How To Stop Comparison Shopping and Spending on Social Media

Two female students with digital tablet and cellphone at home.
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We all know that comparing ourselves to others never lands us in a good space emotionally or mentally, but we may not so keenly recognize how it can put us in a bad place financially. When we strive to spend like others (particularly those we deem successful), we can quickly blow our budgets, compromise our savings and lose sight of our broader financial goals.

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And thanks to social media, where we can now scroll through our friendships with ads sprinkled along the way, comparison shopping and spending is easier to do than ever before. 

“Social media plays a bigger role in consumer spending habits than most Americans realize,” said money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. “According to the 2019 Modern Wealth Survey from Charles Schwab, almost half of U.S. millennials spent money based on what they saw on social media.”

Woroch added that when we start to feel envious when we compare our everyday lives with other people’s social media accounts (which are basically just a highlight reel of their best moments rather than the full, true picture), we perceive a false sense of superiority that we then hold ourselves against.

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“You may buy something because you saw a friend or influencer wearing it, using it or decorating their home with it,” Woroch said. “There’s a sense of urgency that everyone has this thing and you need it, too. Social media can also make you feel bad about yourself, so you in turn indulge in emotional shopping to make yourself feel better.” 

Aside from pulling the plug on social media and going into internet hiding (or just hiding, period), how can we stop the bad habit of comparison spending and shopping?  

Keep It in Perspective

“Instagram and Facebook are now filled with sponsored content and targeted ads that make it easy to make an impulse purchase without much thought, since all you have to do in many cases is swipe up,” Woroch said. “If your payment info is stored in your digital wallet/PayPal, for instance, you may not even have to enter credit card details.” 

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Always keep it in the back of your mind that a platform that stays alive because of advertising is literally designed to encourage your spending. Use the platform for what you came for (the social media and not the advertising media), and when you’re tempted to buy something from an ad, question the integrity of what you’re buying and why you’re buying it.  

“Many times the items promoted in these ads don’t look the same in person,” Woroch said. “I recently bought a ring with my daughter’s name on it and it looks very cheap in person. I probably will never wear it and that’s $40 in the trash since I’m unable to return it.” 

Unfollow People Who Make You Feel Small

“Unfollow anyone who makes you feel less than the best version of yourself,” Woroch said. “For instance, I mostly use Instagram for business purposes so I check accounts that motivate me rather than pull me down. These may include entrepreneurs who have useful tips and tricks to grow my business or website [or] that post motivating content. In the same vein, unfollow accounts or influencers who stir the desire to shop/buy/keep up.”

Limit Your Time on Social Media and Turn Off Notifications

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“I used to pride myself on the fact that my screen time was pretty low considering my business is based online, but the other day I got a notification that my screen time jumped up to an average of five hours per day last week,” Woroch said. “That was enough to make me recheck my habits and come up with ways to reduce time on social media and on my phone. That means turning off notifications in social media apps that may otherwise pull me into seeing a new post. This also includes turning off notifications and alerts in deal and shopping apps.”

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You should also quit scrolling as soon as you find your mind wandering or sinking into boredom. This can also help you avoid “doomscrolling,” which isn’t just potentially bad for your wallet; it’s bad for your brain

Go on Airplane Mode

Smartphones and tablets enable you to set your phone to airplane mode to cut off Wi-Fi activity. If you need to focus but you can’t get shopping out of your brain, choosing this setting on your device will force you to banish ads, websites and all those FOMO and YOLO-inspiring pictures of people, places and products. 

Delete Payment Info Online

“Delete payment info wherever it is stored online or in any shopping or social media apps or even in your digital wallet,” Woroch said. “This will give you more time to think over the potential impulse purchase as you fetch your credit card to enter the details. Chances are you may realize you don’t need that item and you will dodge that unnecessary purchase.” 

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Set a 24-Hour Rule

“Always give yourself one day to think over a potential purchase,” Woroch said. “If there’s a limited-time deal, take note of the time the deal expires and plan to buy before the time is up, but still give yourself time to think it over. Chances are you will forget and that’s the ultimate sign you don’t need to buy that thing you were eyeing.” 

Identify Your Triggers

“Taking a deep look at what’s causing you to overspend on unnecessary purchases, especially those associated with social media (whether you’re on it or after you’re scrolling to make yourself feel better or keep up), can help you understand what’s truly driving that spending and you can make a plan on how to manage those emotions in different ways,” Woroch said. “For instance, go work out, call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, write in a journal, take your kids to the park, hug your partner, watch a funny movie… there are so many things you can do to boost your mood without spending money.”

All of these tips can not only help you curb your comparison shopping and spending, they can also help curb your comparison thinking in general. 

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Last updated: July 26, 2021

About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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