Don’t Buy In To “Facebook Finances”

During my obsessive consumption of social media coming out of #FinCon15, I caught pictures of the full faces of two of my favorite anonymous bloggers: The Frugalwoods and J. Money. Neither of them looked anything like I’d imagined (which is surprising because I’ve seen a lot of profiles, partial faces, etc). But instead of being disappointed, I thought “how refreshing!” The financial blogger world (and especially the early retirement world) is such an interesting microcosm because people talk about real money. People share their net worth. People share how much they spend, down to the penny. Savings and Debt payoff are celebrated! Financial Independence days are a thing! But we don’t know or care about job titles, home sizes, or even what these people look like!

Compare that with your Facebook feed. Selfie. Travel pic. Dinner out. Selfie. Selfie with friends. How many of your friends are announcing debt payoffs or savings amounts? Is anyone patting them on the back for making wise financial decisions? Our society has decided that talking about how much we make, how much we spend, how much debt we have, and how much we save is not okay. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to brag about expensive dinners, new cars, new houses, impressive job titles, and all the stuff we have.

One of my all-time favorite books is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It’s about a concierge in a fancy French apartment building. She’s a philosophical person, but makes sure that she maintains the stereotype of being a dumb, fat concierge. She keeps the TV droning on so people will hear it while she reads in the other room. A few of the tenants discover her secret and try to get her to be more honest about who she is. (I recommend it whole-heartedly if you’re looking for an awesome read.) Based on this premise, how can we live our lives more true to ourselves in this world of “Facebook Finances?” Here are a few commitments I’m going to make:

Stop Living a Secret Life

Of course I’m not saying you should post your net worth on Facebook for your friends and family or tell all your co-workers (or your boss!) you intend to leave for early retirement soon. But you can also be an influencer. If you’ve figured this whole saving/retirement thing out, you’re definitely in the minority. And more people are interested in talking about money than you think. They just don’t want you to talk about YOUR money. But you can certainly say: “I’ve read that [insert good financial sense] and I think it’s a good idea. We’re going to try it out. Don’t you think that’s interesting?” You don’t need to mention you’ve been doing that thing for ten years already.

Anyone around you could be living a secret life. Is your next-door neighbor actually a millionaire like the book title? Maybe next month, your co-worker will surprise everyone and quit 20 years before everyone else. I like to test the waters by casually mentioning things like “They say if you save 25 times your income, you can retire.” To date, I have not sniffed out anyone planning to retire early. But isn’t it exciting to think I might? And I like talking about personal finance. So I plan to keep the discussions going and occasionally share something smart and pertinent with people around me.

Don’t Glorify Consumerism

With the upcoming PFD, things in Alaska get pretty crazy. People will take that giant check, walk it into Best Buy, and spend the whole thing.

It’s hard to have a discussion with anyone that doesn’t involve “stuff.” That’s all we talk about these days. Shouldn’t consumerism be up there with religion and politics on the “worst topics to discuss publicly” list? But it’s not! When people start glorifying stuff, I plan to change the topic to experiences. “I’m sure your kids will love their new tablets for Christmas. That’s awesome. I’m pretty tired of helping my kids organize all the stuff they already have. I think I want to start saving up for a trip instead. Wouldn’t it be cool if my kids got to see the real Eiffel Tower?” When people start talking about money spent, I plan to change the subject to interesting ways to save. “We’re experimenting with raising our automatic retirement payments from our paycheck. I’ve read it’s a lot easier to save when you don’t ever see that money. I love that idea!” Again, I don’t plan to reveal my entire secret life.

Stop the Selfishness

I’m not that in to the selfie craze, so I don’t have a big problem there. I’m more guilty of the “kid selfie” where I post all the funny pictures of my kids (because, of course, my children are funnier and more adorable than all the other kids in your newsfeed). As a society, we’ve decided to focus on ourselves. And that’s the opposite of the message I want to teach my children. My kids know I am more proud of any indication of selflessness than any academic, artistic, or physical achievement. My favorite moments are the ones where my kids all play together because, despite their age differences, they come up with something that would be fun for everyone. When they get home from school, I ask them what their favorite moment of the day was, but I also ask them if they helped anyone.

As adults, we need to “play together.” I would much rather have important discussions about problems in the world or ways we can help people we know than have conversations where we all trade off talking about ourselves. Let’s change the discussion. We can be influences for good in the world. If you get someone to look at their retirement plan or save $50, you’ve helped. If you’ve figured out someone you know that could use some help and had a discussion with someone else about an action plan, you’ve broken more than one person out of the usual rut. Good for you!

What do you do to avoid “Facebook Finances” or the prevailing discussion of selfishness and consumerism?

Facebook Finances

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20 Comments

  1. I have already removed Facebook from my phone (have not regretted it in the least). I think next is my profile all together. But you are so right about drawing the comparison. I ran into a reddit feed on the same topic the other day. Basically it was people sharing about how them trying to make others (family, friends, coworkers) aware of their financial savvy turned out to be horrible. Basically the moral of the story was if you tell people about how much you save and any FI plans, you become an outcast and people then start to think you’re weird. I mostly keep this topic to myself (except for my blog of course) and close friends and family. If I can tell someone else is financially savvy, maybe I’ll ease into the topic – but those people are few and far in between.

    • MaggieBanks

      Right. I don’t think it’s a good idea to come all out on it, as I said. But I do like to bring up some good ideas to get people thinking about it… and pretend I’ve just thought of it too! I would love to get rid of Facebook, but with three kids, all the PTA info, school updates, playdate/birthday party invites are all done through Facebook. I hate that! When I “go dark” for even a few days, my kids miss out. Now I just try to check on those things and get out!

  2. I also post gratuitous pictures of my children, but justify it by explaining that far-away relatives request the pictures. Asking about whether they helped anyone today is a great idea. I think we will have to try that out when Goofball gets home.

    The problem with Facebook and finances is that you don’t know the whole picture. Friends post things to brag about houses, cars or vacations, but you don’t know whether they’re drowning in debt. These pictures influence our goals and set up a false perception of what is “normal.” I try to just focus my energy on our personal issues and dreams.

    • MaggieBanks

      Exactly! We’ve taken “keeping up the with Joneses” to a whole new level. All of a sudden, you know the consumer “success” of every person you’ve ever known. Talk about pressure for everyone! Instead of glorifying our prudence, we glorify our excess.

      And, of course, I only post for “out of town relatives” as well. 🙂

  3. Great post. I love that FB has the hiding feature for people/posts and use it when needed. I keep FB because I have some groups that I’ve joined. However, they now have a group app so I go straight to the Group when needed.

    • MaggieBanks

      Group app? that’s awesome! Too bad school PTA announcements aren’t in groups. Playdate invites are usually group chats, so that’s useful… but I wish I could avoid the main interface of Facebook all together! (PS – Sorry your comment was stuck in spam… my bad!)

  4. ” Financial Independence days are a thing! ” Sure are;)

  5. I ditched my personal Facebook profile several years ago. I found that it was causing me heart troubles. As in, my heart was thinking ugly thoughts about people after seeing their beautiful (albeit Facebook-ified) lives. I found that it helped a lot to dump Facebook and start having people over for dinner. Isn’t it weird how in-person relationships can cure jealousy? I love your thoughts and words on this subject.

    • MaggieBanks

      In person relationships are always better. I primarily use facebook as a database “I need a dress for a wedding. An orange one. Go.” – that has worked for me several times!

    • Janeen, I feel the same way about FB. I like to use it as a tool to stay close to some of my old friends from school, but I find more often than not I start thinking ugly thoughts about people I truly care about based on what they post.

      FB seems like a never ending competition to me. Everyone is always having the best time ever. It doesn’t feel authentic.

      • MaggieBanks

        I completely agree with you (sorry your comment got stuck in spam for awhile!). You’re not having the best time ever all the time?

  6. I used to be guilty of this exact thing – using Facebook to portray a life that made me out to be some rich guy who’s always having fun, kicking ass and optionally taking names. And now, I recognize that same behavior so very clearly in those whom I am Facebook friends with.

    People always post pictures of their new gadget, their new expensive wheels on their stupid cars, going to all kinds of concerts and sporting events…

    I mean, I get it…I posted about that stuff too. But I was also in my 20s and was as vain as anyone out there. Now, my friends are primarily in their 30s (and beyond), just like me, but so many are STILL doing it.

    It is turning out this whole FIRE thing is having unexpected side benefits. I’m not just retiring early. I’m also becoming a much, much less shallow person and turning a pathetic and expensive lifestyle into something to be proud of.

    I like that!

    • MaggieBanks

      I love that, Steve! I agree that once you realize that you can trade all that STUFF for freedom, you’re much better at identifying what is truly important.

  7. Facebook is part biz-ness for me nowadays, though keeping up with my family members and their kiddos is also very important. The public announcement that we have a ton of debt probably didn’t surprise anyone we know, but it is certainly a different approach than Facebook Finances. The same people who tell me they want to be FI are also the same people who appear to be spending a ton of $. First rule of FI for me was to stop wasting money, but maybe it should be to delete Facebook.

    • MaggieBanks

      I think Facebook can be used for accountability to an extent if you’re willing to put yourself out there. I wouldn’t put yourself out there if you’re doing well. But debt repayment is something people get on board with. I’ve had two friends announce paying off their student loans on facebook and it did become quite a celebration. But that is definitely a change from the daily announcement of spend, spend, spend! (PS – good to see you back around)

  8. Ah Facebook – sometimes I wish I could just get rid of it, but I like to see all of my extended family & all of their adorable kids which is the next generation in my family. 🙂 I do agree, the glorification of spending money is all over the place & it’s tough – especially when you’re bombarded with it each and every day.

    I love this though: “If you get someone to look at their retirement plan or save $50, you’ve helped.” At work, I eagerly accepted the position as the “Record Keeper” for our 401(k) committee (even though I work in Sales/Customer Service). Although, I received this position because our HR wanted to delegate the tasks of organizing all the paperwork…it was a bonus for me because I get to sit in on all the meetings with our investment advisors and talk our retirement plan! I LOVE this stuff (as most people in the PF community would too). 😉 What’s wonderful, is now even older co-workers are coming to me for guidance & advice. They know that I enjoy spending the time evaluating how to diversify, or find out which asset classes are best – even how to enroll in the online platform to monitor your own portfolio! They ask for advice & I am so happy to break down what all the terminology means in a more simplified fashion.

    Now – I know this isn’t as simple to create a Facebook status that would engage much activity (for most it’s a snooze fest). But, just by linking up my blog to my Facebook page even when I have a new post allows me to pass on some PF tidbits & knowledge in a subtle way. I hope that breaks through the consumerism clutter. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh my goodness! I would love to be the 401k record keeper! That’s awesome. And well done sharing on Facebook from your blog. Our blog has a facebook page as well, but I don’t share it with friends and family. I’m not quite ready to be that open. 🙂

  9. This is such a great point. We’re not big Facebook users (recently ditched the app altogether), but we try to follow this approach in face-to-face conversations. Very few people know the details of our plan, but friends generally know that we’re the ones who have our finances together, and we’ll drop little bits of advice as a sort of “we were thinking about trying X” statement, even if it’s what we’ve been doing for years. It sounds less know-it-all-y that way, which is a plus, and opens the door for people to ask questions, which they frequently do. I’ll also say, re: FB, we love that all of our mountain town friends are way less likely than our old city friends to post meal pics or pics of anything at all fancy — it’s more about the mountain experiences. Sure, there’s still ego involved (“look at that monster cliff I just hucked!”), but it’s so much less materialistic than we’re used to… and we love it!

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s good to have less materialistic friends. As I’ve said before, I would love to get rid of my personal facebook, but so much of the kids’ playdates and school info is on there. And I have successfully used it as a really good database of information.

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