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How to Use a Digital Detox to Reset Your Spending & Save Money


Could you go an entire day without using your smartphone? What about a whole weekend? Do you remember what you did with your spare time before you had your phone attached to your hand 24/7?

If your answer to any of these questions is no, it’s time to consider a digital detox – taking time away from electronic devices like smartphones or tablets. They’re all the rage with people who realize their relationship with technology is unhealthy. They’re also an excellent way to save money.

A digital detox helps you tune out the constant thrum of social media FOMO, ads, and the compulsion to consume in an ever-busy world. It can help you break bad habits like online shopping and mindless scrolling and reprioritize how you spend your time, making you more productive.

In short, a digital detox can save you money and perhaps even give you time to make more of it.

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How a Digital Detox Can Reset Your Spending

Among other things, online shopping makes buying much easier and more convenient, potentially leading to increased spending. Fifty years ago, shopping meant going to physical stores during certain hours on specific days. These trips required putting on pants, leaving the house, and driving to the store to make these transactions in person. Online, you can buy anything from anywhere at any time with just a few taps on a screen. It’s no wonder more screen time often equals more spending.

Curbing your online shopping habits isn’t the only way a digital detox improves your finances. There are many other ways it contributes to better financial health.

Online Shopping Compulsive Buying

1. It Resets Your Priorities

During a digital detox, you have time to think about what’s important to you and how you like spending your time. And it’s probably not mindlessly shopping online. You’ll likely find yourself devoting more time to things you enjoy, including new hobbies, reading more books, and spending time with your family. It gives you more mental energy to devote to your priorities and lets you be more selective about how you spend your money.

2. It Exposes You to Fewer Ads

Digital ads are a huge part of our online experience, from 10-second Instagram commercials to pop-ups while we’re browsing the news to targeted ads on Facebook and Google. According to media giant Group M’s The State of Digital report, 2018 was the first year people across the globe spent more time consuming media on their computers and smartphones than on television. So companies know devices are the way to get their ads in front of consumers, and they’ve increased their spending on this medium.

3. It Retrains Your Brain

Columbia University professor of neurobiology David Sulzer told Elle in 2017 that when we shop, we get an extra dose of dopamine. Dopamine, often called “the feel-good hormone,” is a chemical in the brain associated with feelings of happiness or bliss. When we make an online purchase, our brain releases a little bit of dopamine, and we get excited about our purchase. When the package arrives, we get a second hit of dopamine, which means shopping online rewards us twice for one transaction.

This reward is powerful, encouraging us to shop online again to get more of that happy dopamine-fueled feeling. If you often find yourself shopping online when you’re bored, sad, or looking for a distraction, you need to retrain your brain to look for that boost somewhere else.

4. It Builds Impulse Control & Helps You Practice Delayed Gratification

All things being equal, people who curb their impulses, save money, and plan for their futures are likely more financially secure than those who can’t walk past a store without buying something. But the ease of buying with devices is training us to give in to our impulses.

Scientists have been studying the links among impulse control, delayed gratification, and spending and saving rates for decades. A 2015 study published in the scientific journal Brain Stimulation examined whether smartphone use caused behavioral and cognitive change in users. The researchers found that heavy smartphone usage could reduce a person’s capacity to delay gratification. When it comes to paying off debt, saving, and building a nest egg, delayed gratification is the name of the game.

Going on a digital detox helps prevent you from falling prey to the immediate gratification trap our devices offer every hour of the day.

5. It Resets Your Attention Span & Focus

The jury is still out on whether or not screens shorten our attention spans. However, I know if I’m reading a book or watching a movie with my phone next to me, I’m more likely to use it. I also notice I’m better able to focus if I’m not multitasking. A digital detox has made it easier to concentrate on cognitively challenging tasks and increased the amount of time I can focus.

Especially when it comes to work, this has the potential to improve your performance and make you a better and more successful employee.

6. It Gives You Back Your Free Time

What would you do with over five extra hours a day? That’s enough time to learn some money-saving DIY skills like how to mend and tailor clothes, explore canning food, or do a whole host of home improvement projects. It’s also how much time the average person spends on their phone each day, which a 2019 survey of 2,000 Americans found, ZDNet reports.

A digital detox gives you back that time, which you can devote to something you really want to do – whether that’s working on a side hustle, hanging out with friends, or getting more exercise.

6 Steps for a Successful Digital Detox

If you’re ready to tackle a digital detox to reset your spending and change the way you interact with your smartphone, you’re not alone. In a 2018 survey conducted by market research company Global Web Index, 1 in 5 people said they had done a digital detox.

However, quitting cold turkey can be difficult. What you need is a plan to tackle this challenge and make your digital detox a success.

Phone Smart Watch Tablet Laptop Digital Electronic Screens

1. Make a List of All Your Screens

Most digital detoxes focus on smartphones because they go everywhere with us. But to do a full reset, make a list of all the screens in your life, from your phone to your tablet to your smartwatch – any device that bings, rings, or vibrates to steal your focus.

It can be sobering to realize how many screens and gadgets you interact with every day, but it can also provide plenty of motivation for your digital detox.

2. Make a List of Hobbies & Interests

Make a list of all the fun things you’d like to do instead of playing on your smartphone. Include your current hobbies and the things you’ve always wanted to do but never seem to have time for. Pick up a new musical instrument. Take an online class through Codecademy to learn how to code. Make extra cash driving for DoorDash or Instacart. Choose things that truly appeal to you. This list can serve as motivation during your detox and give you plenty to do if you get antsy without your devices.

3. Schedule Detox Time

Most people don’t have the luxury of avoiding all screens for days or weeks at a time. We all have to work, communicate with friends and family, and exist in a world that relies heavily on technology.

Instead of throwing your phone out the window, set aside specific periods to avoid screen time, including early in the morning and for at least an hour before bed. A 2015 study by Harvard researchers found that using a light-emitting device like a smartphone or tablet before bed increases alertness and prolongs the time it takes you to fall asleep. It also confuses your brain by exposing your eyes to bright light and can lead to decreased sleep quality.

It’s also important to resist the temptation to grab your phone the minute you wake up. According to research compiled by Business Insider in 2016, doing so can increase stress levels and disrupt your morning routine.

4. Give Yourself a Screen Allowance

During the hours you’ve allotted to allow screen time, limit how long you spend on your devices. There are apps like Zen Screen and Moment that can help you stick to your goals. Even outside work, you still need to use screens for important tasks and to communicate with friends and family. But your app won’t let you fall down an Internet rabbit hole just because you checked the weather.

Many devices have parental controls you can use instead of an app. Apple products have a feature called Screen Time that gives you a weekly report on how much time you spend on your device. It also lets you set limits for usage. If you’re an Android user, try an app like Antisocial, which helps limit your usage and shows you data on other people your age and gender. There’s also App Detox, which lets you set limits and block the apps that distract you.

5. Tell Friends & Colleagues About Your Digital Detox

According to the Observer, the American Society of Training and Development found that sharing your goals with others increases your accountability, leading to a 65% chance of accomplishing those goals. Public accountability is an excellent tool to reduce your dependence on technology.

To take it a step further, choose an incentive to help you stay on track. For example, if you successfully transition to sleeping with your smartphone in the other room each night and maintain that for at least a month, treat yourself to a new pillow or luxurious eye mask to make sleeping even more peaceful.

6. Swap Smart Gadgets for Dumb Ones

Go back to doing some things the old-fashioned way. Switch back to a traditional alarm clock and start wearing an analog wristwatch. Dust off your library card and check out hard copies. Tune your radio to local music or talk radio. There’s a less advanced counterpart to almost anything your digital devices can do. Using them can help you reduce your reliance on smart gadgets.

Final Word

Even if you’re not ready to go back to a pre-smartphone existence, a digital detox helps you regain control of your technology use. It can give you a productivity boost, help you decide how you want to spend your time and energy, and help you avoid the twin traps of mindless scrolling and impulse spending.

Technology, like money, is a good servant but a bad master. Taking control with a digital detox can restore balance to your mind and your bank account.

Have you ever done a digital detox? How did it benefit you?

A grant writer and personal finance fanatic, Marisa is an avid traveler who lives in Pittsburgh, PA. When she’s not reading or writing for work or play, she enjoys running, thrifting, and searching for the most authentic Mexican food in the city.