Why do I spend so much when shopping online?

Q: I’m doing most of my holiday shopping online. How do I keep from going over my budget?  

A: The internet is designed to help you lose track of your dollars. Start by understanding how: 

Why we spend more online 

Here are 10 ways online retailers push us to overspend:  

  1. They push products strategically. The products on a website’s homepage are not always the hottest-selling items. Most people assume these items are mega-popular and will quickly drop one or two into their cart. Often, it’s just surplus inventory the retailer is trying to move out.
  2. They offer free shipping —with a minimum purchase. When retailers offer to sponsor shipping costs if you spend $50, they lure you into spending more. It works: Most people will fill their carts with stuff they don’t need just to avoid paying for shipping. 
  3. They make it super-easy to check out. Websites make their checkout process very easy just to keep you buying. The quicker you make those purchases, the less time you have to reconsider. 
  4. They offer spending-based discounts. Websites often offer discounts after you’ve reached a certain spending amount, as they do with free shipping. These conditional discounts manipulate you into spending more. 
  5. They constantly change prices. This tactic is designed to draw you back to check the going price or buy before the price rises again. 
  6. They use anchor pricing. Retailers frequently place price inflated items next to ones you’re looking at to make your desired item look cheap. 
  7. Their ads stalk you. Online retailers target you with ads based on your search history. 
  8. They have lenient return policies. Online retailers know you’re more likely to buy something online if you can easily send it back. 
  9. They have a virtual checkout aisle. Retailers’ virtual checkout aisles, full of add-ons related to stuff you’re buying, are designed to make you overspend at the last minute.   
  10. They stay in touch. When retailers send you emails that scream “Today Only!” they get your attention. And your money, too. 

Spending less online 

Follow these tips to keep your online spending to a minimum: 

  • Shop with a list. Decide what you need before browsing, and stick to your list.
  • Set a time limit. It’s easy to lose track of time when online. Give yourself a reasonable time limit, and once time’s up, snap your laptop shut.
  • Never pay full price. Before checking out, do a search for coupons and discounts on sites like CouponCabin.com.
  • Don’t fall into the free shipping trap. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need just to avoid a shipping fee.
  • Shop early. You’ll find it easier to stick to your budget.

With careful planning, you can stick to your budget this holiday season—even when shopping online.