Tonight, I'll Be Eating Ramen Because I Spent $6033.38 on Uber Eats Last Year
Targeted Ads and The Danger of a "Treat Yourself" Mantra
Yes, you read the title right. In the span of 12 months (March 2020 - March 2021), I somehow managed to rack up a $6033.38 Uber Eats bill. Before lockdown, I'd already had the app downloaded on my phone but only used it sparingly - once or twice a month at best. However, with the onset of the pandemic, my spending on food delivery went from bimonthly to every single day. It didn't help that Uber Eats' "Tonight I'll Be Eating" ads flooded my social media algorithm. You know the ones I'm talking about.
Or that the grocery stores in my area were ravaged by the feeding frenzy and novelty of lockdown. Do you guys remember that? When the general public stormed grocery stores everywhere, clearing out essential food items and toilet paper? It was wild.
I've written previously about the anxiety and loneliness I felt at the crux of the pandemic. Because of this, I often couldn't summon the motivation to move or breathe, much less to cook and prepare meals for myself. The more I tried to quit - delete the app, push it to the back of my mind, the more emails and targeted ads I'd encounter on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and even through email, enticing me to order more food. No more dirty dishes! Just do it, treat yourself! You deserve it! $6033.38 later, here we are.
How Did You Spend That Much Money?
I know what you're thinking. How did she spend that much money? I'm honestly asking myself the same question right now. I consulted my bank statements and my order history on the Uber Eats app to get to the bottom of this staggering figure. The results are outlined below in graphical form.
The highest month of food delivery spending was December 2020, in which I spent exactly $868.11. This was followed closely by February 2021, where I blew through $861.51. February is the shortest month of the year. In September, I rang in my lowest month of Uber Eats spending with $162.72 in food delivery. Still too high for one person but comparatively, not so bad. We're presently in March. The month isn't over yet, and I've already spent $630.99 on Uber Eats. There are some obvious spikes on the graph, namely in April, August, December and February, which can be explained but not excused.
In all of those months, I was in the process of moving apartments. My initial plan (pre-pandemic) had been to spend the summer back home as I usually would. My lease was up at the end of April, and I subsequently decided to sign on a series of short-term subleases because who knew how long the pandemic was going to last, and I didn't want to be stuck with a year-long lease if I was allowed to return home at some point. Because it was my last month at those places, I didn't see the point in purchasing a ridiculous amount of groceries, so instead, I tended to have every meal delivered, which, in hindsight, was such a stupid thing to do. It was like I was begging Uber to take my hard-earned money.
Targeted Ads and the Phenomenon of "Treat Yourself" Self-Care
I recently watched an interesting video entitled "Why I'm Sick of Self Care: A Rant." The creator discussed her gripe with the phenomenon of consumerist self-care that encourages short-term indulgences that have long-term disastrous impacts. For example, let's say you purchase the expensive new handbag that all the influencers have been wearing on your Instagram timeline. Do you already own ten handbags? Yes. Do you need this handbag? No. Can you afford it, truly? No. Are you going to buy it anyway? Absolutely because you "deserve" it, and you should treat yourself. Treat Yourself. The mantra that emerged innocently but has been wreaking havoc on people's financial lives ever since.
Our phones listen to us. I'm convinced of this. Case in point, I had a lengthy chat with my mom over the weekend. During the phone call, I expressed my desire to purchase a bookshelf. I currently don't own one, and because of this, my novels sit in a haphazard stack next to my desk, at the mercy of gravity and threatening to topple over with the slightest sudden movement. After we finished the conversation, I opened up Facebook, and what do I see? Targeted ads pushing, you guessed it, bookshelves! Don't get me wrong; I don't blame excessive shopping and spending on advertising alone. As human beings, it is of paramount importance that we develop a sense of self-control and personal agency. We are not merely at the beck and call of temporary desires and can choose what we do and do not partake in.
But (and this is a big but), targeted ads have been designed in such a way that they try to convince us, through aggressive and underhanded marketing techniques, that we need things that we definitely don't. They finagle their way into our minds, encouraging us to live in the now, to flee the threat of FOMO. We buy and we buy and we buy and face the consequences later. The consequences are in the future, but the future is coming (soon) whether we are prepared for it or not.
Things I Could Have Spent $6033.38 on That Would've Been Better For My Mental Health
Self-care is interesting because the activities that bring immediate relief and provide an instant hit of dopamine aren't necessarily what we need the most or what will benefit us most in the future. In my case, my sizable Uber Eats spending felt incredible at the moment. The food was delicious. I didn't have to cook or do dishes, and it made me *happy*. As I look back on this toxic behaviour now, I feel embarrassed, ashamed and disappointed in myself. How could I let this get so out of hand? What the hell was I thinking? Do you know what I could have done with that sum of money? I'll tell you what I could've done:
1. Finally (finally!!!) get my wisdom teeth removed--> this costs $2,500, but I've been putting it off for months because it's "too expensive."
2. Went Home Last Christmas to Visit My Family --> I didn't go home for Christmas last December because I'm from the Caribbean (AKA Vacation Central), and the ticket was a whopping $1,300. Too expensive.
3. Built my emergency fund ---> I graduate from university next year, and who knows how long it'll take to find a job in my field of study in the post-pandemic world. Six thousand dollars would've been a fantastic addition to my emergency fund.
I don't believe in regret, so I'm not going to spend too long dwelling on these missed opportunities. I wrote an entire article discussing why it's mostly a useless emotion which you can read here. There's a saying in my country: those who don't hear will feel. Essentially, this statement means that those who don't listen or pay attention to the error of their actions will eventually endure the consequences.
Little Bills Stack Up
For the most part, my Uber Eats spending can be attributed to my inability to see the larger picture. $10 here, $19 there. It didn't seem exponential. It was minuscule and less than 1% of my income, so who cares? It doesn't matter. It does matter, though. Little things matter. While it's small in the greater context of the rest of your day and life, small purchases compound until they become massive. Until they stack up. Until those stacks collapse and bury you (figuratively, that is).
I'm still standing. Rest assured, my stupidity didn't bankrupt me (thankfully!). However, I was shellshocked when I added up all my Uber Eats purchases from the past 12 months and saw the total. My mom was, also. I'm 22 and financially independent, but when I mentioned it offhandedly to my mom, she was so disappointed. I felt like I was ten years old again. Because of this, I have decided to delete the Uber Eats app off my phone for the foreseeable future. Tonight, I'll be eating Ramen Noodles because I've learned my lesson...the hard way.
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