Just about everyone who shops has experienced buyer’s remorse at one point or another. You know the feeling. One minute you’re making a carefree purchase, then the next minute you’re thinking “omg, WHY did I think that was a good idea??”
I’m no stranger to the guilt and regret of bad purchases. Along the way, I’ve learned some key strategies that have helped me avoid more bad buying decisions. I hope these tips help you, too.
1 | Check in with your emotions
Before you hit “purchase,” ask yourself why you’re shopping. Are you bored? Hungry? Stressed? Lonely? Shopping because you’re emotional can very easily lead to poor decision making, which means less-than-great purchases.
If you’re feeling good and you’re making a level-headed decision, go ahead and proceed. If you can identify some emotions stirring around in there, use the next tip.
2 | Hit pause
Every time you’re about to hand over your credit card or hit “add to cart,” pause. And I mean really pause.
Once you identify an item you’re thinking of buying, make a mental note of it. Wait at least until the next day before you actually buy it, and see if you still want it later.
Chances are, a lot of your buying urges will fade away. On top of that, when you separate yourself from the excitement of that moment, you might realize that the purchase isn’t such a great idea after all, or you’ll notice something about it you’d overlooked the first time. Start experimenting with a shopping waiting period and see how it affects your buying habits.
Although I don’t have a firm rule, I typically wait anywhere from 1 day to 1 week before buying. I’ve definitely noticed that when I don’t use this rule and instead buy immediately, I tend to make bad decisions.
By the way, the pause is an especially important rule when you’re buying big-ticket items. Impulsive buying combined with high prices are a recipe for disaster. Make sure you’ve given yourself enough time to appropriately consider your purchase before jumping in.
3 | Avoid non-returnable purchases
Anything that you can’t return is asking for trouble. Whenever I see “final sale,” I’m extra critical about whether what I’m considering would be a wise purchase.
To be more specific, I have a mental list I go through to evaluate that purchase. One or more of the following should be true: I’ve already tried it out and I know I like it, I’ve already applied the pause rule, and I’m not shopping emotionally. The more of those things that are true, the safer the purchase is. If none of those things are true, walk away!
4 | Avoid tight return periods
On a similar note, even things you can return can easily get you in trouble.
Be honest with yourself: do you have the time and energy to return your purchase if you don’t like it? If you’re going to need to repackage the item, print out postage, and go to the post office, are you too busy to do that? If you’d have to drive to the mall during rush hour, would you be willing to do that?
It’s too easy to lull yourself into a false sense of security with return policies. Yes, you could return it, but will you?
For example, right before we left for our wedding and honeymoon, I made quite a few purchases. One problem: I was incredibly busy getting ready for the trip and finalizing details. As a result, I had neither the time nor energy to decide on whether those purchases were worth keeping. I didn’t have time to actually pack them back up and send them back, either.
Unfortunately, by the time I got back from the trip, it was too late to make a return. Even worse, those purchases weren’t cheap. Looking back, it’s easy to see where I went wrong, and I wish I had thought harder before hitting “buy.”
Now that I’ve learned my lesson, I try to be more honest with myself about the time I will need to make a good decision after the item arrives. I try to be mindful of what I have on my plate and whether I will be able to free up the time and mental energy to make that keep-or-return decision.
5 | Try it on multiple times
I do almost all of my shopping online (#smalltownproblems), and this tip is especially important for those purchases.
Sometimes, the moment I pull something out of the package and try it on, I know it’s wrong for me. Maybe the fit is wrong, or I don’t like the fabric, or the color looks different in person.
For things where I’m not so sure, or even things where I plan to keep it, I avoid making my decision immediately. Instead, I wait a day or two and try it on again. Sometimes small factors like the mood you’re in or even small fluctuations in body shape (e.g., water retention) can change how you feel about what you’re wearing. I can think of so many times where I wasn’t quite sure whether to keep or return something, but after trying it on a second time a couple days later, I instantly knew what to do.
Even if your purchase isn’t clothes, you can still use the general concept of this rule. Before taking off the tags and throwing away the packaging, wait a couple days and be sure it’s right for you before you commit.