'Bougie Broke' Trend Highlights Complicated Dynamics Of Lifestyle Envy

Many of us have been swayed by TikTok and Instagram influencers insisting we 'must' head to the Amalfi Coast or buy this celebrity's makeup palette or that Amazon life hack kit. But during this post-pandemic time of extreme economic uncertainty, with a looming recession and a war in Ukraine, many of us may be feeling the pinch. Yes, we want to have #maincharacterenergy and buy the plane ticket to a warm and sunny climate, but inevitably, there will be questions of "How can I afford this?" 


Because social media is incredibly curated, with influencers only showing what they want you to see, which often means editing out the financial aspects of their glamorous lives, you might feel like you just can't keep up. Enter the new trend sweeping the interwebs — "bougie broke." On Urban Dictionary, the term is defined as feeling the need to keep up appearances so you make purchases that bring you closer to the brink of decimating your overdraft. Is this new narrative a freeing way to lift the veil off the financial conversation, or does it just reinforce our toxic envy of the stylish influencer lifestyle? It turns out, there's always something beneath the surface that's not being shared.


Bougie broke opens up the conversation of money issues

With over 890,000 views, the #bougiebroke tag is a TikTok trend where the essential voiceover goes: "Have you ever been broke, but no one believes you because you don't look like a broke person? The thing is, like you broke, but like a bougie broke, like you broké. And even on payday, you broké" as seen on Sam McClendon's video. Some social media users, like one who goes by Raymonte, are trying to satisfy their brokenness by calling Target "Targé," as per TikTok. "There's definitely a trend towards every generation being a little bit more comfortable talking about things that were serious stigmas in previous generations," Dan Egan, vice president of behavioral finance and investing at Betterment, told CNBC.


Emily Irwin, managing director of advice and planning at Wells Fargo's Wealth & Investment Management, agrees, noting, "Money is so taboo. To talk about that, to put it out there in a very vulnerable way, I think is also empowering of others to even start the conversation" (via CNBC).

While Irwin believes that it's "really cool" to dispel the taboo of money talk, others aren't so jazzed because at the forefront of that conversation is how some of these lifestyles are being funded. In other words, there are concerns that the 1% of lifestyle is being thrust upon 99%.

Following influencers can break the bank

When influencers push an expensive lifestyle on their platforms, they are likely paid by the brands to peddle the wares (per Business Insider). There is also speculation on Reddit that they're using their inherited wealth (i.e. their parents) to fund these lifestyles rather than having to work hard on their own merits to afford these frivolities. Those trying to keep up with the Joneses can destroy hard-earned savings without having the same security blanket.


Speaking with Victoria News, spending coach Paige Pritchard revealed she once blew her $60,000 salary on clothing, beauty, and hair products that were marketed to her by influencers on social media, spending $500 per store visit. "When it came time to move out, I realized that I had no money," Pritchard told the publication. "I could barely afford to move out of my parent's house at the end of that year."

This has resulted in a backlash. After Toronto Life published an article about a family purchasing a house in what seemed like a low-income neighborhood, Vice reported on the conversation regarding gentrification, the rising cost of living versus quality of life, and inherited wealth affecting communities. The outlet even pointed out that when the family ran into problems, a god-father bailed them out. Many of us might have dreams of home ownership, but with 50% of millennials priced out, as per Global News, we should be skeptical when influencers insist we should all be able to buy a home.


Many influencers offer money-saving hacks

Luckily, more influencers are offering tips and tricks to save money without skipping the small treats that make you feel like perhaps you're in a higher tax bracket and more bougie than broke. A budgeting app known as Financielle posted a viral savings hack on TikTok that included having a Starbucks fund, forming a budget that doesn't restrict what you love, having an emergency fund, and curbing impulse buys by becoming a more mindful shopper. Another TikTok user who goes by Baddies and Budgets swears by the viral envelope challenge, where she stuffs her excess change and spare dollar bills into an envelope every day and hides it away. According to her, she saved over $5,000 in just 100 days.


Money expert Tori Dunlap is also on Instagram and TikTok with the main goal of advising young women on how to leverage whatever finances they have to become millionaires. Many of her videos instruct her followers on setting aside an emergency fund that should sit in a high-yield (or high-interest) savings account, paying off student and credit card debt, investing, and most of all, not depriving themselves of their daily Starbucks, as per her Instagram.

Bougie broke can negatively affect your mental health

'Bougie broke' is a fun moniker, but putting up the appearance that you're filthy rich when you're not, or being influenced by those who purport to be filthy rich, can negatively affect your mental health, breeding toxic envy. When you see the lives of those more fortunate than you but are in the same virtual community as them, you end up comparing yourself to them, and experts say that is the death of happiness. "I think what social media has done is make everyone accessible for comparison. In the past, people might have just envied their neighbors, but now we can compare ourselves with everyone across the world," clinical psychologist Rachel Andrew told The Guardian.


Psychology professor Ethan Kross conducted a study on the effect of Facebook scrolling on passive users and found that "The more you're on there scrolling away, the more that elicits feelings of envy, which in turn predicts drops in how good you feel," as per The Guardian.

So what can we do to stop keeping up appearances, drop the bougie broke tactic, and enjoy social media again? We recommend a mass unfollow: unfollow anyone you don't know in person. Unfollow those lifestyle influencers, those viral beauty trends, and those celebrity accounts. In other words, only follow people you know in real life. Use social media to keep up with your IRL social circle.