Pop Culture + Money 🎬

Does pop culture influence our relationship with money?

I never really got into the habit of binge watching movies and TV shows. Growing up in the early 00’s, my dad restricted my TV time and didn’t allow for more than an hour a day in front of the screen. Movies, in particular, were banned (he was okay with sports and the news) for reasons I couldn’t understand at the time.

Fast forward to 2013 and I find myself wearing my college blazer with an extra zeal, a sling bag to go with it, and classic converse kicks because I had a borderline crush on Mike Ross from Suits. Whether it’s glorifying lawyers, hedgefunds, tech startups, or drug dealers — pop culture influences our thinking in more ways than we know.

What are our true aspirations? 🦄

Movies and TV shows capture our attention by creating an “aspirational” element to their content — showing us experiences that we’d subconsciously want for ourselves. Online shopping and social media provide us the platform to fulfill some of those experiences and share them (or, atleast the illusion of those experiences) with our circles, providing us the opportunity for validation and acceptance.

In my case, watching Suits made me desire a classic pair of converse shoes and a sling bag with my college blazer, and Amazon fulfilled it. Additionally, social media platforms in their current format amplify our need for acceptance, leading us to make decisions that maximize the number of times we feel that “happy hormone” rush by sharing more content, frequently checking number of likes, followers on Instagram, et cetera. 

Do we even know what we really want? 🤷‍♀️

While catching up (virtually) with a friend the other day, I learnt of his decision to delete Instagram. It was driven by a realization that he’d spent a whole lot of money on clothing (not a particular area of interest for him otherwise). Instagram’s algorithm targeted him with clothing brands he has a particular affinity towards, indirectly seducing him into buying their products. While he claims to not value clothing items, his credit card statement tells him otherwise.

Shopping Is So Relaxing When IShop GIF - ShoppingIsSoRelaxing WhenIShop WorldGetsBetter GIFs

As we slowly begin to move towards realizing the true impact of mainstream and social media - thanks in some part to recent documentaries such as The Social Dilemma, The Great Hack, and others, it has become harder than ever before to distinguish between “what we think we want” vs. “what we actually want”, i.e., externally influenced desires vs. intrinsic needs and aspirations.

Normalizing unhealthy behavior 🙈

The one thing that’s always managed to cheer me up on bad days in the past has been a sugary hot beverage (aka Starbucks). I’ve found myself spending incredible amounts of money on Hazelnut Latte’s in the past, while I’m at work — a behavior that’s not too different from that of Rachel’s when she faces subconscious emotional distress, as Ross (her former partner) married Emily in London. 

While there’s nothing wrong in this behavior, the aspirational element present in high-quality media and pop-culture makes us subconsciously pedestalize everything we see, leading us to develop behaviors that are potentially unhealthy (e.g., spending half my paycheck on Starbucks). The inability to identify these behaviors can have a devastating effect in the long run.

Additionally, by internalizing content that normalizes the behavior of maximizing our short-term satisfaction at the expense of our long-term wellbeing, our muscles of self-control weaken. This leads us to giving into our desire of buying those shoes we don’t really need instead of saving for that Bali trip we really want to take with our friends for our birthday.

The ability to put off instant gratification is critical for our overall growth. It is this behavior that the timeless, powerful, and simple concepts of wealth creation — such as compound interest ✔️ and time value of money 🕒 — work on.

Lest I come across as a hater, I do believe that pop culture has enlightened us with new ideas and made us more aware of cultures across the world, and supported the creation of “shared experiences”. Furthermore, social media has provided us with a platform to connect and relate to those experiences — building truly global communities in many aspects — that we wouldn’t have been able to in the normal course of our lives.

However, the onus is on us to ensure that we don’t lose our sense of identity, individuality, and as a result, our money, by getting influenced into doing and buying things that we may not truly want at the expense of our intrinsic aspirations.

Now, how do we do that? 🧐

Interestingly enough, a few pockets of pop culture do provide us with some guidance. Take, for example, Gina Linetti from Brooklyn Nine-Nine (highly recommend the show, in case you haven’t watched it).

She cuts corners and practices frugality in the dark, saving enough to bail out Jake with his apartment situation and also go back to school after her shift at the precinct to finish college. She spends time and money on things she loves (remember wolfie?), while cutting back on areas she can. 

Gina’s example leads us to believe that pop culture isn’t inherently evil and out to trick us into unhealthy behavior. And, that’s probably the case. It’s just designed to get us hooked and show us what they think we might want to see.

Okay… but what does this mean for me? 🤑

As you think about how to protect your mind from the media powers that be, take a few leaves out of Gina’s book:

  • Identify activities that you love and bring you joy. Factor those into your budget (even if it’s just a mental one).

  • Take a step back and think through whenever you feel like making an impulse purchase. Maybe even sleep on it for a night and then go through with it if it still feels right the next morning.

  • If you derive a lot of joy from impulse purchases that are tough to predict (we’ve been there), create a separate bucket for that in your budget. Don’t chastise yourself for how you feel — accept it and roll with the punches.

  • There’s a good chance your interests are unique and may be different from others and what you see on social media / pop culture. Embrace that — it doesn’t make you inferior to anyone else.

While the above points are by no means a comprehensive guide to personal finance, Gina’s example provides us with a good starting point. Everything we consume has an impact on our lives in a way we may not fully understand. Personal finance (read: our money) is one of those areas of our lives. And, getting the “personal” part of it right is vital for us to be on top of this area and make the most of it.

Think this adds up? Or makes no sense? We’d love to hear from you, in either case and chat about your experiences with money. Feel free to write to us at rahul@munch.money or reach out to us on Instagram.