Can you trust financial advice from TikTok?


'Maybe,' say some financial experts

When you think of TikTok, do you think of coeds pledging sororities at the University of Alabama, TikTok’ers showing people how to shoplift or steal cars or how to become the money-saving master of all-time?

Believe it or not, money-saving videos are trending like crazy on TikTok. Since the social media site launched its #savingmoney hub in 2022, finance-related hashtags like #MoneyTok and #PersonalFinance increased in popularity, racking up over 27.2 billion and 9.9 billion views, respectively.

But, just like other how-tos on TikTok, finance experts say that consumers need to be very careful about which of the videos to believe and act on.

Ben McLaughlin, a personal finance expert from Raisin, analyzed some of the most viral money-saving trends on TikTok to help ConsumerAffairs readers choose for themselves what the best methods are and leave the rest to sorority sisters and car thieves.

The Good

#CashStuffing – 1.5 billion views

McLaughlin likes the popular TikTok budgeting technique "Cash stuffing.” As he explained it to ConsumerAffairs, it involves allocating monthly budgets for various expenses, such as rent payments, car finance, insurance, gifts, and travel, and then putting the corresponding amount of cash into separate envelopes. Each envelope is kept in a large binder, which makes it easy to access the funds when it's time to pay bills or make purchases. 

“It's a great way to encourage responsible financial behavior and reduce impulsive spending. If you enjoy planning out your monthly expenses, this could be a perfect strategy to stay on top of your finances,” he said. Then, added if he had a single video to demonstrate what he thinks is a solid method, he’d choose one from a TikToker named @budgetswithbeth who posted this video demonstrating how to use this technique. 

#NoSpendChallenge – 157 million views

“If you're on a tight budget, the ‘No-Spend Challenge’ could be a simple way to avoid splashing out more cash than you can afford,” McLaughlin said. “This is particularly true if you have an expensive season coming up or are dealing with pricier bills and costlier food shops. Of course, cutting off non-priority spending can be difficult, but turning it into a game can help you reframe your habits with a different, more positive mindset.”

His choice of videos to watch comes from @thesavvysagittarius who shared her #nospendchallenge goal on TikTok, showing how she plans to keep her bank account healthy by reducing non-necessary purchases.

“A No-Spend Challenge can help you accelerate your savings and reorder your budget. But don't forget to reward yourself occasionally – if you hit your monthly goal, treat yourself to something you enjoy,” McLaughlin advises.

#503020Rule – 27 million views

In this money-saving strategy, the focus is on splitting your after-tax income into three spending sections. 

  • 50% of your earnings go towards your needs, including things you must pay for survival - rent and mortgage payments, utility bills, car finance, and grocery shopping. 

  • 30% of your after-tax income will be for all the non-essential stuff you want. Whether you fancy a meal at your favorite restaurant or a road trip in the countryside, setting aside 30% of your earnings can help you tick treats and extras off the list. 

  • The remaining 20% of your after-tax income should be allocated to savings and investments. In an emergency, you will always have money in your back pocket.

Keep in mind that the 50/30/20 ratio is merely a rule of thumb, McLaughlin cautions. “So, if your bills are expected to creep up next month, or you have more leeway to shove aside additional savings, you can amend the rule accordingly.”

The Bad

#100EnvelopeChallenge – 330 million views

McLaughlin was put in a tough position about this one because the #100envelopechallenge hashtag on TikTok has received more than 330 million views, meaning it's a sought-after topic in people's home feeds and search bars, but in the end, he thinks it’s more of a gimmick than a helpful savings hack.

The angle works like this: Using envelopes labeled 1 to 100, this strategy relies on setting aside a certain amount of money inside each envelope, allowing you to save a reasonable sum in 100 days. 

According to some TikTokers, the number on the envelope you pick determines how much money you place inside. As an example, if you chose the one featuring the number 50, you would have to insert a $50 bill.

“It's a reasonable goal to choose an amount to set aside and save each week. However, the 100-envelope challenge is more of a gimmick than a helpful habit. If you choose an envelope with a low number, like one or two dollars, you might miss the opportunity to put aside a bit extra,” McLaughlin noted.

“On the other hand, some of the larger numbered envelopes might be more than you can comfortably afford to spare. Hence, deciding on a number that works best for you makes more sense after considering your set bills and expenses each week or month.”

There’s also another risk. If your home gets broken into, a burglar could make off with your 100 envelopes and you’d have a fit. Yes, most insurers cover theft of money from the home, but that is only up to a certain figure, usually $200. 

#MoneyBottleChallenge -- 50+ million views

This started with the creator stuffing a 20-dollar bill into an empty bottle of Remy Martin each week for one year, then smashed the bottle to withdraw her $1,040. While setting a small amount aside to save at the end of each week is achievable for many – not to mention that an empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s would probably work as well – McLaughlin says there are a few things that could be improved with this method.  

“Setting up a direct deposit from your checking account into a high-yield savings account each week would have the same effect, except you will also be earning interest on your money, and you can avoid a trip to the emergency room to remove the broken glass from your hand,” he told ConsumerAffairs.

“Developing excellent and realistic saving habits is the key to significant saving. You can achieve this by trying TikTok hacks that fit your needs well. To ensure success, adopt a more mindful approach towards your savings goals. Once you have saved enough, deposit your money into a high-interest paying savings account like an easy-access one. In the long run, you'll earn interest on your hard-earned savings and free cash in your pocket.”

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