Shopping online has never been easier. Banner ads paper every website to remind you of those shoes you just browsed. Amazon’s one-click purchases means you don’t have to stand up from the couch to find your wallet. And there’s increasingly fast and inexpensive shipping from virtually every online retailer so you can get that shirt you can’t live without in a matter of days — or even same day. All these factors combine to make spending more and more money on stuff you arguably don’t need simple and enticing.
But if you want to cut back on your one-off Amazon buys or spur-of-the-moment online purchases, the Time Well Spent Chrome extension can help.
Developed by Aaron Z. Lewis and Greg Greiner, the extension converts prices on websites into the number of days, hours and minutes it takes the user to earn that amount of money. You simply input your pay frequency and salary, and the extension will display how long you have to work to pay off the product cost.
“Your paycheck is a literal representation of your time — the scarcest resource in the world,” writes Lewis. “We hope [the extension] helps you be more intentional with your money, so that you can spend your time on the things that actually matter to you.”
Here’s an example, from Lewis’s blog announcement of the extension:
You can leave the extension turned on for all sites all of the time (though keep in mind it will convert all dollar amounts, so if you’re reading a news article about the U.S. budget, you might get some funky numbers), enable it on pre-set sites or click the extension itself to turn on when desired. “It’s easy to turn off and on, so it shouldn’t get too annoying,” writes Lewis. It does not work on every website.
Lewis says that the extension was inspired by the Time Well Spent movement, which calls on tech companies to integrate time and attention management features into their products.
How to control impulse spending
The average U.S. consumer spends around $450 per month on impulse purchases, according to a recent survey covered by CNBC. Calculating how much you would have to work to pay off a purchase is a common strategy to put spending into perspective. It can help control impulse shopping or encourage more mindful financial habits, Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, tells CNBC Make It.
“When you look at how much you have to work to earn the pre-tax money, it is more than people realize, and that can be an effective deterrent from over spending,” says McBride.
McBride says this kind of thinking doesn’t have to be relegated to online shopping. You can pull out the calculator on your phone in a physical store for some back-of-the-envelope calculations. If you’re salaried and paid twice a month, divide one of your paycheck totals by 80. You can also divide your full annual salary by 2,080 (that’s 40 hours multiplied by 52 weeks).
For example, if you earn $2,000 every two weeks, you would divide 2,000 by 80 to get 25. So you earn an hourly rate of $25 per hour. If you want to buy a $200 coat, it would take eight hours of work to pay off.
“The big hurdle there isn’t the application or the math, it’s the discipline to teach yourself to think that way,” he says.
In general, McBride says a good impulse-purchase control strategy is to routinely compare your spending for the month against how much you’re saving. Ask yourself if you’ve saved anything at all for the month, or if you’ve taken money out of your savings account.
“If you’re pulling money out of savings to support your lifestyle you’re living beyond your means,” he says. “And if you haven’t saved anything maybe you should forego the purchase.”
Another important point to remember: Just because you might have enough money on hand to buy something doesn’t mean you can actually afford it.
“When considering a purchase, big or small, ask yourself, ‘Could I afford this twice? Can I comfortably buy this once now and then once again with the money left over?’” Dana Marineau, VP and financial advocate at Credit Karma, told CNBC Make It. “If not, it may be worth reconsidering, and saving up your funds until you can pay for the item or experience twice.”
All of that said, a splurge now and then is no big deal.
“If you have done the saving, then you can give yourself permission to do a little discretionary spending,” says McBride.