How Facebook Is Emptying Your Wallet

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Facebook is no longer a fad. (“Really Jake? This is 2014. And you just figured this out?”). Yes. I’m a little slow. Sorry.

But what I mean is that Facebook has replaced a lot of social norms that used to occur OUTSIDE OF THE INTERNET. Things like saying “hi” or “happy birthday” no longer involve going anywhere, or even picking up a phone. No, most social interaction these days involves Facebook.

And I’m ok with that. But you need to be aware of how it affects you, and the world around you. Specifically, I want to talk about the financial implications of Facebook on your personal pocketbook.

Facebook Makes ALL Your ‘Friends’ Your Neighbor

Facebook has brought all of your distant friends and relatives to your doorstep, and even inside your home and lives, for better or worse. Hundreds of people across the world can now browse the most intimate details of your life, and build perceptions and opinions about you in mere seconds. And you can do the same to hundreds of our “friends”, bringing everyone closer, building open relationships, and harmony and kindness abound!

Or that’s how things should work. But let’s be real, here’s how it really works:

  1. You see someone post about their awesome trip to Whereversville
  2. You show your significant other/friend/dog the pictures, and realize that is where you want to be right now
  3. You hop over Google and lookup “cheap vacations to Whereversville” and start planning the vacation
  4. You can’t actually afford the vacation, are still in debt, and haven’t visited my Free Travel page, so you just plan on going into further debt to go on “the trip you deserve”
  5. You post pictures of your trip on Facebook with captions like “Oh, you know, just swimming with the Dolphins in Sunnyville. BEST VACA EVAR! #dolphins #flipper #sunglasses #beach #sand #swimmingwithdolphinswearingsunglassesnearthesandybeachyay!”

And $3,500 in debt later, you go back to your life of mundane boringness and once again hop on Facebook to see what your “friends” are up to.

Oh no! They just bought a new car!

You Are Now Competing With Hundreds Of “The Joneses”

Here’s the problem, Facebook is not truly an open window into someone’s life. It’s actually a rose-colored window showing only what they want you to see, and usually it’s framed in the most positive manner possible. All the pictures show a narrow view of the life they want you to perceive, and not the reality that they truly live.

Real life relationships have a way of cutting through a lot of this façade, but now that “The Jonses” have complete control of what you do and don’t see, you are only shown the envy-inducing side of life. And that has a way of subtly creeping into your wallet and draining your extra cash.

And tell me I’m wrong! Have you NEVER once thought to yourself “man, why wasn’t I invited?”, or “it would be nice to have money to do that!” I will admit I am guilty of the same. Facebook has turned into a non-stop marketing campaign, but we’re doing it to ourselves, and we’re way more convincing salespeople than, say, an infomercial campaign.

ShamwowAnd it’s not just the big things. It’s food, paint colors, home décor, outdoor activities, sports, fashion, kids, travel, and anything else you can think of wanting to do that you are not currently doing.

It’s human nature to want to present yourself in the best light possible. And heck, most people probably don’t even know they are doing it. But it’s inevitable that as social networks grow, so will the need to digitally compete with “The Joneses”, and that is going to keep people broke.

So, What Do We Do?

First of all, GET OFF OF FACEBOOK! Americans spend over 3 hours a day on social networks, most of that time on Facebook. Contrary to popular belief, life can be lived offline, and even enjoyed! And less time online means less time in front of ads and “The Joneses”, which means less time coveting other people’s stuff, which means less brain power spent on ways to blow through money, which means less time wasted on crap that doesn’t matter and more time spent observing the wonderful world around you and getting a real grasp on what your priorities really are.

Second, you can’t resist financial temptations, unless you have something better to do with your money. You need to set goals for your hard earned cash, giving your money bumper lanes to live within. You need to find what motivates you. In short, you need a budget.

“Really, Jake? You’re going to tell us to cure our Facebook envy with a spreadsheet?”


A budget isn’t just a spreadsheet, it’s your hopes and dreams spelled out in numerical form. It’s roadmap for an escape from the normal (broke) middle-class life. It’s freedom condensed into a few line items per month. And it’s so simple to get started.

photo credit: Pierre Lesage and KAZVorpal via photopin cc

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

46 thoughts on “How Facebook Is Emptying Your Wallet”

  1. I have mixed feelings about Facebook. First of all, I LOVE it because it helps me stay in touch with family members that live far away. On the other hand, it is really annoying to read all of the ridiculous things that people post. I really wish that religion and politics were off limits on social media. Anyway, I check it every day but don’t spend hours on it. I don’t have time for that!

  2. Great post. Facebook often has me scratching my head and thinking “how on earth can they afford that?”. I constantly have to remind myself that, like you said, people only post the things that make them look good. Also, I think spreadsheets are fun. Nerds unite!

    • NERDS! W00t!

      Yeah, I asked Michelle her opinion, and she said “Most of my entire feed is parenting articles, free stuff on the “Buy Nothing” page, and frugal people. But I know a LOT of others can use Facebook as a “look what I got” tool. Heck, I’ve even done it before, and try to be conscious of that, because I know how it looks on the other end.

  3. Respectfully, I think you’re overstating the case. I think many people realize by now that our contacts are only posting the most idealized aspect of their lives. And if we were so weak willed that we’re going to run out and buy everything we see our friends buying on facebook, we wouldn’t be reading this blog! 🙂

    • KR,
      That may very well be, but based on personal experience, I don’t think so. Yes, as a general rule, we know Facebook is only showing the good stuff, but it doesn’t stop the natural reactions of “wow, that is pretty neat. I wonder if we could do/buy that?” Doesn’t mean you give into that temptation, but because it’s so constant (like 3+ hours day!), it may get to us at some point.

      The idea here is to set goals that make all that other crap unattractive. And yes, if you’re on this site, I hope that’s exactly what you’re doing 🙂

  4. My wife needs to read this. She is addicted to FB. Three hours a day? Psssh…it’s the first thing she checks when she wakes up, has it open all day long in the background while at work, checks in via her phone whenever she is out and about, and it’s usually the last thing she does as she heads to bed! And, yeah, FB makes it all too easy to compare yourself (inaccurately) to everyone else. I mean, it can be nice to occasionally sign in to see how distant family or friends are doing, but it’s a fine line to walk.

    • Yeah, social media addiction I think is linked with the #FOMO phenomenon. FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out. Which is just an excuse to be connected to it 24/7. I personally thought 3 hours was a little low, but maybe it’s offset by tons of people who only go on twice a month.

  5. I have used to spend a significant amount of time on Facebook, but I have now found a healthy relationship with it. I love it as a means to keep up with friends and family, because there just never seem to be enough hours in the day. I have also gotten really good at sifting through the b-s and not being swayed by the Joneses but feeling sorry for them because I know that their stupid financial decisions that they are displaying so proudly are going to come back and bite them in the butt one day.

  6. I’m on Facebook, but I usually just laugh at the stupid shit people buy. I have “friends” who post complaints about being broke and then pictures of their manicures or new ugly novelty t-shirts. Travel is the one thing I can get a bit jealous of, but I travel quite a bit so I can’t get too envious 🙂

    • There’s always something that catches our eye, but I agree, sometimes it can get a bit ridiculous seeing new clothes every other day. Facebook is great and updating people on your life, but can easily become show and tell for adults (and teens too).

  7. Awesome post. I for one can’t really stand facebook, but stay on it to remain in contact with old friends and family. But man, it’s kinda turned into nothing but a pissing contest with everyone trying to one up eachother and show how much better their life is.

  8. I finally got rid of my FB acct….like made them delete it. Not for your reasons (although idiots that post EVERY.SINGLE.MOVE they make were irritating). My issue was privacy and security. Anytime they make a tiny tweak to their system all the privacy settings would get put back to defaults and when the graph search thing came up, the instructions to ensure that only your friends could see your stuff was THIRTY PAGES long. I used it mostly for sharing my children’s lives with family/friends that are all over 900 miles away. Problem was I could go though all the settings and mark them private and someone would share my posts. I had no control over mine or my kids’ online life. I created a phony acct for certain apps and things that do not allow you to login in without an FB acct. I post nothing!

    • Yeah, privacy is definitely a whole other topic that needs addressing. Good for you on unplugging. What are you going to do with 3 hours of your day freed up? 😉

      • Read my Feedly feed full of my favorite bloggers! I’ve been unplugged about 6 months now…it is annoying to talk to people in real life and ask how they are…they always say didn’t you such and such on Facebook?

        How’s life with the new baby…let me know when they allow you 3 hours of free time!!!

  9. It makes sense. People post their highlight reel to Facebook… What’s worse is that I’ve started to notice that people are doing activities almost strictly for posting them. As someone who tries to live for experiences, that kinda makes me sad

  10. Such a funny funny post! Vacation-envy is a very very real thing 🙂 LoL
    I think I’ve tried to flip my Facebook use and keep everything very positive and cheer on those in my circle of friends who are doing worthwhile things like training for a marathon or celebrating graduating from an MBA program, etc. I tune out those who just wanna flash their new cars, etc. cuz I don’t really support that. When my husband and I bought a USED car, I posted a picture to brag about the great deal that we got on it instead. There could be a place for frugal folks like us within Facebook. We just have to create a critical mass to spread the message!
    Your post made my afternoon 🙂 Thanks for the food for thought!

    • I love this. I also try to keep FB positive by encouraging people who are doing meaningful things and trying to stay away from materialistic junk. The other day I even got to cheer on a friend who just became debt-free!

  11. Great post. I have a Facebook account but only check it maybe once a month and usually only because I get an email from an old friend through the service. I have considered deleting my account but have not as of yet. This actually creates a rather annoying situation, however, as people have decided to use Facebook as their primary means of sharing important events in their lives. As I rarely log on and am not willing to sift through all the noise to find the worthwhile posts, I have no idea for example that my good bud from undergrad had a child or got married. So that makes me the person that never congratulates others on their accomplishments or wishes a friend happy birthday. I think I should just delete the account.

  12. Maybe some of you should consider deleting your FB friends who annoy you with frivolity.
    Secondly, many of you are as addicted to your phones [and the various communication apps] as FB. The problem with envy is that is rears its ugly head no matter where you are, because it reflects a spiritual issue.

  13. “It’s roadmap for an escape from the normal (broke) middle-class life. ” What a terrific phrase! And it is very true that Facebook is absolutely the rose colored glasses version of everyone’s life. Can you imagine what it would look like if we actually just posted the doldrums of everyday life?

  14. Facebook can be a great tool, but it has to be used appropriately. You are right to point out that we’ve got way more people to compete with now. Just imagine how much you get done if you put those three hours a day toward something else! Thanks for the post

  15. Just like most of the rest of the population, I have a Facebook account.
    And just like you’ve mentioned in your post, I do tend to find myself checking out photos of “friends” in Hawaii or Europe, thinking, “why aren’t I there? Maybe I should book a trip?”.

    Worst of all, I find myself thinking “where do they get all their money to do blah blah blah? I earn a good wage, why don’t I live that life?”

    I think the reason I don’t live “that life” is because I’m not up to my eyeballs in debt. Instead, since starting on my $10m journey, I’m now running my own race and don’t care what others are posting on Facebook.

  16. Maybe it’s just the age group I happen to be in or maybe just my circle of friends but a lot of the stuff I see on facebook is a huge warning to not keep up with the Jonses. All that I seem to see lately is friends posting about how being a new parent means you have this cute little monster that dictates when you get to sleep.

    For me, I actually spend more time on Personal Finance blogs…. I seem to be trying to “Keep up with the Bloggers”. There’s worse people I could be trying to keep up with but I think it goes to show that where ever you spend your time you try to keep up with whatever lifestyle that impresses you the most.

  17. We’ve just added another way to compare ourselves in meaningless ways: our online personas. No longer do we look to the left, right, front, back, up, down…we now also google/facebook/linkedin envy. Awesome!

    Your post made me look at my personal FB page over the last year because I never considered what I was posting…just posted what was making me happy lately. Phew! Nothing focused on materialism…just happy and positive thoughts. That being said, I will keep your post in mind during my future status updates. Luckily, I don’t post often, nor do I prowl social media ad nauseum for updates. My loss? Not sure anymore…

  18. I often thought this. Facebook i full of sunshine and unicorns and food photos and new cars and babies. Nobody ever posts: “I just fought about money again with my wife and now I’m sleeping on the couch”

  19. Amen! Preach it brother. You just gave me more ammunition for when people give me a hard time about not having a Facebook account. Great article.

  20. I have heard that Facebook (and other social media sites like Facebook, I guess) can be a cause of people not being happy with their own lives, which is really sad. I still have Facebook because that’s how I keep in touch with my family who lives halfway across the country, but I have deleted all of the people off of it that aren’t important in my life.

    I do get vacation envy here and there, but at the end of the day, I realize that my own life is pretty great and even if I haven’t been to that exact spot that one of my friends is posting, doesn’t mean that I have to go there!

  21. Dude, i totally agree with you. A classmate of mine is constantly posting pictures of her trips, new cars etc etc then I look at my life thinking hmm…I want those things…but only for split second because I realise I have so much that she wants but doesn’t yet have. A baby. I know they want kids but it hasn’t been working out so well for them. I’d also be debt free (a lot quicker), and on trips if we didn’t have a kid (which includes one year mat leave and current daycare costs) but I wouldn’t trade her for anything. Facebook can be an amazing tool in terms of being able to connect with friends and family worldwide but it can also bring out nasty green monsters too. I’m SO glad FB wasn’t around when I was in highschool..topic for another day.

  22. I can totally relate to your sentiments on the first few times I explore facebook. Sometimes I can’t even stand to see how great other people’s lives I know are and I felt so miserable. But I am wiser now. I know those people are just showing the happy sides of their lives and life isn’t like that and we have to realize that.

  23. I am a wee bit late seeing this post, but SERIOUSLY. You nailed it. A girl I know (we’re not real life friends) just got a desk from Pottery Barn that I wanted, but could never afford. She posted a photo of it, along with a photo of their brand new 2014 SUV. I got jealous, and talked to my husband about it for an hour! I asked questions such as, “How can they possibly afford that!?” And we aren’t even friends! I probably haven’t even seen this person for 5 years. I was ashamed that I let the jealousy monster get a hold of me, but I find Facebook (and even Pinterest!) causing me to envy more and more. I’ve thought about getting rid of Facebook for a while, but like you mentioned earlier, I have the fear of missing out. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through the newsfeed, I could be learning how to cook or something (which my husband would totally support…) 🙂


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