How to decide when to shop local and when to shop online

Use these helpful tips to spend responsibly while supporting your community.

Tags: Budgeting, Savings
Published: November 08, 2021

With smartphones, laptops and tablets at our fingertips, it’s easy and convenient to shop online. It gives us access to everything we could ever need, even niche and vintage objects we won’t find elsewhere. But when it comes to everyday essentials, shopping on the internet has drawbacks. Buying items that you can otherwise find in your local community leads to unnecessary environmental impact and lost revenue for your neighborhood, or another neighborhood in need.

Here are some things to consider when deciding if you want to shop virtually or in your community.


Shipping impacts your wallet and the environment

When you see a trendy item online, it can be tempting to purchase it right away – especially when just a few clicks are required. But before checking out, stop to think about shipping. Not only will shipping be harmful on the environment with the fuel used to transport the item from its original destination directly to your home, it will also likely cost you additional money.

While having a package delivered directly to your door is convenient, those shipping costs could be allocated elsewhere in your budget. Think about how else you might be able to spend the money – perhaps you could donate it to a cause you care about, put it toward your savings or use it to support a small business nearby.

Some items simply can’t be accessed easily within your geographic area, and in those cases, it makes sense to purchase from an online marketplace and pay for shipping. If you do place an online order, be sure to order everything you’ll need at once instead of one at a time. This will reduce waste by cutting back on the number of packages sent.


Shopping local supports your community

There are many benefits to spending money in your neighborhood. For example, stopping in frequently lets you develop a relationship with the store owners. The social connection is always a benefit, plus you can learn so much more about the products you purchase.

Economically, spending locally strengthens your community. In particular, aim to avoid chains and opt to support small businesses instead. For every $100 spent at a small business, nearly 70% stays in the local economy rather than going back into a large corporate system, according to Forbes.

Funneling money back into your community creates more jobs, promotes diversity, improves local product supply networks and even increases home values.  Since many small retailers are strained due to COVID-19, you may also choose to shop for necessities, specialty items or gifts in nearby neighborhoods who could also benefit from additional financial support right now.


Be conscientious with your purchases

To make shopping local part of your regular routine, plan ahead. Use resources like maps, review sites and referrals from friends and neighbors to make a list of small businesses you want to support.

Add several businesses to each category as a guide to reference each time you need to make a certain type of purchase. Even if they’re temporarily closed or operating differently due to COVID-19, keep them on your list for future commerce or the possibility of support in other capacities. 

Planning in advance can be especially helpful when it comes to choosing whether to shop online or shop local. At the beginning of each week or month, try to anticipate any large or specialty purchases you’ll need to make. If there’s something you aren’t able to find in your community, online shopping is a great second option. Doing your best to limit online orders from massive marketplaces will help the environment, your finances and your neighborhood.


Find answers to common questions and advice on making smart financial choices here.