Financial Discipline

2 In 5 Americans Say Online Shopping Has Busted Their Budget

Americans say spontaneous spending makes them feel good, though they fail to realize the total amount they have spent on their credit or debit card until they see their monthly statement

New survey from AICPA Provides 5 tips to help Americans use online shopping to their advantage.

NEW YORK (June 16, 2021) – Shopping online from the comfort of your home can be easy and convenient, but it also leads to increased spending if you’re not careful. Two in 5 Americans (41 percent) say the ability to shop online has made it harder for them to stick to a monthly budget.

With more than half of Americans saying they have increased their overall online shopping (56 percent) since the start of the pandemic and online retailers regularly hosting annual savings bonanzas— budgets beware. This all according to research conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) late in the fourth quarter of 2020.

“Online shopping is a powerful tool that can either bolster or bust your budget depending on how you approach it,” said Gregory J. Anton, CPA, CGMA, chairman of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “If you take the time to shop online strategically, you should be able to compare and save, which gives you the opportunity to allocate money towards other financial goals.”

Poor Online Shopping Habits Potentially Busting Budgets

The survey also found that half of Americans (52 percent) say buying things when they want, without thinking too much about how much they cost, makes them feel good. An activity sometime referred to as ‘retail therapy.’ And concerningly, 2 in 5 Americans (39 percent) say they often don’t realize the total amount they have spent on their credit or debit card until they see their monthly statement.

“When spending is driven by emotions of want rather than need, it can get out of hand. Left unchecked, it can lead to serious financial drain,” added Anton.

Tips to Help Americans Keep Their Online Shopping from Busting Their Budget

1. Shop With A Plan

“Merchants have powerful strategies to encourage you to spend. So, level the playing field by entering the retail arena with a plan of your own for what you need and can afford. Determine what you plan to purchase and how much you’ll spend before you start shopping. If you have a plan, you’ll be less likely to give into overspending.” –Neal Stern, CPA, member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission

2. Take Time To Run The Numbers

“Before making any big purchase, remember to run all the numbers. Make sure you understand the return policy, delivery costs, and any fees/taxes associated with the purchase. Take the time to compare the total purchase cost with other retailers to see if the same item is available for a better deal elsewhere. A few minutes of research can go a long way to help you save money and bring you closer to your financial goals.” –Darryl Nitta, CPA, member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission

3. Try A Cooling Off Period

“In order to avoid making impulse purchases, it’s prudent to take a step back and assess whether it’s an actual ‘need’ or more of a ‘want.’ Try putting an unplanned purchase in your ‘cart’ online or implementing a ‘cooling off’ period where you allow a certain amount of time to elapse before clicking ‘buy’. This will allow the initial adrenaline burst to subside and for you to make a level-headed decision.” –Michael Landsberg, CPA/PFS, member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission

Online shopping is a powerful tool that can either bolster or bust your budget depending on how you approach it...

4. Don’t Shop Out Of Boredom

“If you find yourself browsing through your favorite online shopping sites just to pass time or for entertainment, you are likely to spend money on superfluous things that you may not be able to afford. Instead, consider earmarking distinct hours specifically for online shopping and use only that time to shop for the specific items in your budget.” –Kim Hardy, CPA, member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission

5. Utilize Technology Wisely

“Technology can be a powerful saving tool when used to help you find the best deals. However, be aware that your personal electronics also make you a constant target for email marketing and targeted ads which can inundate you with the feeling that you need to buy something you really don’t need.” –Tami Bolder, CPA, member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission

Additional Survey Findings:

  • Four in five Americans (82 percent) say promotions like free delivery or free shipping make them more likely to make an online purchase.

Since the start of the pandemic:

  • Three in ten (31 percent) Americans say their overall online/mobile shopping has increased significantly
  • A quarter of Americans (24 percent) say that they have increased purchasing from ads on social media
  • Half of Americans (50 percent) say they have increased use of video streaming services
  • About two in five Americans (39 percent) cite an increase in ordering groceries online
  • One-third of Americans (33 percent) say their use of third-party take-out delivery services has increased




This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of AICPA from December 15-17, 2020 among 2,116 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact [email protected]
About the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy Program
The AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy Program is a nation-wide, volunteer grass-roots effort to help Americans develop a better understanding of money management and take control of their financial lives. Since 2005, the AICPA has been empowering people to make better decisions with the tools and resources on the 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy website. Financial Literacy is the cause of the CPA profession and the 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program is the AICPA’s flagship corporate social responsibility effort. These efforts are focused on financial education as a public service and are completely free from all advertising, sales, and promotions. Connect on Facebook for tips, insights and motivation to keep your finances on track.
About the American Institute of CPAs
The American Institute of CPAs® (AICPA®) is the world’s largest member association representing the CPA profession, with more than 428,000 members in the United States and worldwide, and a history of serving the public interest since 1887. AICPA members represent many areas of practice, including business and industry, public practice, government, education and consulting. The AICPA sets ethical standards for its members and U.S. auditing standards for private companies, not-for-profit organizations, and federal, state and local governments. It develops and grades the Uniform CPA Examination, offers specialized credentials, builds the pipeline of future talent and drives continuing education to advance the vitality, relevance and quality of the profession.