Financial ‘FOMO’: How Facebook and Instagram can lead to bad spending habits
Like, comment and spend: How social media platforms can influence you to make bad financial decisions
By Michelle Singletary Columnist October 5, 2021 at 5:49 p.m. EDT
In the personal finance world, a common mantra has always been: “Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.”
Financial advisers say this to keep people from overspending in their quest to look as good as, drive as nice a car as or vacation as often as the proverbial Jones family — who are probably living paycheck to paycheck and amassing credit card debt to fund their lavish lifestyle.
Then came Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms that amplified “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out. The ceaseless posts of people boasting about their fabulous clothes, cars, birthday parties, cruises or other spending sprees come fast and furious.
A few years ago, a video of a megachurch pastor went viral. He eventually was skewered for splurging on a $200,000 Lamborghini for his wife — the big event captured on Instagram for all to envy. Showmanship was the point, because what else would motivate someone to capture such conspicuous consumption? Why tell the world that you got your spouse a car that cost the equivalent of a home in some Zip codes?
Social media amplifies the reach beyond people’s friendship groups and neighborhoods — and thus beyond their spending thresholds. The Joneses have been replaced by the Kardashian family’s flashiness.
Even the clan’s tiny tots sport glamorous outfits, strollers and accessories that cost more than some folks’ weekly paychecks. Part of their claim to fame and profits is their own products, touted on their social media platforms. Kylie Jenner just introduced baby products “tested and approved” by her 3-year-old daughter, Stormi. (A limited-edition Kylie Baby PR Box signed by Jenner goes for $200 — for a baby. SMH!)
We now have more evidence than ever from a whistleblower that Facebook knew that its variousapps were pushing through posts that harm the self-image and mental health of young girls. Former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen recently outed herself as the source of leaked internal company data.
“Facebook in its current form is dangerous,” Haugen said in an interview with The Washington Post.
But it’s not just young girls who are being hurt. It’s not much of a leap to say these platforms are probably damaging people’s financial lives.
Wealth sells. It gets eyeballs.
Of course, checking out society pages, television shows and movies about the rich and famous and their extravagant lifestyles has always been a spectator sport. But now mobile devices are constantly pinging people with images and stories that make them wish they had more luxuries of their own. It’s a daily barrage of boasting. Enough just isn’t enough when someone on Facebook or Instagram has more.
Seven in 10 Facebook users — and around 6 in 10 Instagram and Snapchat users — visit these sites at least once a day, according to the Pew Research Center. Majorities of 18-to-29-year-olds say they use Instagram or Snapchat, and about half say they use TikTok, Pew found.
In response to the outrage about its practices, Facebook said in a statement: “Every day our teams have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place.”
For many spendthrifts, these platforms are not a mentally safe space. It’s incredibly detrimental to consume so much of this media centered on consumption and the haves with their glamorously airbrushed lives. The documents Haugen shared show a system that feeds into users’ low self-esteem.
Social media is producing a new reference group of influencers. In-person peer pressure is bad enough, but now young girls and boys are trying to compete with people they don’t even know. In addition to hyper-sexualization that makes these young adults feel their bodies aren’t good enough, there’s the added supersized burden of dressing to impress on a world stage.
I’m the parent of three 20-somethings, and they’ve elected to keep their social media engagement to a minimum. At first, it was because my husband and I prohibited them from the platforms out of an abundance of caution. Once they were allowed to create accounts as older teens, they ultimately limited the usage on their own. The comparisons were psychologically damaging, even though they were living a pretty good life.
“It just made me feel bad about myself,” our eldest daughter said. “Comparing myself to the highlight reel of everyone’s life would leave me feeling that I wasn’t enough or didn’t have the lifestyle that I wanted when in reality I actually do.”
Much of what is viewed isn’t good for children or adults. In my community work, I’ve seen how people spend more money than they plan to or go into debt because they see so many friends and influencers living it up.
Social media can be a stress producer, which is why we all probably need less screen time. Watching others live what we think are better lives can make you feel worse about your own life — and that can affect your psychological and financial well-being.