This piece originally appeared on Thebillfold.com.
I don’t really buy much online, though I always intend to start. It’s on my mental to-do list of things I should do to save money, like doing my own laundry instead of dropping it off, or cooking every single meal at home. Everyone I know swears by it. “You don’t have to go to the store! You don’t have to deal!” they say as they open boxes full of new things from the comfort of their own home.
I prefer my shopping with consequences, because without them, I foresee financial ruin. I see a future of myself mindlessly purchasing sweaters and wearing them while becoming incapable of paying my bills. This is not a future I want, and why I buy things only in real life.
I have a variety of online shopping carts, scattered across various tabs at any given time: There’s the Amazon cart that holds The Bone Clocks, a stupidly expensive hair product that I read about somewhere and a pair of socks. There’s an Urban Outfitters cart that at any given time contains a sundress, some shoes on super-sale and one of their overpriced, floppy sweaters that I covet every fall but never buy because paying $69 for a sweater made primarily out of acrylic is something that only crazy people do. None of these carts ever total more than $100. Spending more than $100 from the comfort of my own home one feels like a dangerous luxury. When you think about it, $100 isn’t necessarily that much money. That tidy sum slides down easy on a weekend, when there are beers to be imbibed with friends in the fading autumn sun—just as easily as it would be if I were to click “purchase” on a pair of shoes and a purse I don’t need from ASOS and close the tab.
Mostly, I’m impatient. If I’m struck with the urge to purchase something, I would like it at that very moment, if not sooner. I have the unfortunate trait of wanting everything that I want immediately. Part of the thrill of buying stuff in real life is the occasional torture you go through to actually purchase these things. It’s not fun. There are lines, there are people, it is loud and crowded and impossible to find anything. Often, you are hungry or thirst, yet somehow find yourself in SoHo on a sunny Saturday, or shopping three days before Christmas, armed with a list of things you could’ve knocked out in one night online with a glass of wine and Netflix.
If I do end up buying something on these excursions, the reward is worth the effort expended. I’m deflated, but triumphant, the proud owner of a new book, or a pair of jeans, or a shirt that was on sale for $10. There’s really something about just looking at new things that puts me at ease. I do my best thinking in the home goods section of TJ Maxx, wandering the aisles, listening to music and contemplating discount cookware.
I have bought a few things online, because it is easier. Ordering contact lenses, for example, is irritating, but necessary. Shopping for clothes, or makeup or hair things or Cuisinarts feels entirely different. The few times I’ve made a purchase, I’ve felt an initial dread when I click the button, but it’s replaced almost immediately with elation. I will get mail. This thing I needed so desperately will come to me fast, because I paid for expedited shipping. The handy confirmation email that Amazon sends me after any purchase is another thing in my inbox that I glance at, and then delete. It’s low stakes, consequence-free, like having free things, except I paid for them, but didn’t really think about it.
When you buy stuff in person, in real life, at a store, it just feels more significant. Buying a pair of boots, at full price, is a decision that I do not make lightly, and the long walk to the register, clutching the boots in one hand is a walk that lets me actually decide whether or not I want to do this thing. I came all the way out here. I’m in the city, for Christ’s sake. It’s a Saturday, it’s raining, and yet, here I am, boots in hand. The great whoosh in my stomach when I hand over my card and the mental calculations I perform after the receipt is in my wallet are the consequences. Shopping needs to have consequences.
Online shopping is just too easy—the financial equivalent of a gateway drug. One epic shopping spree at Urban Outfitters, where everything is on heavy discount, erases any guilt I have about spending money. Look at all the things I got, and look how cheap they were! Look how easy it was! That is a particular kind of euphoria that I do not ever need to feel, because it is just the thing to convince me that this is an appropriate behavior. Like the makeup aisle at the drugstore, anything that’s available 24 hours a day feels dangerous and entirely unnecessary.
I am a person who likes to buy things. I buy things I don’t need all the time; it’s a part of a complicated ballet of feelings tied to material wealth. This is a nasty habit to break, and the road is not easy. Not buying things online is my way of exerting control over my bank account, which is precisely what I need.