How To Deal With Purchase Regret

How To Deal With Purchase Regret

Most people have purchased things that they later ‘guilted’ themselves for buying. Or maybe something that seemed like a solid investment at the time quickly tumbled in value. (Commiserations, crypto bros.) If this all feels painfully familiar, here’s how to free yourself from buyer regret.

Late last year I purchased two Mattemoiselle lipsticks from Fenty Beauty, the makeup line of the most important millennial of our time, Rihanna. Though I love Rihanna and a few of her other products, I really, really dislike these lipsticks. They’re difficult to apply, they don’t stay on, and the colours do not complement me. When I see them everyday in my makeup bag, I feel guilty for the $US36 ($45) I spent on them (I had a few other purchase regrets last year).

I know I’m not alone in this. A study published last year that surveyed more than 2000 adults in Great Britain found that 82% of people have had purchase regret, with clothing, shoes, and takeout food being the most commonly-cited categories of remorse.

(The same study found that fewer people in older age groups regret purchases than younger people, that white collar workers have more regrets, and that men regret purchasing items more than women, which isn’t super relevant to this article, but I find interesting.)

So what can you do if you purchase something and instantly regret it? Well, you can return it. You can try to resell it. You can force yourself to wait to make any purchases over $US100 ($126), save the same amount of money you “wasted,” give yourself seven seconds, or something similar. If it’s a bigger expense — like a trip — you can bake it into your budget over the next few months to slowly make up the lost funds.

You can also just cut yourself some slack.

Give Yourself a Break

There’s a big difference between making a habit of recklessly spending, and splurging on an item once in a while.

This commenter on Reddit, for example, is wondering how to make up paying for a vacation when most months his spending habits are what most people would consider responsible:

My monthly expenses I budget to around $US2400 ($3,013), leaving a little under $US1200 ($1,506) per month in savings. My monthly savings breakdown to:

  • $460 to my retirement account
  • $600 to an Ally E-Fund (although this has become more of a long term goal savings account now as I have 3 months of expenses and great job security)
  • $150 to Short Term Savings, linked to my online banking account for quicker transfers if needed (acts as my Christmas fund at the end of the year).

I recently spent approximately $500 booking a trip for an upcoming holiday. However, in doing so I went way over budget for myself for the month I’m not going to be able to make my total savings goal for this month. I keep kicking myself mentally saying this is bad, but some of my friends have said that I shouldn’t feel bad about it because I earned that money and it should be a really fun trip.

We’re often made to feel like if we spend any money on non-essentials we’ve failed – and as someone who writes about saving and budgeting near daily, I know I bear some responsibility for perpetuating those ideas. But in the grand scheme of things, a onetime $US36 ($45) purchase isn’t going to make or break my finances. And if the redditor is being truthful about their spending and saving, they’re going to be OK, too. I can keep chastising myself for buying the lipstick online instead of in-person where I could have figured out that the shades weren’t for me, or I can move on.

As a different redditor responded,

There’s definitely some wisdom in saving money wherever possible, but at some point you leave ‘reasonable’ and move into the ‘questionable’ realm – like driving 16km further down the road to save a penny per gallon on gasoline. That stress is going to cost you more in the long run than whatever you ended up saving on paper.

Spending slightly more than you have or taking on debt isn’t a moral failing. There are many circumstances we simply can’t control (like paying medical bills), and others that it takes time to learn how to control (like buying an ill-fitting dress from an Instagram ad).

With any type of goal, a minor setback can seem irreparable. You didn’t start exercising on January 1, so your New Year Resolution is a no-go. You forgot to bring your lunch to work, so your budget for the week is shot. But forgiving yourself, fixing the problem and moving on is a much better use of your time than beating yourself up about a few splurges

I don’t say this to dismiss all impulse spending as fine and wonderful (that’s why I noted certain methods to overcome it above). But if you’re generally mindful of where your money is going, give yourself a break every once in a while.