We all have one of those friends — on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter — and her life looks like something out of a glossy magazine.
She posts pictures of the fresh flowers on her desk at work at least once a week, pictures of mouthwatering meals at restaurants, and her perfectly manicured toes poking out of $300 sandals.
But she may also have a dark secret: Those styled, curated lives we glimpse through photos on social media may be costing her an arm and a leg.
I read this “Financial Confession” of a popular Instagrammer whose lifestyle has put her into debt with equal parts fascination and horror. I see lots of small business owners in my line of work (especially women) who tout their Pinterest-perfect lifestyles on social media as part of their brand — but this gal was spending hundreds of dollars a month, and not earning a penny from the exercise.
It’s easy to judge her, isn’t it?
The cost of keeping up appearances
Maybe you’re not putting pictures of your perfect life on Instagram or Facebook, but have you ever bought new clothes for a party, splurged on fancy wine or snacks when friends were coming over, or purchased expensive shoes to impress at work?
Even as a financial planner, I fell into this trap! When I was in private practice, all my coworkers drove really nice, fancy cars as a symbol of their financial status. So, of course, I went out and bought a similar car — that I didn’t even really want! I wanted all of them to know I was successful more than I wanted the car.
Social media can really ramp up that comparison game. When you see your friends posting pictures of their perfect life, it makes you want to join in the fun — whether they’re drinking mimosas at a swanky restaurant or taking a trip to Italy.
And what if you already are one of those people with the picture perfect lifestyle? What happens when your lifestyle exceeds your means? There’s a certain pressure once you’ve created a public persona to maintain it. Even celebrities feel this kind of pressure. Bankrupt rapper 50 Cent admitted to faking images of his extravagant lifestyle on social media to keep up appearances.
5 Ways to stop comparison / appearances spending
If you do find yourself in this kind of comparison trap, making poor financial decisions to try to keep up appearances, here are five suggestions that may help you get out of these bad habits:
Step away from the computer. (Or phone. Or tablet.)
Taking a social sabbatical can be an excellent way to regain some perspective. Whether you decide to abstain for a day, a week, a month, or longer, you should find that you’re better able to focus on the life that’s actually happening around you without having to worry about getting the perfect shot.
Unfriend, unfollow, and filter your feed.
We’ve all got our triggers. If you find that seeing a particular person’s updates gets your green-eyed monster all riled up, you might need to filter out or unfollow that account for a while. The same goes for any media input that’s negatively influencing your spending habits, whether that’s your favorite fashion magazines or watching cooking shows that entice you to buy the latest gadget.
Remember not everything is as it seems.
If you do see someone’s post that makes you feel a twinge of jealousy or competition, remember that there’s a little bit of digital magic and definitely some careful curation going on. Whether it’s a photo of the one clean corner in someone’s apartment, a snap of a healthy meal with the candy bar judiciously left out, or a pricey product that someone else paid for, you never know exactly what’s real, and what’s the result of some smoke and mirrors.
Focus on your goals.
Is another like on Facebook more important to you than, say, buying a house or being able to retire before you’re 90? Try to look at things in perspective. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on long-term goals when that photo-worthy latte and magazine are calling now, but having clear goals in mind can help.
Practice conscious spending.
All of this advice may fly straight out the window if you’ve been on a deprivation budget and are crazy to do something that feels good. So instead of cutting out all your splurges, maybe you keep the one that gives you the most pleasure. And then Instagram the hell out of that one thing, my friend. Become known for your fantastic photos of that one aspect of your life if it brings you happiness.
(P.S. Want to learn more about conscious spending instead of budgeting? Check out my book: Personal Finance that Doesn’t Suck!)
What’s your experience been? Have you ever bought something because you were “curating” your lifestyle and then regretted it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories. And if you’re on Instagram like I am, tag me in your pictures of #reallife so we can all support each other in letting go of perfection.
BTW, are you on my email list? Joining gives you access to my vault of free resources, worksheets and tools to help you get better with your money – you can find that here.
Note: With increased online spending comes more concern about identity theft. Our friends over at consumeraffairs.org compiled a great reference on the best identity theft protection services that I thought you might want to check out.