5 Ways to Automate Your Errands


How often do you go shopping? What if you could go to just one store most weeks, and it wasn’t Super Walmart? Less shopping can equal less spending, and I’m certainly interested in running fewer errands. Online discounts and subscriptions services can automate your errands while saving time and money. If internet shopping conjures images of frivolous spending made all too easy, it’s time to re-think the possibilities and harness the savings.

With the click of a mouse you can have just about anything delivered to your doorstep in a matter of days. The endless options, extreme convenience, and virtual checkout can make online over-spending all too easy. But retail stores have their dangers, too, with cleverly marketed products trying to entice you. Done right, online shopping can save time and money by simplifying shopping, accessing discounts, and keeping you out of tangible temptation. How can you maximize the advantages of on-line shopping without spending extra? Here are some tips and tricks you have to know.

Shop less often. Erasing errands is a great way to implement mindless austerity in your finances and develop a healthy aversion to spending. If you’re always running to the store for more household staples, chances are you’re spending more on extra items that weren’t on your list. Often stores are set up to funnel shoppers past impulse purchase items first. This is why big box retailers put women’s clothing and accessories at the front of the store. Clearance racks with bright signs lure even the thriftiest shoppers in search of a “deal.” To avoid this inefficient and overstimulating experience, I first check prices and try household products at my discount grocery store. If I don’t find what I need there, I look into online subscription programs.

Use subscription programs. Many retailers, such as Amazon and Target, offer subscription programs for household items like diapers, toilet paper, dish soap, and even groceries. How it works: Sign up to receive an item on a regular schedule, ranging from once every one to six months. The product is 5-20% off the normal price and shipping is free. You receive an email reminder before it ships and can cancel at any time if you’re up to your ears in toilet paper. The beauty of subscriptions is, once you’ve found a good price and signed up, you don’t have to spend time buying that item.

If you have children in disposable diapers, you have to sign up for Amazon Mom! I can’t imagine why parents would drive to the store and pay more for diapers (unless your Amazon Mom membership can’t be renewed or you use exclusively cloth). If you have a child, you can sign up for Amazon Mom, a free program that offers 20% discount on diapers, 5-15% discounts on other subscription items, plus the benefits of Amazon Prime. Their normal diaper prices are comparable to big box stores but once you get 20% and free shipping even name brand diapers are cheaper than many generics. Even when I used cloth diapers, I still purchased disposables for nights and travel using this discount.

Amazon Moms also get Prime benefits like free 2-day shipping on lots of items, free streaming of many videos, and cloud storage space for pictures and music. These perks are free for Amazon Mom members but anyone can get Amazon Prime. It’s $79 per year, or $39 for students enrolled in at least one college course. One of us is always in a class so we get the student price. Even at full price it’s cheaper than paying $9 per month for Netflix ($108/year) plus shipping costs you might pay throughout the year. (Netflix has more variety but we aren’t big TV watchers). If you sign up using this link for everyone, or this link for Mom, or this link for Student, you can try Amazon prime for free for 30 days!

Streamline subscriptions. On Amazon, if you subscribe to 5 items in 1 month the discount goes up to 15 or 20%. There are thousands of items available, ranging from toiletries to paper products to groceries. Often they come in larger quantities or multi-packs. You will want to spend a couple minutes checking prices at your other retailers. Amazon has great prices on lots of stuff but some things, including many grocery items, are more expensive. Target also has a 5% and free shipping subscription option on tons of items, and I’m sure more stores are following suit.

I’ll share the list of items we’ve used subscription services for, either currently or in the past, just to give you an idea of what’s available: vitamins, shampoo, tea, wheat germ, diapers, wipes, dishwasher detergent, toilet paper, paper towels.

Stick to your list. Of course web sites, like stores, have all kinds of effective advertising tricks to draw you into spending more. They’ll suggest other things you might like and allow ads from other sites to show up, often based on your previous clicks. Do your best to ignore these. As with grocery shopping, make a list of the items for which you want to investigate subscriptions or online prices. Remember what you’re there for. You need toilet paper, not a new Kindle.

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of advertising. As a high school English teacher I taught a unit on advertising and my students had a hard time believing they actually bought into the messages of ads, yet their consumption patterns indicated otherwise. As adults we also tend to think we’re immune to constant ad exposure. But if advertising was ineffective, it wouldn’t exist! We are bombarded with these messages more than any previous generation. It’s okay to admit that the Taco Bell commercial really makes you want the new queso-crunch-thing. In fact, it’s much wiser to recognize the impact of advertising on your thinking and spending than to deny it, because then you can create strategies to respond to tempting ads. These strategies might include changing your mind about what you need, want, or deserve; budgeting for occasional splurges; or planning ahead to spend less time shopping and more time doing what you love.

Another way to keep yourself out of the store and save money is to invest in some re-usable products to replace disposable ones. Diapers, wipes, napkins, and towels are some of the most obvious options. Even if you still buy some disposables, these products will limit annoying “emergency” runs to the store.

What are your tips for using online shopping to save money? Are you more likely to over-spend online or in a store?

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5 Responses to “5 Ways to Automate Your Errands”

  1. Mrs SSC says :

    Automating our shopping has saved us a ton of money. I am a big fan of Amazons subscription service, plus I’m in their Amazon Mom group, so that saves me a little bit more. We can be bad impulse buyers, so the less we have to run to the store to pick something up, the less money we spend! I had no idea Target had a similar service to Amazon – thanks for pointing that out!

  2. Jen Atkinson says :

    I am THE person impulse buys were designed for, so I’m going to try subscriptions for beauty products, dog food, and air filters. Not only will it save me from buying ALL the things, but stuff will show up before we forget and panic about it.

    • Kalie says :

      It’s good to know your financial weaknesses. I also love not having to think about acquiring stuff as much.

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