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How Social Media Makes You Overspend

In the 2017 dark comedy Ingrid Goes West, titular loner and Instagram-obsessed Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) hatches a financial plan for her $60,000 inheritance. Obsessed with befriending social media star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), Ingrid follows her to Los Angeles and begins burning cash on a matching blonde dye job, complete wardrobe overhaul, a $1,200 lamp, some truly terrible pop art, and perfectly ’grammable vegan samosas – which she spits out after the first bite.

It’s a spot-on satire of the Valencia-filtered #blessed influencer culture, and Ingrid’s reckless spending to prop up her online image speaks to the underbelly of social media: Cost and affordability.

Companies know a 24/7 curated deluge of beautiful things loosens the purse strings: Online lingerie subscription service Adore Me, for example, reported a 3,700% increase in purchases coming from Pinterest since using paid ads on the site. San Francisco-based e-commerce consultant RichRelevance found Pinterest users spend an average of $170 per order when they click through to a retailer’s website, according to a study of more than 700 million shopping sessions. Facebook users spend $95 per session, while Twitter users spend $70.

But whether it’s for work or pleasure, social media is pretty inescapable. You also shouldn’t have to give up Grumpy Cat or smoky eye tutorials to save your wallet. Before deleting your accounts, consider the following:

Would you compare yourself to Beyoncé?

If you’re feeling inadequate from coveting someone else’s lifestyle, consider what certified financial planner Shannon Lee Simmons calls “the Beyoncé factor”: Unless you know every detail of someone’s life to confirm you’re on the same financial playing field, you might as well be comparing yourself to Queen Bey. As Simmons writes in her book Worry-Free Money, “If Beyoncé bought a yacht, would you feel bad about not owning one?”

And if you’re truly stumped as to how someone can afford their lifestyle, there’s a good chance parental money and/or credit card debt is at play. In March, wannabe influencer Lissette Calveiro regaled the New York Post with her experience racking up $10,000 in debt trying to life an “Instagram-worthy life.”

“Nobody talks about finances on Instagram,” she told the Post. “It worries me how much I see girls care about image.”

Buy less, think more

The next time you’re about to indulge in an impulse purchase, take a second and ask yourself if you really, truly, deeply need a sixth grey t-shirt. After even just a few seconds of sober thought, you’re likely to talk yourself down. A good personal finance rule of thumb is waiting 24 hours before making a major – and possibly unneeded – purchase. In the long run, regularly checking in with yourself will help curb impulsive spending.

It’s also worth reminding yourself every single day that social media almost never tells the whole story. Australian Instagram influencer Essena O’Neill raked in thousands of dollars from picture-perfect sponsored posts, but quit all social media in 2015 and announced she was tired of “deluding” people.

“I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention,” she wrote.

The Purge: Unfollow

It’s pretty simple: the more retailers and influencers you follow, the more likely you are to buy whatever they’re selling – and selling you stuff is their main goal. This doesn’t mean you need to unfollow everyone, but audit your feeds for who you follow and why: how do they make you feel about yourself? What do you get out of it? Are you triggered to spend?

Stocking your social media feeds with positive influences (not influencers) can actually help your spending habits. Canada’s best personal finance bloggers are all active on social media, sharing advice, answering questions, and educating readers.

The bottom line

Would financially honest social media even be any fun? Probably not, but it would be amusingly sobering to see an itemized list of costs of the costs associated with every Instagram post. Social media can be a source of escape and inspiration – just don’t get too invested in Olsen’s fake Taylor Sloane Instagram account.

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Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash