We’ve all experienced buyer’s remorse. It’s that sinking feeling that sets in shortly after you’ve made a terrible purchasing decision. The high linked to the moment of purchase wears off, and you realize you’ve been left holding something useless and unnecessary. Luckily, there are some things we can all do to avoid buyer’s remorse. These 10 tips can help.
- Consider whether you’re engaging in “artificial replacement”
One of the biggest causes of serial impulse buying is a mental phenomenon called “artificial replacement.” According to Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar, this occurs when you aren’t doing the things you enjoy. Perhaps you don’t have time in your daily life for hobbies, relaxing with friends or connecting with family. In this situation, people inevitably turn to “artificial replacement” — in other words, finding quick and easy thrills to replace more meaningful pleasures.
Impulse purchasing is one of the most common ways artificial replacement manifests. So if you find you have a tendency to make impulse buys, consider whether you should free up more time to do the things you really love.
Of course, we all need to buy stuff every once so often, and there’s nothing wrong with occasionally buying stuff that isn’t totally necessary, but useful or otherwise rewarding nonetheless. For these discretionary expenditures, consider setting aside a small budget. This non-essentials budget could include purchases like the occasional nice drink out, or a fancy coffee on the way to work. If your large purchase takes up your entire discretionary budget for the week/month, consider going without some of these other little luxuries to offset the cost a little.
- Tire yourself out with as much research as possible
See something you like in a store or online? Then before even considering making a purchase, do some research. Actually, do a lot of research. Compare it to other products, read credible reviews, examine every pro and con, consider every minute detail — become an expert on the product long before seriously consider buying it. If you still want the product even after spending hours poring over it, then perhaps it’s worth a buy.
- Consider sticking to buying expensive items
This may sound like it contradicts the previous point, but sticking to buying expensive items can be a big help in saving money in the long run. For starters, it’s much easier to sit down and seriously think about an expensive purchase than a cheap one. It’s easy to throw away a few dollars on something you don’t need, but much harder to burn a few hundred.
Moreover, assuming the product is worth the price tag, it should presumably be better quality than its cheaper competitors. If the product ends up lasting a long time, and delivering exactly what you need, then maybe it’s worth a little extra up front. Or, as Peter Anderson put it in this piece, “cheap is not always frugal.”
- Recognize you’re being manipulated
You should already know this, but here’s a nice reminder you should keep repeating: You are being manipulated. The sales industry is based around manipulation. Stores are designed to lure you in with bright colors, fun music and pleasant smells, then distract you with intentionally confusing layouts. The gold standard of in-store manipulation is the
The gold standard of in-store manipulation is the Gruen Transfer — a term used to refer to the phenomenon of a shopper being overloaded with sensory input, and totally forgetting why they originally entered the store in the first place. In this weak and confused mental state, shoppers are primed for making thoughtless purchases.
- Assess your mental state
You may be in a bad state to make decisions even before entering the marketplace. Try to avoid making purchases while upset, angry, frustrated, lonely, hungry or tired. While in a negative state of mind, you’re far more likely to buy something simply for a little short-term gratification, as opposed to actually needing the product. At first, this may indeed cheer you up, but that feeling will wear off once you realize you’ve purchased garbage.
- Use cash, and avoid credit like the plague
As Jeff Yeager from ultimatecheapskate.com has argued, “A number of studies have shown that we simply spend more when we pay by credit card instead of cash.”
“One study showed that people were willing, on average, to pay 30 percent more for an item if they were charging it [to credit],” he noted.
Yeager has a good point. It’s just so much easier to swipe a card than to hand over an actual wad of cash. Hence, stick to cash when possible.
- Can you imagine this product being trash within a year?
If you still want to buy the item, and feel willing to hand over the dough, then try this little experiment: How long will it be before this product is junk? Does it look like it’ll break easily, or be quickly outdated? Are you actually going to use it for more than a week, or will you quickly end up tossing it on some shelf, or in a cupboard to never see the light of day again. If you can’t imagine using the product for years to come, then maybe you shouldn’t buy it in the first place.
- The “stranger test”
The stranger test suggested by LifeHacker is another great little mental game. Imagine a stranger could either offer you the product you’re considering buying, or its equal sale cost in cash. Which would you prefer to have in your hands?
- Go for a walk
After exhausting all other techniques, try cooling off. Go for a walk and forget all about it for a while. Then when you’re comfortable, reassess all the arguments for and against buying the product. Some people give themselves an hour, others will wait a week or even a month.
Whatever time frame you choose, just make sure you have a cooling off period suitable for giving yourself enough time to mentally process the choice. If you still want the product even after getting some space, then maybe it’s actually not a bad buy.