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What is buyer’s remorse? How to get over it & avoid it altogether

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6 mins

From the 5-year-old who wishes they had bought Skittles instead of a Snicker’s bar to the 15-year-old who regrets having spent their entire savings account on a new pair of Air Jordan’s or the 25-year-old who is feeling despair over their new $2,500 per month apartment lease... we can all relate.

What’s done is done. But this article isn’t going to leave you there.

Instead, let’s look at ways you can avoid ever feeling the discomfort of buyer’s remorse again and how to get over it if you do. (After all — you’re only human.)

Buyer's remorse definition

A textbook definition of buyer’s remorse is “Any negative emotional response you have after purchasing something.”

Translation: “Oops. What have I done!?”

Buyer’s remorse is that knot you get in the pit of your stomach after you’ve signed on the dotted line or had your credit card swiped for something you thought you wanted but are now having second thoughts about.

The feelings associated with buyer’s remorse can range from fear (“How am I possibly going to be able to make that payment every month?”) to anxiety (“What will my parents say when they see what I’ve bought?”) to self-doubt (“What was I thinking? Another stupid choice!”).

Don’t feel alone or dismayed if you can relate; just about everyone who’s ever purchased anything (large or small) has experienced buyer’s remorse.

How to avoid buyer’s remorse

Much like scrolling through your Instagram or Facebook feed can give you a dopamine rush, so can buying that new “whatever” you thought you needed — until you realize you didn’t. Here are five ways to keep that from happening (at least frequently).

1. Avoid online shopping

It’s too easy. You’re on Instagram and you see an image of a jacket your favorite influencer says is a must-have this season. Temptation leads you to click the link on the post, and before you know it — you’ve entered your credit card number and hit the “Buy” button.

This is a common scenario across the globe that millions of people experience every day. Amazon is a trillion-dollar company because of it. You can avoid the buyer’s remorse that follows your impulse buy by avoiding online shopping as much as possible.

[ Study: Buy Now, Pay Later is surging but many consumers overextend their credit ]

2. Don’t save your credit card information online or on your phone

It’s much too convenient when making that online purchase to have your credit card information auto-complete, preventing you from logically deciding if you really need what you’re about to buy.

Instead, having to walk into another room to grab your wallet or purse and get out your credit card can give you enough time to think things through and possibly save yourself from another episode of buyer’s remorse.

3. Invoke the 72-hour-rule

The 72-hour-rule has kept many people from a bad case of the “I should have known better” syndrome. The rule is that you won’t buy anything over a dollar limit you set without waiting 72 hours — no exceptions.

If your dollar limit is $100, that $300 outfit you “just have to have” will just have to wait. Put it on layaway if you need to, but come back and pick it up in 72 hours. You’ll regret fewer purchases this way.

4. Ask yourself, “How many hours of labor will that cost me?”

Going back to our $300 “I am going to look so good” outfit, if you make $25 per hour, it will take you 12 hours of work (1 ½ days) to pay for that single outfit (16 hours before taxes are taken out of your pay). That’s a pretty hefty chunk of your week.

Looking at it that way and asking yourself the follow-up question, “Is it worth it?” will save you a lot of grief over purchases you make. You may end up finding something on sale, or that retails for half as much that you like even more.

5. Live off of a budget

Many people buy things they shouldn’t and experience buyer’s remorse because they spend money they don’t have without knowing it (“I can’t be broke — I still have checks left!”).

People and couples that have and keep a monthly budget have far fewer cases of buyer’s remorse because they can see in black and white what they have to spend every month. You may still buy the $300 outfit, but it will be intentional, and you’ll be much less likely to regret it.

[ Related: Everything you need to know about the 50-30-20 budget rule ]

How to get over buyer’s remorse

Okay. So, you’ve gone ahead and bought the outfit, and now you’re kicking yourself for it. “Why did I do that again” and other self-incriminating questions are plaguing you (a clear symptom of buyer’s remorse). Here are three ways to deal with it.

First, return the item if you still can

If you haven’t worn the outfit yet (hopefully you’ve kept the receipt and the tags are still on it), take it back for a refund if possible. With some smaller purchases, you can easily do this (not so much for big items like cars and homes).

Second, get a second opinion before you make a major purchase

Ask a trusted friend, spouse, parent, or partner for advice before you make a significant purchase. Though the final decision may ultimately be yours, getting input from people you trust and respect can save you from making buying decisions you may regret if you go it alone.

Third, make more money

If you have an eye and taste for “the finer things” that are beyond your current budget, you may have to up your income. Perhaps you can improve your skills and become more valuable where you work, which can get you a raise.

Or, maybe you can start a side hustle, like doing online surveys, selling on eBay, or being a “secret shopper.” More income and still keeping a budget — a great combination.

Where do you turn for financial advice?

If you regularly experience buyer’s remorse, like when you get your credit card bill every month, it just might be time to get some advice from a financial professional who can help you make better buying decisions. A good advisor can help you set a budget and avoid or reduce impulse purchases.

If you’re concerned about paying for advice, there are many free online resources that can help you evaluate your spending habits. And, if all else fails, cut or lock up those credit cards and pay cash for everything you possibly can. You’ll be amazed at how buyer’s remorse all but disappears.

[ Related: Should you embrace DIY financial planning or hire a pro? ]

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

— Published July 6, 2022
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