Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Dori Cameron.
It happens in an instant—the internal dialogue you have when considering an online or in-store purchase. For some people, it’s buying and restoring furniture. For others, it’s electronics.
Whatever it is that you’re considering buying—bicycles, clothing, household items—here are five myths that encourage excess spending you may want to consider:
1. The “I can always return it” myth.
The opportunity of returning an item is a common justification of excess spending. When you have that George Foreman grill in your hands, it seems like a great idea. Thinking you can return it to the store if you don’t like it makes spending that $30 an easy decision.
But have you considered the amount of time and effort would go into the return? Surely you would have to store the packaging it came in, keep the receipt, clean it, repackage it, travel back to the store for the return, wait in line, and hopefully get a full refund. Each store has a different return policy and rules that vary. Is the return policy 14 days? 30 days? 60 days? Does the item need to be unopened? What happens if you misplace the receipt? There are so many nuances involved with returning items that it can quickly become a hassle.
Is there another way you’d like to spend your afternoon than waiting in a Target customer service line? If you are thinking “I can always return it,” the item may not be something worth purchasing in the first place.
2. The “I can always sell it later” myth.
Selling online has evolved from eBay and Craigslist to smartphone apps that are incredibly easy to use. The “letgo” app allows you to take a photo, name your price, and even generates a title for your item based on your photo. The app pulls items for sale in your area, creating a virtual endless yard sale. You would think it’s easy to sell online given all of these new tools and apps, but the ease of use increases the number of items posted for sale.
Selling unwanted items also requires time, planning, and thought. How many messages do you check from people interested in your item? How many of those people schedule to come see it, but don’t show up? How much time have you allotted to meet with potential buyers, only to not make as much money as you expected?
Of course, there are some people who run very successful resale businesses, but to others it becomes quite the time burner. Was selling your iPod nano for $25 worth the time and energy spent on the sale? Is there something else you would rather do with your time?
A rule of thumb when making a purchase is to assume it has no resale value. Saying to yourself, “I can always sell it later” before a purchase assumes that a buyer will follow through with the sale at the exact time you want to sell it—all variables which are not guaranteed.
3. The “I can always give it away if I don’t use it” myth.
If reselling your clothing online via the Poshmark app doesn’t work, you can always give it away, right? Surely there’s a roommate, neighbor, or thrift store that could benefit from the blazer that’s a bit too snug, but you purchased because it was on sale? By placing perceived value on your clothing, you are assuming that a thankful recipient is waiting for (and ready to accept) your donation. In the U.S., “fast fashion” clothing stores are creating a surplus of clothing in both retail and resale stores, as well as landfills.
Is there a better way to give back to others or your community than dropping off used goods at a thrift store? Becoming more mindful about your internal dialogue when shopping online or in person is key, and could leave you with extra time and money to use in more fulfilling ways.
4. The “I can always repair or restore it” myth.
I admit, there are times when I purchased a secretary desk or coffee table that needed a little TLC. In my mind, I was seeing the item in its completely restored glory. But how much money in materials—sanding tools, paint stripper, stain, finish—would it really cost to restore? How much time would I need to invest in the restoration?
There are those who find great joy in restoring furniture, jewelry, or cars, but the average person may not have the motivation, tools, or skill to repair or restore these items. If you are thinking, “I can rebuild that engine,” or “I can restore this mid-century armoire to its full glory,” consider the time and materials involved before making the purchase. You may end up realizing there is a different way you would rather spend your time and money.
5. The “I can always put it into storage until I need it” myth.
Onsite and offsite storage is extremely common in the U.S. If you go into someone’s basement, attic, or garage, you are bound to find seasonal or barely used items. When buying items used so infrequently that they must be stored out of sight, consider your alternatives. Do you need to have your own bike although you could rent one instead? Do you need to hold onto old toys for the third child you may or may not end up having? Have you considered how a wet basement or a hot storage unit will affect your belongings?
When deciding to store items or let them go, I like to consider the “joy factor.” Is there someone else who would get more joy out of the bike you’re not using, or the toys you’ll likely donate straight from storage? When you are in buying mode, ask yourself where in your house the object will likely be a year from now. If you picture your purchase collecting dust in the garage, you may be better off not making the purchase at all.
These five myths arise in order to justify purchases we may otherwise not consider. There is joy to be found in the things we purchase—the goal is to practice being more mindful about the things we do buy.
Which myth resonated with you the most? Let me know in the comment section below.
Dori Cameron is a singer-songwriter living in Boston. Look her up on Facebook.