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Is online shopping making you spend more?

Posted 02 May 2016 by Kyri Levendi

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Shopping online is convenient, but it can also tempt you to spend more than you planned to. Read our blog for tips to resist the temptation.

When you’re worried your finances are spiralling out of your control, one of the first things you need to do is get to the root of the problem. 

One cause is spending too much on credit and then struggling to keep up with the repayments. And if you think this describes your situation, ask yourself whether it’s online shopping that’s leading you astray. If it is, you’re certainly not alone.

Virtual reality

A study conducted in 2007 by psychology expert Helga Dittmar posed that 10% of online shoppers are compulsive spenders. And the reason these shoppers splashed the cash online so compulsively was pretty surprising – Dr Dittmar’s team suggested it was because it helped them get closer to an ideal image they’d created for themselves.

Following the study, psychologist Dr Elias Aboujaoude wrote ‘Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality’. In it, he writes: “We find ourselves in a virtual bazaar where we have out-of-control alter egos to contend with, and where buying transactions are so remote from handing over cash or even credit cards that it no longer feels like spending. And so we spend more.”

 

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You don’t have to be a psychology expert to understand what he’s saying – because online shopping doesn’t involve you handing over actual cash or even getting out your credit card – because often you just need to click on a button – it doesn’t even feel like you’re spending money when you do it. As a result, there’s a risk you’ll spend more.

The thing is, whether you’re handing over a £10 note to a cashier at your local shop or paying remotely for items in your virtual shopping basket, the money will come out of your account just the same. And if you’re using credit to pay for these purchases, you will need to pay it back.

If you think an online shopping habit is damaging your finances, here’s some things to remember when you buy online.

Don’t join the mailing list

When you buy something online for the first time, the retailer will usually ask you whether you want to be added to their mailing list so they can let you know when they get new stock or run a promotion. We would advise you never to do this.

Why? Well, you probably only visit these websites when you have something in mind you want to buy, but when you’re added to their mailing list they can visit you – sometimes daily. If you know you’ve got a weakness for the products they sell, finding an email in your inbox each day telling you about all their exciting new offers could encourage you to spend money you didn’t plan to. Resist the temptation by not joining the mailing list – or marking it as spam before you open it.

Only buy what you planned

A top tip for budgeting is always to take a list when you go shopping for groceries or on the high street. The same is true if you’re shopping online.

When the item you want has sold out, it can be tempting to buy something else instead. And even if you find what you’re looking for, options on the bottom of the page like ‘customers who bought this also bought’ can be as tempting as the range of sweets supermarkets have on display at the checkout. This is called ‘impulse buying’ and it can catch us all out from time to time.

Only log on to your favourite online store if there’s something you want to buy. If they don’t have it, leave the site before you’re sucked into spending on things you don’t need.

Ignore the special offers

As we said, it’s a good idea to remove yourself from mailing lists so you’re not tempted to spend on any promotions an e-retailer is running. However, you need to keep this in mind when you’re shopping too.

Some sites will alert you of special offers, such as buy two items in a particular range and get the third free. If you have the item you want in your basket, ignore any reminders that you’ve missed a special offer. Getting it would probably just mean doubling the amount you spend in order to get something you hadn’t planned to buy anyway.

Is the convenience worth the extra cash?

One of the main attractions of shopping online is that you can do it from the comfort of your sofa and get it delivered straight to your door. However, you should really ask yourself if that convenience is worth the money you’re spending for it.

The delivery charge could add around £4 or more to your bill, and if you’re shopping at a few different online stores these charges alone could add up to a sizable amount.

If you really can’t buy the item you want from a physical shop, see if it’s cheaper to buy it online and get it delivered to your local branch to collect – it often is. 

If it’s not right, send it back

It might come back to that convenience thing again, but have you ever bought an item online that’s not right and then kept it anyway because you couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of returning it? If you have then avoiding a simple trip to the Post Office could be costing you a fortune.

If you find what you bought isn’t for you after all, make sure you return it and get your money back. And if you’re into clothes shopping online, why not see whether you can try on the clothes for free before the money is taken out of your account? 

If you’re struggling, help is available

Online shopping can be great - the answer isn’t to stop altogether, but just to be aware of how you’re shopping online so that you’re in control of what you spend and not the retailer. As we said at the beginning of this blog, there are some online shoppers at risk of becoming compulsive spenders. If this is you and your bank balance is suffering as a result, get help as soon as you can.

If you’re struggling with debts like catalogue accounts, credit cards and store cards, get in touch with us using one of the options on the left. We can advise you on ways to get your spending back under control, and tell you about some of the debt solutions that might help your situation.

by Kyri Levendi

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.