Online shopping – it’s a blessing and a curse RN. We have to do it, but how can we keep it under control? I was back on Radio 1 Life Hacks this week as the show’s Money Hacker in Residence to offer up some advice for anyone out there struggling to Step Away from the Cart! Here are my top tips on how to tame your online spending.
I’ll be honest: sometimes I wonder if I’m a boomer stuck in a millennial’s body. Exhibit A: muttering ‘has it come to this?’ and SMH as opposed to whooping and cheering at the musical entertainment on offer at last week’s inauguration (put it this way, I won’t be president of the Lady Gaga UK fan club anytime soon). Exhibit B: my preference for physical shopping over the online equivalent.
In the before times, I liked to go to the shops, touch things and try them on, then buy them so I could use/enjoy them straightaway. Online deliveries involve a lot of guesswork, waiting and returning that does my head in. And as someone who was working from home before it became the norm, quite honestly shopping was sometimes a way just to get out of the house and have some fresh air. That might have sounded ultra Sad Sack at one time, but now, I think we can all relate, no?
But now? We’ve all we’ve got no choice but to go online. And for a lot of people it’s really hard to set some boundaries, to draw the line between what we really want and need, and buying stuff because….well, why not? Perhaps it caught our eye, or we’re a bit bored and fed up, being cooped up at home under pain of £10k fines.
But this is where lockdown spending can turn into a really expensive hobby, perhaps even a substitute for other coping mechanisms which we know are more helpful. Plus, overspending can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, and it might make some of our existing financial problems worse. That can lead to a really toxic spiral that we can all do without.
You can catch up with this week’s Life Hacks here on BBC Sounds – but in case you’re old-fashioned like me and like to READ STUFF, I answer people’s most common questions on taming lockdown online spending.
Q. Why am I spending more atm?
Firstly, it’s easy, almost too easy. We can do it on our phones, on our tablets, and because we’re doing everything on a screen right now, it’s just a short click through to a shopping site. Our card details are probably very helpfully saved on our devices too! So bish bash bosh, we’ve bought something and it required really no effort or thought – we didn’t even have to get off our bums to do it.
But also I think we’re craving some control, as we’re feeling a bit helpless. We’re using up so much energy and willpower just coping with the situation we’re in, shopping has become a bit of a release valve.
It’s also something we feel we’re doing for ourselves. We’re constantly being told that we need to take care of our needs, which is why self-care has become such a massive phenom in marketing. Of course self-care matters – but we like to look for shortcuts, especially when we’re tired and feeling a bit meh, so buying something a bit indulgent is much easier than say going for a run or thinking about how we can sleep a bit better.
Q. How can I keep track of my online spending?
Being a smart spender is not about whipping yourself every time you buy something, so let’s take the shame and guilt out of this. It’s about getting to a place where you’re buying stuff you really want and need, and you can afford, and sometimes that may be something that seems a bit indulgent or idiosyncratic. If you’ve got your financial house in order, go for it. But if you haven’t, that ‘woah’ purchase is just going to make you feel worse.
If you want to manage yourself a bit better, you should probably start tracking your online spending. Being on top of your finances requires you to know what’s coming in and going out. Nowadays, we’re not for the most part exchanging cash, so money is pretty much all digital. But that makes it hard to pin down our spending, so money starts slipping (virtually) through our fingers.
Why not keep a diary? I don’t mean you should follow Bridget Jones and just bemoan how much you spend and beat yourself up. This is more a log of your transactions – so get a notebook. I think a physical one is better than the notes on your phone or tablet, but either will do. Start making a note of all the non-essential things you buy.
What’s non-essential, I hear you cry? I think you know the answer to that question. Eggs & milk, yes. A crochet version of Bernie Sanders at last week’s inauguration, no.
Work out how much the thing cost, when you bought it and most importantly why you bought it. Then you can start to identify some patterns.
I think the most common types of spender at the moment are:
- the pick-me-up spender – I’m feeling low, and this purchase will make me feel better.
- the magnet spender – I can’t go online or unlock my phone without going shopping
- the unintentional spender – I intend to buy just one thing, but end up with an overflowing cart
- the payday spender – ’nuff said.
Now a lot of people will say, as Katie did on the show, ‘I’m all four’! That’s totally possible but the point is you need to think about your trigger points and become aware of them so you can develop some coping strategies.
So for instance, if you’re somebody who spends because you’re bored or you’re down, then come up with a list of free activities that you can do instead of shopping.
And when payday rolls around, you can resolve to put some of the money you would have spent in a savings account because that will create just a little friction and you’ll be doing your future self a massive favour.
Q: How do I set some online spending boundaries?
Buff up your banking
Budgeting doesn’t have to be time consuming or hard. It may just be a case of having a really good banking or budgeting app that connects to your debit card and helps you see your spending in different categories. Then you can say ‘ah I’m spending a bit too much on beauty products’ for instance. And maybe ‘I don’t need to buy two different cleansers, one for morning and one for evening’ – funny how I came up with that example!
Think about the REAL cost of your shopping
If you didn’t have access to credit, how many hours would you need to work to pay for something, based in your current earnings? Keep this equation in your mind, on a post-it note near your computer or as a reminder on your phone, to put your spending in perspective. If something would in real terms cost you a whole day’s worth of work, is it worth it?
Yes, I know this is cheesy. But we can dramatically improve our wellbeing and make our spending go further by making the most of what we have. Think about the objects you frequently use or the clothes you wear. Remember what they cost you and how many hours you worked to buy them. Get into the mental habit of appreciating and enjoying what you’ve got more, rather than chasing the high of buying new stuff you will quickly take for granted. Namaste!