While I normally live a very frugal lifestyle, I have a sad confession to make: During the month of September, I spent over $250 on Amazon.com.
I did pick up a new bed for my dog (necessary), so that’s good. I also bought some regular stuff that was probably justifiable — an air filter for our car, some Command strips to hang pictures on my walls, and a package of mechanical pencils so my kids will stop saying we don’t have any.
The real shame here is all the other stuff I bought: an Echo Dot because my kids left our other one out in the rain, new face cream, a $30 DVD player to replace a broken one we barely use, and an $11 set of Thirstystone coasters. I also blew $75 on a Halloween costume even though I haven’t dressed up for the last 10 years. Gasp!
This situation isn’t the end of the world, and it’s not a disaster for our finances, either. We’re free of all debt, including a mortgage, after all. And we’ve already exceeded our savings and investing goals for the year. Finally, the $250 we spent on Amazon did fit into our monthly budget into our “miscellaneous spending” category, so it’s not even like we went over our budget.
Still, there’s a part of me that wants to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Spending $250 last month is a one-time fluke I can live with, but we all know that $250 per month is $3,000 per year! I do not want to be spending $3,000 a year on random things I probably don’t need in the first place.
That’s why I disconnected all our credit cards from my Amazon account last night. Having the ability to order almost anything I want with a single click is just a little too convenient and enticing. If I’m going to buy something through Amazon, I’m going to force myself to enter my credit card details every time. No excuses!
How to Avoid Overspending Online
If you’re struggling to avoid the temptation of buying things you don’t need online, I suggest you take similar steps to make the process more difficult. Here are some other ways to avoid letting the convenience factor of online shopping ruin your finances this year.
Delete Apps That Entice You to Shop, and Unsubscribe From Retailer Email Lists
I never had the Amazon app on my phone, and I’m not huge on apps in general, but I would delete any rewards or shopping apps from my phone if they were causing me to overspend on a consistent basis. This includes apps for stores you shop at and even rewards or cash-back apps like Dosh or Ibotta.
Apps can make our lives easier, but you may not want shopping to be so easy you can buy something on your smartphone while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store or watching television on your couch. Delete apps from your phone and force yourself to shop the hard way (in person or at least on a laptop), and you are a lot more likely to avoid unnecessary spending.
The same goes for email lists: If your inbox is bombarded daily with tempting new flash deals, free shipping offers, and half-off sales you just can’t seem to resist, it’s time to unsubscribe.
Track Your Spending
Another way to make sure you don’t overspend — in any area of your life — is through expense tracking. You don’t have to go through any elaborate steps to track where your money is going each month if you don’t want to. Really, all you need to do is log into your bank account and credit card accounts a few times per month to tally up how much you spent in important categories like dining out, entertainment, and transportation.
Tracking your spending is important for a few reasons. First, it forces you to come to terms with the reality of how you’re spending — not just wishful thinking. If you think you’re being frugal, tracking your spending is a smart way to know for sure.
Tracking your spending can also help you stay on track with certain spending goals. If you hope to spend less than $600 per month on groceries, for example, tracking your purchases each month is the only way to know whether you’re meeting your goal or not.
Start Using a Budget Each Month
While tracking your spending is a good idea, you can take it up another notch by using a monthly budget. Budgeting may have a bad rap, but a solid budget is really nothing more than a plan for the money you work so hard to earn.
My favorite form of budgeting is the zero-sum method because it forces you to “spend” each dollar you earn on paper each month with some of your funds going toward savings and investments. However, there are many other types of budgets to consider, including the envelope budget and the 50/30/20 budget. You can also use budgeting software like Tillerhq.com or You Need a Budget to create a custom spending system that works for you.
Whatever type of budget you use, you can also rest assured that you don’t have to be super-strict. In my home, we have a “miscellaneous” spending category each month that’s normally used for dining out, birthday presents for family members, or other expenses I forgot to plan for explicitly.
Set a Waiting Period for Each Purchase
If you don’t want to remove shopping apps from your phone or delete your payment information from your favorite online shopping accounts, another strategy to consider is simply instituting a waiting period before you buy anything for your home or yourself. Forcing yourself to wait even 24 or 48 hours before you hit that “buy” button could be all it takes for you to figure out you don’t really need something or you already have an item you could use instead.
Instituting a waiting period for your online shopping is also easy thanks to online “carts” that can hold your purchases while you wait it out. Whenever you discover you want or need something online, add it to your cart… and then wait for a designated length of a time to see if you still want it or need it. If you find you can live without it — or even forget about it entirely — remove it from your cart and move on.
The online world has made our lives easier in so many ways. These days, you can order groceries, renew your driver’s license, or even shop for a new home mortgage without leaving your home.
But you know what? Sometimes the internet can make our lives a little too convenient. When you can spend hundreds of dollars on “stuff” without even realizing it, convenience can start working against your goals.
Unfortunately, it’s up to us to track our spending, see where we could make improvements, and set firm limits for ourselves. We all know online retailers want us to spend more and more regardless of the consequences, and only we have the power to look at our spending and say enough is enough.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of . Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at .
More by Holly Johnson: