Icons for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are displayed on a window in New York in 2016. Nearly half of U.S. households carry credit card debt, which means many of the friends making you jealous on Instagram may not be able to afford the vacations they post about. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Icons for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are displayed on a window in New York in 2016. Nearly half of U.S. households carry credit card debt, which means many of the friends making you jealous on Instagram may not be able to afford the vacations they post about. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Millennial Money: Don’t let Instagram envy get you into debt

A full 48 percent of U.S. households have credit card debt.

By Brianna McGurran

NerdWallet

When was the last time scrolling through Instagram made you feel better?

If you’re like me, the puppy photos on your feed momentarily boost your mood, but the parade of carefully selected and artfully edited experiences leaves you feeling depleted. How can these people afford to travel to New Zealand? When will it be your turn to road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, drinking wine on sunlit rooftops along the way?

You know by now that social media leaves out the fender benders, arguments and weather mishaps essential to any vacation. You can add financial faux pas to that list.

A full 48 percent of U.S. households have credit card debt, according to a recent NerdWallet analysis. The average household with debt carries $6,929 in balances from month to month, which means paying about $1,141 in interest per year.

You can’t really know how much money your friends have. But it’s safe to say that at least some of them may not be able to afford the trips that make you feel inferior without going into credit card debt. Here’s how to keep Instagram from bullying you into overspending.

Find the source of your FOMO

If a friend’s vacation photo really got under your skin, explore why. The destination or trip itself may not be the source of that FOMO, or fear of missing out. Has it been a while since you’ve taken time off work, and you’re resentful of how relaxed this person seems? Are you jealous of how close they appear to their partner or friends?

There could be ways to ease your anxiety for free, without vacationing at all. Consider scheduling a mental health day and going to a local museum on a day with free or reduced-price admission to get your mind off work. Round up friends interested in starting a book club or hiking group that meets monthly so you can feel part of a community.

Vacation for cheap

If traveling is what you crave, plan a debt-free vacation by estimating how much you’ll spend on transportation, lodging, meals and activities and saving that amount in advance. Some online savings accounts let you create sub-accounts for specific purposes, so setting aside money each month for travel means you save passively over time.

But if you haven’t been saving and need a getaway stat, stay flexible on dates and locations and use price-tracking apps to find hotel and flight deals. Consider staying local and taking a short road trip to an attraction in your area you’ve never been to. Split an Airbnb nearby with a group of friends and spend a weekend doing activities that don’t involve screens, like playing cards, exploring nature and making art.

Credit cards aren’t always the enemy; with a good credit score and a commitment to paying off your balance each month, you can get a rewards card that lets you earn points or cash back that will subsidize future trips. Be realistic about your ability to spend responsibly and avoid carrying a balance, though. The interest you could end up paying, and the anxiety that comes with ballooning credit card debt, can quickly erode any post-vacation glow.

Cut back on scrolling

There’s another, potentially nuclear-sounding option to prevent social media-influenced spending: Don’t look at Instagram at all.

You don’t have to go cold turkey. You can continue to post your own photos or communicate with friends via direct message, but rein in mindlessly perusing other people’s feeds. Start by setting a goal to wait until noon to open the app, or choosing two specific times of day to check it. Like any behavior you’re trying to change, it will be hard at first, but you’ll likely be surprised by how little you miss the app. Fill the time you get back with activities you enjoy.

The ideal outcome? Making plans and choosing travel experiences based on what makes you happy, not on a highly filtered version of someone else’s life.

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