A woman who spent $41,000 on Amazon highlights a critical money lesson

Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City.
Mike Segar | Reuters

Do you know how much you spent on takeout last month? What about on Uber? Or online shopping?

If you don't track your expenses, the totals may be alarming.

They certainly were for one 38-year-old software engineer and blogger, who happened to look up her Amazon order history a few years ago only to discover that, in 2014 alone, she had placed 177 orders and bought 427 items. "I had acquired more new things than there are days in the year!" writes "Mrs. BITA," who asked to remain anonymous, of "Bayalis Is The Answer."

How much do you spend on Uber each month?
How much do you spend on Uber each month?

The numbers get worse. From 2008, when she first started using Amazon, to 2016, she spent $41,000 on more than 1,400 items. That's 178 items a year, or about 15 a month.

"I have no idea what most of those 1,427 things are, or even where they might be," she writes. "So not only did I waste the money, I didn't even procure anything of lasting value."

As Mrs. BITA notes, her habit cost her much more than just the $41,000 she paid Amazon over the years. Had she put that money to work, assuming a five percent annual investment return, she figures it would have grown to roughly $108,000 in 20 years.

The "true cost," she says, is "the money tree that I could have grown using a $41,000 acorn," and "the amount of freedom frittered away. How much earlier could I have gained financial independence? How many extra hours do I have to now stay chained to my cubicle?"

Here's how much you should save at every age
Here's how much you should save at every age

If you have no idea how much of your money is going towards subscriptions, coffee or Amazon, it may be time to find out, especially since you could be spending twice as much as you think you are online.

Try recording each and every purchase you make for a couple of months by keeping a spreadsheet on your computer or using an app such as Mint, Personal Capital or Level Money. Chances are you'll find there are ways you could cut back.

Don't stop there. Once you find ways to trim your spending, invest that extra money so it'll grow over time.

Since stumbling upon her Amazon order history in 2014, Mrs. BITA has changed her habits drastically. In 2017 so far, she's placed nine orders on the site for a total of $255. "Barring one, everything on the list is a consumable — exciting stuff like dog food, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, diapers, tea and toothpaste," she writes.

No matter how egregious your habits are, once you recognize them, you can always change them, she says: "Even the most immense amounts of stupidity are not necessarily permanent, nor fatal."

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