Help me curb online spending
January 28, 2017 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I need some strategies. As soon as I think of something I "need," there I am online buying it. What would you do (or do you do) to temper this impulse?

I'm by no means rich. I spend all day on the computer. Amazon (though evil) is so convenient. I experience a kind of excitement waiting for things to come in the mail. Of course, when they come, after about 20 minutes that excitement goes away. I know this, and yet I can't help myself: books, clothes, objects for the house... It seems to be becoming a default way of spending time (not just buying, but looking around for the perfect version of the thing I want to buy). I'm in a consumerist rut: help me!

I need to better determine what is a need and what is a desire, and just put space between wanting and buying. And figure out other things to do with my browsing-time, I guess. It's either the news or shopping, it seems. Thanks!
posted by Clotilde to Shopping (25 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried making a wish list? Make a wish list and then buy at the end of the week.month/pay period. It would be good to have a way to incentivize the one-big (though hopefully you'll change your mind about stuff and won't buy the whole list) order once a week/month as opposed to many smaller orders. e.g. If you collect Air Miles, you can get airmiles points on amazon by shopping through . But it's one mile per $20 in each order so if you end up spending not an exact multiple of 20, then you don't get miles for some dollars spent. Put your orders together and all those extra dollars can make some new air miles! Not sure what other incentive you can come up with, but anything that allows you the satisfaction of picking something out and then some time before buying would be effective.

I've found this works even in brick and mortar stores: Sometimes I'll just carry something around for a while and then put it down before I leave.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2017 [12 favorites]

Also, can you stop storing your credit card number on Amazon? Put your credit card in an inconvenient place and then require yourself to enter it each time.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:43 AM on January 28, 2017 [12 favorites]

Whenever I see something I want, I decide to buy it three days later. I'd say that 90% of the time I couldn't care less about it in three days.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:44 AM on January 28, 2017 [18 favorites]

My book-buying slows to a very reasonable trickle when I stick to thoughts like these: buy from wishlist(s) rather than via browsing; only buy when I've read the preview thoroughly; only buy when I think I'll have time to finish; only buy physical books when I've already made room on my shelves; realize that a lot of impulse book-buys are about the person I wish I was rather than the person I can realistically be and focus on the latter; realize that what makes a collection nice is largely re-visiting it and pruning it with care, not making it unmanageably large; and trust that the options I have now will generally be available later--even if something goes out of print and becomes expensive, there's an overall cost savings in buying it when I'll really use it.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Would you have the discipline to limit your online spending to a specific reloadable prepaid card that you would load up each month with only your budgeted amount for online discretionary spending? If that idea seems like it might help I think with an Amex Bluebird you'd encounter no fees if you're just loading it online and using it for online purchases.
posted by drlith at 9:08 AM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Online merchants can present objects in a single very controlled way, one nicely lit photo, one text description, and we can't examine the thing for ourselves, turn it over and find the crummy-looking seams or whatever.

I sometimes try to picture myself in a store, holding the object. Especially, a run-down dollar-store or seconds kind of store, with jumbled piles of miscellaneous cheap objects all around and bad fluorescent lighting. For whatever reason, I find it easy to resist buying stuff in a store like that. And if it's a medium-priced thing, picturing it as being sold for $1 (or whatever cheap price) can make it seem less fancy/appealing.

Another thing that works is to picture a shipping carton with 1000 of the object in it. This object isn't special, it's one mass-produced piece of junk in a sea of junk. (Kind of like how a tiny jar of sauce looks tasty, but an institutional-scale tub of sauce looks disgusting.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2017 [9 favorites]

I have a similar issue, and it helps me to add things to my wish list. Now and then I take a look through my wish list and buy the things that still seem like good, appropriate purchases.

Another thing - Return stuff you regret buying. I hate dealing with returns, and making myself deal with that inconvenience has helped curb my impulse shopping.
posted by bunderful at 9:12 AM on January 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hi, I am you. Definitely watching this thread for more ideas! A few things that have worked for me, though not permanently (anxiety can set off spending for me, that I haven't solved):

- Wish lists for sure! There's something about telling myself that I won't forget about this must-have item that makes everything less urgent. Like others, often I won't buy it. I also let things hang out in the Amazon shopping cart if I really want to buy them soon.

- A therapist once urged me to set a realistic shopping budget. I had this idea I could only spend $100 every month on clothes/personal care/household items. I make a pretty good living and I don't particularly like traveling or other have other major expenses, so I've revised my monthly budget on Mint to be around $600-1200 depending on what income I know is coming in. That was a huge thing for me, having permission to buy without feeling that guilty thrill that I shouldn't be doing this. I always had this idea that enjoying shopping made me a bad, shallow person. Therapy helped me realize that it is a proven (temporary) mood booster but the cycle of illicit thrill and guilt is very dangerous. I have to force myself to be conscious of what I'm spending to avoid this.

- This works for me because I have set up a super easy system in for tracking expenses so I can stay on stop of what I'm spending and what makes sense for my budget that month. I don't know about your situation, but this works for me only because I really can afford this shopping. I pay my credit cards off in full every month and I just paid off my student loans and have started funding an emergency account and expanded charitable giving, etc. The more secure I feel about being able to afford shopping, the less I overspend in a trance.

- Every year I look back at my Amazon order history and see how much I've spent and wonder at the number of orders I've placed. I look back and see all the items I thought I needed and there's a lot of dumb shit in there. That triggers me to take one month off shopping Amazon a year and seek out what I need in brick and mortar stores. In the past few years I have drastically reduced my orders from there because that reset helps break the addictive nature of it. I personally enjoy the challenge and I let go of the judgement I have about my spending and just do it for me. I also feel altruistic giving that money back to the local economy and there are many items I buy on a regular basis that I buy locally instead because I found I really loved the store and wanted to support them.

- Also, not sure if you buy clothes online or not. After random stuff on Amazon, that was what I really overspent on, so my next tip is about that. Getting a clothing subscription service (I'm plus sized, so I have Gwynnie Bee) is amazing. I get an unlimited amount of new clothes all the time — you pay for a number of items you can rent at one time, and you exchange them as often as you want from a virtual closet that you build up of clothes the service offers. The one I use has high end stuff that I otherwise couldn't afford. It combines my thrill of shopping, since they get new things in every few days, with a love of getting packages, without leaving me with clothes I never wear but am too lazy to return. If I want to keep something permanently it's always discounted, sometimes heavily. In general I think subscription boxes are very dangerous for people with our shopping tendencies but the active nature of this one has worked wonders for me.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 9:17 AM on January 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

For the pleasure of opening a package, sign up for a couple of subscription packages, (make-up, snack foods, etc.). That way you can enjoy waiting for something and opening it.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:49 AM on January 28, 2017

I tie my spending allowance to healthier habits. I get money each day for eating vegetables, exercising, etc. You could give yourself a dollar in spending money each time you meditate, and/or each time you bike instead of drive, and/or for calling your mother, etc. If I don't have the money "saved" then I don't buy, which also has the effect of forcing me to wait, think about what I want most, etc.
posted by metasarah at 10:08 AM on January 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Pin the fuck out of everything. Seriously, make Pinterest boards to direct your immediate aquisition impulse. Decide that buying only happens on one day of the week (say, Sunday.) Set a budget, too; at least you'll have to whittle down your wants.

Do you have a general budget? Does it involve savings and retirement? Because I guarantee you there is no skirt you want today more than you want to retire not-in-poverty tomorrow.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm like this too. A lot of the things that help me have already been mentioned: saving things to wish lists instead of buying them, making myself return things, visualizing the thing in my closet or a back drawer. A couple other things that help:

- Minimize all the incidental exposure to online shopping. Install an ad blocker. Clear your browser history so you don't mindlessly jump to any sites where you like to spend money. If you get emails from online stores, filter them all to junk. Don't look at any blogs, social media accounts, etc. that encourage consumption (e.g. product reviews, makeup tutorials, etc.)

- If you can't avoid being in front of a computer, find something else to do with your downtime. Preferably something active: catch up on emailing your friends, play sudoku, bone up on your photoshop skills.

- Whenever you place an order, make a note of it somewhere. Don't just look at your bank account history (though that's good too), but mark it down somewhere where you can easily see a running tally. It could be the dollar amount, or the individual items purchased, or just an X on the calendar for each order.

- If you set a monthly online-shopping budget, try breaking it down so you "earn" a small amount of it each day. So if you give yourself $10 per day, you can place a $70 order after one week, or wait until the end of the month when you have $300.

- Every now and then, go through the stuff you already have, and just kind of have fun looking through it and playing around with it, no shame. You'll find that you already have a bunch of stuff, and a lot of it is still appealing, and you've probably forgotten much of it in your pursuit of the latest and greatest.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:14 AM on January 28, 2017

Some things that have helped me or other people I know who have the same issue:
  • Like others have said, wishlists. When you find something that you "need", don't buy it immediately. Put it on a list. If you still need it in a couple of days, then you can find it again, and the same goes for if you then get a voucher for that particular website, or whatever. If a website lets you make a wishlist (like Amazon), great. If not, make a bookmark folder. Or if all else fails, paper wishlist. And by all means, research. If you think you need, I don't know, a water bottle, find the precise water bottle you want to buy - the perfect one. Then add that to the wishlist and leave it be for a while. This is what's helped me the most. The vast majority of the time, I forget about the thing entirely, and then when I go through my wishlist several months later (often looking for a thing I added to it months before which I actually do need) I just delete a ton of items off it.
  • Set yourself a monthly shopping budget for random stuff and stick to it. Figure out whether rolling unused budget over to the next month or not helps you curb the spending more. (I have two friends both using this tactic. One doesn't roll the budget over, because she feels better if she manages to spend less than the monthly budget. One does roll it over, because otherwise he finds himself buying even more stuff he really doesn't need near the end of the month "because otherwise he misses out on the chance".) The ideal thing to do would be to not roll it over and put whatever you don't spend into savings, but - baby steps.
  • Set yourself a maximum per-item spend, also. There's a vast difference between spending $5 on a trivial thing and $50. (This works well with a monthly budget too, because 10x$5 item is still $50.) Use price-alert websites (eg CamelCamelCamel) so you can say, "I want this thing, but I don't want to pay more than $x for it". For example, I've had a spirograph set and a portable power bank for my devices (larger than the one I already have, which makes it a want not a need) on a price watch for almost a year. If they never get low enough, oh well, they're wants, not needs.
  • Get an adblocker if you don't already have one (so you don't see the "hey, you looked at X, are you sure you don't really want to buy X?" ads).
  • Filter all voucher / store / whatever emails to a separate folder and only look in there if you need to. If you feel the need to use a voucher because it's a Really Nice Discount, make a note somewhere else of the voucher and its expiration date and of what you could get with it, and then leave it for a few days. The vast majority of the time you'll just forget about it until after it's expired.
  • Log out of every single shopping website. Do not save credit card information, and keep your wallet far away from your computer. Do not save address information either. Make it as irritating as possible to actually buy something.
  • Find a cheap subscription service that you can customize to your liking, and gets you something you actually like and use, whatever that is. Gives you a regular "oh nice, something in the mail that isn't a bill" hit without the irregular spending. But if you do this one, then you only do this one. No more poking around on Amazon or wherever else.
  • Do not online shop when you're sad or tired or upset or in general having any negative emotions. This is the equivalent of "don't do your grocery shopping when you're hungry", because if you're low, you get more focused on instant gratification to feel better. If you have to get off the computer entirely to avoid doing that, do so. Go do something else you enjoy instead. Watch a movie, pet a cat, spend some time with a friend or family member, read a book that you already own (whether you've read it before or not), go for a walk, etc, etc.

posted by sailoreagle at 10:43 AM on January 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

I fund my Amazon spending mainly through sites like that offer Amazon gift cards as rewards. Since I know I'm going to waste time online in the morning while I drink my coffee either way, I spend some of that time doing boring surveys and whatnot, and I end up with about $75-$100 worth of gift cards to add to my Amazon account each month, which I can waste on silly orders or save up for something more substantial. It takes some time to learn how to use Swagbucks and similar sites effectively, but I find the whole thing kind of fascinating, and the gift cards are a great incentive.

I also save up my spare change, then take it to a Coinstar machine that lets me trade it for an Amazon gift card. There's no Coinstar fee if you get gift cards instead of cash.

If I want to impulsively order something, but I don't have enough in my gift card balance to cover it, too bad. Oh, QuickedWeen, you want that $50 Ghostbusters Lego set, but you wiped out your gift card balance on art supplies last week? Better earn a few more gift cards first! I still get to experience the impulse-buying thrill, but I also get the bonus thrill of feeling like I'm not actually paying for the things I order. (I'm paying for them with the time I waste on all those surveys, etc., but it still feels better than putting everything on my credit card.)

I also always fund most of my Christmas shopping this way.
posted by QuickedWeen at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I cancelled Prime after they finally (after about 10 years) kicked me out of having the student rate, and now I wait to order until I have enough for free shipping. That's helped me cut down because by the time I have another thing to add to my order, a lot of times I don't really want the first thing anymore. So then I have to find another thing so that delays it even more. For anything eligible for subscribe & save, I do that, so it's not immediate gratification. I second the suggestion of signing up for Birchbox or Graze so you can still get things in the mail.
posted by katieanne at 12:56 PM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Prime enables this. The reason Amazon incentivizes Prime (with shows, movies, ebooks &c) is for people like you. Drop Prime.

When I did my Amazon spending has dropped to 1/8th what it was since I have to pay for shipping.
posted by Jesse the K at 2:20 PM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a weird combination of shopping-averse (have I spent ten hours researching that new kitchen gadget yet? No? Then I must not really want it) and package-opening-happy. I manage this by buying ridiculously practical things on Amazon. Yay, new shampoo! Yay, new vitamins! Yay, new dog leash! Yay, new discontinued locally but still available via 3rd party Amazon lipstick color!
posted by instamatic at 2:24 PM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

The thing that helps me best is...don't browse for stuff online. I also don't go to malls, etc. for recreation.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:30 PM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have set myself one day a week I'm allowed to buy anything from Amazon, as in actually push the check out button. Every other day of the week I can put anything that takes my fancy in my cart but I can't put the order through until Friday (payday) it's funny how many things I don't need by the time Friday rolls around, and also this way I see the total of all my potential impulse buys for the week in one place as one large number, it makes it a lot easier to talk myself out of things then. Removing the impulsive part from impulse buying is very effective in my case at least.
posted by wwax at 3:07 PM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

People have already said many things that are a variation on this theme, but I just keep a list of things I'd like to buy when something I want pops into my head and the urge to get it on Amazon or whatever strikes. I check out the list every so often, like when I'm paying my bills, and see if I still *really* want anything on it. If it's been sitting there for a while and I'm still regularly thinking about how I'd like to get it, I'll indulge, but otherwise I find the urgency of various items tends to fade and I end up removing a lot of them from my list altogether.
posted by araisingirl at 7:26 PM on January 28, 2017

Look into the budgeting software You Need A Budget (YNAB). It makes budgeting and saving a bit of a game. It's had a big effect on impulse purchases for my family.
posted by medusa at 12:46 AM on January 29, 2017

People have given good ideas to manage the symptoms of this problem, but I think you should think about tackling the root cause. Emotional spending is filling a void in your life. Think about why you are using it to fill your time. Think about why you crave the anticipation and excitement of waiting for and opening the parcel. Then think about how you could fill these needs in a healthier way. I think a creative hobby which requires planning, patience and time commitment, and which gives satisfaction long-term, would be great. It might also give a safe "outlet" for your spending urges if its the kind of hobby that needs supplies.
posted by mymbleth at 2:18 AM on January 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use the Amazon wish list feature and I generally wait until Sundays to make purchasing decisions. A lot of items just end up sitting in my wish list, never bought.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:29 PM on January 29, 2017

Many other good suggestions here (as always), but I note you mention "books".

Does your local library have an online hold system? Mine does. I can place a hold on a book I want, even if it's super-popular, and when my turn in line comes up they'll deliver the book to the closest library to my apartment. Then I can go pick up the book. This, surprisingly, scratches the same itch as online shopping -- you get to browse around the site and pick out something good (I even browse Amazon, then go to the library's site), refresh the holds page to see where you are on the list (feels exactly the same as refreshing the tracking number on a shipment), go pick it up (it's like opening a box!). Read, return, repeat.
posted by AmandaA at 6:31 AM on January 30, 2017

I feel ya. I am often on the computer all day, and when I need a break from "serious things", browsing and feeling like I'm making my life better by finding that perfect item that will level up my quality of life feels so easy in the face of the greater structural improvements I should actually be making!

A couple things that helped me curb my browsing/shopping appetite:
  • Making a budget to account where my actual spending was going. The most useful part was identifying a few areas I wanted to save up for (new car! more outings with friends!) and what it would take to get there. That really helped cut back on a desire for discretionary spending
  • Find a few of new "go-to" sites that I can default to instead of shopping when my mind is tired. Coupled with the money I was spending, I also realized there was a big opportunity cost in time - I could be using that to better myself towards other goals. This might lead me to streaming music, listening to podcasts, or brushing up on new bits of knowledge I "never had time for" in the past (such as photoshop tips, how to properly clean my bathtub, what-have-you)
Basically, identifying some larger personal goals I wanted to be throwing my time and money at much more than shopping for stuff.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 9:32 AM on January 30, 2017

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