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Money and social media: Why it’s so easy to part with your cash

How social media make us spend money and hwo to control it.

Compilation image of Emma sitting on the soft, social media TikTok symbol on a phone and hands holding money
Social media has become a consumption playground, making it easier than ever to part with your money. (Source: Supplied/Getty) (Samantha Menzies)

Not so long ago, my use of social media didn’t go far beyond snooping on friends from high school, posting quippy status updates, and using the ‘toaster’ filter on my selfie with a cupcake. Now though, my arm will ache from holding my phone above my head while I watch someone rattle off their latest life-improving Amazon finds, or restock their at-home coffee bar with more supplies than my local Muffin Break.

I’d never considered whether my suitcase needed a cup holder, and yet somehow I considered buying one. I’ve lived my life for 32 years using washing powder straight from the box it came in. But hang on. Perfectly sized perspex containers that make my laundry shelf look like a show home? Maybe I need those.

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Social media has become a consumption playground. In fact, according to Deloitte, the global social commerce market could reach over $1 trillion in sales in 2023. But what is it about social media that makes us hand over our cash faster than you can say viral neck pillow?

Almost every aspect of our lives is shoppable

The functionality of social media itself has editorialised our lives in ways we’ve never seen before. We can tap for details and see tagged brands. We can tap the link to head straight to a product page, and find ourselves seconds away from checking out in an instant.

I recently heard someone refer to the idea of “where did you get that” culture, referencing our proximity to influencers, celebrities and public figures, and our ability to uncover where we can buy something within minutes. In essence, social media has inserted us into each other’s lives, and those lives are now shoppable.

Our affinity with immediacy has shortened the purchase process

Rapid advancements in technology have ramped up our obsession with immediacy. I used to queue for an undefined period of time in the freezing cold to get a cab home from a night out. Now, anything longer than a six-minute wait for an Uber will have me huffing and puffing. And we want things faster in more places than just the taxi queue.

Widespread immediacy and smoother user experiences have shortened our decision-making processes. As a result, we’re making purchase decisions faster and based on less and less information. Streamlined checkout processes, stored card details and a seamless journey from app to cart have erased many common barriers to purchasing, resulting in us acting on impulse more than ever before.

Social proof and trust make us spend

Word of mouth and social recommendations aren’t anything new when it comes to what influences our purchase decisions. But social media has taken things to a whole new level. Consuming content and media from people we relate to rather than editorial publications like magazines is an entirely different experience. We have a sense of trust and relevance to influencers, creators and sometimes even brands themselves.

Proximity to the people behind the content we consume can lead to the development of a ‘parasocial relationship’. It’s easy to feel like your favourite influencer is like a close friend – especially if you interact with them in some way through likes, comments or direct messages. This fosters a similar level of trust to recommendations from real friends and family. On top of that, our natural human need to belong is what makes virality so powerful. If everyone jumps on a trend, we want a piece of the pie too.

Intelligent algorithms curate a feed of content that gets us going

Social media’s hyper-intelligent algorithms mean the apps we scroll know exactly what makes us tick. We’re constantly being served up a bespoke smorgasbord of content that’s designed to get us to engage more. And if that content isn’t tempting us to spend already, strategically placed ads will seal the deal. Ads that relate to content we’ve engaged with can follow us around the internet for days. This repeated exposure gradually increases our curiosity and desire, and chips away at our willpower until we convert to a purchaser – if we haven’t already.

So, is spending on social media a bad thing?

Not necessarily. It’s all about conscious awareness and building your own levels of what I like to call ‘consumption literacy’. With so much available to buy, and so many places to buy it at all hours of the day and night, it’s critical that we build a sense of resilience to protect our own financial well-being.

As a financial behavior specialist®, I spend my days talking about why we do the things we do with money. But I’m also a human being, and I love my TikTok-approved water cup more than I care to admit. Can spending too much on random things hyped up by social media impact your financial well-being? Yes. Especially if it’s keeping you on a spending hamster wheel and compromising your ability to save money or pay off debt.

But, equally, can you manage your money well while still indulging in the occasional frivolous purchase? Of course. Just keep an eye on your impulses and how they're impacting your financial well-being.

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