Don’t let social media dictate your festive season spend

'Best life' posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can deceive others but not your bank balance

It’s impressive to be seen living it up at exotic getaway destinations and rocking a new outfit every post, but we have to remember that this social-media life is not real.

The holidays are instant gratification season when we are more likely to make impulse purchases, as much for the brief joy of it as the temporary clout it might earn us on social media. Picture: 123RF/OCUSFOCUS
The holidays are instant gratification season when we are more likely to make impulse purchases, as much for the brief joy of it as the temporary clout it might earn us on social media. Picture: 123RF/OCUSFOCUS

As the holiday season kicks off, it’s tempting to ramp up our “best life” posts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s impressive to be seen living it up at exotic getaway destinations, rocking a new outfit every post, and showing off an array of expensive purchases.  

Zanele Kunene
Zanele Kunene

But we have to remember that this social-media life is not real. Social media may make others believe that our lives are amazing, but our Instagram account can’t deceive our bank balance. You can’t put a Facebook post in your budget. A Snapchat filter won’t improve your overdraft.

The maintenance culture of trying to keep up appearances on social media is not sustainable. We simply cannot finance a lifestyle that is beyond our means, no matter if it makes us an influencer. 

This includes taking a month-long overseas holiday over December. We might be able to sustain such a lifestyle in the short term using credit, but sooner or later we will come crashing back to earth. 

To put appearances ahead of the basics of financial planning is not just unsustainable, but irresponsible. We should not prioritise flamboyant material self-expression over fundamentals like insurance, for instance. 

This is not to say that we cannot go on holiday, but holidays must be budgeted for as part of long-term financial planning. Perhaps we will only be able to take that overseas holiday in three years’ time, but if that is our financial reality, we need to face it. 

It’s not about how we would like our financial situation to look, but what we would like that financial position to be!

It all starts with setting up objectives. Once we have clarified what we are trying to achieve in our career, our education and in our family life, all of our actions should be consciously directed towards achieving those things. 

A key part of re-evaluating our social media activity is deciding which people are most important in our lives. Is it our followers, or our family? 

If we are honest with ourselves, we all know that family comes first, and that our long-term financial planning needs to not only take family into account, but must be undertaken in consultation with them. 

We need to have honest family conversations about what we are aiming to achieve, how we plan to do it, and the short-term sacrifices required to get us there. Once our loved ones understand us on this level, it becomes much easier to stick to a plan, because we’re not trying to project a lifestyle that is financially unsustainable to a group of people we hardly know. 

At my home, we make an effort to remove the stigma around hard financial truths. We often leave invoices out on the kitchen counter, to stimulate discussions around what bills need to be paid. Pretty soon we are collaborating on drawing up the household budget.

Financial planning incorporates career and educational planning. If our current financial bracket does not allow for a December splurge and a holiday gifting extravaganza, it may be time for us to invest in education and training that will qualify us for a better position and a better salary. In this way, we plan for lifestyle upgrades and achieve them, rather than funding them on credit, only to crash and burn shortly thereafter. 

Instant gratification certainly looks sexier than methodically paying off debt, but the latter is more empowering in the long term. 

The holidays are instant gratification season when we are more likely to make impulse purchases, as much for the brief joy of it as the temporary clout it might earn us on social media. 

The solution to avoid falling victim to these impulses is to build a broader understanding of ourselves and our finances and life objectives. This may require some delayed gratification in the short term and even over holiday periods such as these.

  • Kunene is an Associate Financial Planner professional at BDO South Africa
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