Do it for the ‘gram: Are you blowing your budget to impress others on social media?

By: Maureen Genore on May 11, 2017
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Social media: it's what keeps us connected. But — it’s also driving us to spend in ways that we don’t often talk about.

People spend an astonishing amount of time on social media. In fact, it’s estimated that the average person devotes nearly two hours everyday to social networks. Over an average lifetime, that works out to five years and four months.

We can all relate in some way to social media induced FOMO — the fear of missing out. When we constantly see where others are travelling, what they’re driving and how they’re living, it’s no wonder we feel inadequate if we don’t view our lives as measuring up.

There’s been a lot written about how this impacts our mental health, but it’s also driving us to spend money on things we wouldn’t otherwise.

Are we spending money on things just for a good photo?

We tend to think that we’re spending money on things we want, regardless of if we’re planning to post photos of these things online. The fact that we just happen to post about it on social media afterwards is irrelevant in our purchase decisions, right?

Not quite.

A study from TD Ameritrade last August found that of those aged 18 to 35, one in four say they feel pressured to keep up with their friends’ spending — especially when they see those friends posting about their vacations and purchases on social media.

Have you ever been in a restaurant and looked around, only to see people who aren’t eating but are just taking photos of their food instead? I know I have. What about people lined up around the block to buy overpriced soft-serve ice cream, just so they can snap a photo of it and caption it with “#TreatYoself”?

How many of these people would actually be there if social media never existed?

Maybe you don’t do these exact things yourself, but I bet that if you don’t, you know someone who does. There’s certainly nothing wrong with buying something you enjoy, snapping a photo of it and sharing it with your network.

But maybe social media is driving you to go out and spend a lot more money than you’re willing to admit.

All of that social spending is adding up

The more I thought about things we spend money on just to share online, the more examples I came up with. There are literally hundreds of things people are spending money on just because of how “Instagrammable” they are.

I quickly surveyed our content team — five of us: two women, three men. All millennials. There were plenty of examples of how social media was influencing our purchase decisions. My editor said he bought a specific plant just because it was photogenic. One of our writers said he went out on a weeknight because he wanted to post photos of a concert on Instagram. I myself recently went out of my way to buy a green juice for St. Patrick’s Day — mostly just so I could post a photo of it on social media.

I could go on, but the point here is that more and more of us are splurging on things we know we really don’t need — all just so we can get that perfect shot and share it with our followers.

The modern day version of keeping up with the Joneses

Years ago, in a simpler time, the concept of “keeping up with the Joneses” was also much simpler: it was the notion that you needed to keep up with your neighbour in order to maintain your social class. Back then, this meant having a house that was just as nice, a car that was just as fancy and going on a vacation that was just as expensive.

Nowadays, we are trying to keep up with far more people than just our neighbours — it now includes everyone with an Instagram account. And this never ending race of competing with just about everyone we follow is not only hurting our self-esteem: it’s hurting our wallets.

This in an era when the majority of Canadians admit they don’t track their spending. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada said in a 2015 report that only 46% of Canadians they surveyed have a budget.

It’s no surprise, then, we’re the most indebted people in the world. For every $1 of disposable income we have, we owe $1.68 in debt.

Focus on buying what matters

If we’re spending money on things we don’t really need just for the gratification of getting likes on our photos, what we really need to ask ourselves is why? The reality is that very few of us are ever going to make money posting photos on Instagram. So if you think about it that way — spending money strictly to post photos on Instagram is actually a pretty crappy investment.

There’s most definitely nothing wrong with treating yourself to a fancy latte, a new pair of shoes or buying an extravagant pool floatie — but remember: buy it because you like it, not because you think hundreds of others will.