FEBRUARY 13 ― As social media becomes ever more popular, there has been a rise in the world’s youth feeling the need to impress or keep up with their peers in the form of flex culture. In simple terms, flex culture means publicly displaying one’s wealth, success, and luxurious possessions without humility, whether on social media or in person.
This rising trend is no different in Malaysia. According to Assoc Prof Dr Aida Idris in an interview with The Star, she stated that many youth today are chasing an extraordinary lifestyle, and the lifestyle they are trying to pursue, as seen on social media, is not suitable for most people. In 2021, former finance minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz came out with a statement saying 40 per cent of millennials are spending beyond their means, with 47 per cent having high credit card debts. He further urged Malaysian youth to think thoroughly before spending on discretionary goods.
The problem of escalating credit card borrowing persists, witnessing a surge from RM138 billion to RM177 billion between 2021 and 2022. Social media emerges as a major contributor to the flex culture. As a young adult, scrolling through platforms like TikTok and Instagram, I fell under the spell of the seemingly opulent lifestyles showcased. Yet, the reality dawned ― social media is a fantasy, not a reflection of actual life. Unfortunately, many individuals are ensnared by this charm, striving to project an extravagant image to friends, often at the expense of financial feasibility. This involves indulging in pricey dining experiences and acquiring designer items, constructing a facade that doesn’t necessarily align with their financial truth. This trend isn’t just my experience; others, too, find themselves unintentionally accumulating debt while striving to maintain a certain image.
According to Ashwin Chockalingam, Founder at Winacore Capital, one of the biggest factors is that many younger Malaysians are experiencing a growing sense of obligation to sustain or uphold a particular lifestyle, resulting in heightened expenditure. When financial resources are depleted, this trend has led to an increase in borrowing.
With more and more luxury brands targeting the youth, it’s high time to understand what drives Malaysians in this spiralling trend of unnecessary discretionary spending, especially on luxury goods they cannot afford. In an interview I conducted with Jason Rohena, a luxury goods reseller and an expert in the field, he stated that the luxury market’s volatility is driven by the misconception that higher prices ensure superior quality. Furthermore, limited-supply items attract attention, allowing content creators to showcase them, and this may influence people.
Additionally, consumers in this market are rarely satisfied, consistently aspiring to upgrade to more prestigious brands. The belief in long-term savings through buying the most expensive item prevails, influenced by a desire to project affluence for its associated advantages.
With all this being said, steps have to be put into place to help reduce this issue, as if we allow it to prevail, it may only get worse. And with 50 per cent of Malaysians earning RM2250 and under, this makes it extra worrisome. The government has to emphasise financial literacy courses in schools so that the youth can get a better grip on how to be more financially responsible.
Financial literacy courses should be a staple as we do not have a comprehensive course yet being taught in our schools. It is reported that 1 out of 3 Malaysians have low confidence in their financial literacy and this in the long term can lead to many issues. We should implement mandatory curriculum in school on financial literacy like that done in Denmark in which is why today it has one of the highest financial literacy rate of 71 per cent.
In addition to that, education on the parallels of social media should also be emphasised so that the youth understand that not everything on social media is real and realistic as prolonged use of social media has shown that it can cause issues such as body dysmorphia to younger users.
Countries like Finland have media literacy classes and it may be high time that Malaysia follows suit.
The rise of flex culture, driven by social media, has led to worrisome trends of excessive spending among Malaysia’s youth. Addressing this issue requires a dual focus on financial literacy education in schools, following the model of Denmark, and emphasising the realities of social media to promote responsible and mindful consumption. Proactive measures are essential to mitigate the negative impact of flex culture and foster a financially aware generation.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.