Our Lives Online

How to Resist Spending in Our “Buy it Now” Culture

Jason Johnson Freelance writer and editor

Understanding how the enticing world of immediate shopping hits our brains can keep us sane.

Managing a budget has never been easy, but with the siren’s song of one-click shopping, it is becoming harder and harder. Resistance may be futile, but often it’s necessary.

Devices like Amazon Echo don’t even require a button stroke, letting you shop with your voice, and algorithms are constantly dangling in your face temptations directly targeted at you.

If you are not careful, you end up with a mountain of video games and fitness products delivered to your doorstep. When in need, turn to consumer-behavior psychologists to find simple, effective strategies for persevering in the face of an Internet full of frivolous buys.

Online Shop in a Dull, Quiet Room

It’s common knowledge that salivating mouths make for avid shoppers. That is why grocers tempt your senses with scents like fresh baked bread and free samples of salty snack foods.

But that’s only a half-truth.

To a large degree, we get tempted not by the smell of the object, but the smell of the place more generally — things like the atmosphere, according to Dan Ariely, author of the bestselling book “Predictably Irrational.”


It follows that a good line of defense against the urge to pull the trigger on instant purchases is to have a designated place where you do your online shopping, ideally an unappetizing or otherwise boring room such as your office, or, maybe even better, the bathroom.

Take a Long Walk Before Clicking Buy

One smart tactic is simply to leave your tablet on the coffee table.

Take a stroll around the block. Come back 10 minutes later and see if you still want that Treasure Troll case for your phone. Chances are: no.

This simulates the physical act of walking from the back of the store to the front, where you will sometimes have a change of heart and put an item you don’t need back on the shelf.

With traditional online purchases, this was compensated for with the two or three minutes you spent finding your wallet and entering shipping details on the screen, but not so in an instant online shopping spree.


“Many people will find themselves buying things they would not have bought if they had experienced more of a cool-off period of going through a checkout,” said Lars Perner, a professor of clinical marketing at USC.

Peek at Your Online Checking Account or Credit Card Statement First

Having to remember passwords and then face your finances could actually save you. Part of the problem with online insta-buys is that transaction is one simple keyboard tap away from being truly virtual. “When we are in a physical environment, we realize we are going to open our wallet and part with some money,” said Ariely. “But in the online world, things are less salient. The moment you just click on something, you don’t feel the same pain of paying.”


Gawking at your online checking account should lend online transactions some consequence.

However, Arliely warned that the fate of free flowing funds may ultimately be inescapable as more people adopt things like Apple Pay, carrying over virtual shopping practices into the physical world.

When All Else Fails, Seek Help

Therapy seems like a strong resort, but you may need some form of meditation or nature hike to decompress from all the mental stress of instant shopping.

Perner said that cognitive dissonance, the state of holding two conflicting views at once, could occur from lightning-quick purchases.

A quite a bit of research suggests that buying diapers from Amazon screws with our heads.

Because these purchases encourage spontaneous shopping, we lack enough time to properly make smart, informed decisions. This can lead to post-purchase dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling you get when you realize you just blew money you don’t have on items you don’t want.

So while you shop online, remember: breath in, breath out.

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