Automatic subscriptions are dangerous because consumers tend to continue using...

Automatic subscriptions are dangerous because consumers tend to continue using and paying for them, as opposed to canceling when they're done, says a behavioral scientist. Credit: Getty Images / iStock / scanrail

While some apps help you save money, others can lead you down a spending hole.

You can change how you connect with these types of apps by not downloading them in the first place. If it's too late for that, delete them or limit their use until you've been able to rein in your spending.

Subscription-based apps

Many subscription services have corresponding apps. And you may feel inclined to sign up for a subscription if you can easily manage your membership from an app.

But automatic subscriptions are dangerous because consumers tend to continue using and paying for them, as opposed to canceling when they're done, says Susan Weinschenk , a behavioral scientist and CEO of The Team W, a consulting company.

"If it requires action to make it stop, then we're less likely to actually take that action and make it stop," Weinschenk says. "We all fall prey to inertia."

Weinschenk suggests setting up alerts to remind you when a free trial is expiring — before you're charged. You can also set up twice yearly alerts as a reminder to review all of your ongoing subscriptions.

Shopping apps

When consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow interviewed shoppers about how they feel when getting a good bargain, they've likened it to coming in first in a race or getting a raise at their job.

"There's just a winning feeling," says Yarrow, author of "Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy."

Deal-centric apps bring those feel-good bargains straight to your smartphone. But tempting sale notifications can encourage shopping, which may mean it's better to delete those retail apps altogether. Or turn off the app's alerts, advises Weinschenk. That way, you aren't constantly flooded with push notifications about sales.

Another strategy? Weinschenk said she's downloaded a store's app, redeemed a coupon offer and then immediately uninstalled the app.

But if you're disciplined, you can keep the apps, says Casey Taylor, a partner in Bain & Company's retail practice. Take advantage of the savings within shopping apps, but also monitor how much you're spending in them.

Rewards apps

Whether for a grocery store, airline or coffee shop, these apps typically reward customers more who spend more.

Taylor says it can almost feel like a game. For example, in the Starbucks app, "You earn stars that you can then burn for rewards," she says. If you're disciplined, you could save money by claiming a free coffee or snack using stars you accumulated from items you were already buying, Taylor says. But, she adds, for some,  it becomes psychologically tempting to buy things just to earn those stars.

Yarrow says one way to curb excess spending is to be aware of the potential dangers. Pause and recognize your tendency to overspend before it happens.

Social media apps

The products that pop up in your social media feed could encourage you to purchase items you wouldn't otherwise buy. But deleting social media isn't an option for many.

"Most people really want to have social media in their lives, so I can't see getting rid of those apps," Yarrow says.

Instead, she says, be aware that Instagram and Facebook will present you with buying opportunities. Be conscious that marketing is constantly targeted at you, and "you're being hunted, stalked, chased down," Yarrow says. "When you go shopping online, if you stop and hover too long over a product, that product's going to show up on your social media feed, and you have to be ready to say no."

Even when you're not paying money with these apps, Yarrow says you're paying with your attention.

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