Here’s how social media tricks you into overspending


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Retailers have slid into networks like Facebook and Instagram so subtlely that you may not have even noticed them. Maybe your favorite actor promoted a new skincare brand on their page, or maybe that mattress company that you researched on Google showed up on your feed as a sponsored post. The next thing you know, you’re pre-ordering Yeezy Foam Runners that you can’t afford and probably, deep down, don’t really want.

But social media apps thrive on impulse shopping, and it can be hard fighting the temptation. Read on to learn how you can cut back on purchases and take care of debt you might be struggling with.

  • 5 ways social media tricks you into spending more
  • Mitigating your social media spending
  • When your digital shopping sprees leave you buried in debt
  • The bottom line

5 ways social media tricks you into spending more

1. Targeted ads: Let’s say you’re ready to propose to your partner. You search Google for engagement rings, and suddenly you see jeweler ads in your social media feed; that’s targeted advertising. (And on top of that, this advertising could bust your cover before you even get the chance to pop the question.)

2. Influencer marketing: You follow your favorite celebrities because you like their sense of style or want to keep up with their jet-setting, but they might have ulterior motives. People with large social media followings are paid up to seven figures to endorse a product in the hopes that you will make a purchase.

3. Referral or MLM marketing: Nearly everyone has a friend or family member that’s part of a multi-level marketing company. The trend that started in 1963 with the success of Mary Kay has evolved into modern adaptations like LuLaRoe and Herbalife.

4. Instagram Checkout: You don’t even have to leave the app with Instagram’s Checkout feature, which was introduced earlier this year. The first time you check out, you’ll enter your billing information, which is saved for future purchases.

5. Package anticipation: In a posted video, Stanford University professor Dr. Robert Sapolsky said that “Dopamine is not about pleasure, it’s about the anticipation of pleasure.” There should really be picture of the Amazon logo next to “anticipation” in the dictionary.

These don’t take FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” into account either. You might get that feeling when you see an influencer who seems to be jet-setting to a different tropical destination each month. Or maybe it’s just that friend from college who dines at the trendiest new restaurants in town every weekend.

When their (understandably) popular post is propelled to the top of your feed day after day, it can cause FOMO. And if your credit card is at the ready, then you could be urged to make an ill-advised purchase to ease the pain of your supposedly “mediocre” life that you aren’t showcasing on social media.

Mitigating your social media spending

Unfollow accounts selling stuff on social media

You don’t necessarily have to go dark on social media to keep to your budget. But if you follow an influencer who causes you to make purchases you otherwise wouldn’t, maybe it’s time to tap that unfollow button.

Turned off targeted ads

One way to avoid targeted ads is to disable them. You can turn off ad personalization across the web with Google, and you can turn off personalized ads on websites like Facebook and Instagram. But it can be tedious to adjust your ad settings on every website you encounter.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to avoid targeted ads across your mobile and internet browsing. You can do this by:

  • Installing ad-blocker software
  • Browsing the web in incognito mode
  • Clearing and turning off cookies

Cookies are bits of data stored on your browser, such as your preferred language, to store information about you as a user and simplify your internet browsing. They are also used in ad personalization. You can turn them off in your browser settings.

Unsubscribe from email newsletters

You might not be able to get out of paper mailers, but it’s easier than ever to unsubscribe from marketing emails. In fact, many email apps, such as Outlook and iOS Mail, feature an unsubscribe button right below the subject line.

Instead of automatically deleting emails that are from mailing lists, just click that button to stop the temptation of opening another “Limited time offer!” email. Most newsletters also feature an unsubscribe link at the footer of the email. Opt out of future emails, or just delete them as they come in instead of opening them.

Remove saved credit cards from your account

Not wanting to get up and walk to your wallet to read your card number sounds like peak laziness. But there’s a good chance that when you’re scrolling through Instagram and see something you want to buy, you might be glued to the couch.

If your card info is saved to an online shopping account, it’s that much easier to make a purchase on a whim. For both your privacy and your budget, delete any saved credit card info you have on your browser or on certain accounts. That way, you have to think twice before you go digging around for your credit card.

Another rule of thumb: Don’t memorize your card number.

Turn off one-tap checkout

Some websites make impulse buying even easier by cutting down the steps between browsing items for sale and checkout. Take Amazon’s 1-Click checkout, for example. You can tap a button that says “Buy It Now” instead of “Add To Cart,” and you’ve made a purchase without even second-guessing yourself.

Fortunately, it’s easy to turn off 1-Click checkout on Amazon in your personal settings.

When your digital shopping sprees leave you buried in debt

Keep your receipts and return or resell

Purchases fueled by social media can be made on a whim. But sometimes, getting your money back is as simple as making a return. Many retailers offer an easy way to return packages by mail or in store ー just make sure you don’t spend more to account for the credit you got back.

If you can’t return your purchase, consider trying to recoup your losses by selling items on websites like Craigslist, Letgo and Nextdoor. You can even use social media in your favor and take to the Facebook Marketplace to resell items. Facebook recommends taking these steps to stay safe when selling items online:

  • Don’t share financial information, such as bank account information or PayPal logins, with the other party
  • Meet in a safe, public location, such as a shopping mall or a coffee shop
  • Use cash or person-to-person payment methods
  • Don’t sell recalled items

Reward healthier financial habits

The “treat yourself” mentality can lead you down a financial spiral pretty quickly. The reality is that you don’t need to make a purchase every time you do something well. Instead, have a more concrete reward system in place. For example, you might allott yourself $50 in miscellaneous spending if you’ve stuck to your budget all month.

Account for credit card repayment in your budget

Budgeting is good proactively, but it’s also effective retroactively in that you can work a more aggressive repayment plan into your budget. Work credit card repayment into your budget so you’re not left making the minimum payment on your bill every month and paying interest on purchases you made in the past.

Refinance or consolidate for fewer fees

Debt consolidation is the No. 1 reason why consumers take out personal loans, according to a 2019 LendingTree study. With debt consolidation, you combine multiple debt balances by taking out a new loan or line of credit. One notable perk of consolidation is that you can put your debt on to a more manageable payment plan, ideally with a lower interest rate. This helps you avoid juggling multiple debts with different payments and fees every month.

Refinancing works similarly. You’ll pay off your debt with a new loan or line of credit with a lower interest rate and fewer fees to reduce the overall cost of repayment.

A personal loan and balance transfer credit card can do both of these things. Here’s the difference between them:

Lending tree chart

The bottom line

By now, you’re (hopefully) more aware of how social media profits off of users. The most important lesson you can take away is that you should be aware of the time and money you spend on social media. With this newfound awareness and discipline, you can work to change your online spending habits.

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