’s not to say social media always encourages spending. Close to 1 in 6 Americans (15%) say they’ve been de-influenced — or convinced not to buy an item — by something they saw on social media.
What you can do
Around 1 in 8 Americans (13%) say social media makes them feel insecure about their finances. If seeing someone’s social media posts makes you feel less than — whether financially or otherwise — it’s time to unfollow (or mute) them. This isn’t personal; they don’t have to be a bad person for you to choose to stop following them. It’s simply not worth it to follow people on social media who make you feel bad about yourself or your money.
“Instead of focusing on what other people have that you don’t, it can be helpful to take time to think about what actually makes you happy,” Palmer says. “Then you can work toward incorporating more of those experiences into your own life.”
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from May 18-22, 2023, among 2,053 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 2.7 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Sarah Borland at [email protected].
NerdWallet disclaims, expressly and impliedly, all warranties of any kind, including those of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose or whether the article’s information is accurate, reliable or free of errors. Use or reliance on this information is at your own risk, and its completeness and accuracy are not guaranteed. The contents in this article should not be relied upon or associated with the future performance of NerdWallet or any of its affiliates or subsidiaries. Statements that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties as indicated by words such as “believes,” “expects,” “estimates,” “may,” “will,” “should” or “anticipates” or similar expressions. These forward-looking statements may materially differ from NerdWallet’s presentation of information to analysts and its actual operational and financial results.