Managing Debt

Your TV Watching Could Be Driving You Into Debt

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Watching TV is among Americans’ favorite ways to spend their free time. Sure, it’s fun to socialize, read and exercise, but TV gets much more of our attention, according to the recently released 2013 American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We spend about half our leisure time watching TV — an average of 2.8 hours a day — which is way more than the 43 minutes we spend socializing, the next-most common activity.

All that time in front of the TV may strain Americans’ finances. Hunter College researchers Matthew Baker and Lisa George examined the introductions of televisions into homes from 1946 to 1958 and how households’ debt levels related to television access. Their study revealed a correlation between TV watching (consumption of mass media advertising) and debt levels.

Practically every American home has at least one TV, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau and Nielsen. The introduction of TV entertainment in the 1940s and ’50s may have shifted debt trends between the haves and the have-nots, but the ubiquity of TV these days has probably eliminated that distinction. Theoretically, people may be borrowing more now than if they lived in an alternate universe where TV wasn’t an essential part of the home.

If consuming ads increases people’s tendency to borrow, it makes sense to tie TV watching to debt. Not only do people spend more time watching TV than on any other leisure activity, it exposes people to more ads than they see while going on a run, grabbing a drink with friends or reading a book. That landscape is changing with the growing popularity of binge-watching shows through streaming media services, which allow you watch TV without ad interruptions.

Whether or not your addiction to watching “Game of Thrones” makes you more likely to take on debt than your friend who only reads the books, it’s a crucial life skill to know the difference between needs and wants. As tempting as credit cards and other financing may be, you should never take on debt you don’t need, because it’s expensive, and an inability to meet your debt obligations can mess up your finances for years.

Using credit responsibly and only when necessary increases the likelihood you’ll have a good credit score, which is crucial in securing housing, decent insurance rates and, of course, future financing. To see if you’re on the right track, you can review your credit data for free through Credit.com.

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