All the stuff we didn’t buy.

How to save a ton on Amazon without falling into the online consumption spiral.

By Brad Beckstrom

Is Amazon getting too good? We’ve been happy with Amazon Prime, especially the perks of membership like two day delivery, unlimited movies and music, even unlimited photo storage. If you’re going to pay for Amazon Prime membership, make sure you take advantage of all the included services.

Unfortunately, over time we’ve started to see Amazon creep up as a higher percentage of our spending, showing up more frequently on our credit card bills. Usually just as a single line without much information about what we purchased or which Amazon service we purchased it from.

Example
3/20 Amazon.com AMZN.COM/BILL WA 44.27

We use Amazon to price check most purchases, especially any household staples that we have dropped off at our doorstep using Amazon Prime. I usually compare against Costco prices I’ve saved in Evernote or on Google Shopper so we’re not only getting better price on many items, I get to stay out of stores that give me hives. Staying out of stores is a good way to avoid impulse purchases. This was always a problem for my wife at Target, or myself at the hardware store. We’ve dialed back on impulse purchases over the years.

The issue now with Amazon is that they’re making things too easy. They just started offering same-day delivery in our area on many items. They’ve gotten good at making recommendations based on our purchase history. I find myself jumping on the site to do a quick price check, or reordering a case of paper towels etc., and seeing something I remembered we could use.

Stop

There are a lot of these lately. At first Amazon was great, we could quickly reorder household items and simultaneously check the price, online. Amazon would also save all of our purchases so we could go back and remember what kind of furnace filters we used. For example, furnace filters should be replaced every three months. Years ago I remember actually running to the Home Depot and buying three overpriced furnace filters whenever I needed to. By doing some research and ordering a case of these filters on Amazon, I save about 30 to 40% and can switch brands depending on what’s the best deal. I also saved myself a trip to Home Depot. How much is an hour of time worth? Think about that on your way to and from a store for a single item, make sure you include, time to park, gas wasted, time searching for the item, and standing in line to purchase it.

It’s better on Amazon or is it?

All of this Amazon convenience started to create some issues. I remember needing to turn off one click ordering because occasionally I need to switch payment methods to order work-related items, especially since this often justified the $99 Amazon dues each year as a business expense. I realize there was also a psychological element to this. It’s important to put up some small barriers to help yourself avoid impulse purchases. So, instead of a one click purchase, items now just accumulate in my Amazon shopping cart, so I can do a batch purchase later instead of one-offs. The batch purchase gives you one last chance to get rid of a few items in that shopping cart. Almost like the old lady who didn’t bring enough cash to the grocery store. With a lot less hassle.

Taming the Amazon Beast

As it turns out, creating some simple barriers to make your Amazon purchases less easy will save you more money in the long run and help you avoid impulse purchases.

  1. Turn off one click ordering. This gives you an extra step to reconsider your purchase and delete it from the shopping cart. You can also click the “save for later” button, under the item in your cart.
  2. Use wish lists. Just like with other large purchases, if you can just delay it for a short period you will often find you don’t need it. I do this all the time with books I’m thinking about buying on Amazon. I just put them on a wish list then go make sure they’re not available free from the library app Overdrive. More often than not they never make it off the wish list.
  3. In addition to a books WishList, I’ve created another wishlist called stuff. That’s also loaded with other items, like blenders, tools, camera equipment, etc. that I never purchased. The secret was just letting them rot away on the wishlist. Sometimes if I see a product highly recommended I’ll put on the wish list. If I ever need to come back to it later which I usually don’t.
  4. Use a free service like filethis to link your Amazon account and auto save all receipts in Dropbox or Evernote. This way you can do a quick search by amount to find your purchase. Amazon offers an orders page but the search function does not work very well, especially with dollar amount searches, or if you have one additional family member on your account.
  5. There are some items that are just more expensive on Amazon like certain household products, pet food, and groceries so we stick to Costco for those items. I regularly compare our Amazon purchases to Costco as this can change over time. You can also install a browser app called wikibuy for quick price checks.
  6. Beware of certain suppliers on Amazon who simply build their shipping costs into items on so they can list them on Prime. These are never a great deal and fairly easy to spot.
  7. Use that two day or now (often) same day Amazon delivery to your advantage.  Completely run out of something before you reorder it. You may find you don’t really need 4 different kinds of pet snacks or household cleaners.
  8. Do you buy office supplies or store images for your business? Amazon prices on these items are good and may allow you to categorize the $99 Amazon Prime fee as a business expense.

A lot of these barriers seem like an extra step, but once they’re set up, it’s automated and simply becomes part of your purchase and budgeting process. You’ll be surprised that that one last glance, asking yourself “why do we need this?”, will help you tame the Amazon beast and use it to your advantage.

The Frug
Financial Independence through Living Lean, Working Lean, and Traveling Lean
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Adam Cao

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