Nine ways to digitally detox and stop spending in sale season

My name is Katie and I’m a shopaholic. 

It may surprise you to know that someone at MSE Towers can be guilty of spending on things they don’t need. But as with everyone, we all have money-saving work to do. For those with a spending habit, this season can be particularly difficult, as new products are launched, sales are pushed at you from every angle, and discounts are deeper than at any other time of year. For those with mental health challenges, it’s even worse.

According to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (which, like MSE, is chaired by Martin Lewis), seasonal sales, particularly those with time limits, can make impulse purchasing and panic buying even worse. It can also exacerbate anxiety, worrying that they won’t get that deal ever again, and that they’ll end up punishing themselves for missing it later. Late marketing emails can take advantage of people who are awake at night, when they have less impulse control. And for those in financial difficulty, buying nice things can be a crutch on which to feel better.

For me, shopping is connected to reaching a certain big birthday. As I get older, I have reached for a new wardrobe, not only because my old clothes don’t fit, or I don’t like them anymore, but mainly because I have wanted to find a new style to go with my growing sense of self (the result of a lot of work and ‘finding myself’, believe me). I’ve convinced myself that I am making good investments, as my roster of retailers gets ever more expensive on the (misguided) pretext that the likes of jewellery, shoes and accessories will be better quality and have a longer life.

But a lot of the time these are things I don’t need, and they stop me saving for, or spending on, things that matter more.

The 'digital detox' challenge

Acknowledging my spending habit was step one, so now I have challenged myself to detox my digital life, in an attempt to avoid falling prey to the marketing circus that is Black Friday and Cyber Week (and all sales generally). It’s true that there are good deals to be had, and for those with a planned, budgeted list of needed items, Christmas gifts and more, there is a lot to be said for buying in the sales. If you are looking for something, visit our Black Friday deals page.

But for many, we end up spending beyond our means, on unnecessary things. So I hope those who are worried, like me, will join me in taking some of these money-saving actions. 

1. Use our money mantras

Before you spend, ask yourself, do I need it? Can I afford it? If the answer is no to any of those questions, DON’T buy it. Remember, it's not a saving if you weren't going to buy it anyway.

2. Turn off your app notifications

This one is easy to do, and will save you being tempted by the many pleasing pop-ups on your phone, tablet etc.

As I write this, I have had sale notifications from Cider, Asos, eBay, Etsy, Ryanair and Moonpig.  

  • On Apple devices, simply visit Settings and Notifications, and turn off notifications for any apps you don’t want to see.
  • On Android devices, visit Settings and Notifications – then under recently sent, click More and you should see a list of app notifications you can toggle off

3. Unsubscribe from text marketing

Most retailers add an opt-out to their text messages, which you can use to unsubscribe. If it’s not there, replying to the text with a command such as the word ‘unsubscribe’ or ‘stop’ should also work. They have to remove you from the list by law.

4. Unsubscribe from email marketing

While writing this, I have had emails promising huge discounts from the likes of Groupon, eBay and various fashion brands. There should be an ‘unsubscribe’ button at the bottom (or sometimes top) of marketing emails. Some email apps and platforms, such as Gmail, have an automatic unsubscribe button too – often found beside the sender’s name.

If you can't find the unsubscribe button, check the retailer’s website – again, they have to do this by law.

5. Try to limit your social media ads

It may seem unlikely given their business models, but social media firms do have some tools to help limit advertising you don’t want to see. They aren't fool-proof, but they might help to reduce the temptation to spend. 

  • Instagram – go to Settings –> Ads –> Ad Topics. You can ask to see less from various brands, subjects and industries.
  • Facebook – go to Menu –> Settings and Privacy –> Settings –> Ads –> Ad Preferences. Here there are options to hide specific advertisers, see less of certain topics, and alter more detailed settings.
  • TikTok – go to Profile and use the drop down menu at the top to find Settings and Privacy –> Content and Display –> Ads. Here you can hide ads from advertisers you’ve recently seen, for 28 days. You can also turn off ads based on interests, and you can turn off personalised ads altogether.
  • Twitter – go to Settings –> Privacy and Safety –> Data Sharing and Personalisation –> Ads Preferences. Here you can opt out of personalised ads, but it won’t stop you seeing ads altogether. *note – lots is changing at Twitter, so this is the case on the date I published this blog.
  • YouTube – go to your Google account icon, then Settings –> History and Privacy –> Ad Preferences. Here you will have to sign into your Google account where you can turn off personalised ads and remove ad topics.

Of course, there are many other social media platforms about, but these are the ones I have and could independently try myself. If you use other platforms, have a search in your settings and give it a go. 

6. Set a spending limit on your card

Some banking apps have easy tools to set spending limits – usually per transaction. Make sure you account for any necessary spends, with a bit of a buffer, when choosing your limit. You might also be able to ask for this by phone – but just to set expectations, not all banks, and particularly credit card lenders, allow it. Some do also allow you to stop online and telephone card spending altogether, and also block gambling transactions.  

7. Set a contactless limit (or turn it off)

Now that the contactless transaction limit is £100 (since last year), it’s more likely that you might want to consider this. Some banks and card providers will let you set a contactless limit, while others will let you turn it off completely. The idea is that you add some friction to your payment journey, which will ‘nudge’ you to avoid spending if it might be more of a faff to do so. 

8. Use your device's built-in 'quiet time'

This one has worked very well for me. I have an iPhone, and you can set ‘do not disturb’ hours either as needed, or on a schedule. 

You can also tinker with the settings to make sure you still get notifications from important contacts, your bank etc. I often shop before bed, so turning on ‘do not disturb’ as soon as I’ve had dinner gives me some much-needed screen relief, but also helps to control my shopping.

Android devices also have a similar setting, usually found under Settings and Notifications, where you can set do not disturb, and similarly allow some exceptions or set a schedule. 

9. If debt is keeping you up at night, don’t bury your head in the sand – get help. 

A good place to start is our own Debt Help guide. But there is also personal, 1:1 support available. The main free, not-for-profit debt charities are there to listen and help.

Citizens Advice - Find your nearest Citizens Advice centre or chat online with an adviser. Alternatively call its Debt Helpline on 0800 240 4420.

StepChange Debt Charity - A full debt help service is available across the UK. You call call it on 0800 138 1111. Online support is also available via its debt advice tool where you can create a budget and get a personal action plan with practical next steps. You can also ask a StepChange adviser a question on our dedicated MSE Forum page

National Debtline - National Debtline provides free advice and resources to help people deal with their debts. Advice is available over the phone at 0808 808 4000, online and via webchat.

Mind, the mental health charity, also has a confidential email and helpline and resources to help with spending.

Finally, the MSE Forum has a Debt-free Wannabe area where you can seek support and share stories with other forumites.

Give these tips a go, and let me know how you get on in the dedicated Forum thread I’ve set up.