Is Facebook Wasting Your Time AND Your Money?

Facebook has quite the reputation as a time waster. You tell yourself you’re just going to log in for a few minutes to see what’s going on, and then it’s back to work. But eight cat memes, nine angry political statuses, 11 slightly different photos of the same baby and 36 photos of peoples’ dinner later, you realize you’ve wasted two full hours. Ah, yes. We’ve all been sucked into the infamous Facebook black hole at one point or another. But on top of your time, could Facebook also be wasting your money? New research indicates that this is indeed the case.

Marketing professors Andrew T. Stephen of The University of Pittsburgh and Keith Wilcox of Columbia University conducted a series of controlled studies of U.S. Facebook users over the course of several months. They asked them a variety of questions about their Internet usage (how many hours per day they spend on Facebook and how many friends they have on the site), their health (height, weight, and BMI) and their financial situations. The results were pretty shocking.

“People who use Facebook more tend to have a higher body-mass index (BMI), increased binge eating, carry more credit card debt and have lower credit scores,” Stephen said. Even just a few minutes of Facebooking had an impact on participants’ financial responsibility. Volunteers were asked to participate in an online auction for a new iPad. Those who spent five minutes browsing Facebook prior to bidding submitted significantly higher bids than those who had spent five minutes just browsing the Internet. Whoa.

High body mass seems like a logical correlation to frequent Facebook usage – the more time you spend sitting in front of your computer or playing on your phone, the less active you are, and therefore the fatter you are. But being more financially reckless seems kind of strange. Or does it?

According to this and other studies, using Facebook lowers self-control. “Simply browsing Facebook makes people feel better about themselves and momentarily enhances their self-esteem. It’s that enhanced self-esteem that ultimately lowers your self-control,” Wilcox explained. The more friends a person has on Facebook – and the more time they spend interacting with them – the more likely they are to indulge. The little ego boost you get when people “like” your new profile picture can make it easier to justify indulgences. “Damn, I do look good,” you might think. “I deserve dessert tonight and that $300 dress I’ve had my eye on but will probably only wear once. Time to bust out the credit card

What does all this mean for you? Should you stop using Facebook entirely, lest you become fat, broke, and at the mercy of Mastercard? That’s probably not necessary. The first step toward getting better is acknowledging the problem. So network to your heart’s content, but be self-aware. Next time you’re tempted to max out your card after a Facebook bender, take a step back and think “Do I really need a Grumpy Cat t-shirt and a whole album of “Gangnam Style” remixes?” We’re pretty sure you’ll want to click the like button on that advice.