Amazon, Past Its Prime

Two weeks ago, Wesley and I were reading in our peaceful living room, and our dog Ollie was nestled into his blankets on an armchair. It was almost 10pm, and we were about to call it a night when Ollie heard a disturbance outside and sprang off his throne, barking to protect the house! …from our Amazon delivery person. She was cheerful and good natured when we opened the door to thank her, but no one needs to be delivering a Dremel attachment to us at 10pm! Especially when there was zero urgency to the order. Wesley and I had been talking about whether we were using the benefits of Prime and that was the final straw before we decided to cancel.

I’ll go ahead and say upfront that I’m not suggesting everyone should cancel Prime, or sign up for Prime, or that we won’t sign up again in the future, but for our current season of life, the costs (not just monetary) outweigh the benefits. Examining how we made this decision could be useful practice in considering the actual price we pay – for the items, convenience, and instant gratification.

Our decision also coincides with Amazon’s recent announcement that they are increasing the Prime subscription amount for the first time since 2018. Any adjustment to a recurring expense is always a good reminder to see if we’ve assigned our money the best job. The subscription’s $20 increase per year is not going to make or break our budget, but could the $140 spent on an Amazon subscription be used in a way that adds more of a benefit to our family? And do we spend more money on quick, easy purchases than we would if we didn’t have this easy button?

The initial reason most people sign up for a Prime Membership is for free 1 or 2-day shipping, then we get hooked on all the ancillary benefits. For non-members, shipping is free with purchases over $25, but not guaranteed to be delivered within 1-2 days. However, when you check out with Prime, you can also elect an Amazon Day which is intended “to consolidate items into fewer boxes and cut down on the number of trips to your home, helping to reduce its carbon footprint.” In theory, I’m in full support of reducing the number of boxes and delivery trips to our house. Unfortunately that has not been our outcome when we select an Amazon Day for our orders. Items show up in separate boxes anyway! So we could arrive at the same outcome by waiting to place an order until we have more items in our cart… which means our total order is likely over $25 or $35 and qualifies for free shipping (albeit, slower shipping). Why am I paying $140/year for something I can get for free?

Below is a little snapshot of our Prime activity in 2021. [A little family summary: we have two adults and one dog in our house. Wesley works remotely from our house, and I work in the Beacon office. We live 5 minutes from two different grocery stores and 8 minutes from two different Target stores.]

That italicized bullet point stands out to me – over ¼ of the time, we ordered multiple options to choose from or an item we didn’t end up needing, which led to us going to a UPS store or Whole Foods to return an item! And who knows how many small items we kept because the effort to return was more than the cost of the item. I would love to know how much more we buy as a society because of the ease of ordering and breadth of options available on a service like Amazon. However, going back through all our order history and examining that now would cost too much of my time.

When I go through the cancellation process, these statistics are presented as my “journey through Prime.” Yikes. I wrote last month about how life is an adventure, and I’d rather not remember my life’s adventure by reviewing my Amazon purchases!

Are these benefits to me, or to them? Am I really receiving a benefit from having items show up at my door every day? Sometimes the answer is unequivocally yes, and I want to acknowledge the privilege that we live in such a connected world. However, the language used by the company doesn’t jive with the goals we’ve named as a family. Packages have “free shipping” but not really because we pay for the service. The language we use matters, and examining what has our money and attention and time is important. We may receive more of a benefit from having an item sit in our cart for a week, then reviewing an order with fresh eyes before checking out. An item may not cost much to purchase, or may be on Super Sale on Prime Day, but if it goes unused, it costs money and space in your house. Is the instant gratification worth it? Do we spend more time on the back-end returning items? What else deserves my attention and time?

I will admit it also feels a little odd to get rid of a convenient service when we have the space in our budget. One of the articles we included in our email this week talks about how wealth is what we don’t spend. It takes strength to reevaluate our current situation and eliminate things that are no longer needed or beneficial. Sometimes that’s with something as small as a monthly Prime subscription but sometimes the decision is much greater, with more of an impact and a worry that others will judge us for our decision.

As a side note: Going through this exercise also highlights the importance of knowing where your money is going. There are different approaches and methods to budgeting but it’s really tough to set concrete financial goals without having a sense of how our money is allocated. With so many Amazon purchases and returns, the transactions can get really confusing to track and separate within a budget. If you’re overwhelmed with the thought of trying to budget, I’d recommend starting by connecting your accounts to Mint or YNAB, and just observe your current spending and saving patterns. Use broader categories to make observations. You’ll start to notice patterns and we can help compare whether the current patterns align with the long-term goals you’ve set.

I may eat my words and sign up for Prime again in the future. If we do, we will have named what matters and made the decision in the context of our greater goals. It’s important to remain flexible and open to changes when warranted. Let us know if you have a decision weighing on your mind.

Ellen Martin
[email protected]

After graduating from UVA (go Hoos!), I moved to Raleigh for the Raleigh Fellows program where I fell in love with the city, its people, and a fellow Fellow who is now my husband, Wesley. I worked for another wealth management firm in Raleigh for seven years before joining the Beacon team in June of 2021. When not at work, you can most likely find Wesley and me walking our dog, Ollie, on the lovely Raleigh Greenways, or enjoying a cup of coffee and a La Farm white chocolate baguette.