Don’t let social media envy drain your bank account

By Samiha Khanna

Scrolling through a friend’s vacation photos on Facebook might inspire more than travel daydreams: Social media prompts some Americans to make purchases or book vacations of their own, according to a poll conducted on behalf of the AICPA. Nearly 4 in 10 respondents with social media accounts said that seeing other people’s purchases on social media leads them to browse for a similar item or experience.

What’s more, 11% of adults with social media accounts have actually bought something after viewing a friend’s purchase online, the poll found.

“Social media has vastly expanded the number of ‘neighbors’ people are trying to keep up with. That can lead to a feeling of financial inadequacy and a desire to spend money you may not have,” Gregory Anton, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, said in a news release. “Some people are purposefully curating a more glamorous image on social media, and, unfortunately, it can have a negative financial impact on their friends and followers, who feel compelled to keep up with them.”

The telephone survey of 1,012 US adults, conducted in June by Harris Poll, also revealed that 21% of social media users consider specifically how an activity or purchase will look to friends and family on social media. Fourteen percent of respondents said they have made a point of posting content specifically because it was showy or expensive. Nearly half (47%) of social media users in the survey said they had personally posted vacation photos in the past year.

“I expected the survey to find exactly what it revealed—that social media usage influences people’s purchasing behavior and that fear of missing out, or FOMO, is real,” said Kelley Long, CPA/PFS, also a member of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.

“Social media can be a great way to crowdsource more trustworthy reviews and information for things you’re thinking about doing,” she said. “The downside comes in when you begin comparing your own vacations and purchases to what you see your friends doing and allow that to make you feel inferior or as if you’re not doing as well in life.”

With about two-thirds of Americans (67%) having at least one social media account, the pressure to project a successful image can build. According to the poll, nearly half of social media users (48%) check at least one account for updates more than once a day.

Younger social media users are more likely to be envious of their peers’ posts. Nearly a third (31%) of Millennials said they were likely to be jealous of a friend’s purchase or vacation on social media compared to 15% of Baby Boomers.

Millennials (26%) are also more likely than Baby Boomers (12%) to consider their friends’ and families’ reactions on social media when making a purchase or participating in an activity.

AICPA personal finance experts offer some strategies for adults who feel pressure to spend money to look good on social media:

Set time limits. Carve out a few minutes once or twice a day to check social media accounts, then stick to those limits. “Likes, comments, and shares have become social currency for many users, but it’s not currency that buys you anything beyond a momentary feeling of acceptance and approval,” Long said.

Be honest about what’s motivating a purchase or activity. “Before posting a pic to Instagram or capturing a video for Snapchat, stop and ask yourself, ‘Am I doing this for my own pleasure and enjoyment or for the entertainment of my social media community?’ ” Long said. “If you’re feeling compelled to share, chances are you’re not fully in the moment and need to take a step back.”

Save before you spend. Long suggests that every time you talk yourself into a purchase (particularly if the idea was prompted by a social media post), log in to your checking account and transfer half the amount you are considering spending into savings.

“If you feel like you have the money to spend, you have it to save,” she said. “Put it away for when you do find that thing you really want.” Then, she said, you’ll be able to share your find on social media without guilt—or debt.

For more tips on budgeting and spending at home, visit the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy website.

Samiha Khanna (samiha.khanna@gmail.com) is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. 

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