Bankrate, a finance publication and comparison service, partnered with research company YouGov to survey 2,664 adults about the effects of social media use last month. Specifically, Bankrate wanted to find out how social media impacted users’ budgets, whether through subconscious social comparison or overt marketing. The results of the survey were glaring: at least one in every three American adults have thought of their financial situations negatively after seeing other users’ social media posts. These feelings were even more prevalent in millennials and users from Gen Z, from which nearly half of respondents said they experienced negative feelings about their finances following social media use.
Those who are familiar with social media’s negative impact on the psyche likely aren’t too surprised. Most of us acknowledge by now that a well-framed Instagram photo, for example, can make viewers feel poorly about their own appearances, while a LinkedIn post celebrating a new job can make others question their own accomplishments and career paths. It only makes sense that flashy social media posts—whether they involve expensive cocktails, designer clothing, nice cars, or other luxuries—would trigger thoughts about one’s own financial situation, too. In fact, Bankrate’s survey found that social media triggered more thoughts about personal finances than appearances, personal relationships, hobbies, achievements, or residential status.
Social media is partly responsible for setting up impractical financial expectations among children as well. More than three of every five parents said their kids’ social media use contributed to overall “unrealistic” expectations about money. This, as one can imagine, doesn’t mix well with a general lack of personal finance education in schools. Over time, these unrealistic expectations can make for financial disappointments or even dangerous budgeting habits.
But users don’t need to be particularly young in order to make poor social media-spurred financial decisions. Nearly half of the survey’s respondents told Bankrate they’d impulsively purchased an item just because they’d seen it on social media. Most of these respondents regretted at least one of their impulsive purchases, with the most regretful generation being baby boomers at 70 percent.
“As we scroll through our feeds, we can get jealous of what other people have,” Ted Rossman, credit card senior industry analyst at Bankrate, said at the time of the survey’s release. “We may feel like we can overcome that by overspending to put forth an unrealistic version of ourselves which we hope will impress others.”