The comparison game: a true story
by Brad Hoffer
Soon after we moved into our house, a new couple, who I will call Jack and Diane, moved in across the street. We actually knew Jack from high school. Jack and his wife were very nice. I knew he was a banker, but didn't know too much more than that. We would talk from time to time, but most of the time we just waved "hello".
What I did notice, was how Jack lived. Since our neighborhood was new construction, most of us had half-green yards, but not Jack, he rolled out plush green grass. "Wow, look at Jack's yard", I would say to my wife as we drove up to our house. It was professionally landscaped and just looked perfect. From time to time Jack would park his Escalade and boat along the street. It was big and it was nice. Soon Jack got a stainless steel pool and built a patio with a ceiling fan. His backyard was mainly a hill, that is until he basically turned it into a pyramid with all of the stone pavers, steps and fire pit at the top. I usually try not to compare to others, but I found myself saying to my wife, "I don't know how much money bankers make, but there is no way it is that much! He must have some kind of inheritance or maybe he is the president of the bank!" Now at this time, he would have been in his twenties, so I was pretty sure he was not the bank president. The other thought I had was that maybe Jack had 200,000 in credit card debt!
Our house was built without too many upgrades, hoping someday we could add a deck, an island to the kitchen etc. But we knew we wouldn't be able to afford those things for many years. So at times, it was difficult to watch Jack just buy everything, all at once. I'll be honest, it really didn't bother me too much that I didn't have the things he had, however, it did make me frustrated with our own financial position. We felt like we didn't overspend and yet we had credit card debt, we had a large mortgage, school loans and there just never seemed to be enough money to be able to accumulate any real savings.
One day, I was outside and another neighbor asked if I heard what had happened to Jack? "No, what happened?". My neighbor explained…he was driving his car on a high bridge, pulled to the side of the road, got out of his car, ran and jumped off the bridge. The water is shallow, and typically, this would mean certain death. But somehow, miraculously, Jack must have landed in just the right spot in the river. A man was out fishing and pulled him out of the water, unharmed! Completely shocked by this news, he continued to explain, that apparently, Jack had been using his position at the bank to take out fake loans under his Grandpa's name. He had taken over $300,000 in loans, and spent it. He felt like there was no way out of the mess he had made and so he was hoping the life insurance money could be used to make things right.
Throughout the many months following this, the bank did an investigation, and decided not to press charges, they only wanted him to pay back the money. The court decided in addition to paying back the money, he would have to do many hours of community service. It is unbelievable, and controversial, that he didn't get any jail time. The house was foreclosed on by the bank, and all of Jack's things were sold off to repay the bank. His wife stuck with him throughout the whole ordeal and they got an apartment together and started a new life, with very few things. He worked at the meat counter of the local grocery store and eventually got involved in ministry at his church.
We have a neighborhood men's Bible study that meets every other week. Jack came to one of our meetings and shared some of his story. He was truly a changed man, and talked about how his view of money had changed, but that his new life wasn't an easy one, since he would be repaying his debts until his death.
I reflect on his story often…what if we had started to spend to keep up with 'the Jones's'? What if, by comparing to others, we let jealousy and bitterness ruin our lives when the reality was we were comparing ourselves to something that wasn't real? It reinforces to me, that we each have our own life to live. It is a life that God gave you, the job that He gave you at this point in your life, friends and family that He wants you to love. You can spend your whole life wanting something more, wanting what someone else has, but at the end of the day, finding contentment, is one of the greatest riches known to man.
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I have been an Auditor, Analyst, Accounting Manager, Business Systems Manager, Controller, School Board Vice President, Director of Finance, CFO and COO over the past 2 decades of work experience. In my free time I developed the XLYourFinances spreadsheet and website I enjoy golf and spending time with my family. We attend church at LCBC.