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3 Modern Budgeting Pitfalls

Jul 12, 2020 4 min read Wanda Thibodeaux

Key Takeaways

  • Be selective about whom you follow on social media.
  • Avoid applying for any credit card with a single purpose in mind.
  • Limit yourself to one trusted mobile payment service.

 

As a former math major, Sarah can set up her budget practically in her sleep. And with a great memory, she’s also great at knowing which bills are due when. Unfortunately, she’s also an emotional spender, drowning frustration in pedicures or taking friends to dinner spur of the moment because it feels good.

Her situation is one that millions of Americans face — they know how to budget, but for various reasons, they don’t follow through. The current financial environment isn’t doing many people favors. And, perhaps surprisingly, tech often isn’t either.

 

 

Research shows that technology — particularly social media — is making it harder to save and stick to a money plan. Yes, there are apps designed to make your financial life easier. But human nature can get in the way. Rethinking your approach to social media, credit cards and mobile payments can make a big difference.

 

1. Social media

Maybe you got on Facebook just to post a selfie, but now you see an ad for that the fancy chocolate you were going to buy on Amazon. The next thing you know, you’ve not only got the chocolate in your cart, but have tossed in clothes, a crockpot and golf clubs, too. Targeted social media ads, combined with technologies that make it easy to buy without ever leaving the social platform, constantly tempt users toward this scenario.

Indeed, a 2017 study found that half of millennials think social media has some (43%) or a great deal of influence (7%) on their buying. People also might want to buy more simply to keep up with the standard they see others portray in posts. And with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting personal interactions even more, social media has become a monster.

 

Solutions to consider:

  • Be selective about whom you follow.
  • Turn off personalized ads via user settings in Facebook, Google and other apps.
  • Uninstall social media apps on most of your digital devices, especially your smartphone.
  • Use productivity apps, like Offtime or Flipd, that restrict your access to social media.

 

2. Credit cards

You already have six credit cards in your wallet. But when the cashier at your favorite store says you can save $50 on your purchase right now if you sign up for another one, the anticipated joy of the deal reels you in. Repeating that sequence easily can get you into trouble if the new cards have membership fees, or if discounts from the card trick you into spending more than you can afford. Research also shows that people tip higher at restaurants, forget purchases or purchase amounts, spend more on nondiscretionary items and are willing to pay more for items when using cards instead of cash.
 

Solutions to consider:

  • Establish criteria new credit card accounts must meet (e.g., specific APR, cash back percentages)
  • Avoid applying for any card with a single purpose in mind. Open all new accounts because they’re something you actively can use for the long haul, not just because they offer a one-time immediate incentive.
  • Look back at how long it’s been since your last application. Because of how inquiries can affect your credit score, Nerdwallet.com says a good rule of thumb is to wait at least six months between card applications.
  • Focus on maintaining active status, and stay on top of the cards you already have. Over time, this still can result in rewards like increased spending limits or an easier time getting improper fees waived.

 

3. Mobile payments

Went running in the park with no wallet but still want that cold smoothie from a vendor you see on the way home? No worries. A few taps in your Venmo app and you’re golden. While Apple Pay, Google Wallet and similar services do offer this style of convenience, they also cater to impulse spending while you’re on the go, with companies using the apps to up your experience so you’ll come back. And like credit cards, they make tracking what you’ve shelled out a lot more difficult.

 

Solutions to consider:

  • Limit yourself to one trusted mobile payment service, or download the mobile payment apps to only the one or two stores you frequent most.
  • Turn your phone off (or at least the data) while you’re out. The hassle of turning it back on might be enough to encourage you to use a different payment method. App timers also can restrict access, just as they can on desktops and laptops.
  • Create calendar or other app alerts that encourage you to pay items or make purchases when you can do so off your mobile device.
 

What you can do next

Use technologies in specific and predetermined ways. Social media, credit cards and mobile payments are convenient in how they connect you to your favorite sellers, but they also can derail your budget by making it too easy to buy based on emotion and impulse.

Footnotes

Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and sole proprietor of Takingdictation.com. Her work has appeared in online and print publications such as The Finance Base, Legal Beagle, Bankaroo and Inc.com.

 

Sources:

  • Prudential, “The Power of the Wellness Effect,” 2017
  • Gallup Mobile Retail Panel Study, December 2012 – January 2013
  • Reviewed, "10 Apps That Block Social Media So You Can Stay Focused and Be More Productive," August 28, 2019
  • NerdWallet, "How Long Should I Wait Between Credit Card Applications?," May 18, 2020
  • Investopedia, "3 Common Budgeting Challenges to Overcome," updated Aug. 10, 2019

 

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