Pay Dirt

I Need to Put a Stop to My Mom’s Online Shopping

Older woman holding a credit card and a laptop.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I live in the same city as my 75-year-old mother and provide a lot of informal care for her. As part of these responsibilities, I monitor her financial accounts and have access to her statements/spending.

She has mobility issues, which limit her ability to go out and I think contribute to a mild-to-moderate online shopping addiction. She has enough assets and income that this isn’t really a financial concern, but does crowd her two-bedroom apartment with many unnecessary items. I have tried to talk to her in the past about managing some of these issues but have given up when faced with too much resistance. The problem now is that she is increasingly having issues with the mechanics of online ordering: She accidentally orders multiples of expensive items, sends expensive orders to the wrong address, and thinks that she ordered something that she didn’t hit “confirm” for. She blames this on the vendors—and I am the one who ends up dealing with the returns of, for example, $400 worth of plastic cups. I have suggested that she needs to just provide me lists of what she wants and I will do the ordering but she is very resistant to this option. As the informal steward (though formal power of attorney), I feel like this is my responsibility but I’m not sure of the best path forward. My siblings live far away and are not as active in her care.

—More Mommy Problems

Dear Mommy Problems,

People with limited mobility often develop online shopping addictions  because it provides a way to pass the time. If your mom is open to other hobbies, you might want to support her in finding an activity accessible to her that helps fulfill the boredom: joining a senior social group (especially if there’s transportation in place) or a low-impact exercise group, or finding an at-home activity like knitting or puzzles.

Even if overspending isn’t the primary concern for your mother, a prepaid debit card for online shopping might cut down on multiple orders as it will stop working when she’s exhausted the budget. You can also experiment with placing parental controls on her online shopping haunts or even a teen-focused debit card like Greenlight that requires you to OK her purchases before they go through.

If it is only about the “stuff,” consider hiring a cleaner for your mom’s apartment with extra household organizing duties. A cleaner and organizer would take over the returning and decluttering you’ve been handling. They can also warn you if your mother’s shopping habits worsen.


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