Stop Envying What You See on Facebook, Pinterest

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By Chris Taylor

Gabriela Bustelo could not handle Facebook (FB) anymore. The 52-year-old journalist for a London-based news agency wrote for Spanish Vogue for six years. Naturally, many in her social-media circles worked in the high-flying fashion industry. Whenever Bustelo logged on to Facebook, she was confronted with an array of five-star images: Luxury vacations, designer clothes, Michelin-starred restaurants.

"Facebook is a big factory of envy," Bustelo says. "It's kind of related to fashion magazines, in the overwhelming visual display of lives, homes, clothes, and possessions." She had no interest in spending herself into the poorhouse just to keep up with the extravagant images in her news feed. So one day she logged off the site for good.

That could be good news for her pocketbook, according to experts. One study by academic researchers found that frequent Facebook users tend to have higher levels of credit-card debt and lower credit scores. Why so? Social media can discourage self-control, says Andrew Stephen, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the study's co-author.

After all, envy is a natural reaction to photos of your contacts vacationing in Mustique with their smiling kids frolicking on the beach. Especially vulnerable are parents anxious to give their own children the best life has to offer. "If your friends are doing all these cool things and going on these fun vacations, you might feel that to remain a part of that social group, you have to participate in those things as well," Stephen says.

See It, Buy It

Just look at all the spending sparked by social-media sites. Every 30 seconds Facebook generates a whopping $5,483 in sales, followed by Pinterest with $4,504, according to New York City e-commerce analytics firm Ever Merchant. Pinterest in particular, as a visual and shopping-oriented platform, seems to whet consumer appetites for pricey goods. The average click-through purchase in 2012 was $179.36, more than double that on Facebook, according to data crunched by Fast Company.

No wonder social media seems to loosen one's hold on the purse strings. When the University of Pittsburgh's Stephen had survey respondents participate in an online auction for an iPad, those who had just been on Facebook bid higher than others who had been merely browsing the Internet.

So how can you resist this deep human instinct to try to match, or one-up, your friends' glittering social-media feeds? One tip: Remember that what you are seeing on Instagram or Facebook or Pinterest is not a full and true representation of people's lives.

Time to Take a Break

"It's basically a highlight film," says Tonya Rapley, a Brooklyn money coach and financial educator at MyFabFinance.com. "Your friend may have been in Dubai this week and Thailand last week, but you don't see the sacrifices that went into those purchases, or the debt someone has gone into." Take an occasional break with a social media fast. "It might be for a day, or a week, or a month," Rapley says. "But it lets me pull back and think, 'What am I doing here?' "

Life is not an experiential arms race. Having a more modest social-media feed does not make you less of a person than someone posting about a villa in St. Bart's. "Look for other options," suggests Rapley. "For instance, you might not be able to take a week long all-inclusive trip to the Dominican Republic like some of your friends. But maybe you can work a weekend in Miami into your budget."

Another tip: The University of Pittsburgh's Stephen suggests maintaining relationships outside of social media. Calling, e-mailing or going out to dinner with buddies gives a much fuller picture of what's really going on in their lives. Bustelo, fore example, remains on Twitter (TWTR), which she does not find to be such an orgy of conspicuous consumption. But she has zero regrets about her social-media downsizing.
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