Updated on 04.20.17

Is Pinterest the Enemy of Your Finances?

Earlier this year, my husband and I ordered a wooden shed for our yard. This decision took more than a year to make, mostly because we were hesitant to spend the money.

A convergence of events led us to pull the trigger. We had to take a few trees down for starters, so we lost some privacy (but gained a perfect spot for the shed). My husband also decided to set up his weight bench in our garage, which meant we needed more room for yard equipment and the like.

I thought buying a shed would be so simple at first. I would search for “sheds” on Google, shop around for the best deal, then settle on the nicest shed within our budget. Hopefully, a spring sale would help me save some money, or I could negotiate for a lower price somehow.

Unfortunately, shed shopping isn’t the walk in the park I thought it would be. Not only do you have to choose a size and style, but there are dozens of additional choices to make. Do you want a work bench? A loft? Which side should the door go on? What size windows? Do you want vents to the outdoors? Decorative gables? Built-in shelving? Architectural shingles?

After searching the web for a while, I somehow ended up on Pinterest — the glossy, photo-heavy social media site. And it was all downhill from there.

Shopping for ‘She-Sheds’ on Pinterest

While shopping for sheds online was boring at first, Pinterest has a way of bringing ideas to life. In place of the dull wood rectangles I’d been viewing on the websites of Home Depot and Lowes, Pinterest introduced me to intricately designed sheds with flower boxes, decorative dormers, and cutesy interiors. Suddenly I pictured myself on my shed’s front porch, slowly tilting back and forth in a rocking chair sipping iced tea.

Ultimately, Pinterest unveiled the idea of “She-sheds” – beautifully decorated garden sheds turned into relaxation stations for women. “I don’t need a shed,” I thought. “I need a backyard escape!” From there, I found myself sketching a full-fledged mini-house complete with a front porch, sitting area, and built-in bar. I was going to have so much fun!

Of course, it didn’t take long for reality to sink in. When I told my husband I wanted our shed to have a porch and an indoor bar, his face showed both shock and horror. Despite all my fancy ideas, our shed budget hadn’t changed.

Alas, I found myself back on the home improvement websites where I could shop for what we needed and nothing more. And eventually, we settled on a traditional 10′ by 16′ shed without any special features other than a few windows. And, you know what? I was fine with that, really. Because a regular ol’ shed was all we needed in the first place.

And, as my husband wisely reminded me, “We’re going to put our lawnmower in it.”

The Pinterest Effect on Your Finances

This is why looking to Pinterest for inspiration can be problematic. Whether it’s garden sheds, home remodeling ideas, or recipes, vivid Pinterest photos transform simple concepts into something more elaborate – and a lot more expensive.

Heck, try searching Pinterest for something as simple as “birthday cake ideas.” The recipes you’ll find require many more steps and ingredients than the average box cakes we enjoyed growing up. If you followed some of the birthday cake tips on Pinterest, you’d wind up buying a cartload of ingredients, pans, and supplies. And if your baking skills are anything like mine, you’d probably end up with a misshapen “Pinterest Fail” that looks nothing like the professional-quality photo anyway.

Scouring Pinterest for ideas is fun to be sure, but it can also set you back and cost you more money in the long run. Here are a few ways Pinterest can work against your financial goals:

Pinterest doesn’t let you shop for ideas based on what you can afford. Scouting for ideas on Pinterest is the ultimate way to “keep up with the Joneses.” But instead of trying to keep up with just your neighbors and friends, you get to compare yourself to anyone in the world with a Pinterest account, without even considering context or price.

Someone who posts elaborate “She-shed” ideas may borrow supplies or design for a living, for example. With Pinterest, all you see is pictures, designs, and ideas – you don’t see all the work that went into them. And you sure as heck don’t see what they really cost.

Pinterest can make you feel inferior. If you feel like you’re less than stellar at cooking or home decorating, Pinterest can make things worse. Many of the ideas on Pinterest are unrealistic for those of us who don’t cook, bake, or design for a living.

If you struggle to bake the perfect box cake, it’s doubtful you’ll nail a multi-colored unicorn cake with glitter frosting and an edible rainbow topper. You can try, but you’ll probably come up short – cue the disappointment.

Pinterest can make you desire stuff you never knew you wanted. My shed adventure is the perfect example of how browsing Pinterest can plant crazy ideas in your head. Before I searched Pinterest, I never knew sheds could offer expansive front porches, indoor seating areas, or their own craft area. If I hadn’t learned about these upgrades, I wouldn’t have wanted them in the first place – or missed them when we settled on a standard shed.

Don’t Let Pinterest Guide Your Spending Decisions

There’s nothing wrong with scouring the internet for awesome design ideas and inspiration, but it’s important to avoid letting those ideas guide your spending.

Now that I look back, I realize my backyard would look silly with a “She-shed” complete with a front porch, potted plants, and rocking chairs. Not only that, but it would have cost way more than I wanted to spend.

Just because something looks good on the internet doesn’t mean it’s realistic or attainable. The next time you search Pinterest for an idea, remember to take whatever you see with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, it’s up to each of us to decide what’s real, what isn’t, and what we can afford.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.

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Do you ever shop for ideas on Pinterest? How do you avoid overspending?