The internet has allowed for a sense of community where there wasn't one before. Neighbors, friends, relatives and even strangers can get together and chat, share advice, play games or learn more about each other via today's social media opportunities. But are they also spending more cash? While social media may be free, these popular online commodities may be prompting you to blow your budget in a big way. (For more, see From The Printing Press To The Internet.)

IN PICTURES: 6 Career-Killing Facebook Mistakes

1. Coupon Groups
This one's more social marketing than social media, but it can really encourage you to spend. One of the hottest new ways to purchase just about anything is with the power of a group, and sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and Eversave have made headlines with their attention-grabbing offers of up to 90% off on shopping, restaurant and specialty merchandise purchases. While they are a great opportunity to buy a gift certificate for a new restaurant you were already going to try, or to stock up on gifts for the upcoming holiday, the temptation to buy things you don't need (or won't use) is high. The alluring price point, often presented in a percentage off the regular price, is made even more attractive by the brief purchasing window.

The moral of this story is clear: Don't let a ticking timer pressure you into $50 in handmade taffy or a luxury eyebrow wax if it wasn't in your budget to begin with - no matter how many other people are buying.

2. Facebook Gifts
The only thing more wasteful than buying goods and services you don't really want is to buy "virtual" gifts and services that you don't really want. In 2009, Facebook made a rumored $10 million in its business of selling virtual tokens via the site's games and applications, proving that users are buying, whether they can afford to or not. It's perfectly fine to partake in the gifting, provided it's within your spending allowance. Just be aware that it may be a hard habit to avoid. Friends and family are usually the first to gift - and often expect to be gifted in return.

IN PICTURES: Celebrities With Big Dreams That Paid Off

3. Cell Phone Data Packages
As the functions of the basic cell phone have expanded, so has the bill for its particular data plan. Some customers are adept at sticking to the minimum in coverage, getting basic plans for their call minutes and enough text messages to get through a month, but even more demand the tech tools that only an unlimited data plan can provide. This can push the monthly bill for a smart phone with web-browsing, email and instant access to social media accounts easily into the $80-$150 range.

Before investing in the phone that does everything, be aware of the cost for such capabilities. Your home computer might still be the most affordable place to check those Facebook and Twitter accounts. (For more, check out 6 Tips For Getting A Good Cell Phone Plan.)

4. Games
Many social media sites offer users the chance to play games for free, giving those late-night web fanatics something fun to pass the time with. Unfortunately, many of the most popular (and addictive) games are free for a limited time only. After a 24-hour to seven-day trial, for example, the price goes up dramatically to $20 or more for the pricier versions.

In addition to simple arcade-style games that help burn away minutes on your lunch break, RPGs (role playing games) offer free play but may require paid privileges to remain competitive. Vacation time, upgrades from the light version and specialized gaming tools are all examples of ways gamers can spend money for a better outcome, encouraging a "pay to play" model even within a free game. (For a related reading, see Play Video Games; Become A Millionaire.)

The Bottom Line
Finding friends online shouldn't cost much, but it can often cause social media fans to dig deep for an optimized experience. Before getting too involved with any "free" community, take time to learn how your budget can be affected, and adjust your activities accordingly. (For more, check out 6 Ways To Save Online.)

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Rising Markets And Buffett's Successor.

Related Articles
  1. Investing

    How to Take Maternity Leave as a Freelancer

    Freelancers are not covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but maternity leave is still doable with these tips.
  2. Home & Auto

    Are Kelley Blue Book Values Accurate and Reliable?

    It’s the most popular used-car buying guide. Here’s a look at just how trustworthy it is – plus a comparison with the competition.
  3. Taxes

    Internet Sales Tax Vs. Brick & Mortar Sales Tax

    Learn about the differences between sales taxes and Internet sales taxes, and the goods and services that typically incur each type of tax.
  4. Entrepreneurship

    How an Internet Sales Tax Will Affect Your Small Business

    Learn about how the Marketplace Fairness Act may impact small business owners should it pass in the House and what the act requires from business owners.
  5. Investing

    Playing The Decline of Traditional Broadcast Media

    Broadcast media is losing viewership as cord cutting by the younger generation triggers subscription losses at cable and satellite companies.
  6. Investing Basics

    Internet Sales Tax's Effect on Interstate Commerce

    Find out how a national Internet sales tax could affect interstate commerce, and why some bigger online retailers are lobbying for such a tax.
  7. Stock Analysis

    Does TripAdvisor Offer Upside Potential? (TRIP)

    Will TripAdvisor's downside risk outweigh upside potential in 2016? It's most recent SEC filing offers some strong clues.
  8. Personal Finance

    Wal-Mart vs. Target: Which One Is A Bigger Threat To Amazon?

    Walmart and Target both revealed multi-year plans to grow their businesses. Which of these two retailers is the biggest threat to Amazon?
  9. Personal Finance

    Amazon Studios vs. Hollywood: Is Netflix the Better Pick?

    Amazon Studios is a relatively new division of Amazon that is trying to revolutionize Hollywood. While it may succeed, is Netflix actually the better option?
  10. Budgeting

    Six Most Popular Hobbies You Can Do For Free

    Does your budget not allow you to have expensive hobbies? Here are six great ideas for occupying your free time without spending money.
  1. Does QVC charge sales tax?

    QVC, an American TV network, is registered with states to collect sales or use tax on taxable items. QVC is also required ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Does Walmart take international credit cards?

    Foreign visitors to Walmart locations in the United States can use their credit cards issued by banks outside of the U.S. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Is QVC publicly traded?

    QVC, Inc., is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Interactive Corporation. It is attributed to the QVC Group tracking stock, ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Who do hedge funds lend money to?

    Many traditional lenders and banks are failing to provide loans. In their absence, hedge funds have begun to fill the gap. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How can I invest in electronic retailing (e-tailing)?

    Electronic retail is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Every year, more people are choosing to purchase ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What countries represent the largest portion of the global retail sector?

    The United States and China are the world's largest and second-largest retail markets, respectively, by total retail sales. ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Cyber Monday

    An expression used in online retailing to describe the Monday following U.S. Thanksgiving weekend. Cyber Monday is generally ...
  2. Bar Chart

    A style of chart used by some technical analysts, on which, as illustrated below, the top of the vertical line indicates ...
  3. Take A Bath

    A slang term referring to the situation of an investor who has experienced a large loss from an investment or speculative ...
  4. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  5. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  6. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
Trading Center