Family Finance: Contemplating Life Without Amazon Prime

There are plenty of shopping alternatives that can save you money without a membership fee, and some even support local businesses.

Jennifer Wray
Jennifer Wray

Fourteen years. That’s how long I’ve had an Amazon Prime membership, starting way back in 2008. Over the years, Amazon has become my place to buy just about anything: books, cellphone chargers, mega-packs of fruit leather, wet wipes, dresses, shoehorns, salsa, a hammock, vitamins, face masks, games and countless other items.

Subscribe & Save purchases had taken the guesswork out of making sure we always had diapers, dishwasher detergent and the like. And Amazon Prime offers some terrific TV shows and movies to stream at no additional charge. But the growing expense of Prime membership (up $60 since I joined), not to mention headlines about warehouse working conditions and the pressure put on delivery drivers, now has me taking a second look.

Here are some shopping alternatives I’ve recently found that might help you, too.

Buying or Borrowing Books

I’m not shy about my love for public libraries and all they offer. And there’s something charming about the Little Free Libraries that have become more common than dandelions around my neighborhood. But sometimes I can’t help but want books that are mine.

Fortunately, we have a bevy of bookstores in Columbus. There are longtime indie favorites including The Book Loft in German Village and Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers in Upper Arlington, as well as Gramercy Books in Bexley, Prologue Bookshop in the Short North and Two Dollar Radio HQ on Columbus’ South Side—plus the pop-up shop Bookspace Columbus.

On the national chain scene, there’s Half Price Books and, of course, Barnes & Noble (which remains my favorite newsstand in town). If you prefer to shop online, check out Bookshop, which supports local, independent bookstores and often has prices that meet or exceed Amazon’s discounts.

Music & Media

Looking for music? Our household stocks numerous formats, from eight tracks to records to cassette tapes to CDs. We listen (and buy directly from artists) via Bandcamp, and we subscribe to Spotify, too.

Several stores in the Clintonville area sell music, DVDs, VHS tapes and, yes, even LaserDiscs. Elizabeth’s Records, Lost Weekend Records, Records Per Minute, Spoonful Records and Used Kids Records might have just the thing you’re looking for—or they might be willing to hunt it down on your behalf. Many bookstores are also great places to find new and used music.

Prefer online shopping or streaming? Check out the music database and marketplace Discogs (my husband is a big fan), or shop directly from your favorite musician or label. And don’t forget, your local library offers more than just books. For instance, Columbus Metropolitan Library cardholders can access streaming content such as audiobooks, music, documentaries, feature films and more.

Bulk Food & Household Supplies

Music, books and videos are the fun stuff. But households run on a lot of boring items, too. Here are a few of our favorite places to shop for the everyday that don’t require a membership fee:

Mention Chewy among pet owners in the know and you’ll be wowed by enthusiastic reviews. The online merchant not only offers my pup’s prescription food at a lower price than the vet, but they’ve also refunded the cost of delayed deliveries and thoughtfully sent flowers to our house after I mentioned a death in the family to a customer service rep. Some of my friends have even received free surprise portraits of their pets.

From bulk foods (58 oz. of Goldfish crackers, anyone?) to paper towels, Boxed offers great deals compared to Amazon as well as big-box retailers. Similar to Amazon’s Subscribe & Save option, Boxed offers AutoSave, which ships your most-used items on a schedule you set and at a discount.

I consider Big Lots an “everything” kind of retailer, with offerings from food to home and garden goods, electronics, automotive accessories and more. By its nature, the closeout store doesn’t always have every item you want when you want it, but it makes up for that variability with variety and super-low prices. Plus, in many cases you can order online for in-store pickup, making shopping a quick and easy process.

Shopping for Gifts

Although it doesn’t offer the one-click-and-done ease of shopping Amazon, there is something irreplaceable about shopping locally. I value the small businesses in our community, and I want their owners to make a sustainable living doing work they enjoy, selling products that I love.

So when it comes to buying gifts for family or friends (or heck, myself) I stop by shops such as Wildcat Gift & Party, Tigertree, Homage and Oakland Nursery, or go a little farther out to Groovy Plants Ranch in Marengo or Passion Works Studio, a social enterprise in Athens.

I also find gifts at the farmers market or give experiences, such as getting together to craft and imbibe at bar/DIY space Makers Social.

I know I won’t be able to buy everything this way—it’s not always practical or financially feasible—but I am moving toward more intentional, sustainable retail choices.

Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer, mother and fan of all things pop culture.

This story is from the Spring 2022 issue of Columbus Parent