How could that happen? What are they doing to pull that off? Is it possible that I'm doing something wrong. I hear a lot of questions and comments about how their financial lifestyle compares to other peoples. Social media has made people wonder how they can afford things like a luxury home, high performance car or boat, vacation home, or exotic family vacation.

I had a front-row seat as to how and why this happened and felt it was time to share some of the secrets of what I call the money mirage. The appearance of a sheet of water in a desert or on a hot road is a mirage.

Money mirage is an illusion caused by outside conditions that make someone's personal finances look better than they really are. I'm going to give you one of my favorites.

We have $300,000 in a 401(k) and $700,000 in a pension, both in our 50's. Will we have enough in retirement?

How can that guy afford all of this?

Imagine you are eating breakfast at a restaurant. When you hear the sound of a new car pulling into a parking spot right in front of your window, it makes you want to eat and talk.

When the driver comes out of the car, you know it is someone you went to high school with. To find a personal profile with photos of a lake house, Jet Skis, and overseas vacations, you need to look him or her up on social media.

Since you have a good job, are a regular saver, and have little to no debt, you are wondering how he or she can afford all this.

The person appears to be a multimillionaire who leads an ideal life. Here's what you don't know His in-laws are the ones who own it. His wife is working two jobs to support his hobbies and he has a nice boat.

Other family members don't come around a lot because they think he is taking advantage of their parents.

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Behind the Facebook facade

You can see how he made this money. He doesn't have a mortgage so he can afford a high-performance car and boat. He and his wife argue frequently about money and the anchor of debt that weighs them down because he has little to no savings. It is a life that is on the verge of collapsing.

A friend of yours is on social media posting a very expensive kitchen remodeling project. The attention to detail is impressive and the materials are high end. A six-figure kitchen renovation isn't practical, let alone possible, even though you've dreamed of one.

You don't know that their grandmother left them an inheritance that was supposed to be used to support them for a long time. They spent a lot of time with her in the kitchen where they dumped it all.

In this case, they created a narrative that says they are wealthy enough to pay for an upgrade, but it doesn't mean the rest of their life and household are in the same shape. They may have made a very emotional decision to honor grandma with a new kitchen, but still have auto loans, credit card debt and no idea how they will pay for college for their three kids.

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A simple exercise to appreciate what you have

There is more to the story than what is presented in a series of posts. It's important to point out that not every financial success or accolade has a dirty or ugly secret behind it, only that when you're hot and thirsty for more in life, it's easy for someone else's online Oasis to trick you.

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Establishing your own financial values, goals, and definitions will help guide your financial decisions throughout your life. When we have realistic expectations, healthy boundaries, and a clear vision about what we want our financial life to look like, we are less likely to be dissatisfied by what other people do.

These steps can be used to keep your perspective.

  1. Write down three financial successes you’re proud to have accomplished.
  2. Write down three financial failures you’ve experienced and don’t want to go through again.
  3. Now take both lists and write down the reason you ended up in each situation. Be sure to include the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you experienced.

You don't need a lake house, boat, fancy car, or six-figure kitchen if you know how to be a financial success. It's usually a money mirage if you compare yourself to others and wonder how they seem to have it all.

Robert Laura is the founder of and the Retirement Coaches Association. He is a pioneer in "The New Era of Retirement" which focuses on the nonfinancial aspects of life after work. He can be reached via email at rl.robertlaura. gave permission for this article to be used.

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