Last week I burned some money on Amazon on purchases that I had to hide from Mrs C. It felt wrong until I read a survey showing over 50% of Americans buy things they hide from their friends and family. Turns out, I’m just keeping up with the Joneses.
I’ll fill you in on my clandestine purchases in a minute. But did you know that this same survey found that we spend an average of $200 per month on purchases we later regret?
$2,500. Every. Single. Year.
It’s Amazon prime day later this month. How can we avoid the temptation and shop responsibly?
Mrs C and I have developed a set of shopping strategies over the years that have helped us completely mostly eliminate purchases we later regret. Thereby saving $2,500 every year.
We’ve also saved thousands on the stuff that we do want to buy and do not regret later.
We generally buy something as a result of a triggered desire. That trigger might be an internal feeling (e.g. hunger). Or it might be triggered externally, by seeing an ad on TV or because we’ve been spying on observing our neighbours.
The reason so many of us cannot save money is because of our friends. They’re always buying something we can’t afford.
The best way to avoid burning money on Amazon is to not make the purchase. Some common sense helps in relation to all shopping.
Avoid shopping when you’re hungry or tired. You should see the amount of junk food I buy at the grocery store when I shop hungry. Only half of which makes it home.
Avoiding adverts. If you can cut down on the amount of stuff you are triggered into thinking you want, you’ll buy less.
Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like
Confession number 2. I burn a lot of money at Amazon. My guilty pleasures are tech and books, and my spending used to be singlehandedly responsible for much of Jeff’s wealth. Every year I waited for my Christmas card…
I don’t like shopping in stores. So Amazon is my default. No trips, no gas, no finding a parking spot, no queuing to pay.
No friction. Which is what Jeff wants. And which is why he’s cleverly introduced ‘buy now’ and one click purchase options.
But no friction is not good. The right friction stops you buying rubbish you don’t need.
Introducing good friction:
Need x3. It’s very easy these days to buy something the first time you think you need it. For moderately expensive things (over $50), Mrs C and I have agreed that we’ll only consider buying something if we can identify 3 times in the last 6 months when we needed it.
Assessing options. If we decide that the need must be filled, we’ll spend some time looking at the options to get the best balance of quality and price. We would rather pay a higher price for a quality product that will last longer. However, there’s often a sweet spot where you get 80% of the quality of the best in class product for less than 50% of its price.
The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten
Accountability. Mrs C and I discuss our purchases with each other if they are going to cost more than $100. The discussion provides accountability, ensures its within budget, and provides a second opinion on the options. Though the accountability does not always work. I once proposed a DVD workout series. I don’t think Mrs C heard the question. She just saw Shaun T’s 8 pack and said YES!
Try before you buy. This may not always be possible, but if you can try something you may realize that you don’t like it or don’t need it. I bought my laptop after using the same model at work for several years. The one exception to this is kids toys. If they try a new toy at a friend’s house they will almost always think it’s the greatest toy in the world. Until they own the toy themselves, thereby losing all of its appeal.
Waiting. Unless there is a genuinely urgent need, we’ll wait for at least a month before we make the purchase – adding it to a waiting list in the meantime. There have been times where we discover another solution during the month, or where the need disappears. This is something we’ve also built into our kids’ allowance system.
It isn’t as important to buy as cheap as possible as it is to buy at the right time
Filling the need
If we successfully navigate the friction process, we then work out the best way to get it. Our priority order is as follows:
Are you really, really sure you need it. Always worth a final check.
Get it for free. We ‘need’ a BBQ and a friend is getting rid of their old one. They’re giving it to us in exchange Mrs C baking a cake for their son’s birthday.
Borrow it. If your need is a one-off or seasonal, consider borrowing it. I was able to borrow a leaf blower last autumn from a neighbour instead of buying one.
Buy it used. There are so many places (ebay, craigslist, gumtree) where you can buy used stuff in great condition for a fraction of the price. And you’re doing your bit for the planet by reducing waste. We paid $30 for our son’s Christmas present last year for toys that looked unused and retailed at over $100.
Buy it new, but damaged. Mrs C is a big fan of Amazon Warehouse. They sell a range of products as new or nearly new. They generally have either a damaged box or some cosmetic damage. Our current toaster, microwave and food mixer all came from Amazon Warehouse. The mixer cost $200 and had a big scratch on the side that faces the wall – but it works perfectly. The new price on Amazon was over $600.
Buy it for the lowest price. Check out some comparison sites. Invariably I end up coming back to Amazon for many of my purchases.
Don’t burn money on Amazon
If you buy from Amazon, here are some tools that add good friction / make sure you don’t overpay.
CamelCamelCamel (CCC). Weird name, amazing resource. CCC displays historical prices and lets you set price alerts to notify you when a product drops to a price you’re willing to pay.
For example, my need for a drone is ‘real’. How else can I keep up with the Joneses?
I can use CCC (picture below) to see that the its current price of c.$900 is also its highest price. It has been $300 cheaper several times in the last year. So I can set up CCC to send me an alert the next time it drops to $600. I then need to figure out how to hide it from Mrs C, as bizarrely she does not consider it a real need.
There is one downside of CCC – it doesn’t work for kindle books. But that’s where eReaderIQ comes in (US and UK versions). It’s like CCC but for kindle books, and allows you to track specific books or authors.
Both tools have browser extensions to allow you to instantly see the historical prices of the product you are browsing. Now you can verify whether that flash offer or prime day deal is really as good as you’re being told.
Kind of ironic that I’m telling you not to burn money on Amazon whilst including Amazon affiliate links on our site.
I’m not saying don’t buy stuff.
We buy things from Amazon regularly – but only things we get value from. You should do the same.
And if you use our affiliate link, it does not cost you any more, and Amazon sends us a tiny slice of their profit. Kind of like an extra tax on them… Not enough for us to remain on our sabbatical, but enough for a cup of coffee every couple of years.
It’s worth repeating. You don’t need all the things. They will not make you happy.
If you think you need something, then introduce some good friction.
If your need survives the friction, then buy a quality product that will stand the test of time.
Buying cheap to save money is like stopping the clock to save time. Neither works.
And what was the purchase that I hid from Mrs C? Well, another one of my guilty pleasures is chocolate. And if I put it in the kitchen cupboard I have to share it. Alternatively, I can hide it and eat it all myself. Not a difficult choice.
But what happens if Mrs C finds it, I hear you ask.
Don’t worry. It’s hidden somewhere she’ll never look.
Behind the chocolate cloaking devices on the bookshelf. Mrs C thinks I actually read these. There’s more chance of me developing an 8 pack.