It’s well known that most people determine self-worth and personal value, at least in part, by comparing themselves to those in their social circle. In psychology, this is known as social comparison theory, and with the ever-increasing use of social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, social comparison is having a greater effect on us and on how we spend our money.
Social networks for better or for worse are part of our culture. There are now 2.23 billion Facebook users, 1 billion Instagram users, and 335 million Twitter users. Linkedin is at 562 million users. Yes! That last one surprised me too. With the widespread availability of social media, it’s become easier to scroll through other people’s posts and begin comparing yourself to them or their circumstances.
Social Comparison and Spending
Studies have shown that people who make frequent social comparisons are more likely to experience feelings of envy, regret, guilt, and defensiveness, blame others or have unmet cravings. Overall, people who make a lot of negative social comparisons tend to be more unhappy and have more destructive feeling and behaviors. These feeling when not properly dealt with can lead to behaviors that often have negative financial consequences.
Retail therapy is a term that we’ve come to understand, especially in our North American culture. It’s spending money in hopes it will help us feel better or make us forget our pain. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work because it’s not dealing with the root cause of our feelings and pain.
When you’re exposed to the “perfect” lives of people on social media it’s natural to compare yourself to them, feel inferior, and look for a way to make yourself feel better. Money has that ability, at least in the short-term, to provide us with the means of acquiring something that brings satisfaction and temporary joy.
Limiting Social Comparison and Controlling Your Spending
1. Stay alert and think positive
You can’t completely stop social comparison because it’s an instinctive psychological habit that helps us determine our own self-worth. In other words, it can be a good thing when our approach is positive and constructive rather than negative and destructive. Staying alert to negative social comparison, especially when engaging in social media, can help you avoid going down that rabbit hole. Rather than comparing yourself to others, you can be the best version of yourself.
2. Practice gratitude
Being grateful is the best way to overcome social comparison and remain financially healthy. When you take daily inventory of all you already have and express gratitude in yourself, you’ll be less prone to feeling inferior to your peers and indulging in buying things to make you feel better.
3. To Stay focused, have a plan
A friend of mine says, “The wrong time to check the condition of your gear is on the battlefield.” A soldier prepares for war by training ahead of time in simulated situations similar to the ones he’ll encounter in battle. If you’re going to be financially healthy you need to prepare for “the financial battle” you’ll encounter ahead of you. Having a plan can take the guessing out of what you can afford to do financially. It provides clarity for what you can do and what you’ve agreed to do. This is very helpful, especially when retail therapy feels like the right thing to do.
Comparison is an instinctive reaction to being in community with other people. It can be good or bad, and the effects will be mirrored in your finances. With awareness, gratitude, and a plan, you can stay emotionally healthy and financially in control.
How has social media affected your spending? What insight can you share to help others?