How TikTok Is Wiring Gen Z’s Money Brain - Kanebridge News
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How TikTok Is Wiring Gen Z’s Money Brain

Endless videos about the economy and consumerism are giving 20-somethings a case of ‘money dysmorphia’

By JULIE JARGON, ANN-MARIE ALCÁNTARA
Mon, May 6, 2024 3:49pmGrey Clock 5 min

Americans under 30 get much of their news on TikTok. They hear about money there, too, and that’s shaping the way they save, spend and view their financial prospects, young adults and economists say.

Caitlyn Sprinkle, 27 years old, describes her TikTok feed as a mix of economic gloom and consumerism gone wild. There are Dave Ramsey TikToks that warn of the evils of debt , followed by influencers showing off their shopping hauls of skin-care products and handbags.

Sprinkle, a financial analyst at an asset-management firm in Nashville, Tenn., uses a budgeting app and has been cooking at home lately to save money—and to be able to afford the things she feels she has to buy, like Lululemon leggings. “Between TikTok and having your friends around you, you’re pressured to buy the things because you want to fit in,” she says. “That’s always been the case, but with TikTok it’s more prominent.”

Rallying stocks, rising wages and a tight labor market suggest the economy is stronger than it has been in years. The youngest, lowest-earning professionals don’t feel that way—partly because a large share are carrying consumer debt, and partly because of what they’re seeing on TikTok.

Even as the platform faces a potential ban in the U.S. , it remains a massive cultural force that shapes young adults’ decisions and views. More than half of all U.S. adults ages 18 to 34 use it, according to Pew Research Center, while about a third of those 29 and under say they regularly get news on TikTok , up from less than 10% in 2020.

So, what happens when your main source of news tells you that no one in your generation will be able to buy a house , food prices are spinning out of control and credit-card debt is unavoidable—but also that $2,500 Louis Vuitton bags and $70 moisturisers are, as many videos say, “a must”?

Interviews with finance experts and more than a dozen young adults suggest that the result is confusion, with a side of gloom. Under-30s are taking on debt as they embrace an old idea: If the outlook is bad, why not enjoy life now?

Their own money behaviour

TikTok is creating a disconnect between how well off young adults actually are and how they think they’re doing, according to economists and 20-somethings themselves. That disconnect has given rise to a term financial advisers use to describe young adults’ distorted view of their financial well-being: “money dysmorphia.”

Evelyn Hidalgo, 29, makes her living as a full-time content creator after being laid off from a social-strategist job about a year ago. While she posts about being a mum on a budget, her TikTok feed often shows her trendy items she wishes she had, or a life that seems impossibly far from her own, such as owning a large, beautiful home.

“It doesn’t feel like the norm is your normal,” says Hidalgo, who lives in Nashville with her husband and 20-month-old son. As she looks at the economy on TikTok and other social media, her feed feels “split in half,” between those living an enviable life and those who are struggling.

Sprinkle walks to the gym so she doesn’t have to pay for parking. PHOTO: WILLIAM DESHAZER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Gen Z’s mixed economic feelings could have an effect on the outcome of the elections this fall, but the greater impact could be on their long-term financial health, economists say. Feeling financially uncertain can lead to poor choices, such as credit-card debt that eats into retirement funds and necessities such as food and housing, says Jacob Channel, senior economist at LendingTree, an online lending marketplace.

Over the past two years, members of Gen Z—those born between 1997 and 2012—effectively doubled their non mortgage debt, taking on roughly an additional $11,000 on average, according to LendingTree.

Still, younger American adults—those born in the 1990s—saw their median wealth more than quadruple to more than $40,000 between 2019 and 2022, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That has outpaced the growth rates for previous generations at a similar age, says Lowell Ricketts, a data scientist there.

While many markers of adulthood such as homeownership feel out of reach, young adults are reaping the benefits from the current economic climate, says Monique Morrissey , senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit economic-research and policy organisation.

“Gen Z and younger millennials are experiencing tailwinds and may not realise that they’re benefiting from a tight labor market that has led to an unusually rapid increase in real wages for younger and lower-wage workers,” she says.

Adding to the confusion is the economy itself. After a string of data showed strength in the labor market, growth is beginning to slow. U.S. employers added a seasonally adjusted 175,000 jobs in April, less than March and below the 240,000 economists anticipated, and unemployment rose to 3.9%, according to the Labor Department.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Many TikTok users say their feeds have become a loop of get-ready-with-me posts, ads, influencer partnerships and videos that encourage them to buy stuff from TikTok’s virtual shop . Some 91% of Gen Zers say they have purchased something they saw on social media, according to a survey from Citizens Pay, a buy-now-pay-later service from Citizens.

BreAunna Rodriguez, a 23-year-old mom of two in Houston, likes to buy TikTok-popular baby clothes and other small things for herself, including eyelash extensions, coconut-oil mouthwash and a pumice stone that influencers said reduces stretch marks.

“It’s hard not to buy things if they say it’s good for me,” she says.

TikTok has influenced bigger decisions, too, she says. Her For You page is filled with young entrepreneurs who snub the idea of a 9-to-5 job. This inspired her to quit her job as an assistant property manager in late 2022 and take a remote, commission-based job for an internet-and-cable company.

“You see a 19-year-old trader on TikTok who only has to work two hours a day, and I was like, ‘How do I do that?’”

Rodriguez says she makes more money now, contributes to a 401(k), pays off her credit card bills each month and puts her annual tax refund into a savings account to help with expenses throughout the year. Her biggest monthly expense is the $2,000 she pays for daycare for her two kids.

The constant videos of consumption—whether it’s a Stanley cup , a Jellycat plush or makeup —are hard to resist. TikTok last year created its own e-commerce engine , TikTok Shop, to compete with online retailers.

About six months ago, Sprinkle bought a Stanley tumbler. “I held out as long as I could,” she says, adding that she had bought several other water bottles that were trending on TikTok.

“There’s an internal pressure among my age range to constantly have these experiences and share them,” says Evan Naar, a 28-year-old lawyer in New York who posts TikToks about Broadway shows he’s seen and a Taylor Swift concert he attended.

Naar, who has several thousand dollars in student debt, says at some point he wants to save more money and buy a house. “A lot of my paycheck goes toward living expenses, travel and Broadway shows,” he says.

OK, doomer

Encountering post after post about the downsides of the economy contributes to “doomerism”—an overwhelming feeling of despair. This has made some young adults thrifty.

“I’m not going to spend my last dollar to keep up with the Joneses,” says Tanayah Thomas, a 23-year-old clothing designer and licensed financial adviser in Staten Island, N.Y. “We have to prepare for what’s to come.”

She’s currently living with her mom to save money.

Tommy Chanthavong, a 27-year-old in Houston who manages social-media accounts for small, local businesses, also moved back home. He says it’s hard to parse the information shown on TikTok: One minute he sees videos saying the U.S. is on the brink of a recession and the next he sees that inflation is easing.

In The Wall Street Journal’s latest quarterly survey of business and academic economists , respondents lowered the chances of a recession within the next year to 29% from 39% in January—the lowest probability since April 2022.

Sprinkle, who shares an apartment with a roommate, says she’d love to own a house one day, but it feels like a distant dream.

“You have to have a level of happiness, and being able to do the things you want and buy the things you want is part of it,” she says. “Do I save all of my money for the future? No. I try to live more in the moment.”



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These stocks are getting hit for a reason. Instead, focus on stocks that show ‘relative strength.’ Here’s how.

By KEN SHREVE
Wed, Jun 12, 2024 4 min

A lot of investors get stock-picking wrong before they even get started: Instead of targeting the top-performing stocks in the market, they focus on the laggards—widely known companies that look as if they are on sale after a period of stock-price weakness.

But these weak performers usually are going down for good reasons, such as for deteriorating sales and earnings, market-share losses or mutual-fund managers who are unwinding positions.

Decades of Investor’s Business Daily research shows these aren’t the stocks that tend to become stock-market leaders. The stocks that reward investors with handsome gains for months or years are more often  already  the strongest price performers, usually because of outstanding earnings and sales growth and increasing fund ownership.

Of course, many investors already chase performance and pour money into winning stocks. So how can a discerning investor find the winning stocks that have more room to run?

Enter “relative strength”—the notion that strength begets more strength. Relative strength measures stocks’ recent performance relative to the overall market. Investing in stocks with high relative strength means going with the winners, rather than picking stocks in hopes of a rebound. Why bet on a last-place team when you can wager on the leader?

One of the easiest ways to identify the strongest price performers is with IBD’s Relative Strength Rating. Ranked on a scale of 1-99, a stock with an RS rating of 99 has outperformed 99% of all stocks based on 12-month price performance.

How to use the metric

To capitalise on relative strength, an investor’s search should be focused on stocks with RS ratings of at least 80.

But beware: While the goal is to buy stocks that are performing better than the overall market, stocks with the highest RS ratings aren’t  always  the best to buy. No doubt, some stocks extend rallies for years. But others will be too far into their price run-up and ready to start a longer-term price decline.

Thus, there is a limit to chasing performance. To avoid this pitfall, investors should focus on stocks that have strong relative strength but have seen a moderate price decline and are just coming out of weeks or months of trading within a limited range. This range will vary by stock, but IBD research shows that most good trading patterns can show declines of up to one-third.

Here, a relative strength line on a chart may be helpful for confirming an RS rating’s buy signal. Offered on some stock-charting tools, including IBD’s, the line is a way to visualise relative strength by comparing a stock’s price performance relative to the movement of the S&P 500 or other benchmark.

When the line is sloping upward, it means the stock is outperforming the benchmark. When it is sloping downward, the stock is lagging behind the benchmark. One reason the RS line is helpful is that the line can rise even when a stock price is falling, meaning its value is falling at a slower pace than the benchmark.

A case study

The value of relative strength could be seen in Google parent Alphabet in January 2020, when its RS rating was 89 before it started a 10-month run when the stock rose 64%. Meta Platforms ’ RS rating was 96 before the Facebook parent hit new highs in March 2023 and ran up 65% in four months. Abercrombie & Fitch , one of 2023’s best-performing stocks, had a 94 rating before it soared 342% in nine months starting in June 2023.

Those stocks weren’t flukes. In a study of the biggest stock-market winners from the early 1950s through 2008, the average RS rating of the best performers before they began their major price runs was 87.

To see relative strength in action, consider Nvidia . The chip stock was an established leader, having shot up 365% from its October 2022 low to its high of $504.48 in late August 2023.

But then it spent the next four months rangebound—giving up some ground, then gaining some back. Through this period, shares held between $392.30 and the August peak, declining no more than 22% from top to bottom.

On Jan. 8, Nvidia broke out of its trading range to new highs. The previous session, Nvidia’s RS rating was 97. And that week, the stock’s relative strength line hit new highs. The catalyst: Investors cheered the company’s update on its latest advancements in artificial intelligence.

Nvidia then rose 16% on Feb. 22 after the company said earnings for the January-ended quarter soared 486% year over year to $5.16 a share. Revenue more than tripled to $22.1 billion. It also significantly raised its earnings and revenue guidance for the quarter that was to end in April. In all, Nvidia climbed 89% from Jan. 5 to its March 7 close.

And the stock has continued to run up, surging past $1,000 a share in late May after the company exceeded that guidance for the April-ended quarter and delivered record revenue of $26 billion and record net profit of $14.88 billion.

Ken Shreve  is a senior markets writer at Investor’s Business Daily. Follow him on X  @IBD_KShreve  for more stock-market analysis and insights, or contact him at  ken.shreve@investors.com .