Beaches, Bars, and Brunch: How Facebook Makes Us All Want to Spend More

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Based on the statistics, it would appear that we spend quite a bit of time on Facebook. There’s even a tool that calculates your usage and spits out an estimate of time in days and hours. Be warned – it’s a little frightening to see the total sum.

But beyond existing to distract us from work or cure boredom, Facebook also has another very real impact on our life. Mainly, it encourages lifestyle inflation and (mostly) skewed comparisons between yourself and others.

I started out my research for this post by going to the source: hello, Facebook feed. After scrolling through, I clicked on a good friend’s Facebook profile and took a few notes on what was highlighted. First off, her background is an image from a recent trip to New York. In her first 10 photos, she’s eating at a restaurant 7 times. She’s smiling, she’s happy, and she’s surrounded by friends. I’ll go ahead and confirm that she’s a pretty happy person so that isn’t necessarily where the exaggeration lies – instead it’s in the environment where she’s photographed.

See, this friend and I often commiserate on our finances and I know how hard she’s working to get out of debt. She just sold her scooter to help pay off a credit card, she has ninja budgeting skills, and she definitely doesn’t go out to eat 70% of the time; it’s probably closer to 7% of the time. But there she is, looking like all she does is wine and dine herself without a thought to the bill. When I asked her if I could use her as an example, she looked at me and said “PLEASE. That’s not really me anyways.”

The Facebook Conundrum

Two simple elements are at work on Facebook and other social sharing sites:

  1. Content is curated by the owner of the profile
  2. People viewing make assumptions based on this curation

It’s a dangerous combo that leads to most people taking away a vacuum sealed opinion of others. The thing is, people like to show off. Scan any Facebook feed and you’re likely to see

  • Concerts
  • Trips
  • Meals out
  • Happy moments
  • New cars
  • New houses

What people aren’t showing you is the mortgage bill each month. Or the tab for the meal. Or the credit card balance. Sharing via Facebook is based around showing the experience, but not the cost. When you forget this, you can be swayed to feel jealous or want to pursue the lifestyle that a Facebook friend seems to have.

The problem with online shows of status

Status updates that attempt to show off lifestyle are exactly that – a kind of show. Social media has an element of performance and just as with any performance there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. When we’re confronted with the idealistic versions of our friends and families and we don’t acknowledge that they aren’t the full picture, we’re only judging a sliver of circumstances. When the circumstances look envy inspiring (dinner out, new car, big wedding, etc.) then you easily adopt an unrealistic sense of the truth. But just as you watch a concert with the general knowledge that much more is going on behind the curtain, you should approach online profiles the same way.

Analyze your own profile

On the scale of Facebook users, I’m definitely on the “rarely use” side. Not because I don’t enjoy connecting but I just never really got in the habit of using it frequently since I signed up. That being said, I still get little warm fuzzies when I see someone has shared something or posted on my own wall. Likewise, I like seeing the things that friends and family are up to. But I have to admit I’ve had those moments when I feel like everyone is leading a way cooler life than me. I don’t love admitting having jealous thoughts, but it’s part of being human. And man, it’s hard sometimes when you feel like your Facebook stream is full of posts sharing a promotion, an amazing trip, etc. Here’s the thing: most other people feel the same way.

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Above is a screenshot of my own profile. First glance, I think it looks pretty typical. It shows some of my lovely friends. I love baking so someone posted a recipe. I’m enamored with Oakland so I try and show it off as often as possible. I just went to Seattle for one of my best friend’s engagement parties so my profile features Seattle landmark (shoutout to the troll under a bridge).

What it doesn’t show:

  • The number of days in my past where I’ve said, “Oopers, I have to stay in because I’m living paycheck to paycheck” (in so many words).
  • A clear shot of just how infrequently I go out to eat (since the photos lump all these events together into a stream of fun events).
  • Student loan debt.
  • That time I was unemployed for a looong while.
  • That my kitchen recently flooded.
  • I’m super grumpy when I’m hungry.
  • I’m a karaoke enthusiast.

Yes my profile shows me, but only a very small portion of me. A few photos or updates could never realistically portray the complexities of an individual.

Don’t allow somebody else to set your happiness precedent

In other words, don’t compare yourself to others. Especially if you let these findings dictate where you should be, what you should be doing, etc. It sounds so simple and yet it’s easier said than done. It’s natural to use others to set a precedence for our actions. These comparisons create a social gauge and in many ways, it’s a good thing ensure you have some checks and balances in your life. But it’s essential that you aren’t using comparisons with others as a way to prop up your own goals. Support your goals with ambition and motivation rather than empty comparisons.

If you struggle to stop with comparisons, pull them away from others and try out a different kind of comparison. Compare two versions of yourself rather than by comparing yourself to someone else. For example.

  • Version 1: Content, motivated, passionate, secure, fulfilled
  • Version 2: Insecure, frustrated, jealous, empty, unsure

It’s a pretty easy contest. Of the two versions I prefer the first by far. So, instead of comparing myself to another person (who’s head I don’t live in), I work with what I have (my own head) and start thinking about how I can get there. What actions, goals, or ideas can I pursue instead of expending energy on feeling jealous.

Which one do you prefer more? From there, what are some steps you can go about achieve it?

What’s more lasting – the real version or the “best” version?

Facebook is handy in that it’s an online platform to store some of your favorite memories. There’s nothing wrong with sharing the highlights in your life! But there’s also something a little dangerous when you base your opinions or actions based on what another person’s profile looks like. When it comes to spending more money in order to meet another standard that you see online, or assuming that people are better off if they post photos of dinner out – you’re only doing yourself a disservice.

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  • Ruben Omega

    You’ve brought up a really great point! I know one friend in particular who almost gets “depressed” when he sees what others are doing (via Facebook) which makes him feel less accomplished. I keep reminding him the same thing that you do — that it’s all curated! Nice article.

    • Claire Murdough

      Thank you Ruben! You rock :)

  • Brando

    Loved this! We have started a debt free journey and its been a bumpy start. We got married in October, I started a new job in November, and I’m gone so much because of the job. We are making a good salary combined right now which will get better in the first part of next year. It is coming up on our 1 year anniversary and I really wanted to take an awesome trip. My friends are taking an awesome vacation to Mexico and I want to go so bad but its around 3,000 after its all said and done. So yes the rational part of me knows that is a no go.

    I’m happy to say we have enough money to make our minimum payments and then some a month. We are trying to knock down 93,000 in shared debt btw and can be out of debt in the next 4 years. Which will be sooner as incomes improve and we pay things off. However, what is a fair amount to put back towards us. I work offshore and I’m gone 70% of the year and I really would like to invest in fun activities for us to do when I’m home.

    I recently joined Readyforzero and I have to say it is an awesome
    planning tool. I really like that it is straightforward and has
    visual/graphical representations of where we are at.

    • Claire Murdough

      Thank you so much for your comment and kudos Brando!! Sounds like you have a great perspective on your financial timeline and are rocking the repayment :)

      I’m so happy to hear that you’re finding ReadyForZero helpful – please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help you out or make it even easier. Keep up the amazing work!!