Amazon Is Your Frenemy

Let’s face it, Amazon is the store we all love to hate. If we look at Trailing Houses, Amazon is the source of all things good in the world, and the reason that many have massive credit card bills. You need it, you want it, and you wish you didn’t. It’s your very best frenemy. It’s ok – we’re all there with you.

I’m not saying Amazon is inherently bad, or good. It’s a tool – it does what its user does. That said, there are some hacks that make Amazon a bit friendlier to your wallet, while making your life hopefully easier.

Note: all links are referral links, because this is about Amazon, after all.

Amazon Smile

Before we go any further, I want you to update your default path to Amazon. No more shall it just be No. You are going to use your consumer habits for good. You, my friend, are going to go to 

Amazon Smile allows you to send a (tiny) fraction of your purchases, including the first round of Subscribe & Save, to the non-profit of your choice. Personally, I support a local veterinary NGO in the country in which I work, but you can find anything on there.

Note: that a teensy tiny fraction of your spending now goes to charity does not mean that you can justify extra spending ‘for charity’. Nice try.

The 72 Hour Rule

<something annoying happens> “Ugh, this would have been so much better if I’d just had some fancy widget. I should go and buy it!”

We’ve all been there. Often. Most recently, I was exhausted, to the point where even going out to get food rather than cooking was just TOO MUCH. And I wanted grits – my comfort food of choice. So, of course, my exhausted self went online and looked up Quaker Cheesy Grits. Because, who doesn’t love cheesy grits? All I have to do is add water and I don’t have to even think about breakfast, though to be honest I think grits are an any-time food. Into my cart they went.

Normally, that would be it. $12 and a month later I’d have received a box of cheesy grits, not even remembered ordering it, and wondered why I thought I needed to order grits when I could get them, and cheese, locally.

But not now, oh no! Now, thanks to Mrs. Frugalwoods and her 72 hour rule article, while the cheesy grits still go into my cart, they stay there for a while – 72 hours to be precise. If that item is in my cart 3 days later, and I still want it, chances are it’s probably worth it. Otherwise, I delete it. This has saved me a lot of money since implementing.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading her entire article, as it’s well thought out and clearly articulated, but here’s the TL;DR: Online instant shopping makes it too easy for us to get things that we want but don’t actually need. By separating the time between when we want it and when we buy it, we can reduce the extra stuff we buy, save some money, and hopefully make our mailroom colleagues’ lives easier.

Camel Camel Camel

Not only is the name hysterical, but the site is a wonderful tool. In line with the 72 hour rule above, CamelCamelCamel helps you optimize the price you pay for purchases. If there’s something specific that you really want, you can track the price, looking at its historical price on Amazon. You can set a price threshold for something that you want, and it will send you an alert when the price drops to or below your set price. Very handy.

Amazon Prime

Chances are, you already have Amazon Prime. If not, please checkout my referral link 🙂

Amazon Prime started out as a benefit for those who didn’t want to pay for shipping, and wanted a faster shipping service. That doesn’t really work for us (I love that DPO exists, but I don’t understand its timetables, or what happens in that vortex between Chicago and post), but there are a bunch of other features that Amazon Prime gives access to that, in my opinion, make Amazon Prime worth the price.

Amazon Video

Yes, if you were being super frugal you’d only watch AFN and local TV stations. But, let’s be honest here: that way lies madness. Or at least a high chance of having no idea what the cool kids on the FaceBooks are talking about with their fancy meme things.

While you probably also have Netflix, there are several shows and movies that are available only on Amazon Video. Take, for example, the new Jack Ryan, which has us all looking at our GSO and EXO colleagues in a new light. “State Department Supply Chain Logistician”….mhmmm…

While Netflix and normal Amazon Video pretty much have you covered, there are some shows, usually those currently playing in the U.S., that aren’t available on either. For keeping up with those, there is the option to add certain ‘premium’ channels. You can add HBO to watch Game of Thrones, or maybe STARZ to catch up on Outlander. Even better than with the cable packages you’d have to add in the U.S., you can subscribe to the channel only as long as you want to watch, and can cancel without hassle. Plus, the link there will give you a 30 day free trial – plenty of time to binge 🙂

Amazon Music

As part of the Amazon Prime subscription, you get access to the basic level of Amazon Music, which declares that it has over 2 million songs to stream, through the website, your Alexa, or an app for your phone. Personally, I use this a lot as I’m working out – I like to run to the 80s mix – and at work, when I put it on one of the many ‘new age/meditation/zen’ channels to provide white noise. I used to use iTunes radio for this, but I prefer the Amazon music app as it will allow you to downvote or skip as many songs in a row as you like without forcing you to listen to a certain number of songs, presumably because they’re not trying to sell you something as Amazon music was already included with your Prime membership.

If the basic package isn’t enough for you, there is also the option to add the wider Amazon Music Unlimited, which claims to have over 10 million songs. I realize I may be a bit of a stick in the mud, but 2 million has served me just fine.

Prime Reading

A fairly well-hidden feature of the Prime subscription is access to their Prime Reading library of Kindle books. While the library doesn’t include all available Kindle books, it does include a fair number of them, including the majority of the Lonely Planet travel books. Prime Reading allows you to check out 10 at one time for any period of time – they are automatically delivered to your Kindle device or the free Kindle app. I use it to help me plan trips, and to stock up on ‘vacation reads’ for the journey.

In addition to the standard Prime Reading library, there is also Amazon First Reads, which gives prime subscribers a choice of 2 free pre-release kindle books from the editors’ picks. The selection changes monthly.

Twitch Prime

For all you nerds out there, Amazon’s purchase of Twitch means that you can get one stream for free with your Prime membership via Twitch Prime. Personally, I’m a fan of Critical Role, but to each their own 🙂

Amazon Photo

In a bid to keep up with Google, Shutterfly, and others, Amazon has offered a fraction of their massive server capacity to their prime members, providing 5GB free of photo storage to each account. Users can upload photos to Amazon Photo via a phone app, or from their computer. Upgrades for more space can, of course, be purchased, and Amazon is starting to offer photo products such as wall prints.

Whole Foods

Of less value to those of us overseas, Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods does provide a benefit for times like home leave, and can help stop Whole Foods from turning into Whole Paycheck, especially when you consider that you’re not getting your overseas bonuses on your forced vacation.

Having an active Prime Membership can get you access to special deals at Whole Foods as you shop. All you need to do is install the app on your phone, and it will provide a barcode that can be scanned at checkout. Further, if you purchase using your Amazon Credit Card, you can get 5% back, which is delivered to your online Amazon account for other purchases.

Subscribe & Save

Caveat: Online shopping through the DPO should not be used to replace your consumables shipment. DPO is highly subsidized and very expensive – buy as much as you can ahead of time, especially the heaviest things, and send it in your consumables rather than relying on Amazon and others to ship your supplies monthly.

That said, some times you don’t realize what you need until you’re there, or you need things that expire. For known, recurring needs, Amazon’s Subscribe and Save offers benefits. Subscribe & Save allows you to set up automated monthly shipments that allows Amazon to combine items into one shipment. For most items, there is a 5% price cut on the items you add; if you add 5 items or more to a monthly shipment, that increases to 15%. Shipment frequency can be adjusted per item, with the maximum gap between shipments set at 6 months. Further, if you find yourself accumulating an item, not using it up as you expected, you can skip or cancel your subscriptions easily.

So, what’s on my Subscribe & Save list? I use it for toiletries, some snacks, and my vitamins. I don’t have a lot of space in my current housing assignment, so I can’t get a lot of things at once. Plus, I look at the list each month and can skip things that I haven’t used up yet. It’s very flexible.

Wrap Up

I hope that this post has been handy for you. With our reliance on the postal service to provide our basic needs and a taste of home, Amazon can be a lifeline, or it can be the anchor dragging us down into debt. Taking full advantage of the services provided within your Prime membership, and remembering the 72 hour rule, can help you put Amazon to its best use for your overseas life.