I often read articles such as this Bloomberg one that speaks of an average American’s debt load. It is very easy to read it and make a binary decision that you are either better or worse off than than your fellow citizens based upon the average revolving debt of $16000. When a mortgage is included, the number jumps to $132500.
This sort of comparison fallacy can breed a false sense of security if you fall under the average and it should not be used as a definitive reason to remain in substantial debt. It is a trap to compare yourself to someone who is in more debt than you are and then decide your financial situation is reasonable.
I can relate to this dangerous type of comparison that led me down a path of poor health for a while.
When I was working in center city Philadelphia, lunchtime junk food was readily available. There were a number of pizza places, food carts, and Chinese restaurants on the same block as my office. My colleagues devoured unhealthy foods daily. They were overweight and out of shape. I rode my bike to work almost every day and was at a healthy weight. I only made bad food choices a couple of times per week compared to their daily gluttony.
Imagine my surprise when a routine blood test showed dangerously elevated fats and cholesterol in my results! I was blinded to my own poor eating choices when I compared myself to my coworkers who ate poorly every day. The thought of my own dietary indiscretions were overshadowed by my comparison to those around me who were unhealthier than I was.
The blood test snapped me back to reality and I worked to reduce the unhealthy food consumption and more importantly I identified and eliminated the comparison trap as a crutch to making bad choices.