5 ways social media can help you manage money
By Matt Alderton
June 22, 2015
With more than 12,000 Facebook fans and 5,000 Twitter followers, it's safe to say that Cherie Lowe is a social butterfly. She's also a recovering debtor, having paid off $127,000 in debt with her husband, Brian, three years ago.
“We began our [debt repayment] journey on April 2, 2008 — starting on April Fool's Day seemed like a bad omen — and estimated it would take us approximately 15 years,” says Lowe, 38, author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” “On March 28, 2012, we made our final … payment and finished the process in just under four years.”
Lowe's achievement is the result of hard work, discipline and creativity. And also technology. “I joined Facebook just before we started paying off debt and Twitter in February 2009,” continues Lowe, who runs the website QueenofFree.net. “For me, social media has always provided a path to connect with a broader group of like-minded individuals — an open forum to ask questions and gain access to authors and thought leaders in ways that were simply impossible before their advent.”
Like Lowe, whose goals were expedited with tips culled from online sources, a growing number of consumers are leveraging social media to advance their financial goals. Social networks, they're discovering, offer more than adorable photos of kids and pets, funny memes about Mondays and spoiler alerts from the latest episode of “Game of Thrones”. They also are catalysts for community, which makes them a valuable source of personal finance information, inspiration and motivation.
“Money is often a taboo topic, but social media helps break down barriers and open up communication,” says Thomas Bright, digital marketing and content strategist at Atlanta-based ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions, whose mascot, a fictitious piggy bank named Penny Pincher, has its own Facebook page with 14,000 followers. “No matter your financial position, you can find a community online that can help you accomplish your financial goals.”
Whether those goals involve paying down debt, increasing savings or financing an investment — a new home, for instance — the following tips will help you find a community that supports you with knowledge, ideas and encouragement:
1. Hunt for hashtags
On social networks, hashtags — words or phrases preceded by pound sign — serve as keywords with which to label posts that share specific content or themes. Searching them can introduce you to a wealth of resources, such as articles, blog posts and websites, not to mention other users who share your goals or interests.
“Search #debtfree or #personalfinance on either Twitter or Google+,” Lowe suggests.
On Twitter, especially, hashtags facilitate community. Consider joining “Twitter chats,” for example, which are live, moderated chats that take place on Twitter using designated hashtags.
“Experian (#CreditChat) and Mint.com (#Money411) are reputable hosts of regular Twitter chats, and our clients frequently mention that Dave Ramsey (@DaveRamsey) and Suze Orman (@SuzeOrmanShow) help motivate them,” Bright says.
2. Follow experts
Speaking of Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, following personal finance gurus on social media gives you on-demand access to their ideas and advice. Likewise with popular personal finance bloggers.
“While many consumers feel embarrassed about debt, even after they pay it off, there are others who have a strong desire to share their success story to help inspire and motivate others,” Bright says. “Some of the bloggers in the @FinCon community fit this profile.”
If you engage them, experts and bloggers might even engage you back. “I've always had great success in reaching out to bloggers and authors,” Lowe says. “Most are happy to respond personally.”
3. Visualize your goals
Don't overlook social networks such as Instagram and YouTube, which specialize in images and video, respectively.
“Instagram helps with motivation, encouragement and humor in what for many is a heavy situation,” Bright says. “On YouTube, the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Better Business Bureau and most of the national nonprofit credit and housing counseling agencies such as ClearPoint host channels with helpful consumer information on best practices in accomplishing financial goals.”
4. 'Pin' your pennies
A new favorite among social-savvy debtors is Pinterest, which allows users to save, sort and manage content — called “pins” — in themed collections known as “pinboards.”
“Pinterest is an excellent resource for people to learn how to spend wisely, budget and DIY,” Bright says.
Echoes Lowe, “I'm a big fan of Pinterest for specific money saving needs. In fact, I often head there before even using Google. You can search 'Debt Free' or 'Budget Tips' or 'How to Get Out of Debt' … and find a whole host of fantastic resources.”
5. Share your story
It's easy to be a passive listener on social networks. It could be even more valuable to be an active participant.
“When I began to boldly share our story of being deeply in debt and working to eliminate it … the guilt and shame that we had been hiding over carrying such a large load of debt disappeared and lost its power over us; when you drag something into the light, it scampers away,” explains Lowe, who says the support her story received was even more valuable than the strategies it solicited. “Certainly, you need practical tools, but you also need that essential human contact — which is weird, I know, because it's arriving digitally. Someone to encourage you, pray for you and help you make the difficult choices in life.”
Be open, but proceed with caution. “It is possible to put too much information on social media in regards to your personal finances,” Bright concludes. “You may not want a future date, employer or lender going online and finding certain information. Although rare, there have even been reports of collection agencies using social media to skip-trace or harass consumers. Consumers should be wary of any sources who are trying to sell something, or make promises that seem too good to be true … Also, just because a particular solution worked for one consumer does not mean it will work for all.”