How To Keep Your Online Shopping In Check

A major driving force behind the internet revolution has been convenience. Specifically, just how convenient it is to spend your money without even getting out your wallet – or leaving the house. These days, you don’t need to drive to the shops to blow through pay cheques; you just need a smartphone, a credit card, and maybe a bad day at work.

If you find your bank balance draining out through your modem, here are some tips for taking back control of your online shopping.

Think about why you spend

When trying to curb impulse spending, it can be really helpful to know what triggers it. Are your binges the result of boredom, do you spend when you’re sad, or is there another emotion that initiates the behaviour?

Once you’ve answered that question, you can start looking for alternative methods to cope with the triggering emotion(s). If boredom is a problem, it might be time to start looking for another hobby. If it’s stress, you need to find healthier ways to make yourself feel better, while staying away from your computer or smartphone.

Sometimes, triggering emotions can be deep-seated and painful to deal with. In that case, your journey to spending less might be a longer one than you first anticipated. In the meantime, there are still a ton of things you can do to reduce e-tailing’s impact on your finances.

Set yourself an indulgence budget

Cold turkey isn’t always the best way to reduce your online shopping. Like dieting, budgeting must be sustainable to effect long-term change. Committing yourself to an uncompromising austerity program might be a bit unrealistic if you’re not used to budgeting.

Setting aside a little “mad money” each month can take the pinch out of penny-pinching. Just make sure you stick to your new indulgence budget, and see if you can reduce it as time goes by.

Set some financial goals

Just as unallocated time usually ends up spent on the couch, unallocated money usually ends up simply spent. For some people, part of their online shopping problem is that they don’t have a plan for left-over cash. If that sounds like you, it could be time to get serious about where you want your money to go.

The first step is to define your priorities. What really matters to you? If security is the answer, consider starting an emergency fund. If you want to travel, work out a travel allowance and make that number your mission.

Now, whenever you feel tempted to spend money on some random online item, ask yourself: “Is this helping me reach my goal?” If the answer is “no”, don’t do it. Better yet, take the amount of money you were about to spend and transfer it to your goal account. Progress!

Set up visual reminders of your long-term goals

Whatever your goal, it’s important to keep it front-and-centre in your mind. Putting up visual reminders around your home or office – be it a photo of an exotic destination, a certain number you’d like your balance to reach, or the age you’d like to retire by – will help you remember why you’re kicking this habit.

Delete password and credit card information

A good way to discourage yourself from spending is to make the process a little less convenient for yourself. This way, there’s a greater distance between the impulse to buy and the act of doing so, giving you more time to remember all the reasons why you shouldn’t.

So, go ahead and delete any autofill information you have stored in your browser or on websites. (This is a good move for your online security, too.)

This isn’t a fool-proof system, mind you. The urge to buy is sometimes so powerful that mere inconvenience won’t be enough to stop you. But it’s all about creating an environment that discourages spending and reminds you of what’s important, and this is a nice touch.

Give yourself a “cooling off” period

If you find yourself unable to shake the urge to buy, give yourself some time before you hit that “checkout” button. Even taking a week to do some research and reflect on whether you really need this purchase can offer some much-needed perspective.

Sort through your stuff

Simply getting a better idea of all the stuff you have can quell the feelings that drive you to go shopping.

If you tend to buy lots of books, make a list of all the books you own that you haven’t read. If clothes are your weakness, clear out your wardrobe and see how many different outfits you can make out of the clothes you already own.

Often, that feeling of deprivation we experience when we deny ourselves an indulgence is simply the result of not appreciating what we have. It’s not entirely our fault – we get busy, we lose perspective. But deliberately focusing on and being grateful for the things in our lives can really take the sting out.

Start a spending diary

Most of the points listed here depend on a certain amount of insight and self-awareness – things that are often hard to come by if you have a busy life. Consider making things easier for yourself by recording every unplanned purchase you make in a small diary.

Note the dollar amount, but also record the time of day, your mood, the device you made the purchase on and what kind of item you bought. Doing so will give you real, accurate insight into your shopping habits, allowing you to develop a more practical and tailored game-plan.

Personal finance is, after all, quite personal.

Joel Svensson is a Canberra-based writer originally from Melbourne. He’s written more latté-fuelled stories about first-world problems than he cares to admit, and can be found coping with misleading hashtags at @le0jay.

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