Online Shopping, How it Saves Money, and Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Amazon just took off in my country. It's practically exploding. People are getting so excited about it, because at least for now Amazon is offering free international shipping on many items if you spend over $49 on your total shipment.

Facebook groups have sprung up left, right, and center, everyone sharing their deals that they found, drama is ensuing because of affiliate links within said groups, and the post offices are being filled to the brim with Amazon orders.

I've seen people writing, tongue in cheek, "You know that its just shipping that is free, not your orders, right?" because of how overboard people are going with these Amazon orders. Or as my friend Margaret said "Got to say that I don't completely understand those who are making multiple Amazon orders [now to our country]".

I figured this would be a good time to approach this from a frugal angle. Is shopping on Amazon with free shipping frugal? Is online shopping frugal, period? Is there a way to do it more frugally?

Here are my thoughts on the subject.

Remember That Clicking is Spending

Some people are shopping ridiculous amounts, like a little kid in a candy shop.
Shopping at the click of a button is dangerous. There are discussions about not shopping with a credit card, but instead with cash, because people don't actually feel the money being spent when they swipe a card, but do actually feel it when they see the stack of bills diminishing in their hand.

Online shopping, especially with Amazon, is even worse, because not only are you not handing over bills, you aren't even swiping your card. And with companies like Amazon that save your credit card number from one time to the next, you don't even have to type it in. It doesn't feel like you're spending money! I'm very frugal conscious and write down every time I spend a cent, but I can tell you that I feel myself falling into this trap, of not actually feeling like I'm spending because I "just pressed a button".

So be careful here.

Don't Just Shop Because

Yes, I will admit that when I traveled to the US in September, I did a lot of thinking about what I needed, and felt pressure to shop right then and there, because I had a time limit. I couldn't just buy whatever, whenever. But this is different.

The same way they tell you not to enter a grocery store unless you need something specific, and even then try to avoid it as much as possible, because you nearly never enter a store for one thing and leave with just that. Stores are enticing you to buy with their specialized tactics, because they benefit when you spend more money.

Spending time browsing Amazon to see "What should I buy?" or reading through these different Amazon groups is just like going to the mall to hang out, and seeing what you'll buy. Don't do that. Buy what you need. Make shopping lists and buy what is needed, don't just see what you can get.
And I don't mean think "Hmmm, what should I get on Amazon?" and come up with a list. Keep a shopping list in general, adding things to it as they come up, and then shop as needed. When its in the budget. (More on that further down.)

Don't Just Look in One Place

Amazon has some great deals, yes. But don't just assume that Amazon is cheapest.

One of the biggest benefits in online shopping is the ability to price compare. I must admit that while I recommend price comparing always, when it comes to shopping in person, price comparing is a pain in the rear. Going from one store to another, seeing what has the best prices, can get tiring, and it can also add up financially, once you factor in transportation from one place to another. So price comparing in person isn't always so doable, or if it is, it's on a small scale, due to time and monetary constraints.

The internet with its wealth of information makes price comparing so much easier. Instead of just price comparing items within the shop, you have the whole internet open to you to price compare.

So yes, sometimes Amazon has great deals for what you need. Of course search within Amazon and see which seller has what you want cheapest. Often there are multiple pages for the same item, all with different pricing. And read reviews to make sure that the seller is selling good things.

But don't just search Amazon. When I want to buy something, I search Amazon. Search Aliexpress. Search my local price comparison website for local stores. Search ebay. Search Wish. And only then make a decision. I need a TV mount for my TV and assumed buying it from Amazon with free shipping would probably be the best price, but fortunately I did some price comparison and saw that even factoring in the free shipping, it was still cheaper to get it locally, and that's what I did.

Keep in mind that many Amazon sellers are Aliexpress resellers so especially search on Aliexpress for those same Amazon items, because often you can get the same item for a fraction of the price.

It Can Wait

One of my absolute favorite things to do to save money with online shopping is putting something on a wish list, or "save for later" depending on how the store calls it. Unless there is a flash sale (like Prime day or Black Friday) waiting a day or a few before buying something is a good way to save money and make sure that that is something you really do want and isn't just an impulse buy. When in stores, you often can feel pressure to buy something right then and there because otherwise you'll need to make another trip back, using time and money. But with online shopping its really easy to put it aside for later. And some online stores even will give you an option to be alerted when the price of items in your cart went down.

Perfect way to save money and save time.

Stick To Your Budget

I love YNAB and use that budgeting app religiously. One of the biggest things they say to do is give every dollar a name, and as soon as money comes in, to allocate the budgeting category where it will be spent, and only as needed, move money around between categories. If there is extra money one month, you can put it in the "Stuff I forgot to budget for" category or savings or budget for next month. But you do want to try to make your budget and stick to it, and not move it around.

With this in mind, that shouldn't change, just because all of a sudden Amazon offers free shipping. If you had $100 in your "Things for the home" category of your budget, then go ahead, use that $100 on Amazon instead of spending more money buying it from local stores. If you have $50 in your cosmetics category, spend it on Amazon if you want, no problem with that. If you budgeted $200 for shoes, there's no problem frugality wise ordering on Amazon instead of locally, and in fact, it may be a smart move financially.

But what would be a non financially smart move would be to all of a sudden take your "things I forgot to budget for" category and use that to pay for your Amazon orders that you all of a sudden "remembered" that you had to make. No, you didn't have to make it. If it isn't in your budget, don't all of a sudden "make room" in your budget for it just because you found it on Amazon.

And if you don't have the money in the budget this month for something you want to order from Amazon?

Save up for it. Budget for it when you have more money coming in next month. It can wait. No need to order this second.

The Chocolate Chip Affect

One last thing that I wanted to point out, that I realized when I bought chocolate chips in bulk cheaply.

Sometimes when something is expensive, you use it sparingly, because of that. And overall, you don't spend so much money on it, because you're aware of the price and use it accordingly.

If you buy it frugally, especially if you buy it in bulk frugally, what sometimes happens, at least with me, is that the rate at which you use it goes up. Instead of going through one bag of chocolate chips a month, when I had a large box of cheaply bought chocolate chips, they ended up going in everything. In cereal. Pancakes. Cookies. Desserts. Just to snack on. Because why not, its frugal?

But that's exactly it. When an otherwise luxury item is frugal and readily available, you often will use it at much faster rates than you would if you got them more expensively and not in bulk. So overall, you end up spending less money when buying at higher prices than when buying at a discount, counter intuitive as that may seem.

This is what springs to mind when I see people buying disposable dishes on Amazon because they're so much cheaper there than they are locally. Yes, you may be spending less per plate, but just watch, you may see your overall monthly expenditure on disposables goes up.

Be careful.

These are just my thoughts. Don't just go on a spending spree because there's free shipping, but don't automatically assume that the people shopping on Amazon are being unfrugal. There's definite perks financially when shopping this way, as long as you are careful to avoid the pitfalls.

What are your thoughts? Is online shopping frugal? What common pitfalls do you think people make when online shopping, and what do you think can be done to avoid them?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Online shopping is never frugal. I do it because sometimes I need something that I just can't get in shops here (we live in a small town), but the reason it's so cheap is because people get exploited left and right. I view it as "cheap now, expensive later", because later you're going to be paying for extra social services (through taxes), health insurance price raises (because the working conditions in your average Amazon warehouse is hellish), environmental problems from all the extra transport, packaging, and throwaway of cheap stuff because stuff that cheap simply doesn't last. But because you don't see the cost reflected in your wallet, it's not really a cost, it's just a problem--but not yours (I don't mean you, personally, Penny, more of a general "you")

    I despise Amazon. It is the epitome of thoughtless consumerism and the "me" mindset that has led to the state of the world today - WHO CARES about the planet or the workers when you can save $2 on toilet paper? And yes, I am guilty of cost-cutting at the expense of other people, as well - but Amazon is something that I simply don't NEED, and so I don't use it.

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