YOLO: A Capitalist Trap?

yolo culture jpg

Saving money has traditionally been seen as an expression of responsible conduct. Saving money was seen as being wise and mature. Budget diaries were an essential material in a household’s economic life. However, the perception of saving money has shifted in recent times. The practice of saving money is being replaced by a philosophical concept termed YOLO, an acronym for “You Only Live Once”.

This article locates this concept of YOLO and the declining practice of savings in the contemporary political economy. There has been an increasing tendency among the youth, particularly the millennials, to spend almost all of their earnings.

Today’s society is heavily shaped by the economic principle of neoliberalism. While neoliberalism is an economic principle and policy, it has impacted all domains of social life. In terms of socio-economic behavior, it has led to consumerism. Society places a profound emphasis on consumerism and material possessions. The pursuit of wealth and accumulation of material goods are seen as status symbols and markers of success. In this context, saving money can be viewed as limiting oneself from enjoying the luxuries and experiences that money can buy.

These consumerist desires are also linked with the idea of happiness. In a capitalist society, we can also “buy” happiness. This is where the concept of YOLO fits in. In the name of pursuing one’s desires which are often socially-constructed, people are spending money more than what they can. Keeping in mind the uncertainty of life “YOLO” also often entails instant gratification i.e. immediate enjoyment and experiences. The resulting effect has been the rising dominance of EMI culture.

The social media also works a site of cultural reproduction. Social media platforms showcase a curated and often unrealistic portrayal of lifestyles filled with luxury, travel, and experiences. Seeing others indulge in extravagant purchases and experiences may lead to a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) and make saving money seem “uncool” by comparison.

The concept of “YOLO” encourages people to embrace a hedonistic or adventurous lifestyle. This concept combined with the practice of not saving money works as a capitalist trap to ensure that people do not quit their jobs as they get caught in the cycle of EMIs and debt. While instant gratification through material possessions may lead to pleasure, the cycle of EMI and debts leads to anxiety.

Financial prudence and saving for the future are essential for long-term financial stability and security. Saving money allows individuals to build an emergency fund, invest for retirement, and achieve financial goals. While it may not be considered “cool” by some, it is still a responsible and beneficial practice in the long run.

Dr Devika Mittal teaches sociology in Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi. She is also the convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a cross-border peacebuilding initiative. She tweets at @devikasmittal

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