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What to Consider Before Pressing "Add to Cart"

Online shopping can be addictive after all! It's important to know what you need and what you don't.

Did the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic turn you into an online shopper? If you noticed you’ve been shopping online like crazy this past year, below are a few ways to temper your spending back to pre-pandemic levels.

If you’ve spent the better part of the past year and a half working from home, socially distancing, and generally being a recluse because of the Covid19 pandemic, chances are you are one of the 2 billion people worldwide who have shopped online. Many of us, in an effort to avoid getting infected with Covid19, are ordering things online that we would have ordinarily bought in stores, such as toilet paper, groceries, household goods, and other staples.

With e-commerce sites and marketplaces, shopping has never been so effortless or convenient. You just point and click your way to the items you need—or want—without having to jump into the car or even change out of your pajamas.

But while online shopping may have been a godsend for keeping safe and distanced during the pandemic, for some people, online shopping has become an addiction that has often led to many impulse buys and unnecessary purchases, putting a strain not only on wallets but long-term goals and personal relationships as well.

And shopaholics’ perceived lack of impulse control isn’t entirely at fault either. Retailers make it so attractive and exciting to browse products, that many people tend to add more to their carts than they originally planned. With glossy product photos, promises of free shipping, endless lists of related and recommended products on a sidebar, and loads of coupons advertising great deals; the temptations bombard your itchy fingers at every opportunity to click on that “Add to Cart” button.

Impulsive buying


Before you know it, you’ve tossed in a cute pair of yoga pants, wireless earbuds, and some new colors of nail polish on top of your alcohol wipes and bottle of zinc. Furthermore, because you’re not physically whipping out cash or cards at a checkout counter, you’re likely finding it much harder to limit yourself and think twice about pushing through with your transactions.

If you keep catching yourself bemoaning the skyrocketing balance on your credit card, the sooner you break your carefree shopping habit, the less your finances will suffer. Here are a few ways to shop online responsibly—without bankrupting yourself.

Create a Shopping List. The most classic—and obvious—budget saving strategy out there, the misconception is that shopping lists are only useful when doing brick-and-mortar grocery shopping. Hardly anyone thinks about having a shopping list nearby when shopping online. But, in fact, a list makes perfect sense when you want to keep yourself disciplined as it forces you to strictly browse for and add ONLY the items on your list, checking out immediately when you ticked off everything on it. Deviating from your list simply invites the temptation to add things you didn’t originally actually need in the first place, resulting in unnecessary purchases and busted budgets.

Shopping list


Do Your Research to Avoid Buyer’s Remorse. Ever regret buying something you thought was perfect, only to find something similar later on that’s not only better but cheaper to boot? If you’re committed to purchasing a certain type of item, take the time to research all of their brands, features, and price ranges before you click on the first offer you see. That way, when you do decide on “The One,” you won’t be stuck with an item you’ll end up being unhappy with, or one of which you’ll expend extra time and hassle exchanging.

Research


Give Yourself a Shopping Allowance. Having a weekly or monthly shopping allowance isn’t something that should have to end after high school. Even as an adult with the freedom to spend your own income, by setting a dedicated shopping budget, you will be training yourself psychologically to always consider your purchases carefully as though there is a finite end to your money, conditioning you to shop smart on every transaction.

Switch to Debit. Spending money that you see immediately leaving your bank account can make all the difference on how you shop. When we use credit cards, it’s easy to think we can easily “pay later” or that we can buy more than we can really truly afford in the moment. With a debit account, on the other hand, you’re forced to stop and consider whether or not you have that money in your bank account and what else you might need it for, resulting in smarter, more thoughtful buying decisions.

Debit over credit


Don't Shop When Bored or Stressed. In the past, shopping for want of something to do on an uneventful or stressful day was self-limited by the fact you had to travel to a mall or department store with set store hours. Today, online shopping has blasted that concept out of existence with a virtual 24/7, 365-days-a-year, rain-or-shine, shop-till-you-drop experience. So, if you find yourself rained in, heartbroken, or unable to sleep, resist the urge to pull up your favorite e-commerce sites and indulge in other constructive activities that can make you feel good. Better yet, designate specific hours and days for online shopping during the week and ban visiting retail sites outside that window so you don't do it as a means of entertainment or therapy.

Bored


Set a 24-hour Window to Complete Unplanned Purchases. As described above in the section about going off your shopping list, those one or two impulse buys on every shopping excursion tend to add up in the end, resulting in hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses. To avoid this, consider instituting a “24-hour rule” on your craved upon item by leaving that item in the cart and waiting a full 24 hours before clicking on the “Check Out” button.

After those 24 hours have expired, if you can convince yourself that you have the money to pay for that item and that it's something you really need or want, you can go through with the purchase. Many times, though, by making yourself wait, you'll come to your senses and realize that you can easily live without the item in question, or that it's not worth the extra expense.

Alternatively, if you see something you want to buy, take some time to consider it without just adding to your cart immediately. Amazon.com, for example, has a “Save for Later” button conveniently located below your shopping cart item in which you can place the item in your “Saved for Later” list and feel free to come back to it the next day, later in the week, next year, or never even! If you can’t stop thinking about it, then that’s a point in the favor of making it yours. If you lose interest, then you would have easily moved on without (fortunately) checking it out.

Save for Later


“Window” Shop Till You Drop! Obviously, it doesn’t cost a single penny to window shop. While the act of shopping itself has been scientifically proven to cause both an adrenaline and dopamine (the “pleasure” neurotransmitter) high similar to that of drugs or alcohol, according to Keonyoung Oh, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, while shopping creates a rush of positive emotion, you don’t have to actually buy an item to experience the same effect. For some people, the act of shopping, the thrill of the hunt, and the temporary feeling of ownership by putting items in a cart may be all they need to feel good.

That said, go ahead and give yourself the time and freedom to shop online like you always do—without actually clicking on the “Add to Cart” button. Instead, go crazy clicking on the “Wishlist,” “Favorite,” or “Heart” icons that usually accompany an item. That way, you can always go back to ogling your shopping list of favorites, then closing your browser and walking away.

Block. Finally, if all strategies and efforts to eradicate your impulsive online shopping habits aren’t effective enough to overcome your willpower, then consider going cold turkey. Remove the temptations of your most visited e-commerce sites by using productivity and website blocking apps such as Freedom (a productivity app that blocks your access to the Internet for a specified period); LeechBlock (a free Firefox extension where you can assign websites you want to block and when to block them); StayFocusd (an extension available on the Google Chrome web browser that both blocks specific websites during specific times as well as entire genres of websites such as retail); and Limit (another Chrome browser extension that allows you to select the website you find most distracting and choose a daily time limit). If you are unable to completely restructure your shopping habit, with these apps, you can at least attempt to minimize your exposure to your most costly sites, thus limiting the amount you spend on them as well.

Online shopping has never been more popular or bigger than ever in light of the Covid19 pandemic. And while it can literally be a life-saver by limiting your in-person exposure to the disease, and can save you valuable time, effort, and transportation costs; the 24/7, click-happy nature of online shopping can be easy to misuse as well. By imposing simple, doable mitigation rules on yourself, you can train yourself to add items to the cart prudently, spend wisely, and—ultimately—avoid unwanted debt and distress.

Mel Oct 20, 2022