Friday, April 29, 2011

Groans of regret echo long after impulse purchases are made

Somehow, we’d managed to stuff a live Christmas tree, a large dog kennel, and all of our luggage in our small, two-door sedan. Getting stuck in our driveway when we arrived home from our trip, however, became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I don’t remember who made the pronouncement that “we need a bigger, four-wheel drive vehicle,” but one of us did. We found ourselves cruising through car lots the next day. If I remember correctly, we test-drove three vehicles. A few hours later, we were signing the loan papers on a new-to-us SUV.

Though we drove away congratulating ourselves on the new purchase, it didn’t take long for a wave of regret to roll over us. We had been just a few payments away from paying off our sedan. Now, we had a loan for a gas guzzler with an unknown history and high miles. What’s more, we’d gotten a pittance on our trade-in, and because we didn’t shop around, we didn’t really know if we’d gotten a good deal on our new car.

We drove the vehicle for several years, but always with a lingering taste of regret. Interestingly, the word regret literally means, “to groan long after.” For anyone who has regretted making a particular purchase, “to groan long after” is a fitting definition.

In fact, when I asked friends and acquaintances to tell me about the purchases they most regret making, it was almost as if they let out a collective groan. One friend that told me that she regretted the $1,200 vacuum she bought from a very convincing in-home salesman. She even went so far to say, “I hated that vacuum every day it took to pay it off and until the day I sold it.”

Garish wallpaper (that took a great effort to hang and therefore stayed up for a long time), an oversize leather coat, a pricey engagement ring, a used car bought out of frustration, an expensive purse, and a collection of other, smaller buys made the list.

My favorite response came from a friend who bought an expensive aromatherapy wrap from a slick salesman. She recalls, “The last thing I remember hearing was, ‘Hey, pretty lady.’ The next sound I heard was the register dinging. I had immediate buyer’s remorse.”

For all the responses I received, one major theme emerged. The purchases that most often lead to “long groaning” are those bought on impulse. This applies to purchases big and small, on everything from the shirt that didn’t quite fit right to the $8,000 piece of jewelry. Even so-called bargains can lead to regret when you buy them impulsively.

We’ve all made impulsive purchases. But the best way to prevent ourselves from getting caught up in a cycle of impulse buying is to create a filter that we can hold up to anything we might want to buy. The most basic question should be this: Will it make my life better? If it will, and you can afford it, then go ahead and make the purchase.

Next, ask yourself, “Is it fabulous?” Too often, we end up buying things because they’re on sale or because they’re so inexpensive that we think we can’t possibly pass them up. The result is that we end up with a bunch of things that we only marginally like and that clutter our closets and all the recesses of our homes.

If it won’t make your life better and you can’t honestly say that it’s “fabulous,” then you’d be better off leaving it at the store (or on the table at someone’s garage sale).

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