Updated on 12.16.11

My Top Tactics for Reducing Online Shopping

Trent Hamm

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.

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.

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  1. lurker carl says:

    Best tactic for not shopping on-line is to not shop on-line. Same goes for shopping anywhere, just don’t go there. Period.

  2. Sarah says:

    Excellent! I keep my purse in the car (garaged, locked) and since I refuse to memorize my card numbers most of the time it’s just too much trouble to run out and grab it, you’d be amazed how much this cuts online shopping.

  3. tim says:

    Steam is a weak spot for me as well (I dropped over $200 last December, and I’m a causal gamer.). I’ll pick up a game if it’s $5-15 and $20-35 if it’s a top grade title.

    Even though I already owned the games on Steam, I also did all the Indie Royal and Humble Bundles this year at $5-10 a pop.

  4. Steven says:

    You can look up all your old purchases on Amazon. I found out about that the other day, and I was amazed at how little I’ve actually bought, and how little of it I still have. Haha! Guess I didn’t really need to buy that obscure sci-fi DVD…

  5. Rebecca says:

    I keep a link to my library’s catalog search right next to the amazon button. If I see a book I like, I immediately look it up at the library to see if they have it on the shelf or if I can get through inter-library loan. Nine times out of ten, I can, so I either write down the call number to pick up on my next library trip or put it on hold (we can do that online, as well). Saves me hundreds, and I read thousands of dollars worth of books for free (most books I read I wouldn’t buy, so it can’t really be counted as savings, but it’s enriching in other ways!).

  6. Kate says:

    Not credit card info is a great tip. It made me realize that it is way to easy for me to shop through some online stores and it is simply because I don’t have to pull out my credit card and type in those numbers.
    Rebecca, I do what you suggested and agree that your tip is a fantastic way to save money. There are very few books that I read anymore that I simply must have a copy of my own.

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