Are You Dreamscrolling? 3 Ways to Avoid Overspending

Are You Dreamscrolling? 3 Ways to Avoid Overspending
(Sergey Zolkin/

NEW YORK CITY—Beth Martin may be a designer in Charleston, South Carolina, but, in her head, she is in the south of France, touring a 1700s chateau.

Real estate site Zillow is where Ms. Martin tends to take a break, procrastinate, and wonder what she would buy if money were no object.

“I’m not really going to buy all these things, whether it’s an $11 million house or a $30,000 vintage Hermes bag,” Ms. Martin, 40, said with a laugh. “But I do like to look at them. That’s my daydreaming.”

She is hardly alone. There is even a term for her hobby: “Dreamscrolling,” according to financial services firm Empower.

Empower’s new study found that Americans spend 2.5 hours a day, or 873 hours per year, modern-day window shopping and gazing at dream purchases.

“It’s an outlet for everything they’re dreaming about—picturing their ideal retirement, looking at homes, picking vacation destinations,” says Rebecca Rickert, head of communications for Empower.

It’s the opposite of “doomscrolling,” the term popularized by Canadian journalist Karen K. Ho at the height of the COVID pandemic.

Since we all tend to ingest so much bad news all day long, Ho—now a senior writer at ARTNews—became known as the “doomscrolling reminder lady,” telling people to put down their phones once in a while. Ho suggests we also should be careful about dreamscrolling. Fun and distracting as it may be, we can’t spend all day in a dreamy haze about Bali or high-end bathroom remodels.

“It’s worth remembering that real life is messier than whatever people are dreamscrolling,” she says. “Homeowners dealing with interest rates or home reno projects gone bad; travel influencers struggling with loneliness, burnout, and constant logistics; fitness influencers with body dysmorphia and endless, restrictive diets.”

As long as you do not go overboard, the Empower study found that dreamscrolling can be a positive thing—defining what we want out of life and devising action. Indeed, 71 percent of respondents said dreamscrolling motivated them to reach their financial goals, Rickert says.

Some of the most common stuff we are pining for: Shoes and accessories (49 percent), tech gadgets (30 percent), home decor and furniture (29 percent), vacation spots (25 percent), beauty or self-care products (23 percent), and homes or apartments (21 percent).

Here are three ways to avoid overspending for the dreamers out there.

Set Limits

If you are browsing homes or vacation spots to de-stress after a hard day at work, fine. But you might want to scale back your online time if those brief breaks start turning into multiple hours every day, hurting productivity. Members of Gen Z do it most, spending more than three hours a day dreamscrolling.
“It is always worth setting time limits on social media apps like Instagram and TikTok, and thinking about whether browsing Zillow is fun or causes stress,” says Ho. “It is also worth remembering the people making travel and real estate content have very specific aims and motivations—likes, shares, subscribers.”

Make a Concrete Plan

Let’s say dreamscrolling has led you to desire actually making a particular purchase or experience. Where the rubber meets the road is taking steps to get there.
“The most rewarding thing to do is to use a dream as inspiration for an actual plan to do something,” Ho says. “Figure out how much money and energy is required, and then go through the process of saving for it and doing the work involved,” says Ho, who used this framework to plan a trip to France with her mom in September.

Put Away the Trigger Finger

File your dream purchases for future reference by stashing an item in an online shopping cart or keeping an open tab.

Do not get swept away and immediately click “Buy,” because the cost of all impulse purchases totals a whopping $86,593.40 on average, according to the Empower study.

That could obviously put you in a deep financial hole. So look, but do not buy until you think it over and crunch the numbers.

“It’s the era of the abandoned shopping cart,” says Rickert. “In fact, almost a third of people said dreamscrolling helps them avoid unplanned purchases. It helps them sort through what they really want.”

By Chris Taylor