Social Media Can Be Terrible for Your Budget — Here’s What to Do About It

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Many of us wish we spent less time staring at our phones, scrolling through Instagram or checking for updates on Facebook. If you haven’t successfully limited your social media usage yet, this finding might help: According to Charles Schwab, social media can be terrible for your budget.
In its 2019 Modern Wealth Survey, Charles Schwab examined the effects of social media on Americans’ spending habits. It found that the majority are spending more money thanks to the images and experiences they see online, with millennials and Gen Zers being influenced the most.

Social media is draining your bank account

Charles Schwab’s survey found that perfectly-curated Instagram feeds aren’t just making us worry about missing out; they’re causing us to overspend, too. According to the survey, more than roughly one out of three respondents — 34% — said social media has influenced them to spend money on experiences. The stats were even higher among millennials at 49% and Gen Zers at 44%.
Shoppers can’t necessarily afford what they’re buying, either. Among respondents, 48% of millennials and 41% of those in Gen Z said they’d bought something they couldn’t afford because of the influence of social media.
Social media users aren’t just spending money based on ads. They’re influenced to spend because of the images they see on their friends’ social feeds. More than half of respondents (57%) said they pay more attention to what their friends are spending as opposed to what those friends are saving.
“Social media can be bad for your budget simply because you see those you admire, and even your friends, buying fancy bags, clothes, driving gorgeous cars, going on luxurious high-end vacations, all while taking selfies and showing off unsustainable high-spend habits that inspire you to copy and do the same to fit in,” said marketer Stacy Caprio, who blogs at Deals Scoop, an online discount marketplace.
“Even when your friends and those social accounts you follow aren’t trying to get you to buy something or explicitly running an ad, seeing the lifestyle of those around you may cause you to start spending a lot more to keep up than you would have if you had not been scrolling through your social media.”
People have always felt the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses.” But with thousands of friends and influencers to compare yourself to at all hours of the day, it’s no wonder many people are spending beyond their means.

How to save your budget from social media splurges

So how can you resist the temptation to overspend that comes with social media? Here are some expert tips for saving your wallet — and unplugging from your phone while you’re at it.

1. Design a realistic budget

Without having a clear sense of your income and expenses, it’s impossible to know whether or not you’re overspending. So take the time to design a budget that tracks your monthly cash flow.
Use a simple Excel spreadsheet to record your income and expenses, or make the most of a budget-tracking app such as Mint or YNAB. Break down your spending into major categories, perhaps leaving a small amount for social media-inspired purchases.
But once you’ve hit that limit, don’t keep shopping — no matter how strong the urge to swipe up on an Instagram ad might be.

2. Limit your social media usage

The more time you spend on social media, the more you’ll be tempted to spend money. By limiting your time on these sites, you might find yourself less inclined to buy new products or book experiences you hadn’t thought about before seeing them on your feed.
“Limit your screen time, only open the social media apps two to three times a day and don’t aimlessly scroll through when you’re bored,” advised Tom Buckland, owner of HQ SEO & Ghost Marketing, two companies that focus on digital marketing. “The ability to swipe up on Instagram has eradicated the time from ‘eye to buy’ — meaning before you know it, that expensive mascara you don’t need is on its way from the factory floor to your door in no time.”
Having created social media ads for clients, Buckland knows how to persuade customers to make a purchase on social media before they know it. So he urges budget-conscious consumers to limit their screen time to protect themselves from all the strategic marketing moves going on behind the scenes.

3. Wait 24 hours before you click buy

When it comes to overspending, we’re often at the mercy of our emotional triggers. Maybe you see a product that promises a solution to a problem you’ve been dealing with, or you’re shopping to make yourself feel better after a tough day.
But Joe Bailey, operations director at trading education company My Trading Skills, warns against making emotional purchases on social media if you want to save your budget.
“If you see an ad [for] a product you like, assess your current mood before making a purchase,” he suggested. “If you are purchasing the product because it makes you feel better, or if you are very happy when you see the ad, give yourself 24 hours before making the purchase. Within this time, your emotions would have stabilized, and you will be able to make rational decisions.”
By waiting 24 hours — or a week, or even a month — you might find the urge to buy has disappeared. And remember, marketers want to create a sense of urgency so you buy fast, but that product you’re looking at probably won’t run out overnight.

4. Delete credit card information to prevent “one-click shopping”

If you’ve got your payment information saved online, it’s all too easy to hit “buy” without giving it much thought.
“With one-click shopping and credit cards, it’s really easy to overspend on impulse,” said Dan Hinz, financial coach behind Adulting With Money.
Even though saving your credit card information feels convenient, it makes it very easy to shell out money online. By deleting those details from your accounts, you’ll force yourself to pause and think about whether or not you really want to hit buy.

5. Remember that you’re watching a highlight reel

In the Charles Schwab survey, 72% of millennials and 74% of Gen Zers reported wondering how their friends can afford the experiences they post on social media. But when scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, it’s important to remember you’re looking at a highlight reel, not a complete representation of someone’s life.
“Social media does not reflect reality,” said Miguel A. Suro, attorney and lifestyle journalist at personal finance, lifestyle and travel blog The Rich Miser. “Rather, people tend to post the best and most exciting moments in their lives. This can set an unrealistic standard; for example, it can make it look like someone is always traveling, dining or partying, when in reality that’s not the case.”
So when you’re scrolling, remember that you’re simply looking at a curated collection of glamorous moments, and not the full picture of someone’s life or finances.

6. Keep in mind the ads you see are highly targeted

Along with photos of your friends’ vacations and dining experiences, you might also get bombarded with ads. If they seem perfectly tailored to your interests, that’s because they are.
“Facebook and Instagram will let you target based on a combination of gender, age, location, education level, relationship status and more,” said Suro. “If you’re seeing an ad, it’s probably because you’re part of a very specific demographic the advertiser wants to reach.”
After seeing a hyper-targeted ad, you might feel compelled to reach for your credit card. But if you had no prior intention of buying the product, it’s probably more of a want than a need.

7. Don’t forget influencers are trying to sell you things

Big companies are relying on influencers more and more as part of their marketing efforts, and for good reason. Social media influencers are skilled at gaining a following and using their popularity to sell products.
“[There are] many paid influencers who are not always fully transparent as to their brand relationships,” said Suro. “These folks are paid to advertise products in a way that makes it seem like they use those products in their everyday lives, when in reality they may have just worn something briefly for a photoshoot.”
Many of these influencers also use professional photographers to get the perfect shot.
“It’s not casual smartphone photography,” Suro added. “In fact, some even do several photo sessions in a single day wearing different outfits, and then post them over weeks or months to make it seem as though that is how they regularly live.”
Rather than getting a glimpse into someone’s life, you’re probably just seeing a well-designed marketing campaign designed to get you to spend money.

Taking back control of your spending habits

The Charles Schwab survey reports 59% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck and 44% carrying credit card debt, so it’s important to take a look at our spending habits and make improvements when we can.
“The first step is being aware that social media is having an effect on your spending habits,” said Kelan Kline, co-founder of The Savvy Couple, a personal finance blog. “Then, take the time to address and prevent it from happening.”
If you’re on Facebook or Instagram, social media could be breaking your budget without you even knowing it. So take a look at how social media might be impacting your shopping habits, and take these steps to take back control of your budget.
— Rebecca Safier

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This story originally appeared on Student Loan Hero.