Commentary: Keeping up with the Joneses Has a New Look: Financial Literacy

More and more Black people are investing in the stock market, and with data that indicates 34% of Black households own equity investments, this is good news, right?

Well, not exactly. It is vital for Black households to consider how lifestyle marketers and social media might trigger financial trauma on the road to building wealth. 

As the culture shifts to embrace ideas around ownership, including equity investing, intellectual property, land, real estate, and even cryptocurrency, it’s clear that ownership—and public displays of ownership—is the new cool; but are we doing it to build wealth or are we doing it for the ‘gram? Lifestyle marketing via social media has many people questioning whether or not the race they are running and the pace they are running it is appropriate for where they are in their lives.

Screenshots of financial gains, credit line increases, and account balances meant to motivate and inspire might have the opposite effect. People may learn to covet the results that come as a result of years of study, trial and error, and a moment in time without taking into account the many failures that may have led up to that point—and that may follow—and compare those successes to their learning and building phase. This becomes a slippery slope as an original desire to build wealth can rapidly morph into greed and ego-driven attempts to flex for social media likes, follows, and even sales, a recipe for disaster for all involved. When did keeping up with the Jones’s start to look like financial education?

Unfortunately, this is not new or unique to our community, as is the case for many other things; social media simply amplifies it. 

Lifestyle marketing 

“I aspired to be poor” was one of the opening lines of my 2019 TED talk, where I describe growing up on Section 8 and deciding that when I was old enough to live on my own that I would get an apartment on Section 8. When I realized that homeownership was not only possible for me but probable after reading the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I decided to do everything I could to put myself in a position to own before 25.

I was disciplined and determined and saved a down payment of about $12,000 before I stumbled upon a real estate investing seminar with the “Rich Dad” name.

For the entire three days, the audience was sold on lifestyle, being able to provide for your family, taking action, etc. I spent my entire down payment on the base plan that covered topics, strategies, and information I would later learn I could find for much cheaper or free via Google.

Lifestyle marketing taps into the traumas you already have around money by making a connection between where you are and where you would like to be if you buy this program, course, etc. Many people learn the hard way that it takes a bit more than that high-ticket course or program to realize the success needed to change their lifestyle. Some even recognize that the marketed lifestyle isn’t even one that the marketer lives regularly, further exacerbating that financial trauma with mistrust toward financial professionals, educators, and coaches. 

Meme stocks, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies

Suppose you’re like me and have been burnt by a well-marketed product or program. In that case, you have two options: you put yourself out there again wiser and more informed about the triggers you have in making a decision, or you reject any attempts made to market to you and try to figure it out for yourself. Unfortunately, companies invest in marketing to both. Robinhood uses gamification to entice inexperienced investors and has been accused of manipulating customers via that gamification by Massachusetts regulators. At the height of the pandemic, we saw an increased interest in stocks from companies like Gamestop and AMC and cryptocurrency meme coins like Doge and Shiba Inu because of viral social media.

Even celebrities like Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, and Meek Mill got in on the action, prompting inexperienced investors to buy not because of explicit direction but because of articulated interest.

That’s not to say that money can’t be made investing in the asset classes mentioned. Still, it is important to consider the risks associated with investing as a whole, and that’s not a message echoed loud enough amid the screenshots and celebratory praises of massive overnight increases in value.

NFT’s or non-fungible tokens are now the asset class of focus with status attached to exclusive access and unique designs displayed across social media, from celebrities to your next-door neighbor. It can be easy to throw money at social media trends when your favorite stars are indirectly endorsing it—even if that money is needed for bills—which furthers the case for education and due diligence. 

To be clear, just because you participate in the purchase and sale of asset classes doesn’t make you an investor, and just because you are an investor doesn’t mean you’re financially literate. When we think about the need for more ownership and financial literacy in our communities, we also have to think about how to defend against the manipulation of our financial traumas, doubts, and desperation when being marketed to under the guise of “generational wealth” and “financial literacy.” 

Rahkim Sabree is a certified financial education instructor, author, speaker, and financial coach. His work has been seen or published in Business Insider, The Grio, Black Enterprise, Entrepreneur, Money magazine, Thrive Global, Parents magazine, and more. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website