How Social Media is the New Hypnotic Ecosystem that Is Destroying Your Financial LifeJun 09, 2019
Let’s take a few moments and deconstruct a simple question: are you one of the millions of people who are “trying to keep up with the Joneses?” Please be honest with yourself.
Most people will immediately and adamantly deny such a claim. However, the financial circumstances and situation in this country contradicts that idea.
The harsh truth and reality most people don’t want to admit and face is this: despite our best efforts to avoid getting caught up in ‘keeping up with’ friends and family, we do precisely that. Many people don’t even know it.
Often, We Don’t Even Realize We’re Doing It
That’s the sad reality. Most of what we do with our money, our finances, is so rooted in our belief systems that we never think twice about our actions.
We see an old high school friend posting photos, telling stories about their latest, great, wonderful, exceptional, family-oriented vacation and we look back at our most recent trip to a local beach.
Blech. How ‘mundane’ and completely ordinary was that? We think.
We watch repeated posts from people we don’t even know — people we connected to because of some common interest or hobby or profession or they were a friend of a friend, etc. — smiling for the camera, dressing up in the nicest clothes, celebrating their “perfect” marriage on their 38 month anniversary, or showing us their brand-new car.
Sometimes we witness our Facebook or Instagram or Twitter friends giving us the ‘play-by-play’ on their new kitchen remodel, renovating their outdoor patio or porch, or some other renovation to improve the look, feel, and value of their home.
What happens then?
It’s a natural component of the human condition to become a little bit envious of those who seem to have it “all together”. It doesn’t matter how much money we earn, how much is sitting in our savings account, how strong our retirement portfolio is at any given time; what we see on social media is a snapshot, a blink of an eye of other people’s lives.
It’s Often the Best Parts (and It’s Rarely Genuine)
We live in reality. Nobody can escape that. However, while we’re mired in frustration, doubt, anger at our spouse or children at times, frustrated with our jobs, can’t stand our boss, feel like we’re working our fingers to the bone just to save for the next vacation that isn’t going to be anything close to what some of our friends are posting about their cruises, tropical getaways, and so on.
It appears, on the surface, as though these men and women — family, close friends, casual acquaintances, and even strangers — are living the absolute perfect dream.
They never seem to fight with their significant other. Their children always seem to be perfectly behaved. We rarely ever see posts about their frustrations, their doubts, their anger, or their failures.
It’s almost always positive.
It creates a false narrative. Yet, even though we may understand this at an innate level, we look at those lives, all those dozens and maybe even hundreds of people sharing the perfection of their life with us and turn to look in the mirror.
We Never Seem to Measure Up
No matter how good things seem to be at any given time, even when we’re on vacation, relaxing with our family, and doing the exact things we always wanted to do, 10 minutes on your Facebook timeline, Twitter feed, or Instagram page can change all that.
Even as everything seems to be going perfect, we can feel inadequate. Suddenly, we have this desire to “do more”, “be more”, or “impress more.”
Maybe that vacation you took with your family stretched your budget way beyond what you were comfortable with. You racked up more credit card debt than you wanted to, but your kids are laughing and smiling … at least for a few minutes. Then, later on in the evening, back at the hotel, they could be brooding or moping because they miss their friends or this boy or that girl did this, that, or the other thing. They’ll be on their tablets and smartphones sucking the very air out of that hotel room and you’ll wonder why this wasn’t ‘good enough’.
You may look at yourself and see a few extra wrinkles, or maybe you see a couple of extra pounds packed on and compare yourself and your life to the illusion of perfection being meted out to social media.
This Is When We Open Our Wallets
The moment a person feels inadequate, as though they don’t currently ‘measure up’ to the ‘in’ or hip things of the time, we turn to money and things we can buy to feel satisfied with ourselves.
We start looking at a better house. We consider a nicer vacation to a more exotic destination. We think about the car we drive. Before we know it, we’re facing a midlife crisis — whether we’re in our 20s still, 30s, 40s, or 50s. We say to ourselves, “I deserve it!”
We start spending more of what we earn to try and impress. Few people are actually willing to share the dirt and filth and ugliness of their everyday lives of social media, but prefer to highlight the best things.
This isn’t conscious thinking; in fact, it’s done on a subconscious level, and it’s on autopilot. Your unconscious brain has taken over and you’re now programmed to fail financially.
Think about it: when you’re planning to go out on a date with your spouse, somebody you’re courting, or even heading to a family reunion, what do you do?
You present yourself as best you can. You put on your nicest clothes, maybe spend some extra money on hairstyling, perhaps purchase a pair of brand-new shoes to match your outfit, and make sure everything is in place, staring at yourself in the mirror before heading out the door.
This is completely natural to want to look and feel your best when out in public or trying to court someone you’re interested in.
But that hypnotic ecosystem called ‘social media’ essentially brings that “out in public” mentality into our lives, into the privacy of our homes, our families, and more pressing, our thoughts 24/7.
What Purchases Made Last Year Were Inspired by Social Media?
Can you name any? It may be difficult to think about, but you may very well have spent of vast amount of your savings or earnings chasing after material items to try and feel better about yourself.
It’s likely you’re not even aware of the power of social media on your spending habits.
Those habits and patterns have been developed over many years of your life, but with social media they’re taking a much firmer position in the forefront of your thoughts.
Did you consider a new car? Have you been looking at a particular model, drooling over its sleek design, amazing color, and perfect finish? Do you head out the door and climb into the “rust bucket” you have (that’s only 5 or 6 years old) and spend an hour or more stuck in rush hour traffic just trying to get to a job you hate and think about what you don’t have or aren’t driving?
Where have your thoughts gone with regard to your house? Are you content in it? Are you satisfied? Or have you been thinking about something bigger, a renovation, or remodeling one or more rooms in the house?
Perhaps you swung by Home Depot on your way home from work a few dozen more times this past year than you normally would, grabbing a few items here and there, not thinking much about it, but feeling a lot better about yourself. You may have walked through the design center and wondered what a new kitchen would feel like.
Maybe it’s clothing. Have you purchased new shirts, new slacks, a new dress, new designer shoes, jewelry, or something else to make yourself feel a little better?
Whatever it is that you’ve been spending your money on this past year, was it necessary?
In Most Cases, the Answer Is No
The bulk of what we buy in this country is on unnecessary, “luxury” items. And, because of the way your belief system revolving around money was developed, you may not even think about them in such terms.
Most of the items people purchase — whether it’s at Walmart, Neiman Marcus, Best Buy, Amazon, or anywhere else — are justified by those same people as being “necessary.”
It could be a TV, surround sound system, junk food, soda or wine, toys for their kids, electronics, car parts and accessories, new tools, and so on. Whatever it is, most of us purchase these items because we think we “need” them.
Sure, you may need a certain tool to do a specific job around the house, but do you need a new TV? Do you “need” new clothing?
No, in most cases, the vast majority of people in the United States don’t need those things. They want them.
That’s the toughest question of all to answer. It’s often because we don’t feel content with what we have. We’ve gotten into the habit of believing a new item, a new technology, a new phone or whatever is going to make us happy again.
And it may. It’s like a drug. The endorphins and dopamine released in your brain when you purchase something you desire will make you feel good… for a moment.
You may even post about it on social media, that amazing new outdoor BBQ set you just picked up that resembles the cockpit of Boeing 747 and how it does everything you could possibly want a grill to do. A couple of weeks from now it’ll be just another object in the backyard, similar to the one you recently threw out.
Yet, one of your friends or followers will see that post and feel a little bit worse for it. They might look at their grill or their TV or their house or their car or their next planned ‘staycation’ or whatever it is and wish it was a little bit more like yours: new.
Step Away from the Madness
Look, I’m not suggesting you take down your social media profiles and not use these platforms. Social media is a tool that allows us to stay connected with friends and family and other people we would never likely meet in real life, anywhere in the world. But sadly, these platforms have morphed into something beyond our imagination in terms of their power to dictate how we think about ourselves and live our lives.
Like any tool, you need to respect it… otherwise it can bite.
It could be a knife, a saw, a hammer, a sewing needle, or even social media: the moment you no longer respect it, the moment you aren’t paying attention to how much damage it could actually cause with a moment’s distraction is the second it bites you.
Social media is the same way.
We need to keep social media in the proper perspective. As a tool it can be beneficial. When we no longer respect it and keep it in the proper perspective, we often begin measuring our lives against the lives of those with whom we’re connected on the platform.
And even though we may adamantly deny the fact that we’re trying to “keep up with the Joneses,” that’s exactly what we end up doing. Just remember, in many cases, the Joneses are doing the same thing and most are struggling as well.
And in order to keep up, it will consume our paychecks, dig into our savings, and erode the financial future we had been hoping to one day enjoy.
So the next time your spending temptations are getting the best you, take a moment and ponder this question: do I really need it?