The world of Instagram influencers is built entirely on optics: having the right camera, buying the right clothes, investing in good skincare, and traveling to beautiful and photogenic locales. And while we’re all sitting around and longing for this seemingly glamorous lifestyle, many of us have neglected to consider what this sort of lifestyle actually costs.
In 2013, then-21-year-old Lissette Calveiro moved from Miami to New York in order to accept a PR internship. As part of her new image, Calveiro decided to lean into becoming an Instagram “influencer” — and part of that process involved spending an inordinately large amount of money to convince her 32,000 Instagram followers that she was truly living the fabulous lifestyle.
“I wanted to tell my story about this young millennial living in New York,” Calveiro told the New York Post. “I was shopping … for clothes to take ‘the perfect ‘gram’ … I was living above my means.”
When she moved back to Miami after her internship, Calveiro’s spending habits didn’t improve.
Calveiro would take expensive trips each month to places like Los Angeles, Austin, and the Bahamas in order to add enviable travel pics to her Instagram feed. Every month, she would also go on a $200 shopping spree to add clothing pieces to her wardrobe and would splurge on one monthly designer item (such as a $1,000 Louis Vuitton bag).
Not surprisingly, this sort of lifestyle was untenable on the modest income of a junior publicist.
As the New York Post reports, Calveiro soon found herself thousands of dollars in debt:
Although her social media life looked glamorous, she was struggling financially, given that her internship only paid a transportation stipend. Living off her savings, she also got a part-time retail job. Even after she moved back to Miami in fall 2013 and landed a full-time publicist gig, Calveiro sank $10,000 into debt trying to live an Instagram-worthy life.
$10,000 is a significant amount of debt for someone in their early 20’s to rack up on something other than college, and, unfortunately, Calveiro’s exorbitant debt reveals the seedy underbelly of the Instagram influencer craze.
“According to Fashionista, you would need to spend about $31,400 a year ‘to maintain the standards of physical beauty represented daily in our Instagram feeds,’” New York Post reports.
When Calveiro was hired for a publicist position back in New York, she was forced to confront her financial situation, knowing that she would have to find a way to curb her debt in the notoriously expensive city.
“I knew that moving to New York, I had to get my act together or I wasn’t going to survive.”
In the months preceding her move, Calveiro saved money and turned to recycled Instagram photos in order to fill up her feed.
In New York, she moved in with a roommate in Inwood, where her rent was $700 a month, and have herself a $35/week limit on grocery purchases for cooking at home. She uses an app called Digit to automatically funnel money from her paycheck after rent and utilities.
Although she still has a taste for fashion, Calveiro now subscribes to Rent the Runway for $130 a month, which keeps her in circulating fashion pieces without totally breaking the bank.
After 14 months of living in New York, Calveiro was finally able to pay off her debt. However, it was certainly a sobering lesson to learn the hard way. Going into debt may have earned her new Instagram followers, but her Instagram fame ultimately didn’t generate a source of income for Calveiro.
“The real importance of this story is the thought that our obsession with Instagram has gotten so bad, it’s ruining people’s lives and putting them in debt,” Calveiro writes in a recent Instagram post. “We are all so obsessed with proving that social media is a bad place. And we’re all guilty of making it so.”