Debt, prudence and financial wellness: How the ‘Broke Generation’ shares finance content on Instagram

Aoife Loy
Aoife Loy

What’s this all about?

In a new series, we’re looking at popular social media platforms to examine the kind of financial content being shared and consumed by different generations and what it can tell us about their finance habits. In the following article, we put Instagram under the microscope, assessing the demographics that make up its user base, the diverse ways they engage with finance-related content and why sharing experiences around getting your fingers burned and how to recover appears to be the order of the day.

Read on if you:

  • Want to understand the diversity of Instagram’s features
  • Are keen to get an idea of the demographic and gender breakdown
  • Have an interest in hearing more about Instagram’s financial subcommunity

As we explored in our previous article about TikTok, social media is a backbone in the spread of information and is deeply embedded in the purchase journey — of products, services and experiences. Its fundamental functions of share and consume have come to mean a lot more in both society and in business.

More than 4 billion people globally use social media each month and an average of 2 million new users are signing up each day. The ranks of its users are heavily populated by younger generations, Millennials and Generation Zers, who, in the coming decades, will inherit a vast amount of wealth from their parents, the Baby Boomers.

Almost all social media platforms grew in 2020, but Instagram had a notably strong performance, adding the greatest number of new users between July and September 2020 — stronger growth figures than Facebook, according to reports. This social media platform is one of the more established and has managed to stay relevant in a crowded, fast-moving market.

Millennial and Generation Z: Breakdown

Birth years
Population size
Ages in 2021
1981 – 1996
1.7 billion
25 – 40
Generation Z
1997 – 2012
1.8 billion
11 – 24

Instagram 101

Now owned by Facebook, Instagram was brought to life in 2010 and has kept itself competitive by integrating features that have become popular on other platforms. In 2016, it launched Stories, a ‘Snapchatty’ feature which now has 500 million daily active users. IGTV came along two years later in 2018 and it allows users to upload videos up to an hour long. In 2020, it introduced Reels, which is similar to TikTok only the videos have a limit of 30 seconds.

Indeed, video and live content is popular with 26 per cent of Gen Zers and Millennials surveyed by Global Web Index stating that they tuned into a live event on Instagram in the previous two months.

It also has some blogging features and Instagram Shopping to access products.

Instagram maintains a high position in the rankings of popular social media platforms as one of the most used and most downloaded. Expanding by more than 76 million, it reached a total of 1.16 billion users by the start of October 2020 and is thought to have generated $6.8 billion in global revenues in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from an estimated $3.3 billion in the second quarter of 2019.

Instagram’s popularity is intrinsically linked with the rise of modern influencer culture. The global influencer marketing industry was valued at $137 million in 2018 and is projected to surpass $370 million by 2027.

More than half of Instagram users are women and aged under 35

Statistic: Distribution of Instagram users worldwide as of January 2021, by age and gender | Statista
Source Statista

In terms of gender, based on this data, Instagram’s total user base tilts towards women, though not by much with the gender split averaging about 51.4 per cent female and 48.7 per cent male. The most prominent age groups are similarly evenly distributed but lean slightly towards men.

Notably, Instagram’s ranks of users are heavily populated by Millennials and older Gen Zers, with this data suggesting that about 70 per cent (of both men and women) are aged under 35.

Instagram’s user base is described in the Global Web Index report as people who want the brands that they engage with to be trendy or cool. This report also found that while content is shared in similar amounts by users regardless of the platform, there is a variance in tone across social media networks. Facebook attracts more serious content, TikTok, as we explored last time, thrives on memes and funny videos while Instagram seems to fall somewhere in the middle.

Instagram particularly demonstrates the widespread and indirect ways that social media can impact the purchase journey as the top interests of a group of people surveyed in a study commissioned by Facebook include:

  • Travel 45%
  • Music 44%
  • Food and drink 43%
  • Fashion 42%
  • Movies 41%

A travel-oriented account, for example, could post a Reel about their favourite destinations, do a live Q&A about methods of travel for IGTV, and on their feed or Stories recommend restaurants, accommodation, bill-splitting tools and currency exchange options.

There’s a trending use of language that might, outside this financial context, be associated with health, slotting into that broader conversation around financial wellness which comes to prominence on Instagram. This contrasts with the aspirational, big dreamer-type content that we found was popular on TikTok.

The Instagram finance niche

So how is the subject of finance discussed on the platform? Well, tellingly, millions of posts show up under hashtags such as ‘finance’ and ‘personalfinance’. Switching to the ‘recent’ tab on ‘finance’, for example, shows new content being added literally every couple of seconds.

Similar to TikTok, the combination of words in these hashtags sees a recurrence of terms related to guidance (‘tips’, ‘coach’, ‘expert’) and enablement (‘financefreedom’).

While in the TikTok analysis, we came across hashtags like ‘financebro’ and ‘fintok’, Instagram’s slightly older demographic is clear in the more serious tone and the use of more mature internet terms like ‘blogger’. Nowadays, the buzzword commonly used to refer to those building businesses on the internet is ‘influencers’ (or ‘fin-influencers’).

Indeed, while memes do get a mention, this snapshot would suggest that the latter is not as prominent a method of communication as on TikTok.

Popular finance-related hashtags on Instagram

Number of posts
9 million
1.2 million

Prudence, frankness and financial wellness

Due to the multiple features available on Instagram, most content creators have several different streams of content including Stories, their feed, Reels and IGTV.

One commonality that popped up in the course of this analysis is that, though chosen randomly, nine of the eleven finance-related accounts that we looked at are run by women, one by a man and one by a couple. This is interesting to see because, as the overall platform stats show, the gender split on Instagram in general is not as wide.

Another trend that stands out in the sample of accounts is language relating to prudence with a recurrence of terms like ‘budget’, ‘frugal’, ‘clever’. Many of the posts also convey frankness and honesty, with posts peppered with stuff like: ‘real life’, ‘how to say no’ and ‘the unfiltered truth’. There’s also a trending use of language that might, outside this financial context, be associated with health such as ‘-aholic’, ‘medic’, ‘fasting’, ‘mindful’. These terms slot into that broader conversation around financial wellness which comes to prominence on Instagram.

This contrasts with the aspirational, big dreamer-type content that we found was popular on TikTok with terms like ‘millionaire’ and ‘Tesla’ coming up quite a lot. ‘Millennials’, ‘the broke generation’, ‘spouse’ and ‘mom’ also point to the older age group on Instagram.

Apps and businesses mentioned include Wealthify and eBay.

A snapshot of financial content creators

Helping you transform your financial life. Broke single mom to money expert.
How to calculate your net worth. Real-life budget follow-up. Paying off debt vs staying out of debt. Reels: How to create a budget calendar (506k views). IGTV: Tracking your spending (89.2k views).
Empowering women to achieve financial wellness.
Getting started as a real estate investor. How to do a financial health check. Key steps for combining finances. Popular reels include: how to say no, everyday money tips. IGTV: 10 things I no longer buy.
Daily money and investing tips
Bitcoin vs stocks, home vs investment. Don’t confuse speculative gambling with investing. The two step plan to make $1,000,000 (378k). IGTV: course trailer.
We help you make financial decisions that you’re proud of so that you can achieve your goals.
Tax deductions to take advantage of. Your significant other is one of the biggest financial decisions you will make. Popular reels include: 5 tips for saving more money, tips to pay down debt faster. IGTV: 2 things to make managing business finance easier.
Honest conversation about financial wellbeing.
Join me for a month of mindful spending. Invest in yourself for 2021 with Wealthify, Stop buying things for a future ‘better’ version of yourself. Reels: Book promotion. IGTV: 5 tips to boost financial wellbeing with eBay (19.1k)
Ex-spendaholic inspiring you to be better with your money.
Four types of money that are harder to hang onto than your salary. Filling your cart doesn’t fill your cup. Financial fasting. It’s not self care if it’s sabotaging your financial wellbeing. Reels: What I thought budgeting would be like (54.5k). IGTV: property q&A.
Talking money.
Buy now pay later is to be regulated. 7 schemes there’s no shame in using. 5 steps to start afresh in 2021. 5 minute money tweaks that make a big difference. IGTV: Pensions uncensored (3k).
Because we’re all living on some sort of budget.
We need to stop justifying why we don’t work for free. A lot of people make money by keeping it complicated, it doesn’t need to be this way.
Millennial money management.
The unfiltered truth about money. What’s going on with GameStop and should I get involved. 5 things to know before you rush into investing in Bitcoin. Reels: 3 credit card mistakes you need to avoid today (49.2k). IGTV: Quick home buying tips for first time buyers (7.5k).
Empowering you to manage your own money.
Inflation explainer. What is an IPO? Understand the stock market better and invest in it. Popular reels: investing is not only for the rich. IGTV: How to get started organising my finances?
I teach Millennials to take control of their money + build wealth.
How to improve your financial wellbeing. Three reasons why it’s time to start investing. Three things to know if you’re new to investing. IGTV: Buying a holiday let (3.7k)

Financial content is about ideology as well as advice

The word cloud analysis of the topics or titles of 50 finance-related Instagram posts, Reels and IGTVs reveals a prevailing interest around investing and related terms (such as ‘Bitcoin’), which suggests that Instagrammers are interested in building wealth. But the focus on financial wellbeing and prudence, which we saw with the sample of content creators, also comes up in this broader sample.

Indeed, the high prevalence of debt and related terms (‘debt payoff’, ‘debt payoff journey’, ‘credit card mistakes’) suggests that content is being shared from a reflective perspective and an experienced stage in financial decision-making. By comparison, in our TikTok analysis, the word cloud analysis returned a prevalence of terms aimed at beginners, like ‘basics’, ‘easy way’ and ‘best way’.

Amongst these posts offering guidance, there are many that provide nuggets of wisdom like: “It’s time to stop buying things we can’t afford with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like” and “Filling your cart doesn’t fill your cup”. These maxims offer a why behind the tips and give people easy, memorable rules to follow when they’re not logged on to Instagram. As such, they connect those in the Instagram financial bubble to a broader mindset and attitude to live by.

Instagram word cloud
Word cloud of the titles or topics of 50 finance-related Instagram posts, Reels and IGTVs.

Key takeaways

Instagram stands out in one particular key way: users can share and consume a variety of visual content within the platform. If you don’t go down a rabbit hole of Reels or scroll through new content under interesting hashtags, you can engage with the content creators you already follow in diverse ways. There’s a lot to keep you engaged and coming back for more. 

This analysis shows that users sharing and consuming content in the financial niche on Instagram tend to be from the older Gen Z/Millennial age brackets, which is reflected in the predominantly serious tone and account names like ‘The Broke Generation’.

We can also conclude that this older age group is interested in the stock market and in making money but also gravitate towards thriftiness as opposed to frivolity, wellbeing instead of riches, and savvy rather than entertainment.

Indeed, the focus on debt, prudence and financial wellbeing suggests a need for educational resources and money management assistance. Judging by the number of followers on the sample of accounts, people are turning to Instagram for this information. Unlike with TikTok where the finance subculture focused on financial wellness as it pertained to starting off on the right foot, Instagrammers seem to be sharing experiences around getting their fingers burned and how to recover.

Aoife Loy
Aoife Loy
Aoife is Lead Content Marketer at LEVERIS. She writes about our mission and approach to technological innovation.

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