Instagram Leads to Overspending for Emerging Generations


Does scrolling through your Instagram lead to overspending?

Paul Davidson of USA Today reports:

Thirty-five percent of Americans admit they feel pressured to spend more than they can afford after seeing images of their friends’ lives on sites like Facebook and Instagram, according to Schwab’s 2019 modern wealth survey. The FOMO effect is most dramatic for young adults. About half of millennials and 44% of Generation Z (those born approximately between 1995 to 2015) acknowledge their spending habits are at least partly shaped by social media.

There is a difference between feeling pressured to spend more than you can afford and making purchases, but nonetheless, social media is influencing emerging generations. They’re thinking about accumulating possessions, spending money, and signaling status by sharing experiences and trips on social media as a result of what they are exposed to online.

This phenomenon is not new. For generations we’ve been surrounded by advertising, and marketers have only improved their understanding of how to effectively sell a product. But now, rather than being marketed products directly and impersonally via advertising, social media markets products and experiences indirectly and personally through the influence of family, friends, and social media “influencers” and celebrities.

Being sold things is part of taking part in social media--a lifestyle, experience, products, ideas. And sometimes we’re the sellers, even when we don’t realize it.

In Waylon Jenning’s classic “Luckenbach, Texas” he sings about having “been so busy keepin’ up with the Jones/Four car garage and we’re still building on,” pining for a return “to the basics of love.” He wants to head to the small town of Luckenbach, Texas, where “ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain.”

“Keepin’ up with the Jones” is the old way of describing this reality. In his USA Today piece, Davidson calls it “keeping up with Instagram.”

Every successive generation needs to be taught about money and financial stewardship. The challenges to simplicity, frugality, and generosity, however, subtly shift and change with time. Instagram and other social media platforms, by nature indirect in their influence, are a bit more insidious. The developers of those platforms did not set out to create an application that pressures people to spend. But it does. Now that we know, what do we do about it?

The answer is discipleship. Not only do we need to teach emerging generations how to manage their money, but we also need to name the false idols and inner motivations that lead toward an over-consumptive lifestyle. We feel pressure to spend not only because we long for status, but perhaps because we are falling prey to greed, jealousy, and pride.

This can be done in a loving but firm way, framing the love of God alongside Jesus’ calling to deny oneself and follow him.