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Managing your online spending habits

With the accessibility of online shopping, it’s easy to get carried away in the thrill of adding sale items to your cart or camping for a product drop. However, the panic starts to set in once this feeling fades and you find that you’ve exceeded your budget again. Online shopping has gained traction over the past few years, leading me to realise that overspending has become a common issue plaguing my friends who are avid users of such digital platforms. So, here are several methods that my friends and I have found useful to rein in our inner shopaholics which I hope will work for you too!

Why is it so easy to spend money online?

Contactless payment

Before diving into the tips, it is important to find out the possible reasons behind the irresistible urge to spend. Coming hand-in-hand with online shopping is the extreme convenience of contactless payment, where the sense of physically handling cash is removed. With the inability to feel our thinning wallet, we no longer feel the effects of spending as strongly as we would and it is now more difficult for us to tangibly track our spending. 

Endless sales that are tempting to indulge in

I’m sure that at this point, be it on TV or on Youtube Ads, you’ve come across at least one advertisement for a sale or promotion set on specific days (think 11.11, 8.8 etc.) on online shopping platforms like Shopee or Lazada. The frequency of such planned sales has greatly increased since the platforms’ rise in popularity, and while I personally find such events annoying (because of the never-ending advertisements filled with ‘catchy’ jingles), I have to admit that these are somewhat effective in promoting spending. Even though we understand that there isn’t anything special about these sales because of their predictable, systematic nature, it influences us into thinking that “spending now equals saving more”. This promotes a false, impulsive need to spend during such events, pushing us to buy items we don’t necessarily need, leaving us with spending habits that break our bank. 

Mere-Exposure Effect

With the insidiousness of targeted advertising by brands across platforms, we are repeatedly fed with listings surrounding items that we’ve searched up previously. This builds a sense of familiarity between us and a brand, influencing us to unknowingly develop a preference for it over others. 

In addition, were you ever puzzled by how you’ve taken interest in an item after seeing it multiple times across social media and the internet? I have, and what we’ve both experienced falls under the Mere Exposure effect, a psychological phenomenon that companies utilise as part of their marketing. The Mere Exposure effect refers to the development of an increased preference for a subject due to our repeated exposure to it. Through our daily routine of scrolling through the internet, we are constantly exposed to potential products through various forms of marketing. Hence, this encourages us to unconsciously spend more on items we normally would not even consider, possibly contributing to our tendency to overspend online.

How to control your spending?

Finally, moving on to the various tips and tricks that can help you manage your online (and even offline) spending!

  1. Establishing spending limits or a tentative budget

At the start of each month, set aside some time to review your expenditure for the month before and ask yourself a few questions: 

  1. What did I spend too much money on? Have the items I bought online been put to good use? (Be honest with yourself!)
  2. Did I overspend this month? Why did I spend my money where I spent it?
  3. Am I saving enough money by my own standards? How much of my money do I intend to save each month, and do I have an end goal in mind with my savings?
  4. How much budget am I willing to set aside for online shopping from my overall allowance?

By asking yourself such questions, it will help you gain awareness of your spending habits, providing you with a better starting point towards planning your budget and your savings, contributing to the better long-term management of your finances. 

When planning your budget, it’s important to go about it realistically. The idea is to take it slow, reducing the funds you set aside for online shopping, or in any sector that you may overspend in for that matter. A good tip would be to set aside a tentative budget for online spending that is slightly less than your expenditure for the previous month, e.g. 70% of your usual monthly expenditure. With this realistic goal to work towards, you are motivated and will be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment upon attaining it at the end of the month. This will slowly discipline you to be more conscious of what you are spending your money on. 

Exceeded your tentative budget that month? That’s okay, don’t beat yourself up over it, it IS a tentative budget after all! The key thing is to reflect on whether the budget was realistic, and why the budget was exceeded, then adjust the limit accordingly and work towards achieving your goal of keeping within it the next time.

If you are finding it difficult to track your spending on your own, there are many apps (apart from google sheets) out there that you can use to aid you in your process of planning your expenditure. To start you off, I’ve gathered a short list of several apps that my friends use to manage their spending:

Money Manager 

Recommended and used by three of my friends, it features a practical and simple interface. You manually input your income and daily spendings into the app, and sort your expenses into the many categories available. There are different formats under which you may view the overall spread of your expenditure (daily, monthly, yearly). Under its statistics section, it also analyses your spending habits over a period of time and generates useful graphs which makes it easier for you to visualise and review your overall spending.

“It’s very intuitive!” – Friend S

(Take note that there are advertisements within the app.)

Fortune City

I never thought saving money could be cute until a friend told me about Fortune City, a budgeting app that features adorable graphics alongside a resource management game. With every expense you input, a building related to the theme of your expense is added into your town, and with more buildings, you even get to merge them together! 

While auto-budgeting is a paid feature, the free app works equally well if you input your budget manually. Just a heads-up though, if you do decide to try this app out, there will be ads.

“For me I like the game aspect of fortune city because it’s cute

But for someone who’s not interested it may just be clunky.” – Friend J


Notion is not an app that focuses on budgeting, but it is versatile enough to be used for that function. Notion has a clean and minimalist interface, and it can be used for a variety of purposes. My friend uses Notion to make task lists, take notes and so on, specifically using the expenditure template to plan out her budget. This is also a valuable app to consider if you are looking to better organise your lifestyle in general! 

  1. Creating a list of needs vs wants

This is a fast and simple method that you can use to distinguish between what exactly your impulses are and what the important things are. This allows you to create a priority list that you can refer to and utilise in conjunction with the budgeting method mentioned above to prevent overspending.

Basically, you list out all the items that you are intending to purchase online, then sort them under two categories: needs and wants. Think about the utility of each item before sorting them into the sections, and when the time comes for you to spend during that monthly sale, the list helps you to remain focused on the necessary items that need to be purchased and keeps you in check when you are tempted to impulse buy an item.

  1. Reducing exposure to temptations

Sometimes it’s not just the mere-exposure effect that is tempting you into buying more things, but the act of surrounding and constantly exposing yourself to potentially desirable items. This increases your chances of being tempted by such items and fuels your urge to impulse buy, which is bad news for your wallet! 

A friend of mine was facing this issue with regards to instagram shops, and the idea that she came up with was to remove herself from such an environment by creating a separate account on instagram solely for shopping. If you gravitate towards certain shopping applications on your phone, perhaps consider deleting those apps from your phone to make it less convenient for you to gain access to the platform. By doing so, you keep these temptations ‘out of sight, out of mind’, greatly reducing the number of items you may consider purchasing, and with time your urge to spend will weaken, allowing you to save more money as a result.

Armed with this newfound knowledge on how to rationalise your spending habits, you’ll be ready to add “super-saver” to your resume! However, as excited as you are to start saving up lots of money, the results won’t turn out satisfactory unless you’re resolved and committed to make these changes to your mindset and lifestyle. The most important thing is to get started, have realistic expectations and slowly work your way towards your goal; Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is your bank!

Wen Xuan Yiow

Nanyang Tech '24

English Literature and Art History student with a passion for fashion. Self proclaimed connoisseur of "Chick Flicks" who is currently having too much fun with the Twilight Renaissance.
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