IN NOVEMBER 2015, I got a notice from Amazon advising me that its security had been breached by some clever hacker and that my password may have been compromised. I was locked out of my account and instructed to set a new password.
In typical mindless fashion, I immediately set out to do just that. But then my inner contrarian stepped up and shouted some questions. I love this guy, even though most everyone around me thinks he’s a truculent moron.
“How can this happen?” he asked indignantly.
You mean to tell me that a retailer this big has failed to secure my data? This sets the convenience needle back a bit. I am not a fan of filling in required fields for any reason, plus now I have another password to manage.
“Can you trust Amazon?” he bellowed.
Hmmmm. Probably. I suppose the retailer’s employees have taken mitigating action and contacted me in my own interest. But they are responsible for an undetermined risk to my data and I find that inexcusable.
Now for the big one: “What happens if you stop buying from Amazon?” he sneered.
You’re joking, right? I mean, everyone uses Amazon for everything. You really have to use them. They make everything better through convenience. Even toothpaste, some would say.
It’s now been more than 18 months since I last used my Amazon account. How has that affected my life? Read on at your own risk.
1. I am more thoughtful about my purchases. The whole Amazon business model is built around closing the gap between stimulus and response. Come to think of it, every modern financial convenience is intended to make it just a little easier to transfer the wealth of the proles to clever people in fancy offices.
That’s not a moral judgment, it’s just reality: You see a shiny object (metaphor for something that psychologically appeals to your lizard brain), you do an internet search and—bam!—there it is on Amazon for a low, low price. Without Amazon, I am much more intentional about my purchases.
2. Therefore, I spend less. If the item I’m interested in requires just a little work on my part, I am more likely to make a better financial decision about the purchase. This is contrary to the entire economic system and could lead to the end of civilization. Cool.
When we were a young, penurious couple, Donna and I took the advice of Larry Burkett, the founder of Christian Financial Concepts. We agreed that for any non-budgeted purchase we would get three prices and wait 30 days before pulling the trigger. Many times that spared us a poor purchase decision, as our knowledge grew and the reality of the outcome was given some soak time. I didn’t consider myself to be an undisciplined spender prior to Amazon, but the impact on my consumption-to-savings ratio has been measurable.
3. I have less stuff. Having lived in the same house for 23 years, I am a case study in accumulation. I came by this trait honestly, as my father was a product of the Depression and knew scarcity in a way I likely never will. But there is a cost in terms of tidiness. Combine that with hyper-consumption and life can seem a bit crowded. The mental health benefits of reduced clutter are well documented. Those minimalist freaks may be on to something.
4. I have more time. Once the endorphins of package opening have receded back to a lonely crevice of my formerly fecund brain, I still have to manage some object and the package in which it was delivered. The stuff I like to buy tends to need attention in terms of cleaning, sharpening, polishing, lubricating, painting, adjusting and improving, all involving further purchases from Amazon. Now, I spend less time trying to figure out how to store and manage items that I should never have bought in the first place.
5. I invest more. As an amateur investor, I’m always looking for new ways to generate passive income. This is a reliable path to financial freedom for the un-wealthy. If a day comes when I don’t love my job, I want the freedom to politely tell someone where to insert it. We are all some ratio of consumer-to-saver. Anything that improves the ratio increases the freedom factor.
6. I have more relationships with local merchants. Now that more of my buying is local, I meet more human resources related to my purchases. Having been a local merchant, I fully understand the value in these relationships from both sides of the counter. It makes for a more civil and better-connected community. This is abstract but highly relevant, now more than ever.
7. I use the library more. I read voraciously. It can be an expensive habit. Amazon does books like no one, and it’s very easy to have them delivered to my porch. Still, today, more library book selection is done from the comfort of home, downloading audio and e-books at little or no cost. I read some esoteric stuff, so occasionally I still need to purchase online. Just not from Amazon.
8. On balance, I pay more per individual item. I’m not tracking cost differential and so can’t quantify, but I assume this is true. Nonetheless, due to the overall reduced spending and other benefits listed here, I feel fine about this. You can’t expect good service from your local merchant if you chisel every last nickel out of every transaction.
9. I can be more generous. Generosity is important to me. I give more intentionally, and have created a separate financial account to allow me to respond to people in need on short notice through organizations that are financially accountable. Not only can I give more because I am spending less, but also I am more aware of how those gifts are helping the lives of people.
Overall impact? On balance, abandoning Amazon has improved my quality of life. My decision won’t change the unfortunate consumption trends in our culture, but it will reduce clutter in my little world, while increasing my knowledge and resourcefulness. It will also increase the comfort margin if I need to leave the workforce for any unforeseen reason. Anything that helps me sleep better has great value these days.
So, yes, there is life after Amazon. Try it risk-free for 30 days, with a money-back guarantee and free shipping. What have you got to lose?
When not paddling, biking or shooting, Phil Dawson provides technical services for a global auto manufacturer. He, his sweetheart Donna and their four extraordinary daughters live in and around Jarrettsville, Maryland.