Do you want to know how much you’ve spent on Amazon last year? Ha! Don’t you wish. Amazon recently removed the ability to download your order history.
So I don’t have a quick trick to give you. Instead, I have a few ideas for how to get the most benefit and the least harm out of Amazon.
Limit Spending on Amazon
There are things you can do, things to be really careful of (even avoid), and some tricks to make the most of it … all with the caveat that doing things to save money does not save money if you buy things you don’t need.
Things to do
Tracking spending. The first idea is to track your spending a bit. Mindfulness helps basically every venture. You can sign up for their new Amazon Business service, though that will probably cause you to have to pay twice, as the personal Amazon (with Prime Video and personal Wish Lists) will still need to be separate. For a couple hundred bucks a year it might be worth it if it integrates with your accounting system. I would hope that it would, but at the moment cannot confirm that it does.
Download credit card transactions. Another idea is that you download the credit card transactions from your linked credit card into your bookkeeping system (like Mint, Quicken, Quickbooks, YNAB or an Excel spreadsheet). Then you login to your Amazon account and go to “Your Account” and to “Your Orders” and then click into each invoice since you last reconciled so you can correctly categorize the expense you saw on the credit card. I use both Quickbooks for my business and Quicken for my personal spending and find this to be annoying beyond belief, but it doesn’t actually take me that long when I just brute force it. Be aware that your ORDERS might have been just once a week but the INVOICES can be spread out all over the place, as a single order might have multiple invoices.
Save 5%. Did you know that you can save 5% on all Amazon purchases? You need to be a Prime member, and you need to open a credit card with Chase. I’m happy with the Chase credit card. (In fact, I’ve got two other Chase Cashback cards I use in other places. My Chase Sapphire Rewards card gets me 5% back on travel, for example.) Chase customer service functioned when I needed it. I like their website, and it’s easy to download items to my bookkeeping system. All this and 5% back on Amazon and Whole Foods, plus 2% cashback if you use it at restaurants and gas stations and drug stores, and 1% back on everything else. I have other rewards cards I use outside of Amazon, but the Chase Amazon Prime card earns its keep. It’s easy to apply the built-up rewards to purchases at checkout time.
Things to Be Careful Of
Here are a few don’t / be careful tips.
Be *CAREFUL* with “Subscribe and Save.” I like saving 15%, but it’s too easy to extrapolate your wishes into the future. For example, I have a special kind of breakfast food on “subscribe and save” that I found at Amazon and I love it and eat it every day… so of course I’ll save 15%! Except, whoops, I stopped eating breakfast. Now I do Intermittent Fasting from 8 pm to noon each day. I recently got a shipment of that breakfast and 100% of the savings I ever got from the subscribe and save function was lost to the fact that this stuff is either going to go stale OR I’ll undo lots of expensive weight-loss coaching to eat it because it’s there.
If you do use “Subscribe and Save,” go regularly to “Your Account / Memberships and subscriptions / Subscribe & Save” to confirm you want what’s in there. (Maybe even set a reminder on your phone/calendar to do this.) Good ideas include paper products, detergents and cleaning supplies, coffee filters and possibly coffee, pet supplies, skincare products you use regularly, and some office supplies you consume regularly. Be wary about cleaning supplies: I’ve found that I *think* I’ll go through them faster than I do. Also be wary of foodstuffs: besides my favorite breakfast item, I’ve got a few other things I use regularly in family recipes that I order online as I can’t find them in local stores. But that presupposes I’m cooking my normal family recipes. Right now, yes. In six months? Who can say? Just watch these.
Turn off 1-Click Ordering. PLEASE, I BEG YOU, turn off “1-Click Ordering“. That’s the closest thing to evil that Amazon has.
More Ways to Save
Get Kindle books from your library. Did you know you can borrow books to read on your Kindle or tablet from the library? You’ll need a library card and the Libby App. I find it hard to get the specific book I’m looking for that way, but if I just want to go find something to read you can’t beat the free price!
Use coupons (mindfully). Did you know you can find coupons on Amazon? The trick here is to not be persuaded to buy something you don’t want because it’s on sale. You can do it from two directions. Either you start by browsing the Coupons tab to see if anything you came to buy has an onsale version, or you happen to see a coupon on an item you’re thinking of buying. You have to actually CLICK to get the coupon. It’s a way for them to offer discounts to people who want them but not to people who aren’t price conscious. It’s truly as simple as clicking the coupon button. For more on couponing (especially as combined with “Subscribe & Save”, check out this article by the Krazy Coupon Lady. Also check out the “Amazon Second Chance” store for pre-opened boxes.
Use Amazon Video Instead of Paying for Another Subscription. Amazon Video not only has great Prime original shows, but you can also buy one-off things like Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere. (Which gutted me. So good.) I’d rather buy an individual episode then decide if I want to buy the whole season (they’ll discount the season price for individual episodes you’ve bought.) This saves me from subscribing to Hulu to watch one show and then end up paying for month after month after month.
Should You It Buy from Amazon?
So, now we’ve got Amazon Prime sending us next-day delivery and we’re getting 5% off our purchases and we are watching TV on Amazon. Stop.
Are you spending too much money on this? Maybe.
I’ve found that prices on Etsy or Zazzle can be better than Amazon for some items, and your friendly electronics store or office supply place is likely to beat Amazon’s prices if you go to their websites directly. Consider shopping around for things that you buy often or are above a specific price point you set.
Also think about name brand versus generic. CVS charges more than Amazon for their brand name supplements, but less for their in-store generics. At CVS you’re more likely to get coupons for the in-store ones. Also, hello, it’s good to keep a CVS alive in case you need a Minute Clinic or a prescription, right?
And there’s the same issue with the bookstores. I use Amazon a lot for books, but that’s partly because I want to order online instead of shlepping down there twice (once to order and once to pick up.) There’s a nice new group interface for shopping online at local bookstores, though created at Bookshop.org. If you want to locate and call a local bookstore to order through them, that’s made easy by starting with Indiebound.org. You typically pay a little mark-up for books, but if you stop engaging your money part of your brain, you’d notice that it’s worth an extra buck here or there on your purchases to keep local stores alive as vibrant parts of your local economy and community.
If you’re used to Prime free shipping, you will notice shipping costs from other online orders (some local stores allow for online orders and in person pickup). Note that you might find a place like Thriftbooks has shipping per order rather than by individual piece, so even places that have slightly higher per-book costs might be more economical if you’re buying a bunch of homeschooling books.
Slow Down Online Purchases
But let’s say that ordering online works for you in a ton of ways. The next trick I have is to put things in your shopping cart and only order once a week. My husband and I used to have a rule, back in the days when we shopped in person, that anything that wasn’t a planned purchase needed to have both our approvals over above a fairly low limit. I remember this specifically when I saw my first Keurig machine on sale at a warehouse store. I was in LOVE with that machine. Delicious coffee any time of day or night? Sign me the hell up! I rushed home and grabbed him and brought him back to the store with me. Buy it? Don’t buy it? It was a LOT of money. He was just as enamored, though, and, well, guess what’s in my Subscribe and Save now? Yep, Keurig coffee.
The 21st century version of this is having a family meeting once a week where we review our upcoming menus, and home improvements we have, any events coming up (birthdays, etc) and then make our grocery list for the grocery store and submit our Amazon order online. I’m 100% sure that has saved us money, as I often find myself deleting items from my shopping cart unbought. (And I have the Facebook ads to prove it.) On the rare occasion that we really need something the next day we can still use the “Buy Now” feature. for that one item. Bonus tip: for scheduling delivery on our next Amazon Day Delivery we not only reduce vehicle trips, but also cardboard and plastic packaging.
Is this a good moment to discuss the impact on the planet? Why yes. Because as I wrote this, a white Hertz rental van pulled up to drop off three boxes. (Amazon delivery is growing so fast during the pandemic that it outstrips its ability to buy and paint vans with the Prime logo.) Those “subscribe and save” things come in individual boxes (the invoices are matched to the boxes, I think.) It’s infuriating, honestly. The cardboard boxes are made from sustainable forestry and recycled content, so in some ways the demand for tree farms helps the environment, but there’s no denying that much of that packaging goes in landfills. (Note: it’s good for use in worm bins, as mulch on gardens, and in various other clever ways, too.) I’m really pretty sure the single van driving around all day on a route designed to reduce fuel consumption is better than all our individual trips. To me, the plastic filler is the most problematic part. The pockets of air is such an improved design over the old styrofoam peanut method that Amazon looked like a hero for a long time, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Amazon has vowed to have a carbon-neutral footprint by 2030. I’m personally excited about having the oomph of a major corporation vow that, as the incremental improvements will trickle down, I hope. (For example, no one I know is using styrofoam peanuts anymore, right? They changed the conversation about packaging.)
So then there’s one more thing to mention. Stop buying things. Gretchen Rubin recently put up a podcast entitled “Ask Yourself, “Do I Already Own This?“. Can you repurpose something? The best way to improve both your finances AND the environment is to buy fewer things. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose.