How social media tricks you into spending more

Erika Giovanetti

Written by

Erika Giovanetti


October 7, 2019

Retailers have slid into networks like Facebook and Instagram so subtly 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 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 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. Here’s how you can cut back on purchases and take care of debt you might be struggling with.

First, let’s take a look at five 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 you’ll 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. 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.

Here are some strategies for curbing 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.