Updated on 02.21.11

Eight Minutes to Financial Success – Minute #4: Minimize Electronic Temptations

Trent Hamm

This week, The Simple Dollar is running a short series on some of the key moments in my financial turnaround and how you can experience those moments as well. For a full description of this, see the first article in the series.

Even after making the physical credit cards difficult to access, I was still left with another problem: Amazon One-Click ordering.

Although it was now really difficult for me to visit the bookstore and spend with reckless abandon, I could still just browse around Amazon, see a book that I wanted, and within two mouse clicks, find that book on its way to my doorstep. The same was true for a few other online retailers that would fill me with temptation. I also had a PayPal account with the username and password stored as a cookie on my computer so that if I visited a retailer with PayPal accepted as a payment, I’d just click twice and the item would be on its way.

Again, it’s vital that I make some sort of simple move to add to the wait time between the impulse to buy something and actually ordering it, so that I have time to more carefully consider the purchase.

The solution is simple: disrupt that easy transaction.

Minimize Electronic Temptations
This is really a two-step process, but neither one should take you more than a minute at most.

First, go to the website of any online retailers where your credit card information is stored and delete that information. For many of you, this might mean just Amazon.com, so it’ll take you just ten or fifteen seconds to do it.

Why do this? If Amazon (or another retailer) does not have your credit card information, the process of ordering an item from them becomes much more difficult. You have to actually pull out your credit card and enter the information manually before you can make a purchase, and since such retailers are selling almost entirely inessential products, that’s usually more than enough time to talk yourself out of unnecessary expenditures.

Second, use the password management tool on your web browser to delete the passwords of your most tempting online retailers. With Firefox, it’s simple – just go to Tools, then Options, then Security, then Saved Passwords to manage the list. With Internet Explorer, just go to Tools, then Internet Options, then General, then Browsing History: Delete… to remove them. Chrome, Opera, and other browsers have similar tools.

Why do this? It puts up another subtle obstacle against easy online purchasing. It forces another delay between the impulse you have to make a nonessential purchase and the actual purchase, giving you more time to reflect and make the best long-term decision for you and your family.

Simply put, the purpose of this activity and of the previous two activities is to strip yourself of the convenience of impulse buying. The harder it is to buy impulsively, the more aware you’ll become of how often you actually do it – and it’s more often than people think. You’ll also start spending less, of course.

There’s a further effect, though, one that took me a long time to realize but which is very, very important. If you get used to applying forethought to your impulsive purchases, eventually you begin to apply that same forethought to all purchases. You start thinking carefully about your electric bill instead of just paying it without thought, which leads to finding methods to cut energy use. You start thinking carefully about your food bill instead of just wandering through the store and grabbing whatever you see, leading to grocery lists and meal plans.

Every one of those steps is a money saver, and on the whole, they add up to a lot of saved money. Underlying all of it is mindfulness, and these kinds of little steps increase your mindfulness when it comes to spending.

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  1. valleycat1 says:

    If you’re really serious about this, you can also delete the retail website cookies, remove their URLs from your browsing history, and unsubscribe from their email lists and their hardcopy catalogs.

  2. Dan says:

    I love this series of posts!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I remove temptation by using gift cards to shop online, not my credit card. For example, I’ll buy myself a $25 for iTunes or my favourite bookstore (a budgeted treat, of course), and then when it’s gone, it’s gone. It allows me to both plan for purchases and be a little impulsive too.

    Actually, I seldom buy gift cards because people know which ones to get me as gifts ;)

  4. deRuiter says:

    These are good tips if you don’t have self discipline. If you practice them, they may teach you to exert self discipline. I once went to tea at a very elegant and expensive department store. The restaurant was located on the top level in order that one had to pass floors of interesting and pretty things to get to have a cup of tea. When I sat at the table, my escort said, “That’s amazing, I’ve never seen a woman pass through a store like that and not look at a single thing.!” To me it was normal. If I’m not going to buy, I don’t look. Don’t go anyhwere things are for sale “just to look around.” Shopping with a purpose is fine.

  5. AndreaS says:

    I am also not tempted by the bobbles. I am an avid yard saler, and so I am acclimated to those prices. When I shop at the retail level, be it in the store or online, it all seems very expensive to me. I can afford retail, just have an aversion to it. I know that if I hold out, am patient, likely I can get the same thing at a fraction of the cost. And that is thrilling. When I pay retail for something, it feels like a defeat, and I know by doing so I am denying myself a future coup. So I will not love that retail bobble. It is not about will power, because I genuinely don’t want the stuff at that price.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I think these steps are smart for cyber security. I don’t store my credit card info online and I don’t save my passwords. Doing so is asking for trouble.

  7. Carole says:

    I heard a woman on Oprah who was kind of a celebrity who had made a lot of money and was now bankrupt, say she had the idea one had to spend all the money one had before new money would come in. I wonder if that could be what some people subconsciously think, and it gets them in trouble.

  8. dh says:

    My weakness, or one of them = Amazon. I fool myself thinking that just because I can buy a book that I want to read there, used, for as little as a penny, I’m saving money. The way my spending compulsion works is: I then buy MORE books because they are so cheap! The postage ads up, consequently, I blow a lot of money. Thanks for this tip and encouragement!

  9. Shelly says:

    I have replaced “add to cart” with “add to list” on Amazon. Anything that I’m tempted to purchase gets added to one of the wish or shopping lists Amazon allows you to build. After adding it to a list, I can think more about the purchase, if I really need it and if I can afford it. If I use a wish list, I can also share with family members who might need gift ideas.

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