Oh, Instagram – and Facebook, and TikTok, and whatever new platform inevitably comes next. At this point, social media is an irrevocable and ubiquitous part of our online ecosystem, for better (making new friends! 😊 ) or for worse (social comparison leading to depression, anxiety, and a sense of isolation 😬 ).
Along with the more obvious downsides of wasted time, disrupted sleep, and – yes, this is a real thing – cell phone elbow, constantly scrolling social media can also directly affect our spending. Namely, it can make us spend more. Go ahead and file that in the “for worse” category.
Most of us have become accustomed to a constant barrage of advertisements between our loved ones’ joyful wedding snaps and far-flung airplane-wing photos. We’re tempted by everything from socks to shapewear to meal plans… or whatever the algorithm has determined might most interest you. And unfortunately for our wallets, those targeted ads are usually pretty darn good – which is no surprise, given that advertisers spend more than $56 billion a year on them, per a study by Statista.
But social media is also, you know, fun. Hot takes! Cute animals! That one time you convinced your favorite uncle to dab in front of the Grand Canyon!
Talk about a love-hate relationship.
Like any romance, it might be time to break up with social media, at least for a little while. That’s especially true if your budget is in the line of fire. So let’s determine if you’re overspending due to social media and what you can do about it, including potentially pulling the plug.
Am I spending too much money shopping online?
The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem – which means the real first step is figuring out whether or not you do.
The good news: if you’re spending a lot of money online, you’re not alone. According to U.S. Commerce Department figures aggregated by Digital Commerce 360, ecommerce grew 14.2% last year compared to 2020, which was a big year for online shopping in its own right. (Thanks, COVID.)
In other words, Americans spent a collective $870.78 billion online in 2021 (😱 ). More shoppers are returning to brick-and-mortar stores, but we all know how easy it is to add that pocket-equipped tennis dress or five-pack of super-soft undies to our digital carts. You might not even think twice about it… until those impulse buys wreak havoc on your budget.
No one figure constitutes over-spending – online or otherwise. The only person who can determine how much is too much is you. It’s a delicate balance depending on your income and your regular cost of living – both of which you can quickly calculate by making a budget. (More on that in just a minute.)
Some financial experts interviewed by CNBC say your “fun spending” should account for no more than 10% of your budget — which is pretty low. Another common rule (the 50-30-20 rule) suggests allotting a more substantial 30% of your income towards wants. Then, you’d put 50% of your income toward needs like housing, food, and utilities and 20% toward savings and financial goals like paying down debt.
These are just a couple of guidelines to consider. The specific sizes of your pie chart may vary. But the intention is the same no matter the numbers: social media spending, or any extraneous spending, shouldn’t strain your regular living expenses, such as housing, food, and utilities.
If your social media spending habit is eating into the money you need to live or causing you to rack up credit card debt, you need to find a way to cut back, stat. And honestly, most of us could probably benefit from putting more money into our savings account and less into the most recent trendy item circulating through our IG stories.
Ways to reduce spending on social media
You’ve done the math (or your stack of bills has done it for you), and you’ve determined you are, indeed, spending more than you’d like as a result of social media.
Take heart! There are steps away from the endless add-to-cart void. Here are a few to try.
1. Make a budget – and stick to it.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: you need a budget, even if you throw your cell phone off a bridge. And since you’re unlikely to do that, and you’re reading this article, chances are you definitely need a budget when it comes to online spending.
Crafting your budget doesn’t have to be work-intensive. One of the *good* things about the internet: there are plenty of easy-to-use budgeting apps that can help you control how much you’re spending (and how much you actually should be spending) in a flash.
You can even add in a line item for social media spending to keep enjoying those fun one-off purchases, but with a little more intention. Win-win!
2. Curate your feed.
These days, it’s pretty impossible to avoid targeted ads at all – as mentioned above, advertisers are spending plenty of money to get their content in front of your eyeballs.
But if you tend to buy items because #influencers are dishing about them on their pages, or to keep up with high-rolling friends, it might be time to rake your follow list for folks who encourage you to spend more than you’d rather.
Don’t want to cut someone out entirely? You could also consider muting them for a while until you break the spending habit.
3. Make a wish list.
It sounds counterintuitive, but it can work: next time you want to nab something off the ‘gram, write it into a wish list instead.
The comfort of knowing you’ve written it down and won’t forget about it can grant you permission to take a beat before buying it. And giving yourself some cool-down time can clarify what you actually want – and what was purely a short-term impulse. You may discover that, two weeks later, the items on your wish list don’t look so tempting anymore… and if they do, you can purchase them in good conscience (as long as it fits your budget!).
4. Find an accountability buddy.
You’re likely not the only person in your circle of friends – physical and virtual – who struggles with social-media-induced spending. Almost everyone with a smartphone is subject to the whims of those mysterious algorithms.
Find an accountability buddy and make a pact that neither of you will spend more than a certain limit – or anything at all – in response to social media ads for a set amount of time. Customize the terms to your spending habits and preferences; maybe you go cold turkey for a month or limit yourself to $20 per week. Either way, partnering up can help you both break the cycle.
5. Consider taking a break.
You knew it was coming. If you’re facing dire straits when it comes to social media spending, it might be time to say goodbye – even if not forever. Getting some space from social media could be a game-changer for your online financial life, not to mention your life life.
Financial benefits of a social media break
Going full-on no-social-media mode could have a significant positive impact on your financial life. Specifically, you’ll probably engage in:
1. Less impulse spending.
This first one is pretty obvious and may be the whole reason you want to quit social media in the first place. If you don’t see those advertisements every day, it’s much easier not to fall into their trap – the oops-I-did-it-again, add-to-cart trap. (We’ve all been there.)
Remember that you’ll also encounter advertisements on TV and radio shows, in print media, and likely in your email inbox, so a social media break isn’t a cure-all for impulse buys.
2. Less keeping-up-with spending.
It’s not just ads for merchandise that cause us to spend on social media. Maybe seeing your friends’ weekly brunch dates, indulgent shopping sprees, and vacations to exotic locales is causing you to spend more than you bargained for, all in the hopes of having a life as exciting and luxurious as theirs.
Cutting your scroll time can help. And either way, don’t forget: social media is a highlight reel. You probably don’t know what your friends’ bank account looks like, let alone their personal life, no matter how glamorous their feed appears.
3. Less wasted time.
Time is money, as they say – and they are right about this one.
According to Statista, the average American spends two hours and three minutes on social media every day. Over a five-day workweek, that’s a little more than 10 hours. Instead, you could be putting that block of time toward a side-hustle… or even just catching up on sleep, socializing, and otherwise gassing up your emotional tank so you can show up 100% to your job. Time to ask for that raise!
Do I need a social media detox?
The impact on your financial life is only one small part of your overall social media experience. There’s plenty to be concerned about beyond your bank account, and a serious detox may be in order.
Many completed and ongoing studies explore social media addiction, including its negative correlation with personality traits like empathy. Social media companies discovered in their own research that their platforms could be harmful to body image, particularly among vulnerable young people. The relationship between social media and mental health issues like anxiety and depression is still being studied. Since this is a new and unprecedented technology that’s been so rapidly adopted, we’re all part of the experiment in real time.
If you’re experiencing mental health issues that you think may be tied to your social media use, it might be time to completely disengage from those platforms. Even if deleting or deactivating your account(s) sounds like too much commitment, you could explore browser extensions and apps like Offtime and Freedom to limit your access to social media. Internet Addicts Anonymous also hosts virtual and in-person support groups for people who identify as addicted to social media.
Finally, as is true of so many mental health issues, the help of a trusted, professional counselor can help. Some therapists specialize specifically in social media and technology addiction counseling, and many others have backgrounds in substance abuse counseling that might translate well for someone having trouble letting go of social media. The Financial Therapy Association offers a great database of counselors specifically trained to help patients find healthy ways through sticky money matters – social media spending included.
Whether you stay on social media or go, you need a budget
Don’t get us wrong: social media’s not all bad! Our plentiful platforms can be a connective force, helping us find new friends with similar interests to ours and keep in touch with friends and family we’ve drifted away from in time and space.
But overuse of social media has also been associated with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, and all those targeted ads can diminish your dough. There are many tools to tackle the problem with strength, intentionality, and financial savvy – whether or not you decide it’s time to unplug.
Are you ready to stick to a tight budget? These are the best budgeting apps in the game.