By Mia Kitner
As a millennial myself, I can’t help but be associated with all the positive and negative connotations we hear about our age group. We “live in our phones” and “live in the moment, not thinking about the future” (avocado toast, anyone?). It’s true our phones are more than the mobile devices our parents had. Need to send money to a friend? There is an app for that. Need to see a doctor about that cough you have been meaning to check? A doctor is a video chat away. How about creating a vision board for your kid’s birthday party? You guessed it—it’s possible on our phones. Our lives are full of Instagram posts and live video streams, Facebook posts, Pinterest “pins” (unicorn ice cream sandwich, I see you), and tweets with the latest trends and news. We use social media for much of our communication, and it has inadvertently become intertwined with our lives.
Social media has changed the way we interact with our families, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. From sharing a photo of a recent trip to sending out a tweet about current events, social media has unquestionably changed how we share and stay in touch. While financial advice may not necessarily come to mind as something that we would look up on Facebook or Twitter, it is influencing how we think and act with money.
It’s no secret that social media affects our spending and investing habits. Keeping up with the Joneses and F.O.M.O (fear of missing out) are two expressions that come to mind. As cliché as those expressions may sound, our spending is affected by what we see on social media. According to a survey conducted by the American Institute of CPAs, more than three-quarters of employed millennials mold their financial habits after friends, and two-thirds want to keep pace with what they see (Unger, “Millennials, Money, and Social Media,” 2017). While we may see our neighbor’s new car or European vacation and get a twinge of jealousy that later on makes us book an unplanned trip on a whim, we simply don’t know the facts. We don’t see their credit card bills that may be growing exponentially or perhaps know that that car or vacation had been carefully planned for over a year. The bottom line is that our social media/virtual lives may not always reflect reality.
Think this phenomenon only affects millennials? Think again. While millennials may make up the largest population group of social media users, “high-net-worth adults that are online are using social media for investing purposes at a rate that is higher than the general population,” and “almost two-thirds say that online groups and peer-generated information have an influence over their purchasing behaviors and decisions” (Deringer, “Social Media’s Impact on Financial Decisions,” 2016). The problem with this behavior is that the original source of that trending post is not always verifiable.
Remember the game “telephone” that we used to play as kids? Well, think about social media posts the same way. As of the writing of this sentence, more than 401,955,394 tweets and counting have been sent. At that speed, imagine how much that “hot tip” your BFF just tweeted has changed and how that post influenced you. Did you invest in that stock because of what you read? What happens if a month later you read from another friend that the stock is not doing so well and he’s losing money?
If this sounds like you, you are not alone. According to a survey conducted with LinkedIn, “5 million affluent investors are using social media to make and research financial decisions” (Clark, “Social Media Does Have a Role in Investing,” 2016). Decisions to buy or sell when driven by content on social media could lead us to buy high and sell low. Just remember two things: For starters, don’t trust everything you see on social media. Stocks may respond to variables in the short term, but in the long term, those variables become less significant. Second, social media is not a stock tip gold mine. You’re highly unlikely to triple your account balance overnight based on your friend’s post no matter what your acquaintances may claim.
Making purchases or investing in the market based on social media influences can lead us to make emotional decisions with our money, and money and emotions don’t mix well. One of the hardest parts of managing our money is managing our behavior. While we may be tempted to keep up with our friends and lead lifestyles that may be beyond our means, we must learn to manage our emotions and behaviors. By spending less time on social media, we can see just how rich and fulfilling our lives already are. “Count your blessings,” “live within your means,” and “prioritize your goals” are a few things we can all do to help us break the habit. Don’t get me wrong—it’s OK to have wants and dreams. We all do. But we must learn to prioritize them and not deviate from the plan.
As we learn to not act based on what we read on social media, we may make fiscally responsible decisions that help us feel more secure in the long run. Creating the life of our dreams takes time, and for many of us, a part of that includes saving for retirement. Taking a less fancy vacation may just help you grow your retirement or emergency fund and get closer to achieving your goals. Just check your sources if you are a DIYer, or speak to a financial professional that can help you if you are not. And if your neighbor recently acquired a brand-new car, congratulate him or her—perhaps even ask to go for a drive. After all, they say that experiences are what truly make us happy.
- Deringer, J. (2016, November 07). Social Media’s Impact on Financial Decisions. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from https://onebiteblog.com/social-media-impact-on-financial-decisions/
- Clark, J. (2016, October 24). Social Media Does Have a Role in Investing. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from http://www.savingadvice.com/articles/2016/08/23/1042709_what-is-social-medias-role-in-investing.html
- Unger, J. (2017, May 30). Millennials, Money, and Social Media. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from https://www.automaticfinances.com/millennials-money-social-media/