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Social media pressures new parents to spend more

Kelly Dilworth

The other day, I was packing up my hospital bag for our son’s upcoming delivery and thought about the inevitable photos I’d be posting of the car ride home. I instinctively pulled a more expensive looking baby outfit and, uncharacteristically, began fussing over the accessories that would go with it.

According to a new survey by the parenting website, BabyCenter.com, I’m not the only one whose choices are being subtly affected by social media. Apparently, many new moms are bluffing about their financial circumstances on the Web and posting pictures, status updates and videos that make them seem wealthier than they actually are.

New parents try to 'keep up with the Joneses' online

In a survey of nearly 1,100 moms who visit the site, almost 60 percent of respondents admitted to feeling pressure to keep up with Joneses online by tailoring their social media posts. Millennial moms were especially prone to feeling that way: 25 percent of moms under the age of 30 said they felt “significant pressure” to puff up their financial circumstances, while just 15 percent of moms over the age of 40 said the same.

One anonymous mother lamented in the survey that it was hard watching people post cheery status updates about all the fun things they were doing. Another noted, “It’s embarrassing for people to know that we are struggling.”

As a result, some moms are coping with the pressure by overspending, said BabyCenter. “We’re living in a socially transparent time where everything we do, eat, buy or like is visible immediately,” said BabyCenter’s Linda Murray in a Nov. 4 news release. “The implied judgment of social media puts a lot of pressure on moms to not only make themselves and their families look good but appear prosperous too.”

Photos of swanky gear and fashionable baby clothes may also be making some new moms feel guilty about outfitting their children with more modest purchases. “With social media and constant marketing, there’s a lot of pressure on moms to feel like they need to buy the latest and the greatest products in order to do right as a parent,” added BabyCenter’s Carmen Rita Wong in the release.

As an expectant mother, I can relate. 

I’ve also felt slightly embarrassed of our shabby, mismatched furniture in the background when I’ve shared pregnancy photos with friends and family on Facebook and have blushed each time someone’s asked about our nursery. (We don’t have one.)

Even offline, I’ve secretly fretted that people might judge us for the beat-up, secondhand stroller we’ll be ferrying our son around in and have wondered if I’m inadvertently putting him at risk by choosing conventional, chemical-laden baby wipes and by not buying the latest car seat model. (I did check to make sure our secondhand car seat hadn’t been in an accident and wasn’t subject to a recall.)

In an earlier life, I wouldn’t have cared what people thought about our thrifty approach to child rearing. Nearly everything we have was either gifted or secondhand, and I’m proud that we successfully cut our baby gear budget by more than half. But I also identify with parents who feel pressured to blow their cash on state-of-the-art supplies. As a parent, you only want the best for your children, and so when you’re being constantly bombarded with images of stylish clothes and expensive-looking gear, it can be easy to conflate high-end shopping with conscientious parenting.

The good news is if you ask veteran parents away from the glare of social media what your children really need, they’ll tell you to forget the hip, new clothes and professional photography sessions that are stylish on Instagram. When you log off from social media and start sharing in person, you’re more likely to see what really matters and what doesn’t. 

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