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Confession: 3 discretionary purchases I regret

Allie Johnson

January 23, 2014

Fun money is supposed to be fun, right? In the past, I’ve always thought that meant I should just blow it on whatever I want.

Lately, though, I’ve been rethinking that attitude. It bugs me when I buy something on a whim and it ends up collecting dust, especially if it was expensive.

So, I’d like to figure out which purchases I’ll use and enjoy — and which ones I won’t — so I can maximize the happiness I get from my discretionary dollar. The past is a good teacher, so I’m looking back at three things I wish I hadn’t bought:

1. A fitness hula hoop. I read about hula hooping as a form of exercise and thought, “Wow, that sounds like fun.” I spent about $40, including shipping, on a weighted hula hoop on Amazon.com. I used it twice.

Why I regret the purchase: Like a lot of exercise equipment purchases, this one hinged on starting a new habit, one that I wasn’t even sure I’d like. According to the blog SavingAdvice.com, exercise equipment is one of the top items people regret buying. In my case, after I made the purchase, I took a hula hooping class and decided that, while fun, it wasn’t really for me. I guess I should have taken the class before buying a hoop.

2. A Clarisonic. This rechargeable face-washing device is one of the “it” items of the past couple of years. In fact, I bought one after a good friend made a 10-minute speech on the wonders it did for her skin.

Why I regret the purchase: It’s a pain to use. OK, I actually love the Clarisonic — when I remember to charge it and use it (and when it’s not falling on my head from my overcrowded bathroom shelf). But it’s discouraging when a new purchase turns into one more thing to add to my to-do list. This falls into another category of purchase that, according to SavingAdvice.com, many people regret buying: fad items.

3. A cute dress on sale from the British retailer Boden. I ordered it on impulse even though I know I usually have to try on 10 outfits to find one I like.

Why I regret the purchase: The cut is all wrong for my body type, and I haven’t worn it even once. As much as I want online clothes shopping to work for me (I hate crowded stores and the harsh light of dressing rooms), it usually ends up being a waste of money. Ginna, the blogger behind My Pretty Pennies, writes that five out of six of her online clothes purchases end in failure. Sometimes the colors look different in person, the outfit doesn’t fit or it’s “just plain ugly on me,” she writes.

How to avoid purchases you’ll regret later
Looking at these three bad buys and others I regret, I’ve come up with some guidelines to avoid discretionary purchase disappointment:

  • As SmartAsset.com points out, hobbies often cost money (though some can earn you money) and it pays to be smart when selecting a new one. Think about why you want to do this particular activity, SmartAsset.com recommends. Also, test it out first to make sure you actually like it enough to make it a regular part of your life. Take a class or maybe rent or borrow a piece of equipment from a friend before you buy the gear.
  • When buying online, try to stick with purchases that leave little room for surprise (say, a book) instead of purchases such as clothes or accessories that might end up being not what you expected. If you do order clothes online, Ginna at My Pretty Pennies recommends checking the size chart and your measurements and making sure you know the return policy first. Free shipping on returns is best.
  • Try to avoid buying something that’s going to require a lot of upkeep. I’m hoping to start using my Clarisonic daily so maybe it will no longer be a purchase I regret. But there’s something else I didn’t consider: It requires refill brushes, which aren’t cheap — just one more reason to think through how much a new purchase will cost you in future effort and money.
  • And, finally, look at which purchases you’ve loved and used in the past. For me, I know that it’s hard to go wrong buying a book (though I usually try the library first), a really good bottle of wine, an interesting spice for cooking or a package of yoga classes at the studio across the street. Also a winner: saving up for a nice dinner or weekend trip with my husband, family or friends. Bonus — there’s nothing to create clutter later.

I’m hoping that if I follow these guidelines, I’ll enjoy my discretionary purchases more, and won’t need to spend my free time making trips to the Goodwill to drop off odd exercise equipment, ill-fitting clothes and trendy gadgets.