MONEY

How Social Media Sites Are Making You Spend More

Furry Money Pet
Alamy

Social media provides the opportunity to connect with people and gain inspiration from them. It can also lead us to find many ways to break our budgets.

When I ran a Facebook ad recently for a nonprofit where I volunteer, I was surprised how specific you could get in targeting potential customers.

If I wanted to advertise the event I was promoting to women between the ages of 24 and 26 in my city who were unmarried and educated, who watched Girls, owned a dog and liked designer purses — I could do that.

Being able to target ads to a specific market can help a seller reach the people who want or need their products and services. Unfortunately, that means buyers may also be encouraged to spend more than they should if they’re not mindful.

There are many ways that we spend money or time that we didn’t before social media — ad targeting is just one of the potential spending traps we can fall into. We may also feel pressure to keep up with the social media images of our peers. Add to that the aspirational nature of sites like Pinterest, and it’s safe to say that one can encounter many budget-breaking temptations by spending time on social media.

Your Inspiration Station

Pinterest might be the perfect place to score a killer recipe for Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins or instructions for how to DIY a fabric headboard, but it is also the biggest tempter when it comes to making us spend. According to RichRelevance, an e-commerce consultant, Pinterest shoppers will spend an average of $170 per session whereas Facebook shoppers only spend $95 per session and Twitter shoppers spend just $70 per session.

So while some people use the site to find fun DIY projects that are cheap or repurpose other items, they might not necessarily be coming out ahead, either. The downside comes if they choose to spend money on projects they hadn’t budgeted for. So the key to keeping your inspiration – and aspirations – in check is to make a little room in your monthly budget for your projects… and then stick to it.

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Perhaps the most insidious ways social media influences our spending is through social pressure or suggestion. Did your friend just tweet, Instagram, Pin or share their delicious meal from that new brunch place? Now you’re craving those waffles and you have to go! Sure, a meal out here or there may not set you back too much. But what if your friends are sharing pictures of their new house, their kitchen renovation, or their new car – and you start to feel a nagging sense that you need those things, too? Things that break your budget, or aren’t even an item in your budget to begin with?

In the social media world, you aren’t just tempted to try to keep up with your neighbours or co-workers, but also the friends from high school you don’t see anymore, and the girl or guy you once met at a party. By expanding our networks, we expand our temptations… and maybe our sense of competition.

Viral Marketing

Another social medium luring us into the spend-more trap is viral content. Lately, I’m seeing more of my friends sharing funny article lists that are actually subtle ads for various products and how-to articles written by brands. Content marketing, a marketing strategy that uses videos and articles to reach consumers, has been growing as companies look for new ways to target potential shoppers and get them to share content online.

These subtle ads may persuade us to buy things we might not need or to spend more on a brand that we have a good association with. For example, I might decide to spend a few more dollars to buy a name product rather than a generic brand because I liked their viral video. This might not seem like a big deal given that it’s just a few dollars. But it can add up, especially if it’s something that involves a larger financial decision. For example, say you’re in the market to buy a car and a particularly charming viral video persuaded you to make a more expensive choice.

What You Can Do

If you’re trying to cut back on your spending, or just don’t want those pesky laser-targeted ads, consider opting out from ‘online behavioral’ and ‘interest-based’ advertisements by registering your IP address with the Digital Advertising Alliance. It won’t make the advertisements go away, but it will make them less tailored to you. And while there are some ways to block ads on social networking sites, it’s ultimately better to be aware of the larger issue: There will always be ads, as will the temptation to spend beyond your means.

It’s during these times that you need to remember to ask yourself:

  • Is this a want or a need?
  • Do I have it in my budget to spend on this?
  • Can I plan for this expense by creating a savings goal?
  • Is there a better way to spend this money (say, paying down your credit card debt)?

Staying conscious of your financial goals can help you overcome the urge to one-up your friends and followers. In fact, if you need a different kind of motivation, consider joining other social media groups focused on saving and paying down debt. Also start checking your credit regularly to see how much your debt is costing you. You can get a free credit report summary updated monthly on Credit.com, so you can keep an eye on a major factor of your financial health.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY lifehacks

10 Life Hacks That Will Make You Richer

150302_HO_LifeHacks
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Mark Anderson/Corbis (woman); Getty Images (buckle)

These clever shortcuts will help you earn more on the job and cut down on needless costs.

Picking up new skills as an adult can be tricky, especially when your energy and free time is precious. But prowess in different areas is not all created equal. Investing in certain abilities can get you big rewards for relatively little effort.

MONEY interviewed dozens of experts in different fields to find out which skills, tricks, and workarounds are most financially worthwhile. Here are 10 moves you can make without much preparation.

1. Master the meeting

The average pay bump from a promotion is about 7%, though it can be even more once you’re a manager, according to Mercer. But how do you get one?

“The meeting room is where we exert leadership and develop credibility,” says corporate trainer Dana Brownlee of Professionalism Matters. Don’t dominate—nudge the group toward concrete goals. If someone can’t let go of a point, try saying, “Good idea! I’m writing it down.” You’ve now freed a room of grateful co-workers to move on.

2. Lend a hand at work

Research by Adam Grant at the Wharton School has shown that successful people do more favors at work, but don’t be afraid to ask for tiny favors too. We may actually feel more warmly toward people after lending them a hand—our brains figure we must have done so because we like that person. It’s been called the Benjamin Franklin effect: The Founding Father recalled winning over a legislative rival after borrowing a book from him.

“Our attitudes often follow our behavior instead of vice versa,” says David McRaney, who writes about such psychological quirks in his book You Are Now Less Dumb.

3. Learn a language

It’s easier than ever to dip a toe into languages with free tools like Duolingo, a site and app that make learning like a game. If you then want to ramp things up, real-world classes run about $300 for 20 hours of instruction.

Invest your time and money wisely: The payoff is in less commonly studied languages. A Wharton/LECG Europe study found that speaking German translated into a higher wage premium than for second languages overall. Ambitious? There’s a big market for Mandarin.

4. Get techy

Computer-science grads earn $700,000 over the average B.A. holder in a career, but those with English and psych degrees aren’t out of luck: There are ways to use technology smarter—and get recognized for it—at all levels.

For example, if there’s any need to quantify your business’s activity, being the office Excel guru makes you valuable. Two skills to focus on: building charts (great for presentations) and pivot tables (to summarize lots of data). The ExcelIsFun YouTube channel is loaded with lessons.

Want to compete with true techies? Codecademy.com can get you started for free learning code for building websites. Expertise in Ruby on Rails—certification testing is $150—snags an average salary of $110,000, says data crunched by qz.com.

If all this sounds like too much work, at least Google better. Seriously. Say, for example, you need stats about a product’s market share: Use “OR” (in caps) to Google for different words that might capture the same thing (like “percent” and “proportion”). And check the image search results: The data you need may be in a chart someone has posted. Go to Google’s help center for more power tips.

5. Write better

A clear, unfussy writing style will get your ideas heard at work. (HR pros ranked writing second, behind only computer aptitude, among skills applicants most often lacked.) Harvard professor Steven Pinker, author of the new book The Sense of Style, gave us these tips for better writing:

Avoid fancy words you don’t need or understand. “Fulsome” (as in “fulsome praise”) does not mean full; it means insincere. If you use hoity-toity words to sound posh, you will look pompous and may say the opposite of what you mean.

Cut unnecessary words. John Kerry once said, “The President is desirous of trying to see how we can make our efforts in order to find a way to facilitate.” What he meant was, “The President wants to help.” Much better.

Revise. And better still, show it to someone. What’s clear to you may not be clear to someone else.

6. Learn social savvy

If you run a business or work in marketing, social media like Twitter seem like a great way to get your message out. But remember that users have zero interest in following companies that clutter their feed with ads. Use social to establish your expertise or spark ideas; then when people are in the market for what you sell, they’ll remember you.

Hannah Morgan, co-author of Social Networking for Business Success, explains that a good tweet is self-contained and has a discrete piece of information worth sharing. What works well is language like, “Baking cookies? Add eggs one at a time so you can mix in evenly. For more tips check out our Baking 101 guide.” Then add a link.

A less effective tweet is something like, “We’re having a sale on tins of our delicious chocolate chip cookies. $19.99 all day Friday” because it reads like an advertisement and is therefore is unlikely to be shared.

7. Take back your workday

If you get paid a flat salary, turning a 10-hour day into nine more-productive hours is like giving yourself an 11% hourly raise.

Try three key moves from former Fidelity president Bob Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity: First, handle each email just once. Reply, file, or trash—don’t come back to it later.

Second, hide that extra chair; you’ll discourage chatty co-workers from lingering. Finally, you might want to consider timing your breaks, since research shows your brain loses focus on a task after about 90 minutes.

8. Sell yourself

“Ten years ago job seekers would write a full-page cover letter,” says executive résumé writer Wendy Enelow. A better approach now is an email designed to cut through the electronic clutter.

Use the subject line to note your key selling points. Instead of “Director of sales position,” write “Director of Sales—10 Years of Exceeding Sales Quotas—MBA.” In the body of the email, spotlight a major accomplishment. Follow up with three big career wins in bullet points.

9. Learn to DIY

Some jobs always require a professional but, with a little prep, tasks like painting a room or replacing your car’s air filters can be a piece of cake—and save you a solid amount of money. A painting pro, for example, could easily charge $1,600 for a big job, vs. up to $400 in materials on your own.

Rich O’Neil of Masterwork Painting & Restoration in Woburn, Mass., explains that to get professional results you must dust surfaces and tape up edges and moldings you don’t want painted. Painting should go in two types of strokes: First apply a thin layer for coverage. Then paint over it to even and smooth.

You can replace your car’s air filters yourself every 12,000 miles on newer cars. You’ll save about $50 in labor costs, says Mike Forsythe of Haynes, an auto-repair guidebook publisher, and pay 25% less for the filter by getting it at a parts store. To change an engine filter, check the housing in the engine compartment; in most cars there’s a cover you can unlatch with your fingers. You’ll typically find the cabin filter inside the car, behind the glove box.

10. Get organized

Everyone hates paying a late fee just because of a forgotten reminder to pay a bill on time. And few tasks are as irritating as foraging for receipts from months and months ago.

The key to never losing track of important papers is to keep just one bin and make sure to empty your pockets and purse into it every night. Then set a regular date on your calendar to empty the bin and organize the receipts. “If you wait too long, you may not even remember your purchase,” says professional organizer Andrew Mellen.

If you find it hard to even check your calendar on a routine basis, pair a daily check with your morning coffee—or any other routine you already have.

MONEY Viewpoint

Montel Williams Got Called Out On Twitter For Endorsing Payday Loans—And He Didn’t Handle It Well

Montel Williams
Danny Johnston—AP

You may have heard of Montel Williams, actor, producer, and host of the long-running but now-defunct Montel Williams Show. You may also know that Williams is a spokesperson for Money Mutual, a lead generator for so-called payday lenders.

On Thursday, that side-business got a little awkward for the former host when an education activist named André-Tascha Lammé called out Williams on Twitter for “Support[ing] the *most* predatory of loans in existence, PayDay loans. Designed to prey on the poor.”

Williams denied the charge, which prompted the following exchange:

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@Montel_Williams via Twitter

 

Montel is either being disingenuous—deliberately not addressing Lammé’s point—or he just doesn’t understand the real-world effect of payday lending. The truth is that a large portion of payday customers end up in dire financial straits because of these seemingly innocuous loans.

Here’s what happens. The average payday loan charges a fee of about $15 for every $100 borrowed. That might sound like an interest rate of 15%, but that’s the fee for a two-week loan. On an annualized basis—which is how most people think about interest rates, or should—that translates into a rate of 391%.

Montel apparently thinks it’s unfair to think about it this way, since borrowers are supposed to pay back their loan in two weeks.

But here’s the thing: Four out of five payday loan borrowers are not able to pay off their debt in such a short time period, so they go back to the payday loan shop and take out another loan to pay off the first one—for an additional fee, of course—and a cycle of debt begins.

In fact, according to the CFPB, the median payday customer is in debt for 199 days a year, taking out new payday loans along the way as they struggle to pay down the initial loan amount. That’s more than 14 times longer than the period Williams was talking about. As a result, more than half of payday loans are made to borrowers who end up paying more in interest than they borrowed in the first place. The median loan recipient ends up paying $458 in fees and an effective interest rate of 130%.

A representative for Williams defended the tweet, telling MONEY by phone that Williams was specifically referring to loans that are paid off within two weeks, and not payday loans in general.

But since that’s a only small fraction of payday loans, we’re wondering if Montel accepts only that portion of the fees he gets for endorsing this dangerous lending practice.

The rep also emailed this statement:

As someone who used short term lending while in College, Mr. Williams understands that a large number of consumers, like he once did, have no access to traditional credit products. His endorsement of Money Mutual – which is not itself a lender – is reflective of the code of conduct it requires the lenders in its network adhere to and its historically low complaint rate. Certainly we believe consumers should make sure they fully understand the terms of any financial product they may be considering and would note Money Mutual encourages consumers to fully review and understand the terms of any loan, including the cost of any renewals, offered to them via its network of lenders.

TIME Social Media

The Definitive Guide to Weird Facebook

Yes, Weird Facebook is definitely a thing

Weird Facebook shouldn’t exist.

Wait, let me back up a minute, if you have no idea what I’m talking about. You know when something like this pops up in your Facebook feed?

1_Fieri-620x375
The Kernel

That’s what we’d call Weird Facebook: a loose conglomeration of pages that post bizarre image macros. Fodder for the dumb guys you hung out with in high school.

The groups vary widely in the number of followers they attract. The biggest group I could find was Freddy Yolo, which has around 70,000 followers. S*** Memes has about 40,000, and Creme de la meme clocks in at 35,000. Below that tier, there are a handful of pages with 10,000 to 15,000 followers, and further down still, a vast array of groups with several thousand followers. Not a throng, but nothing to shake a stick at.

Those numbers are all the more impressive considering that Facebook doesn’t do anything to encourage the existence of these groups.

I’ll give you an example: Say someone recommends that you check out @fart on Twitter. Within 10 minutes, the similar accounts feature will take you to the top 20 or 30 pages that constitute Weird Twitter.

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME movies

Here’s What Twitter Talked About Most During the Oscars

onstage during the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California.
Kevin Winter—Getty Images Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (C) with cast and crew accept the Best Picture award for 'Birdman' onstage during the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California.

Whiplash was a big topic of conversation, while Selma only spiked later in the broadcast

There’s nothing Twitter likes better than a live show, and Sunday night’s Academy Awards offered plenty of ripe material for tweeting, from an odd joke where host Neil Patrick Harris made Octavia Spencer watch over his Oscar ballot to Oprah’s ecstatic reaction to an Oscar made of Legos.

Twitter crunched the numbers to reveal insights on how its users talked about the nominated films, and the result is this infographic. Hovering over individual titles shows how events during the telecast impacted the conversation around a given movie. For instance, Boyhood stayed on top for most of the night, until Birdman started gaining momentum when it won Best Original Screenplay, eventually climbing to the top of the chart in time for its Best Picture win. The Lego Movie spiked around the time of its musical performance, then slowly petered out, while movies like Still Alice and The Theory of Everything started low and peaked at the end as their respective stars (Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne) won Best Actress and Best Actor.

Read more about the rankings here.

 

Read next: Lady Gaga’s Oscar Performance: Love It or Hate It?

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME celebrities

Iggy Azalea Quits Twitter: ‘The Internet Is the Ugliest Reflection of Mankind There Is’

Iggy Azalea arrives at the 57th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles
Mario Anzuoni—Reuters Rapper Iggy Azalea arrives at the 57th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California Feb. 8, 2015

In an effort to avoid online negativity, rapper Iggy Azalea has decided to quit Twitter.

She arrived at her decision following unflattering comments she received about paparazzi photos taken of her in a bikini while on vacation in Hawaii.

“Just got back from a great vacation, came online and saw apparently it’s shocking and unheard of to be a woman and have cellulite,” she tweeted late on Wednesday. “I just want to have peace and relaxation time without a [perv] with a long-distance lens hiding out taking pictures,” she continued. “Everyone deserves peace.”

The “Fancy” rapper went on to say that the “hatred and pettiness” she has faced is making her an “angry person” in turn. “I cannot be that.”

Azalea, 24, is no stranger to Twitter beef; she has feuded with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Azealia Banks to fast food delivery chain Papa John’s.

The rapper felt it would be a “disservice” to her fans if she “[became] nasty because of the way I feel I am treated,” and so her management will continue to Tweet and run her accounts from now on “unless any message is signed -IA.”

“Love you all, peace out,” she wrote, before adding one last parting shot at her haters:

“The Internet is the ugliest reflection of [mankind] there is.”

This article originally appeared in People.com

TIME celebrities

Why Eddie Murphy Didn’t Play Bill Cosby on the Saturday Night Live 40th Special

"He will not kick a man when he is down"

The Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary was definitely special. It had to be. But there was one thing on the cards that would have had people talking for weeks — Eddie Murphy playing Bill Cosby in the show’s iconic Celebrity Jeopardy segment.

The plan, which never came to fruition, was outlined in a tweet-storm from veteran comedian and SNL alum Norm Macdonald on Wednesday night, who described the writing and ideation process behind the iconic skit in great detail.

Macdonald goes on to describe the process of convincing Murphy to do the sketch.

And here’s why.

TIME Football

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick Launches Searing Verbal Attack on Fan via Twitter

"Get better at life!"

Colin Kaepernick, the talented but often criticized quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, lashed out at a fan on Twitter on Wednesday.

The outburst started after Kaepernick posted this on his timeline:

To which the fan, Stephen Batten, replied:

That was enough to prompt Kaepernick to let loose with a volley of tweets going after Batten.

It is unconfirmed if Batten indeed had eight followers when he sent out the first tweet, but as of publishing he now has over 1,500 followers — and that number is climbing fast.

Batten has yet to respond to Kaepernick’s broadside, while the quarterback retweeted the support he received from fans and media alike, including the famous sportscaster Erin Andrews.

This is the second time in two weeks that a controversial athlete has become embroiled with a fan on social media. Last Monday, embattled Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III got into a heated argument with a fan on Instagram.

TIME stock market

Here’s the Biggest Change in Technology in Recent Memory

Yelp Yelp. If you’re on vacation or new in town (or even not-so-new in town) and you want to learn about what’s around you — shops, restaurants, dry cleaners, gas stations, bars, you name it — Yelp has you covered, complete with user reviews so you can separate the good from the bad.

It's not some new, slick gadget or big idea

With the bulk of the earnings season behind us, the stock market appears to be in a much better mood than it was a month ago. The S&P 500 is up 3.8% over the past month, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 is up an even healthier 5.9%. Tech, it seems, is a popular sector refuge in the sea of uncertainty facing 2015.

But a closer look at the tech earnings from the past month shows a more complex story as not all tech names are being favored equally. In fact, some of the companies that dished out disappointing forecasts were hammered hard. If there is one key trend that emerged from the recent parade of fourth-quarter earnings, it’s that 2015 is turning into a stockpicker’s market for tech shares.

This is in contrast to the past couple of years, when waves of enthusiasm or caution swept across the tech sector at large. Last year, for example, an early rally for tech led to concerns that another bubble would emerge–concerns that were quickly dispelled by a brutal selloff come April. By June, stocks were recovering, and the Nasdaq 100 ended last year up 18.5% and the S&P 500 up 11.8%.

One trend from 2014 that’s continuing into this year is the outperformance of larger-cap tech stocks. Smaller tech shares tend to do well in the several months following their IPOs, then have a harder time pleasing investors. A good example is GoPro, which went public at $24 a share in June, surged as high as $98 in October and and fell back to $43 last week in the wake of its earnings report.

GoPro’s post-earnings performance illustrates the selective mood of investors. The company blew past analyst expectations with revenue growth of 75% and higher profit margins. But the stock plummeted 15% the following day as analysts raced to lower price targets. Why? GoPro’s outlook was seen as too weak to support its lofty valuation and its chief operating officer was leaving.

That pattern played out in other smaller tech companies. Yelp slid 20% after its own earnings report that beat forecasts but that showed worrisome signs of slower growth and slimmer profits this year. Pandora fell 17% to a 19-month low after disappointing revenue from the holiday quarter. Zynga finished last week down 18% after warning this quarter will be much slower than expected.

What all of these companies also have in common are uncomfortably high valuations. Even after the post-earning selloff, GoPro is trading at 37 times its estimated 2015 earnings. Pandora is trading at 75 times its estimated earnings, while Yelp is trading at an ethereal 371 times. The S&P 500 has an average PE of just below 20.

So which companies did the best this earnings season? As a rule, it was big cap names serving the consumer market: Apple, Twitter, Amazon and Netflix. What these four companies have in common beyond strong earnings last quarter is that all were seen as struggling by investors during some or all of 2014.

Compare them to big-cap tech names that posted decent financials in the fourth quarter but that weren’t seen as struggling before, but instead were seen as thriving tech giants. Google, for example, is up 6% over the past month, while Facebook is up 1%. Both are enjoying steady growth that was so consistent with their past performance it has a ho-hum quality to it.

By contrast, Apple, which had been portrayed by critics as a gadget giant past its prime, has seen its stock rally 21% in the past month to a $740 million market cap, the first US company to be worth more than $700 billion. Amazon, which investors feared would suffer prolonged losses because of its expansion plans, is up 29%. So is Twitter, another object of investor worry in 2014. Netflix, a perennial target of bears, is up 40%.

So what have we learned about the technology sector so far this year? On the whole, investors are favoring tech stocks in a world of uncertainty – where negative interest rates have become bizarrely commonplace, and where the next market crisis could come from a crisis involving the Euro’s value, or China’s economy, or oil’s volatility, or Russia’s military aggression.

But at the same time, investors have grown more selective about the tech names they invest in. They might snap up hot tech IPOs, but they’ll drop them quickly if those companies can’t deliver over time. They prefer big tech, especially companies that cater to consumers. And if those tech giants can engineer a turnaround, they’re golden.

MONEY Startups

3 Reasons to Take Your Startup in a New Direction

150213_CAR_PivotStartup
Robert A. Di Ieso

Many successful companies changed up their business plans early on. Here's when you should too.

Podcast platform Odeo turned into Twitter. Check-in app Burbn switched its focus to photo sharing and became Instagram. Does your startup need a change in direction to succeed? Here are three signs it’s time to revamp:

1. Customers Are Telling You

Is your target buyer consistently asking for something you don’t offer? “Customers exist because you make them better off,” says Gary Gebhardt, an associate professor of marketing at Canadian business school HEC Montréal. Listen to them.

2. Your Idea Isn’t Sticking

Do you have a hard time holding on to business? Go beyond focus groups and surveys. People often misrepresent their behavior. Instead, says Gebhardt, observe your customers going about their day. “When you see how people do things, you see how you can create a solution,” he says.

3. The Competition is Winning

Look at why people are favoring your rival’s product. But don’t panic pivot, says Steve Blank, co-author of The Startup Owner’s Manual. “A pivot requires substantial evidence that your original hypotheses for your business were incorrect.”

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