In an era marked by increasing reliance on technology, mediums of exchange and interaction are shifting rapidly to the digital world, and companies are capitalizing on the relative ease with which consumers can use technology to exchange everything from ideas and conversations to money and…
A particularly recent example can be found in the attempts to make monetary transactions mobile. “Just Venmo me” has recently joined the ranks of one of the phrases commonly heard among millennials but rarely understood by adults. An app that allows users to exchange money electronically, Venmo is especially prevalent on college campuses because of the comparable frequency with which students exchange money and the infrequency with which they visit the bank. For people who share everything from food to cabs to housing, a means of payment that bypasses going to the ATM or the bank for cash is obviously appealing.
However, the convenience Venmo offers could be offset by the detrimental effect it has on your seemingly endless mobile wallet. Studies have shown that consumers who paid with a credit card spent more than those who paid with cash, and it seems logical to assume that with mobile payments, this effect will become even more pronounced.
Cash is a physical entity that you can see and feel in your hands, making it much more difficult to part with. But with mobile payments, you can’t see or feel the money to begin with, so it doesn’t feel like you’re really losing anything. Dollar bills are physical representations of money earned, so forking over a $20 bill feels a lot more psychologically painful than swiping a credit card or pressing the “Pay” button on Venmo. Without tangible cash, mobile payments create a dissociation between the act of spending and the act of paying.
While you can set mental spending limits for yourself with credit cards or mobile payments, it’s a lot easier to stick to that budget when you only have cash – out of cash, out of luck. But the lack of visible loss with Venmo transactions can make your bank account feel like a bottomless well.
While Venmo does have its competitors, namely Snapcash, Apple Pay, Square Cash, PayPal Google Pay etc., these all lack a decidedly important feature that sets Venmo apart: the social media aspect. Our compulsive desire to share everything makes Venmo that much more appealing. Users are asked to caption their transactions which are then displayed in a public Twitter-like newsfeed. If you thought you had FOMO before, check your Venmo feed to find out the nitty-gritty details behind every social interaction you’re not a part of. From seeing who shared an Uber home last night to who ordered Chinese food together, nothing is a secret anymore. What also makes Venmo appealing to its users is the air of mystery behind some posts. The brief, vague caption offers users a quick glimpse into their peers’ lives without revealing too much, leaving a lot open to our imagination.
With this combination of social media and lack of tangibility, Venmo is vaguely reminiscent of playing with monopoly money. Constructing a witty post indicating that you paid your best friend for a “wine and cheese night” feels much more like playing a game with friends then an actual exchange of currency.
Sure, Venmo makes life easier because you never have to worry about having the right amount of cash on you, but without this limitation we may be spending more and thinking less. In light of this, we are left to ponder the trade-off between convenience and fiscal responsibility and think twice next time we say “just Venmo me.”