Five online shopping mistakes costing you thousands

Shopping online can save you a small fortune - if you're doing it right. However, if we're not aware of the potential pitfalls, there are five daft mistakes we can make when we shop online that can cost us thousands of pounds a year.

SEE ALSO: The five worst courier delivery fails

See also: Is living online good for our finances?

1. Social media envy
Paying too much heed to other people's fabulous holidays and expensive new purchases on social media can make us feel dissatisfied with our own lives: if we're not careful we can get carried away keeping up. Apparently 11% of people have bought something or booked a holiday as a direct result of something they have seen on social media.

Doing it right: Try not to focus on the luxury, but on the insider tips your friends could be giving you instead. If, for example, they rave about a cheap but fantastic restaurant, ask for the details. If they stay in a brilliant bargain Airbnb, find out the address. Social media can become your own personal catalogue of bargains rather than a wish list of outlandish luxury.

2. Storing your credit card information online
It might make it easy to breeze through purchases, but you don't want it to be too easy - or you'll end up spending more without giving it proper consideration. It also leaves you open to anyone who steals your devices or hacks into your account.

Doing it right: Don't enable autofill on your financial details. Use the extra time it takes to find your debit card to think whether you really need to make a purchase or not.

3. Browsing retail sites
Online shopping leaves cookies, which means when you go online after you have finished shopping, it will tailor the adverts to what you have just searched, and will tempt you to buy more.

Doing it right: The best answer depends on your level of self-control. If you have trouble with temptation, disable cookies before you shop. However, if you are always keen to track down the best bargains, cookies can be your friends. Once you have done an initial search, don't buy immediately: wait for better offers to come through on the adverts - or for the retailer you shopped with to offer you a discount.

4. Signing up for Amazon Prime
You tell yourself that you'll save on delivery charges, but if you're not careful it will just lead to you buying more - as you've convinced yourself it makes Prime a better deal. Apparently Prime members will spend hundreds of pounds a year more on the site than non-members.

Doing it right: If you are already buying enough to make Amazon Prime worthwhile, and you have the self-control not to spend even more after you join, then it makes perfect sense. If you are considering signing up on the grounds you'll spend more in order to make it pay, then take a breath. The cheaper alternative is to make sure that every time you buy, you wait until you have collected enough purchases together to qualify for free delivery. It requires a bit more organisation, but can bring substantial savings.

5. Joining loyalty programmes without a plan
Loyalty schemes are designed to make you spend more, buy things you wouldn't otherwise consider, and waste money.

Doing it right: Bear in mind that loyalty schemes don't offer something for nothing. By all means sign up and collect points on things you can honestly say you would have bought anyway. It's also a good idea to do your research to ensure you're spending your points in the most rewarding way possible - but don't let yourself get carried away with 'collecting points' for a particular goal.

Shopping: when spending more isn't always better
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Shopping: when spending more isn't always better

The wine world is notoriously snobby, and the experts will tell you that there’s no way to buy a good bottle without spending at least £25. However, a study in 2011 at the Edinburgh International Science Fair demonstrated that people could only tell the difference between a cheap and expensive wine 53% of the time - which is roughly the result you'd get from flipping a coin.

Instead of focusing on price, it’s worth looking for wine awards. In December last year, for example, the International Wine Challenge awarded silver medals to Tesco Finest Fiano (selling for £5.49) and the Tesco Finest Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (priced at £5.99).

The price you’ll pay for your hotel room depends partly on type of room you choose, but also on a host of things that have nothing at all to do with the room itself. If you shop carefully, therefore, you can get more for less.

One of the most effective approaches is to use a ‘secret hotels’ service, which gives you details of the location and facilities, but doesn't tell you the name of the hotel you are booking until you have paid.

This enables hotels to slash their prices by as much as 50% without damaging their brand. If you book this way you can easily get a junior suite for less than the advertised double room rate at the same hotel.

Logically, the longer the interest-free period on your credit card, the more you’ll save. However, it doesn't always work out that way.

If you need to borrow for exactly the length of the interest-free period, then it’s a great option, but if you need to borrow for a longer or shorter time, it's a waste of money.

You have roughly a 40% chance of being tempted by the longer interest-free period into failing to pay off the debt in time - and being hit with high interest charges. In this instance, you may be better off with a long-term low rate.

Meanwhile, if you are one of the third of people who tend to pay off their card early, then you'd be better off paying a smaller balance transfer fee for a card with a shorter interest-free period.

If you need to buy new clothes, then choosing a product that has done minimal damage to the environment is clearly a kinder option than buying from a manufacturer that doesn't care about its impact on the world.

However, you will usually pay more for an environmentally-friendly brand, and there’s a far cheaper option that’s even kinder to the environment: buying second-hand clothes.

Your local charity shops will have items in perfect condition that would otherwise be going to landfill, so by buying them you meet three great criteria: you're saving the planet, saving money and helping a good cause.

You can pay anything up to 1,000 times more for water in a bottle than from the tap, so it stands to reason that it must be better.

However, instead of necessarily paying for superior water, we're paying for bottles, transportation and marketing, which might not be the kind of thing you value

On average we drink 33 litres of bottled water every year, and at an average cost of 48p per bottle, that's almost £16. You have to ask yourself if it's worth it.

Your expensive fashion headphones may look cool, but if you look around among the professionals, they won’t be wearing them.

The very best of the professional headphones cost the earth, so they're not a money-saving option. However, if you set a budget and check out the gadget magazines for their recommendations in your price range, not one of them recommends the fashion brands.

Instead of paying for branding, it's worth doing your research and paying for better sound.

We're loyal to brands for two reasons when it comes to medicines. The first is that they advertise, and they don’t mention the name of the active ingredient, so if we have a specific problem, all we know to ask for is the brand.

The second is a matter of trust, because we know the brand, and we can see it costs many times more than the generic versions of the same thing, so we trust that it is better.

In reality, the active ingredients are exactly the same, and if you don't know the generic drug that you can substitute for your expensive brand, you can simply ask your pharmacist - and look forward to spending a fraction of the amount your usual brand name medicines will set you back.

Pedigree pets are incredibly expensive. Even common breeds like springer spaniels will cost you several hundred pounds, while rarer breeds can set you back thousands.

It’s easy to assume you are paying for a well-bred pet, which will be free from medical problems. However, the breeding process means that pedigree pets tend to be prone to far more medical issues - which end up costing a fortune.

A mongrel dog or a moggy will often rack up far fewer vets bills, and there are usually an enormous number looking for new homes at the local rescue centre.

There’s an enormous advertising industry, pouring huge resources into convincing us that the more expensive beauty products are the best. In some cases this may be true, but it’s also worth keeping your eyes open for the cut-price beauty products recommended by the experts and winning awards.

A couple of examples stand out from recent coverage, including Boots Protect & Perfect for £23.95, which was so hotly tipped that it had a waiting list before its release in May last year. An even more affordable option is the £1.69 Bottle O’Butter moisturiser, which flew off the shelves thanks to an endorsement from the beauty press a while back.

Often in the mobile market, the more you pay, the more you get. So if you want a flash phone, all you can eat data, oodles of airtime and endless texts, you'll pay through the nose. The question you really need to ask yourself is whether you need all of this.

It’s worth checking your statements each month, and going back to look at them for the duration of your contract. Check your average use, then look at any extra you would have paid for the months when you went over this. In most cases, those who are paying for the very biggest mobile packages could save substantially by downshifting.


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