The other night, I was feeling a little more tired and burned out than usual. I smelled the candle on my desk to see if I could pick up its scent. What if I was coming down with Covid-19? I got a whiff of pumpkin, but my anxiety about my malaise didn’t lessen; I took to Amazon and ordered a bunch of vitamins.
Anticipating a dreary and monotonous winter under lockdown, I’ve purchased enough books to probably get me through the next decade. And what does it matter if the only person I’ve been seeing these days is myself in the mirror? That pricey dress will make me feel better, I recently reasoned.
I’m not the only one who’s turned to online shopping as a vice during these trying times. Nearly 40% of people say they’re shopping on the internet weekly, up from 30% pre-pandemic, according to a recent survey of 5,000 consumers by Selligent, a marketing company.
More than half of Americans expect to spend more online than in-stores when the holidays hit, and retailers are already reporting record online sales.
With so much more time stuck at home and the targeted advertisements that follow us from one site to the next, it’s easy to overdo it.
“I think overall, people are just plain bored,” said Sylvie Tongo, vice president of communications at Selligent.
“Shopping could also be a way of coping with being more alone,” said Lars Perner, assistant professor or clinical marketing at the University of Southern California’s School of Business.
Ideally, you want to get to a place where your purchases don’t make you feel guilty, said Sarah Asebedo, president of the Financial Therapy Association and a certified financial planner.
To do that, she recommends you “create a spending and saving plan that reflects your values and goals, and then track your expenses to make sure you are spending and saving within those parameters.” (A number of budgeting apps, including simplifi and You Need a Budget, can help you keep on top of your spending.)
If you’re frequently buying items that don’t reflect your financial goals, and maybe even make those benchmarks harder to meet, you’ll want to cut back.
Remaining focused on your bigger financial aspirations can lessen the disappointment or frustration of not getting a product or service you crave in the moment, experts say.
Still, resisting is easier said than done, said Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet.
“Stores are eager to stay afloat during these challenging times so they are offering discounts, free shipping and new products to try to get us to spend money,” Palmer said.
Beyond budgeting, you may need to put a few other safety measures in place. “Try to avoid shopping late at night when you’re tired and just looking for a quick boost,” she said. “It’s easy to forget to compare prices and to buy things you don’t really need or even want.”
If you’ve really been on a clicking and buying tear, she added, try going 48 hours or longer without an online order. Meanwhile, some people will find it helpful to allow themselves one block of time a week to make their purchases to prevent spontaneous splurges.
You may also want to un-save your credit card from online shops, so that a purchase requires a little more effort like finding your wallet and re-entering your number, Palmer said.
Another strategy that might reduce your impulse purchases is to set a “cool off” period after you’ve spotted something you feel you need or want, Perner said.
“One could institute a practice of holding off on a purchase that is not a necessity at least overnight, ” he said.
Meanwhile, I’m looking into how to return that overpriced dress in my closet. I haven’t worn it once.