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Looking at Instagram or Pinterest could take a bite out of your wallet


It's not just kids who cave in to peer pressure. Parents, too, can be swayed by the "bargains" they see on social media.

You can go in with the best "I'm just looking" intentions, yet social media sites such as Pinterest and Instagram tend to normalize over-the-top spending for weddings and kids' birthday parties.

Financial advice website Credit Karma recently reached out to parents with a survey to learn more about their biggest struggles. The survey polled 1,000 U.S. parents over the age of 21 online. Most parents in the survey have kids under the age of 18.

What it revealed was that parents have intense feelings of FOMO, or the fear of missing out, admitting that social media and other outside pressures were driving them to go into debt, according to Maizie Simpson, data and news editor at Credit Karma.

More than half of the parents answering the survey, commissioned by Credit Karma and conducted by Qualtrics, said they'd spent money they didn't have on nonessential items or experiences for their kids. (The survey defines nonessential items as anything not necessary for survival.) To pay for these things, parents said they had to borrow money, turn to credit cards or take out loans.

"Another thing that really stood out is that a quarter of parents said seeing other parents do something on social media made them more likely to spend money on those things," Simpson said.

In other words, all the cool parents are doing it.

"We think of social media as something that inspires younger demographics to do things, but it has a similar impact on parents," Simpson said.

Reasons for overspending include fear of being judged by their friends or by other parents for not "keeping up with the Joneses." Some parents expressed concern that their kids would face judgment by their peers.

At a time when a quarter of Americans across all ages and demographics have no emergency savings, Simpson says this behavior leading to debt is concerning.

"We knew it was a trend, but we were surprised at the extent," Simpson said. "That the majority of parents in the U.S. are doing this is pretty shocking."

Overspending seems to pair with another behavior: keeping secrets. About a third of parents don't tell their partners when they go into debt, Simpson says. They also don't tell their children.

Financial experts say parents need to set priorities and base their spending decisions accordingly.

Once you've chosen college and music lessons as important goals, set aside money on a regular basis, says Ken Moraif, a certified financial planner and senior advisor at Money Matters in Plano, Texas. "If there is money left over, then and only then should any money be spent on anything else," Moraif said.

Expenses to watch

Kids are expensive, says Todd Hoffman, a CFP at Steward Partners in Clearwater, Florida. If parents want to meet their longer-range goals, such as college, they need to control their spending in other areas. Here are the categories they need to watch.

Primary school tuition. First up is the all-important school decision. If you have limited resources, Hoffman recommends asking yourself if it makes sense to pay for private school or set that money aside for college.

Some public schools have specialty programs, such as the International Baccalaureate, that make them worth considering. Religiously affiliated schools may offer appropriate programs and cost less than other private schools.

Vacations. Everyone needs a vacation, Hoffman says, recalling some favorite memories of leaky tents and crowded station wagon seating from his own childhood. A Disney trip would have been fabulous, "but it wasn't in the cards for my family," he said.

Overspending on extravagant vacations at the cost of more pressing things is a huge mistake, Hoffman says. There are activities and getaways to suit a range of family budgets, without turning to credit card financing and the resulting debt.

Gifts and parties. Celebrating a birthday or milestone should not break the bank. "It's not about outdoing your neighbors or having Instagrammable pictures to post on social media," Hoffman said.

Clothes, games and entertainment. When you total it, the amount you spend on clothes, computers, games, online subscriptions and special events can be daunting. "Remember that spending online is still spending real money," Hoffman said.

That means your subscriptions to Netflix, HBO and the Disney Channel can add up. Once you throw in the monthly cellphone bills and some concert tickets, costs can spiral out of control. Recurring monthly expenses can derail your plans, Hoffman said.

"Parents often need to just say no," he said. "Buy what your budget allows, and spend the time teaching your children about the value of money and how much luxury products actually cost."

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