Spending

My Online Shopping Addiction Was Costing Me Hundreds a Month

I am an admitted Amazon addict. As a freelance writer who works from home, I enjoy the convenience of not having to leave my desk, or get out of my sweats, to buy both essentials (toilet paper and dog food) and non-essentials (the Shonda Rhimes memoir). The mega online retailer has everything and the kitchen sink. I know this because I bought mine via “1-Click,” that handy little feature that saves your payment and shipping information, and makes procuring almost anything as easy as, well, one click.

But earlier this year, my shopping was getting out of my hand. My Amazon Visa is linked to my account—to take advantage of points that can be redeemed for more Amazon credit, of course—and my monthly balance was sometimes topping $1,000. My spending went from mostly needs with a fun purchase here and there to using 1-Click on the mobile app whenever the mood struck. A particularly persuasive beauty commercial prompted me to buy an expensive night cream, while reading an article about new ways to de-stress compelled me to order an adult coloring book. When you shoot the breeze with both the UPS and USPS guy daily as they deliver packages, you’ve got a problem.

So when the Grow editors asked if I wanted to participate in a new series focused on identifying and cutting down the bulge in our budgets—in other words, the area where we know we’re consistently overspending—I signed up. Then I embarked on a two-week break from my favorite online retailer to change my impulse-spending habits and give my bank account a break.

Here are the most valuable lessons I learned.

1. The wishlist provides a happy medium. Each time I felt the urge to click, I instead added the item in question to my Amazon wishlist to revisit later. Not only did this ensure I stuck to my no-spending goal, it also showed me when prices dropped, providing unexpected discounts when I eventually ordered a couple (necessary!) things post-fast. Even better, the break allowed me a cooling-off period to evaluate whether I really needed items like that retro bread box for my kitchen. (Turns out, I could live without it.)

Two months later, the wishlist is still helping me save money—I’ve found that prices tend to fall between 2 to 10 percent if I wait a little while to pull the trigger—and avoid emotional buys I don’t care about a day later.

A lot of retail sites offer wishlist features. But if they don’t, you can simply screenshot the item or write down the info and give yourself some time to think about whether you really need it. There are also services like Slickdeals Price Tracker and CamelCamelCamel that will alert you when an item’s price has dropped.

2. Time is money. When I was in full-blown 1-Click-happy mode, I’d sometimes buy without thinking, knowing I could return whatever I didn’t like later. But this meant I spent time printing out labels, re-packing boxes and making trips to UPS to drop off returns. Now, I’m not wasting precious time keeping track of which labels I’ve already printed or habitually buying packing tape because I’m more thoughtful before I click “buy.” And that means I no longer see the folks at UPS multiple times a week.

3. It pays to shop around. I’d always assumed Amazon’s prices were lower than brick-and-mortar stores, not to mention other online retailers—but the fast forced me to test my theory. Many items were cheaper at Amazon. But using the barcode-scan feature on Amazon’s app, I was surprised to learn that my body lotion is actually cheaper at CVS and paper towels cost less when purchased with my grocery store’s rewards card. When our bathroom faucet stopped working mid-way through the two weeks, I thought I’d have to cheat to buy a new one—but I found the one I wanted on Amazon was actually less expensive on Jet.com.

Overall, my Amazon fast kept me from making impulse purchases or buying items I liked but didn’t really need, potentially saving me hundreds of dollars. While I’m back to being an Amazon shopper, I’m much wiser in my approach now, which has allowed me to maintain that decreased spending rate. Moving forward, I’m planning to focus on necessities only and fill my wishlist with splurge-worthy items I can buy one or two at a time once I’ve stuck to my plan for several months in a row.

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