How to curb online spending

Impulse buying is much more difficult to control online than it is in a store. Tricks like not storing your billing information and keeping a running list of purchases can help control online spending impulses. 

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
An package is prepared for shipment by UPS driver in Palo Alto, Calif. Hamm recommends not storing your credit card information and keeping an ongoing list of purchase to keep online spending in check.

My biggest spending weakness is online spending. And it’s not even close.

I have essentially completely conquered my spending impulses when I’m out and about in stores. I simply don’t buy stuff on a whim when I’m in a store. I stick to my list like glue, find the stuff I need, and get out. Even if I’m waiting on someone, I don’t end up with unnecessary stuff in my cart.

What impulsive spending I do indulge in happens online, usually at Amazon, Coolstuff, or Steam, but occasionally elsewhere.

The problem is that the tactics I use to defeat impulse spending in stores don’t work as well when it comes to buying online.

In a store, I usually have at least a minute or two to talk myself out of buying an item from the moment I pick it up until I’m face to face with a cashier (often, the time is much longer). Online, that time is often measured in seconds.

In a store, I have to hold that tangible item, which often triggers a question in my mind as to whether or not I really need it. Online, there’s no object to hold to trigger that thought.

Taken all together, it means that I need new tools to help me curb online spending impulses. Here are the tools I use that, taken all together, do a pretty effective job at curbing the desire to spend online.

First, I don’t save my password or billing info at any online site. If I’m buying something, I make sure that I have to enter as much info as possible.

Sure, it’s inconvenient. That’s the point. The time I spend entering all of that information gives me time to reflect on whether or not I should even be making this purchase. Usually, it’s not worth it.

Second, I keep an ongoing list of those impulsive buys. I ask myself if I trulyneed this item now. If I don’t, I just write down the item in a list.

I use Evernote for this list. It’s always open on my computer and is on my phone as well, so whenever I’m considering an impulsive buy, I’ve focused very hard on planting the idea that I should just jot it down in Evernote instead.

Every few weeks, I’ll go through that list and delete almost all of the items on it, seeing them for the impulses that they are. That sense of realizing how many of my impulses really aren’t smart purchases goes a long way toward convincing me not to indulge in them.

Finally, I have a “hobby/entertainment” line in my budget. Each month, I have a certain amount that I can freely spend on hobbies and entertainment without worry. I know that if I keep my spending within that amount, then there’s no problem at all.

This allows me to go ahead and splurge a little. If I make an impulsive buy, it’s not the end of the world. It’s in the budget. It just means I have to be tighter with my other entertainment or hobby purchases for the rest of the month.

These three elements, used together, have gone a long way toward helping me to control my online spending impulses. Even with the convenience of many online shopping sites at my fingertips, it’s easy to keep control of things using these tactics.

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