How NOT to cure boredom.

thToday’s press release from Ebates bothered me a good deal. The cash-back shopping site recently surveyed 1,000 people and learned, among other things, that 49 percent use mobile devices to shop while waiting in line.

Apparently it “cures boredom.”

All the Internet at your fingertips – the chance to download millions of e-books for free, listen to amazing music, view more cat pictures than anyone really needs – and you decide to kill time by shopping?

Couple of things, here:

  • How long are the lines in which you’re waiting?
  • How’s your budget holding up under this anti-boredom tactic?

I understand that even five minutes in line can feel endless. It isn’t, since you do eventually get to go home. Even if it turned into half an hour of waiting, is there no other way to occupy your mind? (See “cat pictures” et al., above.)

Possibly some of these folks aren’t actually buying, just shopping – the equivalent of window-shopping in place. After all, some people can walk through a store and look at lots but leave empty-handed.

But the Internet is superb at creating need where none exists. Oh, that funny T-shirt would be perfect for your brother. A skin-care shop is having a sale on products in your favorite scent. What an interesting herbal tea sampler, and your tisane-loving BFF could use a little pick-me-up….

Throw in free shipping and you’re gone. As is a chunk of your budget.

We can resist anything except temptation

Even if you don’t buy these things, you’re now aware of their existence. I believe that the more bright shiny objects you see, the more you’re likely to go back and get them later on. (Especially since some e-tailers will send coupon codes to those who look but don’t buy.)

Do you really need to buy new things every time you’re bored? More to the point, can you afford to do this? And for extra credit: How long before it morphs into more clutter?

If you’re living on a careful budget, do yourself a favor and avoid this kind of aimless shopping. Cruising your favorite retailers to see what’s new or poking around on T-shirt sites “just for fun” is like a recovering alcoholic deciding to stop by the bar for a soda. Sure, he might not drink anything but Diet Coke. But who needs that kind of temptation?

Lately I’ve taken to deleting all e-mails from Groupon and Living Social. Generally I think such sites are swell if you use them right, i.e., if it were something you were going to buy anyway.

But these vouchers can also create “need,” and my budget is extremely tight these days due to my recent decision to scale back. Whereas I used to buy treats for family and friends fairly regularly, now I have to watch my spending very carefully indeed.

Dodging the want-thats 

Not that I’m never tempted. The other day I found myself wavering over an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels deal advertised in the newspaper. “It’s only $6,” I thought, “and the boys love pretzels.”

Ultimately I reminded myself that there’s no such thing as “only” $6 these days, especially since I want to beef up my emergency fund after recent visits to my daughter and my dad.

So I just invited my great-nephews over and fed them Café Awesome-style. A good time was had by all. No one said, “Gee, I wish I were eating a soft pretzel right now.”

Surveys like this one make me glad I use a burn phone with no data package. Any time I’m stuck in line I won’t be able to hunt for virtual pretty pebbles. Besides, I have a magic talisman in my backpack at all times: It’s called a paperback book and it does wonders to scare off the want-thats.

Readers: Do you shop with a mobile device when you’re stuck in line? Ever have buyer’s remorse over something that looked irresistible while you waited at the DMV?

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  1. I don’t shop on my phone to start with – but if I’m in line, I pull out my ereader and read. Before I had my ereader, I *always* had at least one book with me at all times – thanks to technology, I no longer finish a book and run out of things to read 🙂

  2. Paperback, conversation, have not made the smart phone plunge yet, hope not to be talked into it!

  3. Holly S

    NOT me.
    1. There is NOTHING I need so much that I will stand in a line of more than 3 people.
    2. I do NOT own a smart phone.
    3. I will ever buy clothes or shoes online. Fit is too iffy.
    4. The only things I do buy online are grandkids bday gifts and fun, cheap costume jewelry.
    5. I DO buy deals from groupon and/or restaurant.com for doing things w/friends BUT only from my home computer where I keep my online purchases only credit card.

    I do carry a book w/me for longer waits like the Dr or dentist.

  4. Bluezette

    Since I work from home I don’t even have a dumb phone, just a land line. But would I be an evil person for admitting that I’d rather the person in front or behind me in line be shopping on their phone instead of shifting their weight from foot to foot, accompanied by loud, chest heaving sighs to express their impatience?

    • Donna Freedman

      Well, that is an issue….If you’ve got an iPod or any other music device, plug in your favorite music and tune out the sighers.

    • You mean I’m not the only one without a cell phone? I work in a middle school, and the kids are shocked that I don’t have one. It would be convenient, but I don’t need it or the the bill that comes with one.

  5. mrs. short

    I haven’t ventured into the “shop by phone” world yet, as I’ve just acquired my very first smartphone. Aside from the $280 up-front fee to purchase the phone, I’m actually paying the same amount ($35/month + taxes) for this phone as I was for my “dumb phone.” I justify the cost of the phone by signing up for shopkick, which rewards in Target gift cards, among others. I couldn’t do shopkick on my other phone. Eventually the cost of the phone will be made back and I’ll be saving up for gift cards for kitty food and other necessities!
    All of that being said, I don’t think I trust buying by smartphone, so I doubt I’ll go down that road!!

  6. I have a smartphone, and use it frequently in line — it has a kindle app, so there’s no need to carry a physical book around. I don’t shop for fun, but I am also EXCELLENT at not buying online. I never impulse buy online. I impulse buy in stores all the time. If I could do all of my shopping online I would, because I agonize over every online purchase in a way that I haven’t managed to replicate in person.

    • Donna Freedman

      Interesting! I think for lots of other people it’s the other way around — buying online is like playing a game, whereas they’ll try on the clothing item and stare at themselves in the mirror and agonize over whether it’s right.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  7. Catseye

    I also have a burner phone, I def can’t afford a smartphone right now. I very seldom shop online anyway, I prefer to go to a brick-and-mortar store. I need to see and feel the merchandise to make sure it’s exactly what I want. About the only thing I really feel comfortable ordering online is books and I haven’t done that in months because I’m also on a very strict budget.
    At my old job, I had a decades younger co-worker who was supposed to train me in how to do one of her jobs so I could be back-up for her when she wasn’t there. She had roughly the better part of a year to accomplish the task. Never happened. She couldn’t tear herself away from her smartphone long enough. She also couldn’t stop streaming movies on her work PC, something we were strictly forbidden to do. *sigh* Even though I’m currently unemployed, I don’t miss that place.

  8. To widen this topic a bit, shopping out of boredom goes beyond using the smart phone/internet. I am definitely guilty of this. Through a stroke of good luck my husband and I find we have more in retirement income than we ever expected. We support several, carefully selected charities and still have more money than we need.

    I don’t want to keep buying for the grandkids as THEY have more than they need. And yes, we do put money away for their college needs every month.

    But often after lunch with other retired friends, we find ourselves browsing a nearby store, I am ashamed to admit. It doesn’t hurt our budgets, but I still know I don’t need any more (fill in the blank.)

    • Donna Freedman

      Well, keep this mantra in mind: You don’t have to own something in order to appreciate it. I see lots of pretty or interesting things but that doesn’t mean I have to buy them.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  9. Can’t understand what line would be so long that you would have to pull out your phone and start shopping except for the lines at Disneyland. Whatever happened to making conversation with the person next to you, “people watching” or just plain thinking/daydreaming? It is sad that we need to be entertained every minute of the day.

    • Donna Freedman

      This +100. Just being still and quiet for a little while (deep breathing, slowing down for maybe the first time all day), or using the time to make mental or physical lists, think about what’s coming up that week, whatever.
      Then again, I don’t have a smartphone — and this is part of the reason why. The expense is a biggie, but so is the inability to stop being connected. A woman I know took a driving trip with an old pal and every time they were able to get a wi-fi signal the friend was off to the races. The iPhone wound up being a third (uninvited) party and the trip wasn’t as pleasant as it could otherwise have been.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  10. I cannot see the need for anything but my Samsung III, a flip phone without a querty keyboard that makes texting a chore. So, it is just a phone. I don’t buy much online and never clothing.

    Since a bad experience, I will make it abundantly clear that when I am with another person, the phone will not be a participant. I was insulted that the person was laughing at what the texter said, while I just sat, clueless, bored, and insulted.

  11. I definitely use my smartphone while waiting in line and definitely while shopping but specifically to comparison shop and make a better decision than just buying in store without research.

    I don’t actually buy anything online using the phone unless I know that that’s the best deal; that said, I do most of my shopping online to save energy and avoid people. 🙂

    Conventions tend to mean hours of lines. Chatting with neighbors only goes so far, and sometimes the phone’s a great shield against those we don’t want to get sucked into a conversation with! Outside of conventions, it’s a great shield generally and I’m usually doing a spot of work to clear my inbox.

    • Donna Freedman

      Good point about using the phone to comparison-shop or to look for coupons. And yes, if I had a smartphone I’d be clearing junk e-mails or answering quick questions.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  12. I do not shop on my phone but I will use it to catch up on what people are doing on social media. I have started doing things like updating my drivers license address (and other things that are required) online so that I don’t have to wait in line and I’m not tempted to go on websites that I know I will want to spend money on.


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