Online shopping has a variety of benefits when compared to traditional shopping. With more options, fewer crowds, and the simplicity of the purchasing process, it’s easy to see why online sales have continued to increase.
That said, the convenience of online shopping can often lead to overspending. Here’s what you can do to stick to your budget and avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
The excitement and ease of online shopping can result in impulse buys. In some instances, all you have to do is click a button, and an item is automatically sent to your home.
Before you make a purchase, though, it’s a good idea to pause and ask yourself some questions about what you’re adding to your cart.
Do you actually need the item, or is it a want? If you or your family can’t live comfortably without the item, it’s a need. If the item is a “want” and not a need, wait at least 24 hours, if not longer, before you buy it. You can make a list of items you want to buy and keep track of when you noticed them. It might be the case that you completely forget the item after a day and don’t end up buying it at all.
What’ll happen if you don’t buy it right now? If putting off the purchase is an option, you could wait until the item goes on sale or take additional time to shop around for the best price.
It’s also a good idea to do some research prior to a purchase. Can you return the product if you decide you don’t like it? If you return it, what’s the process? Some stores offer free shipping on returns, while others deduct a return shipping fee from your refund. Also, some stores might only let you return items for exchange or store credit.
Look for reviews of the item. Are people generally happy with the product, or are they reporting problems? They might say it’s a poor fit, it’s poor quality, or it’s not as described or pictured. These are good indicators that the product may not be worth your money.
It’s very likely that several stores sell the item you want to buy, and that one of them is going to sell it for less. Shopping online simplifies this kind of comparison shopping. Instead of having to travel from store to store to check prices, you can do a search for the item you’re looking for. If it’s a specific item, use as many identifying keywords in your search as possible, including brand, color, size, and product name.
It can be worthwhile to see if there are store-brand or private-label versions of the item, too. Some products might cost less, but could perform as well as brand-name versions.
You can also do some digging for discount codes or coupons. Some retailers will price match, so if you’re part of a loyalty program with one company but find the item for sale or at a lower price elsewhere, check to see if the first retailer will match the lower price.
Online retailers will usually give you the option to save your credit card information for easy checkout. While this may seem like a good idea, saving your card information can be a little too convenient. The next time you’ve got a shopping itch, all you need to do is load up your cart and click “buy.”
Decline the offer to save your card information on any sites you shop at. Having to retrieve your card before each purchase and manually type in the number, expiration date, and security code adds an extra step that can keep you from overspending. Plus, deciding not to save your card information helps to keep your personal data safe when you shop online.
Depending on what you’re buying and where it’s shipping from, the cost of shipping can push you over your online shopping budget. To get an idea of what you’ll pay for shipping, you can try doing a mock checkout, stopping at the point where you get the order total.
While some stores offer free shipping, not all of them do. Some might require your purchase to meet a minimum amount. That said, be wary of buying more than you need just to reach a free shipping minimum. If shipping is $5, but free for orders over $50, and you only plan on spending $25, you’ll end up spending a lot more to reach free shipping than if you were to pay the $5 fee.
Is there a minimum purchase amount required to qualify for free shipping that you’re not meeting with the merchandise in your cart? You may want to consider adding a gift card to your purchase in the additional amount required to obtain free shipping if it’s a retailer you shop from frequently.
When you’re shopping online, adding items to your cart and closing the browser tab before checkout can be just as satisfying as making a purchase. If you tend to make impulse buys and want to spend more wisely, shopping online without buying can help you get those urges under control.
Another thing to keep in mind is that retailers will sometimes offer a discount or free shipping code if you add an item to your cart and delay purchase. Or, they might send a notice later letting you know that the item is on sale. At that point, you can reassess whether the item is something you need or can live without.
Online shopping is convenient and can often help you get the best prices on products you need. As long as you stick to your budget and resist temptation, you’ll avoid impulse buys and poor purchasing decisions.
For more shopping and budgeting tips, check out our WalletWorks page.