Keeping up with the Joneses old phenomenon on a new platform

Websites such as Facebook and Twitter can add a lot to your social life, but their use also comes with the inevitable myriad of consequences. Some are more obvious, such as the loss of time management skills. (Did I really just spend two hours on Facebook reading what that woman I barely remember from college had to eat for lunch today?!)  And then there are those that can impact your wallet – yes, your wallet.

There are numerous factors that drive consumption, according to financial experts. From a desire to show off our success, to coveting things other people have, these feelings can be magnified when you are comparing yourself with the virtual “Joneses” on websites such as Facebook.

When you are looking at photos from the “amazing vacation!” a former colleague recently returned from in Europe, it may be hard to suppress the green-eyed monster that is threatening to rear its ugly head. As you peruse the lives of others via status updates and posted photos you may find yourself wondering why everyone else has such a seemingly perfect, financially stable life.

In reality, that is almost never the case. Studies show more Americans are relying on credit to maintain their standards of living. According to the Federal Reserve, the total U.S. consumer debt is $2.4 trillion as of June 2010. Statistics also show the average credit card debt per household is $15,788.

Don’t be tempted to sacrifice the peace of mind provided by sound financial planning for the opportunity to post a rejoinder to someone’s recent purchase of the latest HD television.  Instead, try looking for ways that social sites can actually improve your financial standing. 

Following are six ways you can use Facebook and Twitter to your financial advantage.

  1. Stay informed.  Get up-to-the minute information by following the tweets of top personal finance bloggers. 
  2. Get support.  Many financial services organizations offer information about products and services via their social networks and some even offer support services. 
  3. Ask questions.  Get free answers to personal questions in forums and tweetchats.  Most participants are happy to share their knowledge and experience. 
  4. Gain balance.  “Liking” personal finance websites and organizations on Facebook will give some needed balance to your news feed.  Look for profiles that will regularly provide you with practical ideas on improving your financial situation.
  5. Win prizes. Both Twitter and Facebook are full of opportunities to enter contests for chances to win gift cards and prizes.  While you shouldn’t ever count on winning, it doesn’t hurt to try!
  6. Further your career.  Having a steady income is imperative to your financial wellness.  Social sites are a great place for networking and learning. 

The key to managing your online community and your money is to keep your perspective.  Be aware that when someone creates a social media profile, they are determining the version of themselves that you will see. Their virtual persona is not necessarily their reality. How many times have you seen photos of credit card statements to go along with the photos from that fabulous trip to the beach?

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.