The average cost per item was $16.34, and average number of items about one per week (those stats include items purchased as gifts). This sounds about right to me, but my purchasing does seem to be in fits and starts rather than a steady stream of packages. Some months I buy a lot more things than others.
Here, for example, is a chart of monthly Amazon spending:
March and October were the other big spending months for us; that is, where we spent more than $100.00 on Amazon. All of the other months were under $55.00.
October, of course, was the month after we moved into our house. The total here was skewed upward by our purchase of barstools and a tablecloth for the new kitchen.
As for March? There were several small things I bought, but what hiked the total over $100.00 were two “jar boxes” that I bought (one for pints, one for quarts—each cost about $20.00) and an off-brand fit bit ($35.00). The jar boxes were an okay purchase. I use them, but I think I could have DIYed it with Hubs’ mad box-making skills… for free. The fitness tracker was a good purchase. I use it periodically to check stats like heart rate, sleep and steps walked. The recommended amount of steps per day is 10,000, and on an average day I’m doing good to get 5,000. This year I was able to make some small adjustments to get that number up a little bit; for example, putting oft-used items upstairs or in the basement, purely for the purpose of increasing my step count. This is still a goal I’m working toward, so I feel like the fitness tracker was a good purchase. (Note: if step-count is the only thing you want to track, a cheap mechanical pedometer will do the trick.)
Where Did The Money Go?
So, what exactly were these purchases? A chunk of them fell into a few categories, and the rest were random household items. I’m not going to share all 50+ items, but here were some high-spending areas for me:
Books: $108.60. I purchased 10 new/used books for our home library at an average cost of $10.86 per book, which includes Amazon’s mandatory $4.00 shipping charge. Three of those books (a total of $37.00 worth) are books that I would return now if I could, since I’m not currently using them or didn’t get as much value from them as I thought I would. In 2020, I’m going to try to order as many books as possible through our library interloan system BEFORE I buy them, just to make sure I know what I’m getting.
Clothing: $38.98. I only bought two clothing items from Amazon in 2019, not counting three returns. Honestly, I am just not a fan of buying clothing online, especially when you have to run returns to a post office (which costs at least a few dollars in gas). I’ve decided to only buy clothing at thrift stores for the time being.
Toys: $59.26. Yikes! This was one of those eye-opening numbers for me. And this total was only for Amazon, not for individual retailers or thrift stores, where I probably spent a similar amount.
This just proves how $5.00 per month can add up, let alone $5.00 on Amazon, $5.00 at the thrift store AND $5.00 at a retail store. And that is only for one kid! I’m not going to stop buying toys for our daughter, but I’ve resolved to relegate most toy spending to garage sales and thrift stores, where you can (not always, but often) find the same items for 50% less. For example, I’ve purchased a lot of Melissa and Doug toys for $5.00 at thrift stores, where they might have sold for $10.00-$15.00 at Walmart.
A lot of the “meh” toys that I bought were recommended by parenting blogs; specifically one Montessori blog that I like. As a parent, I tend to want to build “collections” of toys for our daughter. For example, I bought her a full set of kid-sized silverware. But in actuality, she sometimes prefers using invisible imaginary silverware over the $0.75-per-piece silverware that I bought her. I’m learning that sometimes less is more in the toy department.
Potty training: $51.81. We officially commenced potty training in July of this year. In preparation, I bought a travel potty and a car piddle pad. We only used the piddle pad a couple of times, since—yes—I chose to use disposable pull-ups* for times when we were out of the house.
A few months ago, I discovered these toddler training pants on Amazon. They are affordable, and have a waterproof layer on the outside. While they aren’t leak-proof like a pull-up, they make pee accidents manageable (rather than a huge mess, as happens with regular underwear). This purchase was totally worth it, as we’ve been able to ease out of using pull-ups (though we still used them in Europe, and I would still use one on a very long car ride). I wish I would have known they existed when we first started potty training. The travel potty, as well, has proved to be very helpful and convenient. We don’t use it as much now as we used to, but I still take it with us sometimes. So really the only “wasted” money in this department was the $10.00 car piddle pad.
How Much of the Stuff Did I Actually Use?
The last piece of information I tracked was the estimated use of each item I bought. I categorized things by weekly, monthly, and yearly use. Here's what I found:
Items used 3-7 times per week: 14
Items used once a month or more: 12
Items used 1-4 times per year: 18
Never been used: 4
I think it's interesting that almost half of the items are seldom (or worse—NEVER!) used. Most of the seldom-used items, to be fair, were books. Like a gardening book that I might only refer to one month during the year. Other things, however, were truly bad purchases. For example, the tablecloth I bought in October was HUGE. I bought the longest one I could find, because we had my in-laws' really long kitchen table. After the holidays, however, we shortened the table so it's half as long as it once was. The $35.00 tablecloth will probably sit in storage for 10 months out of the year.
It IS comforting to know that most of the things I bought are things that we use on a regular basis. This tells me that I'm choosing useful items to buy, even IF I'm overpaying for them.
How Much Do YOU Spend On Amazon?
While it was a little embarrassing to share my Amazon spending like this in a public way, I hope it helps you evaluate some of your own Amazon habits and weed out any expensive or unnecessary purchases. It's easy to use Amazon as a shopping cure-all, but it's not always the best way to shop. I know my Amazon habits could use a little pairing down, so I'm happy I did this little exercise.
If you'd like to review your own Amazon spending, the best way to do it is with a spreadsheet. You could also do it on pen and paper. My chart had four columns: the item, price, date purchased, and an estimate of how much I've used it. You can pull all of this information from the "Orders" page on your Amazon account. Using that data, you can then figure out how much you spent on different categories, average cost per purchase, etc.
Lastly, it's helpful to think about your "dud" purchases and why you made them. Some of my duds happened because I read a book or blog that recommended more purchases, I bought something that I didn't have the time to use, I bought something because I was too impatient to borrow it, or I just didn't end up needing it.
Anyhow, this article has been eye-opening to write, and I hope it has been fun to read.
Til next time,
*I know all of the books and tutorials say not to use pull-ups since they are “basically diapers”, but we only used them once or twice a week. Potty training was one area where I just didn't care. I will probably do it differently if there is a next time.