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What Evidence Are You Leaving Behind?


For the most part, I’ve managed to conquer my shopping addiction. Sure, I buy random things every now and then, but on a much smaller scale than I did in the past. After nearly 18 months of (mostly) good behavior, sometimes it’s easy to forget how much I’ve really overcome. And other times, I remember all too well that it takes more than a year or two to recover from mistakes, especially financial ones.

Yesterday I was looking at a book on Amazon (and convincing myself I didn’t need to buy it). I decided to look at my account history – you can see every single order you’ve ever placed, which is a pretty cool feature. As I was looking, I thought, I wonder how much money I’ve spent there over the years. I’m kind of a book addict, so I assumed I had spent at least $2,000 since I opened my account.

I went through each year, starting with 1999 when I placed my very first order with Amazon. And I nearly died when I added up the total I’ve spent since then.

My Amazon Spending History

After I finished having a miniature heart attack – $6,000 would nearly pay off my car loan! – I noticed something interesting about the amounts I spent. The four highest spending years I had were 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2009. Guess what was going on in my life during those years?

  • 2005: My grandmother died, I graduated from college, and I started graduate school
  • 2006: I finished graduate school, found out my husband was having an affair, and filed for bankruptcy
  • 2008: I began to crack under the pressure of trying to hold my marriage together
  • 2009: I remodeled a house, moved, and got divorced

How funny that the evidence of my emotional spending is right there in black and white. During the four most stressful years of my life, I spent significantly more money than I did during the “calm” years. And that’s only one store that happens to provide a detailed history. What would I see if I could view my history at Old Navy, Walmart, Zappos, Goody’s, and Target? Probably the same pattern, only in larger amounts that would make me want to puke.

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide!

I can still feel my face flushing as I type this. It is so embarrassing to remember my former self, furiously clicking and shopping and swiping in hopes of distracting myself from what I was going through. I do still own all the books I’ve purchased from Amazon, but it’s not like I look at them every day and say, “Now THAT is what got me through those rough patches!” I don’t credit them with making me who I am today. In fact, I don’t do that with any of the stuff I bought during those years.

So why was that stuff so vitally important to me back then? It didn’t contribute to my survival or well-being in any meaningful way. I can’t think of a single reason behind all that spending except attempting to escape. And it didn’t even work – my grandmother is still gone, I’m still recovering from infidelity, and I’m still divorced. I can’t run from my past, financial or otherwise, no matter how much I’d love to sometimes.

My spending history does not tell an accurate story of my life. If an outsider went through my finances, s/he would see a spendaholic. An impulse shopper. An irresponsible dumbass. And while I own all of those aspects of my past, I know I’m more than that, and I was more than that back then.

What Are You Leaving Behind?

Imagine that random people (or even your grandkids!) come across your financial records someday, long after you’re gone. What story will those records tell? Does your spending reflect who you are, or who you want to be someday? Or, like mine, does it make you seem like someone you’d rather not be?

I said a long time ago that you can’t erase bad memories. Not with time, not with money. What you can do, though, is create good memories to pile up on top of the bad ones. Eventually, the bad memories are squished under all the positive things you’ve done, and the positives win.

No matter how many mistakes you’ve made, there’s still time to recover. Changing your financial habits NOW can result in a spending history that doesn’t make you cringe, and a lifestyle that revolves around the important things – your relationships with people you care about, not how much junk you can buy. It’s those relationships that will sustain you during a crisis, whether or not you’re able to see that at the time.

If someone looked at your spending right now, would their assumptions about you fit who you really are? If not, what needs to change so that your finances more accurately reflect YOU and your values?


About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. If someone looked at my spending right now, they would see a cheapskate. Anyone in their right mind would think I'm a boring person because of it. That doesn't fit me. I am not boring as I enjoy many things, some of which cost a lot of money. It's just that right now I'm on a mission and have a goal set to save a bunch of money for my future, so I'm being incredibly cheap. It's temporary and I expect my lifestyle as it is today to last just a couple more years or so. I'll continue to be cheap after that, but not to this extreme.If you look at the change in my spending over the years though, you may get a little more of an idea of who I am. You'll see someone who used to spend everything he made, but drastically changed it during the past few years. You may assume I am a person who makes changes in my life and goes at something with high focus and persistence. That would be accurate. All in all, the numbers without any context will not give you much of an accurate story, at least not one that's easy to interpret. I'm not that simple of a person. 

    • I don't know that I would necessarily interpret what you've described as "cheap." Especially when your money is being funneled for a purpose. Anyone could look at your savings and see that your priority is putting away money for the future – nothing wrong with that at all! 

  2. April Stotler says:

    I noticed that as soon as I graduated from High School and was allowed to spend my OWN money instead of contribute to my parents' household, I spent 60% of my income on books. BAM, B&N and Amazon were my dealers of book-crack. I didn't use the library because most of the time I'd have to WAIT for a book to be available.

    Last year I went through and cleansed out about 300 books from my collection and sold them to a local used book store. I got store credit from it and was able to get a few new books, but not in the quantity that I had. I don't regret doing it. I'm moving to start a new job in a few months and it's so nice to know that I'm free of those pounds of books for a while. I've started using my library a lot more, 'specially for audiobooks. My library has a digital catalog and a downloaded book is a weight free book. PLUS, it goes away after a few weeks, leaving me room for a new one.You're very brave to confess this. It helps to know I'm not alone. ((SUPPORT HUG))PS: Lori is a snake…but I also really don't like Shane and am excited to see where the story is going to go with this. 😀 #walkingdead

    • I have several issues with using the library. First, the tiny library where I live is only open during set hours (like 10-3 during the week and closed on weekends) that made it impossible to go when I worked full-time in another county. Second, I reread my books over and over, so I hate borrowing them from the library because I won't have them when I want to read them again!

      I did cull my collection considerably when I finished my office last year. Still, I have two shelves that are absolutely stuffed with books. I don't know how to force myself to get rid of something I use!!!

      Re: Walking Dead – Lori is evil! I wish she would have been eaten. I've read spoilers, so I know where the story is supposedly going, and last night semi-confirmed what I read. I want to stab her character in the face.

      • Re:re: Walking Dead
        Do you mean you've been reading the comic?

        • I've looked at the comic before, but the show seems to be diverging from the original storyline quite a bit. I've actually been reading the Walking Dead forums on Television Without Pity, which has a pretty accurate spoiler thread. (Warning: If you've never seen TWOP before, wait until you've got some time to spend! I could stay on there all day.)

  3. If someone were to look at my spending they would correctly guess that I'm the cheapest guy out there.  I love me some Amazon purchases, especially after I paid $40 for a Prime membership.  Tell you what, as much as I've probably spent at Amazon, I've probably saved thousands of dollars over time by buying online.  

    Given the cost of things like electronics, cords, and all kinds of odds and ends at big box stores, the 2-day shipping plus low costs at Amazon are the best deal out there.  Besides, it's freaking cold outside – I put a high price on the comfort of shopping from home.  To get a discount for shopping online is just gravy!

  4. I am really intrigued at what they would see. I am actually not sure at all. My card doesn’t my own spending habits. It shows my mother’s, up until 2010 when I took the card over. Even then, it still took me a few months before I managed to get full control over the usage of that card. I have never really shopped online much, so there's not many other places from where to get evidence from. Needless to say, it would be a very boring, confusing picture. What would someone see if they looked at my own spending record? Someone who is very, very broke, who is contributing too much to causes that are not their own or even for their own benefit (namely, my parents’ expenses). A very financially inept person.

    • I don't know that it makes you financially inept to help your parents. I think that makes you a very caring person, though I'm sure it must be stressful. It could be much worse – you could be unable or unwilling to help your parents because you were too busy spending on yourself!

  5. You are so preaching to the choir in this post! Aren't you thankful that you're in a place right now where you can recognize your tendencies and work towards making better choices! Awesome post. 

    • It took a long time to get here – I never would have looked at my Amazon history before because I wouldn't have wanted to know how much I'd spent. All I can do is take what I can from it and work to make better choices from now on. 🙂

  6. I love that Amazon keeps your forever history but at the same time it does allow for those 'What the holy heck was I thinking?' moments.  If you looked at our current spending, I'd say you'd probably see that we definitely have picked up our spending at Target.  Which is OK since we buy a lot of formula and other stuff for our 8-month old.  Amazon has lost a huge chunk of my business since cutting the Amazon Mom program last month and forcing people to join Prime to participate.

    • I didn't realize that the Amazon Mom program had been cut! That makes me sad – I know many people who use it. 

      I tried a trial of Prime but I spent even more money when I could get things faster. Had to cancel and step away before I bankrupted myself buying books.

  7. ah. I have a heartbreak paper-trail marked with receipts as well (most of them say Paris, France). Actually since I started tracking my spending since Jan. 1 2012, I'm a little disappointed to admit I don't think my spending is under control. It just looks like I'm doing better because I save more because I earn more, but I still have a lot of bad behaviours to tackle. Still, I think my spending would reflect me & my values. Lots of travel expenses, followed closely by beauty expenses (spa, hair and lastly, clothes). See the world & be seen my financial motto, apparently. 

    (god I feel like I just got the idea for 3 blog posts in this comment. You bring out the best in me hahaha)

    • I like the fact that you're spending money on the things that are important to you! That's something I need to do more – right now, it looks like all I care about is eating. Which actually might be an accurate reflection of my life in the last few months. =P

  8. krantcents says:

    My spending reflects my priorities.  Dinners with friends and a movie once a month.  Savings rate of 30-35%.  Every other year overseas travel which makes it a priority.

  9. Hmmmm if someone looked at my spending RIGHT NOW they would be right in saying that I'm doing something different than what I'm always telling everyone, my eating out spending is ridiculous these last two months.. need to cut it back. 

    • I'm just ashamed of my Amazon spending so far this year! I'll have to talk about it in my spending roundup at the end of the month, but it kind of makes me want to throw up. Beyond that I've been better about spending this month.

  10. If you still have all the books, think about selling them used on Amazon! You won't get back all you spent, but you gain space by decluttering and you'll have a little bit of cash to show for it.

    • I think I just felt my palms get sweaty. Sell my books?!?!? But then what will I READ??? 🙂

      I read all of my books over and over. It seriously hurts to think about getting rid of them. But I know there are some that I probably wouldn't miss – mainly old textbooks, though I do refer to them sometimes. Definitely wouldn't get rid of any fiction because that's my coping skill.

  11. I have tried really hard to not look at that history in Amazon.  I'm going to have to now though to see if I can notice any trends.  I'm just glad I can't track what I used to spend at Borders–and I know it was pretty bad because of the employee discount when I worked there.  I would let myself buy whatever I wanted because "it's a great deal".  I know for a few months I was getting over $30 in border bucks due to the sheer amount I spent.  I'm so ashamed of that rampant spending now.

    As to what they would see now…hmm, I'm still trying to get my spending habits under control.  So it really depends on the month–but I'm getting there! 

    • It takes time. I'm really glad there are no bookstores where I live AND I no longer drive past a Books A Million to get to work. If I had to add in all that book spending on top of what I've spent with Amazon, I'd probably cry.

      • I don't like to sell books that I reread over and over again either–but I've found that when I was having a discount I would buy books to "try" and then would not really like them but not want to part with them.  What I've been doing is selling the ones that were given to me (as in "hey you like to read.  I'll give you this random stack of books!" and I don't like any of them) or I bought and don't read at all and I'm selling them at the used book store for instore credit so that I can buy books I actually enjoy.  Or I donate them to the library.  It helps my clutter, I get to keep/buy the books I love to read over and over.

  12. I am really intrigued at what they would see. I am actually not sure at all. My card doesn’t my own spending habits. It shows my mother’s, up until 2010 when I took the card over. Even then, it still took me a few months before I managed to get full control over the usage of that card. I have never really shopped online much, so there’s not many other places from where to get evidence from. Needless to say, it would be a very boring, confusing picture. What would someone see if they looked at my own spending record? Someone who is very, very broke, who is contributing too much to causes that are not their own or even for their own benefit (namely, my parents’ expenses). A very financially inept person.

  13. If you still have all the books, think about selling them used on Amazon! You won’t get back all you spent, but you gain space by decluttering and you’ll have a little bit of cash to show for it.

  14. I really enjoyed this post!  My spending records now reflect the money manager I strive to be.  As time goes on, there are fewer and fewer entries in the spreadsheet that get my back up.  I know that spending money feels good – the high of the buy – but I also know that spending money frivolously causes both problems in my marriage and doesn't solve one single thing for me emotionally. Making that connection has been paramount in maintaining the lifestyle changes that I needed to finally make.

    As for all of my old financial records, I shredded the lot!  I couldn't bear to look at them myself much less imagine members of my family doing so.  I wouldn't want them to remember me like that.

  15. If they looked right now, they'd certainly see an accurate picture of who I am and how I present myself financially. If they looked back to about 5 or 6 years ago, they'd think they were learning about a completely different person. I always say that if I could/can do it (in terms of changing poor financial habits), ANYONE can. 

    Good for you for keeping your head on straight and moving forward. You'll have those loads of positive memories in no time!

  16. Emotional spending was definitely a trigger, but now I'm finding plain ol' temptation of reading style blogs and going to the mall just to "BROWSE" (haha. haha.. HAHhahahahahah) is worse. I have to really stay away from malls unless I have a purpose. Otherwise… bye bye $$.

  17. YourFinancesSimplifi says:

    If someone looked at my spending right now they would think I'm crazy.  on one hand they would see that we save a great deal of money.  On the other hand they will see tons of splurging.  Fortunately this splurging is all premeditated to keep us from abandoning our aggressive savings/passive income goals

  18. What a great exercise!  I went and looked as well, since I was curious and I'm amazed at how many books I purchased in the early 2000s.  It turns out that when I discovered the joy of going to the library, my Amazon spending went down substantially and has been nearly zero for the last 4 years.  I think we all spend more than we think we do and that spending is often emotional, or a perceived need that doesn't really exist.

  19. wow it's crazy to look back at your spending…I'm not sure I would want to know how I was spending a few years ago. But the point is we're doing better now!

  20. My spending is somewhat consistent month to month.  For example, I consistently use about $1500 of credit card spending every month.  

  21. MiCommonCents says:

    Wow! that's crazy! But my line of credit is like that for me… I think I will keep all my statements to remind myself of what I never want to be again!
    PS how do I add / find your post archives widget??  

  22. Penny Frugalista says:

    You'd see that Target eats up most of my spending, but mainly on items for the baby. Other than that, we buy clothes 2-3 times a year (and only with a 30% off coupon from Kohl's or a gift card), and a large purchase or two for the house, such as furniture. We rarely go out to eat and only spend on necessities, otherwise. We're fairly frugal. Future generations would probably see us as pretty boring people who watched their pennies as best they could.

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