In the first installment on our series on Staying on Track and Avoiding Temptation, we’re taking a closer look at the ways online ad networks track your internet browsing behavior.
Have you ever gone online to check a social media account, only to find yourself knee-deep in your favorite shoe retailer’s site, two clicks away from buying a $500 pair of sneakers or heels? If your answer is “no,” you’ve probably been living in a cave without a WiFi connection (or because you’re too busy browsing luxury cars).
But whether it’s shoes or automobiles, you’ve undoubtedly seen an ad for something frighteningly specific to you. You’re being targeted by online advertisers to tempt you to part with your hard-earned cash. So many people are lured into to buying items they don’t need. Why? Because digital advertising targets your personal web-browsing behavior. Buying online is so commonplace and easy that the digital ad industry is expected to grow from $83 billion to $129 billion by 2021.
Unfortunately, since you’re being targeted for your interests and past spending habits, the temptation to spend money is that much harder to resist.
Giving into this temptation is one way many of us get distracted in our journey toward Financial Freedom. MindShift.money helps guide you through investing in your Freedom and Pay Yourself First. But if you don’t use the tools, you’ll easily get off track.
The bottom line: You want to be part of the 4% who reaches Financial Freedom, not someone who lets spending on wants (rather than needs) send them off track.
How Advertisers Zero In On Your Browsing Behaviors
Let’s say you decide to search for flights to Iceland to try and get the best rate. Chances are you’ll see lots of deals for flights and hotels popping up alongside any article you want to read, or social network you want to peruse, for at least several days.
This happens because of a high-tech, behind-the-scenes process where your browsing behavior is first bookmarked (in the form of a numerical identifier assigned to your computer) and then submitted to third-party advertising networks. One of the most famous networks is doubleclick.net.
Your browsing information is stored as a cookie on your computer. A cookie is a tiny piece of code allowing ad networks and sites to share information on your behavior. Unless you clear your cookies, that code generates ads to catch your attention. Every single time you go online to do anything.
What You Can Do About It
No method is foolproof, but there are a few ways to prevent handing over your info to advertisers.
Method #1: Clear your cookies periodically
If you don’t want your internet-browsing behavior to linger indefinitely (and who does?), you need to clear your cookies. Click through to settings and choose “Clear cookies.” You can also download free tools to help you with this task. Use the Help resource on your computer if you’re not sure how to do this on your own.
Method #2: Limit daily email and internet exposure
While you probably can’t go without your devices indefinitely, you can go on an internet diet. That means nixing screens at certain times throughout the day. Or try setting limits to curb your personal use during work hours. There are services out there that allow you to block the most tempting shopping sites at certain times each day. Some of the most productive people we know only check their email once a day. In addition to increasing your focus, you’ll reduce the number of distracting ads you see. And, you’ll get more work done!
Method #3: Institute a “wait 3 days” rule
If you see something online that you absolutely must have, wait three days. Chances are, the craving will subside, and you’ll feel much less excited about clicking the “Buy” button in 72 hours.
Method #4: Re-read MS.Money articles for motivation!
Like the dieter who eats a cookie and then feels guilty, we all get off track once in awhile. Give yourself a break if you’ve made a bad spontaneous money decision—don’t wallow in self-pity. Get back on track by re-reading articles, and watching videos, centered on creating wealth and freedom. Learn how others like Pete Steadman changed their financial lives by working the tools of Financially Fit Bootcamp.
Remember the most valuable thing you in your life—your absolute most precious asset—is time. What they’re selling you won’t enrich your life nearly as much as Financial Freedom.
Now that you know more about you’re targeted by online advertisers, head over to the Financial Foundations Community! We want to know: what’s the craziest item you were targeted for online that you actually purchased?
The views and opinions expressed are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MindShift.money.
image credit: Bigstock/Zinkevych
Marisa Torrieri is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer specializing in personal finance, business, healthcare and technology. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and resides in Fairfield, CT. Her work has appeared in dozens of media outlets, including LearnVest, Forbes, The Washington Post, Business Insider, TIME and Health.com.