How social media can increase your online spending

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social media

Soaring student loans, sky-high rental costs, and volatile credit card APR rate hikes are often pinpointed as millennials’ biggest barriers to financial stability. To boot, over the past 50 years, income growth has not kept pace with these costs. However, while formidable in and of itself, this set of challenges neglects another significant variable that’s been added to our economic equation: social media marketing.

Social media and other forms of online activity are not only addictive, but they lead us to spend money. Some studies suggest that the average internet user spends a whopping 7 to 24 hours each week on social media. Dr. Mark Griffiths explains that these patterns exist because social media makes us feel connected, validates us, and is resultantly linked with compulsive phone checking habits.

Combine our excessive internet use with crafty marketing and our wallets are in trouble. Social media marketing is estimated to be a $192 billion industry and some people may be bombarded with around 5,000 ads per day. Incredible as it may sound, we’re probably oblivious to this onslaught of advertising precisely because it is so ubiquitous.  

Why is social media marketing so effective?

Sorely underestimated when compared with more obvious obstacles, like debt and low wages, social media is insidious in ways that other financial barriers are not. The digital world creates a sticky, interlocking market matrix of attractive ideals, social pressure, and targeted product availability. It establishes and glorifies an ideal, pressures you into wanting it, and bombards you with products to (supposedly) achieve it.

Social media convinces you how you want to look, what you want to eat, and how you want to feel. And, like the freaky witch that lures Hansel and Gretel into her gingerbread castle with the promise of Insta-worthy matcha lattes and booty gains (or something to that effect), social media marketing draws you in.

Think about it this way. Diet, fitness, traveling, fashion, health, and other trends are largely established through social media marketing and (well-paid) influencers. Just consider the Kardashians’ dramatic influence on beauty trends, the proliferation of rainbow foods, and Baby Shark’s newfound fame. Targeted advertising and personalization algorithms pigeonhole us into our own personal echo chambers, which reinforce these norms and shape what we think about ourselves.

Marketers understand that this dynamic leads us to be bombarded with certain ideals (like bold, defined eyebrows) and to strive for them (Why are bold, defined eyebrows suddenly my soul’s secret yearning?). To turn that yearning into profit, marketers cleverly target their ads (i.e. a schmancy $40.00 eyebrow kit ad in your scroll bar), and suddenly we find ourselves shelling out for something we didn’t know we wanted.

So, social media marketing is smarter than us. How can we Hansel-and-Gretel our way out of its creepy clutches?

Build your social media marketing literacy

Arm yourself with foundational knowledge to understand and control your motivations behind purchases influenced by social media marketing. 

Targeted advertising

Google “Crocs”. Check out their site, compare prices on Amazon, and read product reviews. Intuitively, you know that after doing this, their rubbery countenance will stalk you across every social media platform you have.

Tracking technology like cookies allows targeted advertising to work. By building up profiles about users’ online activity, demographic information, and psychographics, advertisers direct their products to users who are most likely to buy them.


FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a pervasive feeling that we should connect to others online to share in positive experiences. FOMO not only sucks people into social media use, but it also leads users to make purchases to try to buy into positive experiences they see and to “keep up” with others’ lifestyles. 

Marketing manipulation

Marketers use techniques to schmooze you into buying their products. We all want to believe certain things about ourselves — that we are sophisticated, unique, socially-conscious, etc.

The Harvard Business Review reports that when advertisers tell us that we’re seeing an ad for a product that is marketed in a particular way (perhaps it looks sophisticated or “green”) because of our past online behavior, they flatteringly invite us to affirm this possible characteristic about ourselves through a purchase.

Be practical

Marketing literacy helps us to understand and control our impulses. But, according to the American Psychological Association, willpower is a limited resource. Some practical interventions can also help control spending influenced by social media marketing. 

Change online habits

To reduce online time painlessly, have a more purposeful internet use. Use social media for longer periods, less frequently: Instead of logging in for two minutes every 15 minutes, you can allocate three 15-minute blocks throughout your day when you can log in. With time, your overall time spent on social media will come down.


Online impulse buys are hard to beat because, well, they’re impulsive. If you feel really compelled to make a purchase, try to put that decision on pause for just 72 hours. A little bit of time and even discussing the purchase can help us curb unnecessary spending. 

Make it harder to buy

Every step you add to the buying process makes it less likely that you will complete the purchase. So, complicate the process. Delete your saved credit card information. Block sites you frequently shop on. Unsubscribe from marketing emails. Unfollow influencers, advertisers, and brands on social media. Only shop in brick-and-mortar stores.

To sum it all up…

Social media marketing is crafty and can convince us to spend money chasing ideals that don’t contribute to our financial success or other aspects of our well-being in any long-term, meaningful way. Loosening digital marketing’s clutches on us can free up money we didn’t even know we had. In turn, we can save that money to invest it for a brighter future!

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