In these days of pandemic frustration, some people have found that a way to while away the time is to deep-dive in the world of social media. It presents, for them, a distraction. They get to experience the dramatic and unprecedented changes the world is going through together with other people and perhaps take some comfort that, while they may not all be together in the same boat, they are nevertheless all together in the same storm.
If you are one of these people, have you noticed that what started out as harmlessly following a community of people, who were, like yourself (inexplicably hoarding toilet paper, and buying copious amounts of flour for online food demonstration videos) somehow become all about following influencers and craving their lives? What was originally about ensuring that you got through the approaching Zombie Apocalypse with just enough food and Charmin tissue for yourself and your family somehow morphed into coveting the seemingly glamorous lives of Facebook friends, Instagram models, make-up artists and fashion bloggers.
How were these people renovating their apartments, and then taking to their social media platforms to show the envy-inducing big reveals? How were they able to post on-trend outfits of the day each day? Where were they going? And when travel restrictions had eased somewhat, how were these people embarking on exotic early-summer holiday getaways (wait, did she just kiss a giraffe at a game reserve in South Africa?) and posting the pictures on Instagram with captions like #blessed?
Be honest. Have you found yourself, even a tiny part of you, wondering why they'd stolen your life? Or at least the life you imagined for yourself? Next thing you know, you're planning a complete overhaul of your entire living room, which, frankly, was not in your budget. Or maybe you mysteriously found yourself teleported to some fast fashion online site, credit card in hand like a little plastic weapon, adding outfits, handbags, shoes and, don't forget that expensive pair of Gucci sunglasses to your shopping cart. Doesn't matter that you're working from home now. No problem, you'll wear them when you emerge from this forced period of hibernation and you go back to the office — whenever that may be.
Now you've ended up with a fancy living room, the extent of which nobody can really see on a Zoom call, a closet full of 'fits you probably can only wear when you sit in your fancy living room entertaining imaginary people; and a credit card bill that's going to take forever to pay down. You're now under a mountain of debt and unable to direct money to, say, your emergency savings fund, which, in light of daily news of virus mutation, you need to have in case the unthinkable becomes thinkable.
We've all at some time measured ourselves by the standards of others without taking into account what the real story behind their glittery smiles is. The fact is, sites like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are highly curated spaces. They have nothing to do with your reality. Social media influencers, especially highly successful ones with many followers, are often paid by companies whose products they peddle. Their job is to get these images into the minds of their followers, create psychological need, and thus direct business toward these companies.
But if you have saving goals, even if they haven't quite been articulated, they can be effectively undermined if you become unduly influenced now by social media. Let's face it, if keeping up with the Joneses was a thing before, in this age of new media, when everything is sparkly and within arm's reach with the click of a button, it's 100 times even more so now. The question to ask yourself is this: Are you willing to put yourself in debt to buy things you don't need to impress people whose opinions simply don't matter anyway?
And for anyone who says they're not unduly influenced by social media, that there's nothing wrong with a little harmless retail therapy, I agree. Some people can control the emotional urge to spend recklessly, understanding that it's just another form of addiction. But consider this: Even the purchase of one big-ticket item that wasn't in your budget can throw off your schedule of debt repayment and effectively reduce your ability to start saving for, say, #retirementgoals.
Social media has its unique purpose in these times, including the fact that, if you desire you can become a personality, which can provide an alternative income stream for you. And this is not to say that all spending resulting from seeing something online is bad. What you need to be mindful of, however, is that you don't allow yourself to become unduly influenced by these images so that they negatively affect how you spend, eventually getting in the way of your financial goals.