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During a recent sunny walk with friends, one asked, "Is that the dress from the Instagram ad?" While it hadn't shown up on my feed yet, apparently some girlfriends were all served the same ad, and a few gave in and bought this sweat-wicking summer dress, tempted by its hidden shorts and pockets. After hearing their friends rave about it, they found it harder to resist when they saw the ad on their feed.
Nowadays, as we scroll from post to post, our social media feeds are peppered with ads tailored by algorithms that analyze our unique online activity. If you've given into their temptations, you're far from alone, according to Jungle Scout, a digital platform for Amazon sellers. In a 2021 survey of 1,000 consumers, 54% of respondents said they had bought a product they first heard about on social media.
If your budget can handle the occasional splurge, there may be nothing wrong with an impulse buy from a social media ad every once in a while. But if this behavior becomes more frequent, you could lose track of your spending and wind up in debt or even a victim of fraud. Here's how to know if you're overdoing it with online shopping, how to reel it in and how to stay safe.
Signs Online Spending Has Gotten out of Hand
While some people may shop online when they're bored or looking for a new item of clothing, others use it as a way to cope with stress or emotions, according to Discover Magazine. This can turn into a compulsion or addiction and can lead to increased debt and other financial issues.
Here are some signs online shopping may be out of control:
- You've lost track of how much you've spent online recently.
- Your credit card bill arrives and you can't afford to pay it off anytime soon.
- Your shopping is wrecking your monthly budget.
- You rarely use your purchases.
- You feel like you can't stop shopping or thinking about shopping.
- You feel guilty after shopping online and possibly even hide your purchases.
Even if you're not worried about a potential online shopping addiction, making purchases that throw off your monthly budget and threaten to derail your financial goals is a cause for concern. Here's how you can cut back on your online spending.
Ways to Limit Online Spending
If you've realized your impulse spending has become problematic, there are plenty of strategies to help you get back on track:
- Track your spending. When you don't have a grasp on how much you're spending, it's easy to be in denial. Tracking your purchases, and creating a thorough budget, can help you come to terms with how much you're really spending.
- Reduce your access to spending. With features like Amazon's one-click buying and PayPal or internet browsers storing our card numbers, it's now dangerously easy to make purchases without having to pause and get out our wallets. You could try removing your stored cards from your browser, PayPal and other shopping websites you frequent to add a barrier to the process. If you're forced to get up and get your card to make a purchase, that extra step and pause could help you realize you don't need it. If you tend to shop on certain apps, consider deleting those from your phone, or using apps that block your access to them at certain times.
- Practice mindfulness. Add a mindful moment before you buy something to check in with yourself: Think about whether you really need this item, and if there are emotions hidden underneath your urge to spend. Just forcing yourself to pause, whether by checking in with a loved one or giving yourself a 24-hour cooling off period to think it over, can help you decide whether the purchase is really necessary.
- Work with a financial planner. One solution could be to hire a financial planner, who can help you get on a budget and determine how much you can actually afford to spend on shopping. If you have a problem with debt, they can develop a plan to tackle it and create a financial strategy to help you reach your goals. Working with a professional can also help add a sense of accountability.
- Address addictive shopping. If you truly feel a compulsion to shop and are having trouble stopping on your own, Psychology Today recommends hiring a mental health professional who provides cognitive behavioral therapy. Discover Magazine notes group cognitive behavioral therapy or guided self-help can also be effective to help you work through the issue.
Stay Safe When You Shop
Aside from the budget-busting and emotional issues you could be facing, anytime you give out your card information online, you're putting your finances and identity at risk. According to the Federal Trade Commission, social media sites and search engines do not effectively filter out fraudsters and counterfeiters, recently resulting in a record number of complaints to the agency about fraud originating from social media.
Before you buy, especially if it's from an online ad for a website you haven't heard of, research the website and look them up with the Better Business Bureau. Keep in mind that shopping online comes with other risks, such as identity thieves capturing your credit card information if you shop on a public Wi-Fi network. Brush up on tips for protecting your identity when shopping online, and consider monitoring your credit to ensure you're aware of any unauthorized activity quickly.