Appearance vs. Reality: Cutting to the Financial Truth

  February 8, 2020  |    Conor   |    Paying Off Debt

One of the greatest themes in philosophy is the dichotomy between appearance and reality. The two, while closely linked, are often at odds with one another. Appearance and reality jockey for the lead in life, work, and personal finance.

Social media exacerbates the duality of the realms. It bifurcates the two; pulling on a filtered view of societies’ long-established measures of success: a crisp outward appearance, material accumulation, and the projection of positivity. But the truth can be easily seen with a quick peek behind the curtain.

On one end of the spectrum, where appearance resides, no one cares about what goes on behind the scenes. As long as the Instagram posts keep on coming, everything must be fine. Reality, however, on the other end of the spectrum is what you must focus on for long-term success. That is what we are going to concentrate on in this post, getting your financial reality in check.

The reason social media is prolific is that outward appearance is easy to maintain, especially with cheap debt. Putting on the proverbial mask and living The Filtered Life is hollow. We all know that. We all feel that.  The problem, of course, is that window dressing offers a quick hit of satisfaction. Whether it is vacationing with friends too much, trying to buy a car outside of your budget, or succumbing to lifestyle creep, maintaining an outward appearance of financial success pulls counter to financial independence.

55% of Millennials are discontent with their financial situation. If you want to avoid landing in this cohort,  fight the draw of maintaining an outward appearance greater than your current financial condition allows.

Maybe you are still in debt, struggling to get off of the treadmill of minimum payments and can’t seem to get ahead. You keep pace socially, but deep down – and on paper – you are behind. This is where the collision between reality and appearance occurs.

The reality is that you are behind. The appearance is that you are not.

You know the truth. But what are you doing about it? Are you willing to sacrifice appearance to get out of debt and financially back on track? Are you going to Turn professional with your money and decide to change your life? I think you should, and I know deep down you feel the same.

Debt is not the only issue. Perhaps you are debt-free (go you!) but cannot seem to save your $3,000 emergency fund. Or maybe accumulating 3-6 months of savings cushion is taking much longer than you anticipated.

The basic question is this: Are you handling the reality of your financial goals?

Reality is measured with data.  Be honest with yourself about your successes and failures. We can’t be perfect all of the time, so cut yourself some slack if you haven’t reached your goals as quickly as you want. They will come, and we will get there together.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Track your progress. Give yourself some bookends for success with S.M.A.R.T goals. The S.M.A.R.T goals acronym, developed by George Doran, stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. They will help craft your desired reality.

Below are some examples of S.M.A.R.T goals:

  • Pay off my $4,000 in credit card debt in 6 months
  • Save $3,000 for an emergency fund by July
  • Max out my 401(k) contributions of $19,500 in 9 months
  • Save $50,000 for a down payment on a house within 18 months
  • Accumulate a Total Net Worth of $200,000 by 30 years old

Setting financial goals is critical for long-term success. As you set your goals, think about what you are willing to give up in appearances to gain financial progress.

Reality is the only realm worth dwelling in. Cut to the truth about what it takes to achieve your goals. Financial success can be engineered, and it involves evading the false hope of appearances and focusing on what truly matters.

About the Author


Founder, Thought Leader, and Creative behind Millennial Money Makeover, Conor is on a mission to change how Millennials think about money. Follow him on Twitter and get updates on his latest articles.