Buyer’s remorse happens when you feel regret over guilt after making a purchase. This can be over a larger purchase, like a new car, or something small that you don’t necessarily need. Fortunately, there are several strategies you can implement to avoid or minimize this stressful feeling.
You can relate to this experience: You’re in the store, and an item catches your eye. You barely give yourself time to think about it, and instead find yourself quickly placing it into your shopping cart or basket before you can talk yourself out of it. In fact, you may not even look at the price tag.
Fast forward to later the same day — maybe even before you get home — and you find yourself wishing you hadn’t made the purchase. Whether it was too expensive or you just didn’t need the item, you’re experiencing buyer’s remorse. It’s a totally normal feeling, and the good news is there are steps you can take to avoid it in the future.
What is buyer’s remorse?
Buyer’s remorse is the feeling of regret you feel after making a purchase. This feeling could come as a result of making a big purchase that wasn’t in the budget or even a small, impulsive purchase.
You probably recognize buyer’s remorse by the sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you realize you made the wrong choice. In some cases, you might feel guilty about buying something you can’t afford. Similar to someone on a diet eating something they said they wouldn’t, someone experiencing post-purchase remorse is likely to feel disappointed in themselves.
The psychology behind buyer’s remorse
When you feel buyer’s remorse, you’re hearing two opposing forces arguing about whether you made the right choice. These are the avoidance system and the approach system.
- Avoidance system. This state of mind tells us to avoid consequences and risks, and ignore any desires that may cause negative outcomes.
- Approach system. This is the sense we get that tells us to make ourselves happy, even if our purchase requires a significant amount of money.
These opposing forces can cause a kind of cognitive dissonance, where your thoughts and beliefs create conflict and mental discomfort.
Buyer’s remorse examples
Buyer’s remorse often comes as a result of making impulsive purchases. For example, suppose you’ve stopped at Target to grab a few things, but then you find yourself walking past the clothing department and impulsively adding several things to your cart.
Because the clothes weren’t planned in your budget, it’s easy to feel buyer’s remorse about spending that money, especially if you don’t have much money to spare. Buyer’s regret can be amplified if you’ve been struggling with impulse spending.
Remorse with big purchases
Buyer’s remorse isn’t reserved for only impulse purchases. One of the most common purchases that people are likely to have regrets about is the purchase of their home. A survey from Zillow recently found that about 75% of homebuyers in the past two years have at least one regret regarding the purchase of their home.
It’s no surprise that buyer’s remorse likely feels worse after big purchases, especially one as costly as a home. Fortunately, by comparing your best financing options, you can (hopefully) feel better knowing you received the best financing possible.
This isn’t just the case with home purchases either. Any large purchase may lead to buyer’s remorse, including a new car or expensive purchase with a personal loan. Luckily, you can compare your financing options for both of these purchases.
How to avoid buyer’s remorse
Buyer’s remorse doesn’t have to be inevitable. There are ways to eliminate the expenses that lead to buyer’s regret or simply change the way you think about them.
1. Get on a budget
It’s easy to overspend and regret purchases when you haven’t actually made a plan for your money. One of the simplest ways to avoid this feeling is by creating a budget (and sticking to it).
Of course, setting a budget isn’t entirely foolproof, since many people still find themselves going over budget. But having a plan in place is an important first step.
2. Have a cooling-off rule for purchases
One of the most popular tips for avoiding impulse purchases — and, therefore, buyer’s remorse — is to set a waiting period for purchases. For example, you can set a rule where, any time you want to buy something, you have to wait a certain period of time before you can do it.
When setting your cooling-off rule, remember that the longer you wait, the better. Some people force themselves to wait at least 24 hours, while others challenge themselves to wait longer periods, such as a week or a month.
So why is this strategy effective? If you still want an item after your waiting period, you can feel better about buying it, since you’re less likely to feel buyer’s remorse. You have the peace of mind of knowing it wasn’t really an impulse decision after all.
3. Return unwanted items
Many people find themselves regretting purchases, especially if the item was more than they care to spend. The good news is that, in most cases, you can return items to the store for a full refund.
Some people feel guilty making returns, but it helps your bank account and helps you avoid remorse. And if you do feel guilty, that feeling may help you from making a similar mistake in the future.
4. Address spending triggers
If impulse spending is a recurring issue for you, the best way to address it is to get to the root of the problem. For example, some people find themselves engaging in emotional spending when they’re angry, sad, or stressed. Rather than focusing on the spending itself, focusing on the underlying issue can help you avoid unnecessary spending in the future.
Once you’ve identified your spending triggers, you can find other coping mechanisms to deal with the feelings that cause you to spend. And in some cases, seeing a therapist to deal with your feelings may be the best course of action.
5. Separate needs from wants
One of the most common reasons for overspending and buyer’s remorse is the inability to separate needs from wants. It’s easy to convince yourself to spend money when you believe you need the item. But then later you may admit to yourself that it wasn’t really a need, but a want.
Not sure where to start? Make a log of your recent purchases and, with the hindsight you have today, decide whether they were needs or wants. Identify those purchases that you now know were wants, but that you considered to be needs in the future. Once you have a better idea of which purchases are needs and which are wants, it will be easier to avoid spending on wants and feeling guilty about it later.
6. Avoid credit cards if you struggle with spending
Credit cards can be a powerful tool for managing your cash flow and earning rewards. But for some people, credit cards are a recipe for trouble, since they can lead to spending money you don’t have.
This tip is really about knowing yourself. If you know you can spend responsibly on a credit card and pay it off each month, then by all means, keep using them. But if credit cards lead you to spend money you don’t have and make unneeded — or even unwanted — purchases, then it may be time to set the credit cards aside.
As an alternative, consider using a prepaid card for such purchases. Since prepaid cards only spend money you preloaded onto the card, you can avoid overspending and sinking deeper into debt.
7. Prioritize experiences over things
Think about recent purchases that cause you to experience buyer’s remorse. What have they had in common? For most people, buyer’s regret happens when you buy things that you later wish you hadn’t bought. But people are often less likely to regret their spending when they prioritize experiences over things.
One reason that spending on experiences over things can help with remorse after spending is because of what you’re actually getting the enjoyment from. In the case of spending on things, it’s often not even the item itself that excites you, but simply the rush of shopping. But when you spend on experiences, it’s the experience itself that brings you joy, meaning you’re more likely to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
8. Avoid shopping sales
It probably seems counterintuitive to advise you to avoid buyer’s remorse by avoiding sales. After all, aren’t you less likely to regret buying something if you got a good deal on it?
In reality, shopping sales can lead to more buyer’s remorse. When something is on sale, you’re more likely to impulsively buy it. It’s easier to rationalize the purchase since you’re getting a good deal on it. And when you avoid sales, you’re less likely to succumb to the temptation.
9. Unsubscribe and unfollow
Similar to avoiding sales, unsubscribing from your favorite stores and unfollowing brands and influencers on social media can help you avoid making unnecessary purchases and avoid buyer’s remorse.
When something pops up in your news feed, it’s easy to impulsively buy it before you’ve even had a chance to think about it. You’re less likely to end up with buyer’s regret when you only buy things you really need.
10. Research every purchase
As we’ve mentioned, buyer’s remorse often happens when you make an impulsive purchase or spend more than you wanted it. One of the best ways to avoid that feeling of regret is by researching all of your purchases ahead of time.
When it comes to a high-cost item like a home or car purchase, research will help you settle on the right product and lower your chances of regretting it later. Even for smaller purchases, research may help you realize you didn’t need the product or can help you avoid wasting money by finding the item with the best quality.
11. Shop around for financing
When it comes to big purchases, buyer’s remorse can come not only from the item itself but also from the financing required to borrow it.
For example, you may feel buyer’s remorse over a mortgage, auto loan, or personal loan if you ended up with a higher interest rate than you wanted. One way to avoid this regret is by shopping around for the best financing offers, which will help you save money in the long run.
- Buyer’s remorse is the feeling of regret you may have after making a purchase, often as a result of buying something you hadn’t budgeted for or couldn’t afford.
- This post-purchase remorse can happen with purchases big and small, but there may be a correlation between the amount you spent and the amount of remorse you feel.
- There are many ways to avoid buyer’s regret. This includes setting a waiting period for purchases, addressing your spending triggers, and researching every purchase ahead of time.
View Article Sources
- Making a Budget — Consumer.gov
- Creating a budget — Washington State Department of Financial Institutions
- Basics of Budgeting — Indiana Secretary of State
- 7 Easy Steps to Create a Successful Budget — SuperMoney
- 11 Smart Money Moves You Can Try Today — SuperMoney
- 10 Personal Finance Decisions To Protect Your Family — SuperMoney
- 14 Practical Tips To Attaining Financial Freedom — SuperMoney
- 8 Smart Ways to Make Your Money Work for You — SuperMoney
- 7 Tips on How To Double Your Money — SuperMoney
Erin Gobler is a Wisconsin-based personal finance writer with experience writing about mortgages, investing, taxes, personal loans, and insurance. Her work has been published in major outlets, such as SuperMoney, Fox Business, and Time.com.