How to control your online shopping

Three tactics to ensure your online purchases aren't regrettable impulse buys

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    A box from Amazon.com is pictured on the porch of a house in Golden, Colorado in this file photograph. Hamm suggests telling sites like Amazon not to automatically store your passwords and credit card info, because retrieving it will grant you extra time to consider purchases.
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I find it very easy to buy stuff online without adequate thought. I’ll click a few times and suddenly the item I want is on the way.

I particularly struggle with three sites directly connected to three of my biggest hobbies: Amazon (for books), Cool Stuff Inc. (for board games), and Steam (for computer games – and, yes, Steam sales are particularly my weak spot).

Over the years, I’ve had to build up some defenses against these temptations. I’ve tried lots of different things, but I’ve found that only three of them really work and make a difference in my buying habits.

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Delete Passwords and Credit Card Info
 Whenever I place an order at one of these sites, one of the first things I do is make sure that my credit card information is not stored at that site. When my browser prompts me to save the password for the site, I always say “no.”

For some people, this might seem like an annoyance. It’s supposed to be. The reason for doing this is to force me to slow down when I’m tempted to make an unnecessary purchase.

Let’s say, for example, that I’ve been reading reviews of some board game and I’ve talked myself into spending some of my extra money on a copy of that game. If I left my password saved and my billing information stored in the online retailer’s site, then I can have that game shipped to my house after a simple search and about six clicks.

On the other hand, if I’ve deleted my password and my billing and shipping information, I have to spend the time to type in my username and password, type in my card number and other information, and type in my billing address and shipping address. This adds up to several minutes of additional typing.

During that time, my mind on some level is rethinking the purchase. “Is it really worth it?” I’ll ask myself. Quite often, I’ll wind up never placing the order at all. This keeps money in my pocket instead of watching it leave for something frivolous.

Keep a “Already Have This” List Nearby
 On my computer screen, I have three Post-It notes.

One says “Books to Read:” and lists about five books that I already have on my shelves.

Another says “Games to Play:” and lists about five board games that I already have on my shelves.

The third says “Computer Games to Play:” and lists about five computer games that I’d love to dig into more.

Whenever I’m tempted to buy another one of these items, I just glance at these notes and I realize that I already have more than enough.

Use the Computer Less
 My final tactic is to simply use the computer – particularly the internet – less and interact with the real world more. Instead of surfing the web during my idle time, why not read one of those books on my “Books to Read” list or play a board game with my wife? Instead of playing a computer game, why not just go for a nice walk?

The computer is a wonderful source for entertainment, information, and contact, but in the end, those things are just a stepping stone for interacting with the world around you.

Keep these tactics in mind if you find yourself regularly tempted by online shopping. They guide me to better results; hopefully, you’ll find the same.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on www.thesimpledollar.com.

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