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Shopping online: how to curb your spending if lockdown has you buying unnecessary things

The coronavirus pandemic means we’re living life on lockdown, and all of that spare time can leave us itching to reach for our credit cards and hit the online shops. But while it’s important to support small businesses during the crisis, it’s also vital we don’t overspend… as Poorna Bell discovers.

About an hour had passed between the first ministerial briefing on the coronavirus and my purchase of a pair of 12kg kettlebells. I had put off buying anything that I wouldn’t still need in post-pandemic times, but surely I’d have use for a kettlebell, right?

The next day, although most commercial gyms were still open, I was starting to feel some mild symptoms – anosmia and full-on body fatigue – so I started to social distance and self-isolate. I’d talked to my science journalist sister Priya, who is in a much more restrictive lockdown in Spain, so I knew it was only a matter of time before the gyms were closed down altogether.

Not to throw shade on home workouts, but as a competitive amateur powerlifter, I had begun to wonder what the hell I would do without access to proper weights. Would I lose my muscle mass? Sure, it’s a bit hashtag boohoo, but with weightlifting playing such a massive role in maintaining my mental health, I started to worry that I’d lose my mind while staying indoors.

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So began the great justification of online spending. What might have started off as “I’m going to do this for my mental health” soon spiralled out of control. 

First, I decided to buy a barbell. Then, I purchased a couple of weightlifting plates. I toyed with the idea of how many plates to get, starting at 40kg, and adding a couple more. Then a couple more. Then I reached a total weight of… 110kg. And it didn’t stop there.

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Shopping online: “In the last few days, I’ve managed to find all manner of reasons to justify my spending....”

Over on Twitter, someone joked that I should keep an eye on my spending or before I knew it, I’d be buying a power rack – which enables you to do squats and an overhead press. How I laughed.

Reader, it took just one more ministerial briefing to put that power rack in my eBay trolley. “You need to make sure you have a mat so that your floor isn’t damaged,” another wise person on Twitter chimed in. And out came my credit card again.

In the last few days, I’ve managed to find all manner of reasons to justify my spending, from a ring light for selfies (“I’ll be on more video calls than ever”) to buying £100 worth of plants (thankfully I stopped myself just before I got to this point).

But I really do need to rein it in, given that as a freelancer, I don’t have much reliable, steady income for the next two months. 

Turns out I’m not alone, though. Online spending is something a lot of us are turning to – I put out a tweet asking if anyone else was doing the same, and received 139 replies. While knitting kits, chocolate, puzzles and kitchen appliances are understandable purchases, some of us have tried to pre-empt the possibility of a lengthy lockdown.

“I bought a bike,” says writer Flora Baker. “I’m categorically terrified of cycling on roads but still figured that it was a ‘Good Idea’.” Flora could be onto something, since bicycles are among some of the items – like gym equipment – that are selling out online during the pandemic. 

I only refrained from buying a bike myself due to the deep knowledge that even a lockdown wouldn’t make me actually want to take up cycling. One of my favourite mad purchases, however, comes from Alice Bhandhukravi, a reporter for BBC London News, who bought an adult teepee.

“I wanted to get some fresh air from my small terrace, but it’s still quite cold,” she explains. “I got a child’s one for my kid which looked so cosy that I ‘added to basket’ an adult one for myself.”

Meanwhile Sarah, who works as an alumni relations officer at Goldsmiths University, bought a drum kit and has been having enormous amounts of fun with it. “Aside from the fact that drums are always my favourite instrument to hear in a song, being able to thrash my feelings out has been a lifesaver,” she says. “It’s given me joy where I wasn’t expecting to find it. With the drums, I am ostensibly terrible, but the worse I am the more I enjoy it.”

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Shopping online: “It might be tempting to panic buy, but unless they are essential items, your bank balance might thank you for exerting caution..”

But like me, Sarah is also concerned about her spending. “l have two mindsets,” she explains. “‘The world is ending so you might as well’, and ‘you need to be careful because you’re always skint anyway and now anything could happen’.”

With our lives on lockdown, the temptation to spend is almost irresistibly high thanks to the brief hit of pleasure it can deliver. But due to the continually shifting sands around the impact of the virus, and the unavoidable fact that items in supermarkets are selling out and disappearing from shelves, some of us are being prompted into panic buying things that we really don’t need.

How can you spend responsibly in this time? Financial empowerment coach Cat Plummer says that one thing which might help is being mindful about what you’re spending. “I think the first question to ask yourself is, “Why am I buying this?” another question, “Do I really need this?” If you think that it is something you really want and can afford it then try leaving it in your cart for 24-48 hours and see how you feel when you come back to it.” 

It might be tempting to panic buy, but unless they are essential items, your bank balance might thank you for exerting caution.

Victor Trokoudes, founder of savings app Plum, says there are ways to stay on top of your finances that don’t rely on willpower alone.

“A lot of people blame themselves for being ‘bad at saving’, but I’ve always believed that with the right tools, anyone can put money aside each month. The first thing to do is make sure you’re stashing away small, regular amounts throughout the lockdown period. I would always recommend you check if you could be saving money on your bills.

“Utility companies in particular are notorious for ramping up prices after a year, and if you’re at home during lockdown, you’re likely to be using things like gas and electricity more than you would normally.”

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Shopping online: creating a wish list might also be a good way of temporarily staving off your urge to spend.

Cat also advises that doing an inventory on things that could be paused in terms of subscriptions and non-essentials, is a good way of off-setting your expenditures.

Creating a wish list might also be a good way of temporarily staving off your urge to spend. “I am an emotional spender,” she says, “so I have started adding things to a wish list to come back to later on and I’ve been allowing myself an allotted amount for purchases I really do want, such as Kindle books.”

Finally, the biggest thing to consider is whether or not you want to add to the pressure of the delivery services at the moment. While some of us want to support small businesses, vouchers might be a better way of doing that as some delivery staff don’t get paid if they have to quarantine themselves, which made me me a bit more considerate about what I do order. I’m sure my bank balance will thank me too.

This piece was originally published on 30 March 2020

Images: Unsplash, provided

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