This holiday season, we spend money on ourselves and others and then regret it. Here's how not to.
Negotiating a new car’s price is almost always stressful. Driving it off the lot is usually wonderful. Owning it for a week can be truly awful.
Those first two emotions are well-known facets of the second-largest purchase most of us will ever make (after buying a home). That third emotion is less well known but actually quite common.
It’s called buyer’s remorse, and a new study from AutoTrader.com reveals, “69 percent of consumers have experienced buyer’s remorse after purchasing a car.”
Why? “The most common reason for regretting the purchase decision was because the car had mechanical issues,” the survey declares. “Other reasons included that they felt the car was too expensive or a bad deal, it was an impulse purchase or the car didn’t have the features they wanted.”
Of course, buyer’s remorse isn’t reserved for big purchases. It happens with the smallest ones, and none of us are immune. I’m a CPA, yet I find myself wondering, days later, if I truly got the best deal on a pair of nondescript work shoes.
Buyer’s remorse is even more common in the days leading up to Christmas. I’ve found two proven methods for conquering this distracting and counterproductive feeling — one of the front end and one on the back end.
Repulse the impulse
I have yet to find any scientific research on this, but I don’t need any to draw an easy conclusion: Buyer’s remorse and impulse purchases go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Many impulse buys happen exactly this time of year. With one weekend to go before Christmas, you’ll be tempted to rush through the rest of your holiday shopping list without the due diligence and comparison shopping you’d otherwise do.
You might even tell yourself, “Hey, I may be wasting a few dollars, but it’s not like I’m buying this for me. I’m doing it for others.”
A noble thought. However, you’re still wasting your money.
The most common mistake I see this time of year: Panicky procrastinators shop online and pay hefty overnight or two-day shipping fees because they’ve run out of time.
Do this instead…
If you’re heading into this weekend with a lot of gift-buying still to do, shop on Amazon and sign up for Amazon Prime. This subscription, akin to flying first-class on a major airline, offers a slew of services for $99 a year. The best is two-day shipping on nearly 20 million items with no minimum. Want to buy one present for one person? Click the right buttons and you’ll have it within 48 hours.
Don’t want to spend $99? Amazon offers Prime free for 30 days. Just remember to cancel the service after the holidays, since it will automatically charge you if you don’t actively cancel.
You may decide to keep the service, however. Debt.com editor Michael Koretzky made such an argument several years ago on another site owned by a friend of mine, Stacy Johnson.
Do the math on the cash
There are levels of buyer’s remorse.
First, we might simply regret the purchase because we really didn’t need it, or the gift we’re buying isn’t even what our loved one really wants.
Second, we might love the item but soon discover it doesn’t live up to the grand promises touted by the advertising. It may be unreliable or shoddily made. If it’s an article of clothing, it may be uncomfortable even if it looks good.
Third — and perhaps most common, and most draining — we like the product well enough but can’t stop wondering if we could have scored a better deal elsewhere.
In all these instances, the problem was most likely caused by impulsiveness. Now you’re stewing in regret.
Do this instead…
First, even if you’re up against a holiday deadline, promise to sleep on any gift purchase. Unless you’ve waited until Christmas Eve, you have this luxury.
Second, take 10 minutes and check product reviews for reliability. When I scour reviews on Yelp or Amazon, I find the most helpful ones are not the five-star reviews and the one-star reviews. For starters, I never know if the top reviews are real, or if they’re planted. Those negative reviews? It could be someone with an ax to grind. I find the three-star reviews — or even two-star and four-star reviews — are the most reasoned and the most informative.
Third, realize this: Even if you do everything right, you can still experience buyer’s remorse. Why? Because buyer’s remorse is all about price, not value. So if you think you followed all the financially responsible rules but suffer from some nagging doubts, do the math.
For instance, I have a friend who beat herself up for buying a $200 pair of shoes for work. She immediately found a similar pair for half that and returned the original purchase.
Problem was, the cheaper shoes were made with cheaper materials, and they fell apart within a few months. So she decided to buy those more expensive and well-made shoes. Lo and behold, it’s two years later and I still see her in the office wearing those shoes.
Howard Dvorkin is a CPA and chairman of Debt.com, an educational resource for those who want to conquer all forms of debt in their lives.