What You Can Learn From Reading Money Diaries

“How One Couple Lives on a $500,000 Income in Chicago.”

“A Week in Salt Lake City on a $40,000 Salary.”

“Everything I Bought on a 2-Week Vacation to Paris.”

In today’s online culture of oversharing, even consumers’ daily spending routines are published for public consumption.

If you haven’t dipped your toe into the world of internet money diaries, welcome.

These tell-all budget breakdowns detail the minutiae of an anonymous writer’s spending during the course of a week, month, vacation or another period. Published by sites such as Refinery29, Man Repeller, The Financial Diet and others, budget diaries give readers an inside view into how an individual or couple spends their money — from an impulsively purchased $2.14 tube of ChapStick to a $10.26 cab ride.

[See: 10 Big Ways to Boost Your Budget — Without Skimping on Your Daily Latte.]

But is knowing that an anonymous computer programmer in Brooklyn spends $100 per week on yoga classes really useful to improving your financial health? Can you take away real money lessons from the details of your peers’ spending habits?

It depends on how you consume the media, experts say.

“It’s an opportunity to humanize and lend some authenticity to the conversation around money because money is so taboo,” says Erika Rasure, assistant professor of business and financial services at Missouri’s Maryville University. She has even told her own “money diary confessions” to her students in class, she says, to help illustrate her lessons about personal finance.

[See: 8 Big Budgeting Blunders — and How to Fix Them.]

If you’re especially intrigued by online money tell-alls, starting your own private money diary, in which you track spending for a week or a month, may be a useful exercise and a way for you to take control of your spending, experts say. Take notice of how often you mindlessly overspend, or how your purchases make you feel afterward. “It’s fascinating, and it makes you take a second thought about how you spend money,” says Lindsey Stanberry, work & money director at Refinery29 and author of “Refinery29 Money Diaries: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Your Finances … and Everyone Else’s.”

Refinery29’s Money Diaries, which were launched in January 2016, were modeled on New York magazine’s Sex Diaries, Stanberry says. She calls them “personal finance from a lifestyle perspective.” Like sex, money isn’t something friends and co-workers routinely have honest conversations about. “It still is taboo,” she adds. “It’s not likely that you’re talking to your friends about your salary.”

[See: 8 Easy Ways to Make Money.]

For some readers, this financial voyeurism can benefit them by demonstrating how useless it is to compare themselves to the Joneses. A viral Refinery29 diary, for example, illustrated how an intern in New York City was able to afford daily luxuries and a weekend getaway on a modest income — namely, due to financial assistance from her parents and a cohort of well-off friends. “It gives you an awareness: What you know on the surface is not the entire story,” says Roger Ma, certified financial planner and founder of lifelaidout in New York City. “There’s a lot behind the scenes going on.”

If you find that reading a budget diary leaves you feeling dispirited — or worse yet, has you hankering to do some spending — then it’s worth pausing your readership and looking for real-world solutions to your money problems. “If it is getting people depressed because they feel like their own situation isn’t measuring up or they spend more than what’s depicted, they should either stop reading or stop reading and see a financial professional to get on right track,” Ma says.

Experts also recommend making sure that you don’t let a focus on daily spending habits cause you to lose sight of larger-scale financial decisions you’re making when it comes to, say, the amount you’re saving for retirement, what you pay each month in investment and banking fees or your progress toward other financial goals and safety nets. Those big money decisions can have a larger impact on your financial health than agonizing over whether to buy a $4 latte. Says Ma: “People may try to control what they understand — [and] what they understand is the day-to-day stuff rather than the debt payments or 401(k) or things like that.”

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What You Can Learn From Reading Money Diaries originally appeared on usnews.com