buyer's remorseLast week, I made the most impulsive, mindless spending decision I’ve made in a while. And I regretted it almost immediately. I plopped down $1,500 on a dress. Final sale.

    To be fair, it was a wedding dress, and wedding dresses are expensive. On the other hand, they don’t have to be. When I got engaged, I told myself, “I refuse to spend a lot of money on my dress.” It was a very conscious decision. (By the way, I have zero judgment for anyone who DOES spend a lot on a dress. Money is just a tool, and we all use it differently).

    Ditching Your Spending Plan: How It Happens

    I’ve approached my wedding the same way I approach my budget: spend lavishly on the stuff I love, then mercilessly cut back on everything else. So my fiance and I agreed on and prioritized the expenses that mattered to us most. When I went to try on dresses, all of that went out the window. “You have to make a decision soon,” the salesperson said. “Or your dress won’t come in time.” It would’ve been one thing if I saw the dress, knew it was expensive, then gave it considerable thought and declared, “You know what? I’m changing my budget to make room for this kick-ass, gorgeous dress.” It’s less about the money and more about owning your own spending decisions. But I just handed over my credit card, scared and unsure.

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    Money is hard. You can read all the books you want, automate your accounts, make a solid budget–all the rules in the world can’t help when it’s just you and a Zac Posen dress, and you’re slowly nodding while the salesperson says this is an excellent decision. The bottom line: it didn’t feel like MY decision. Don’t get me wrong, I have no one to blame but myself. It doesn’t help to dwell on that, but it’s very helpful to understand exactly how we experience buyer’s remorse and what we can do about it.

    Denial, Anger, Bargaining…

    I went through a minor version of the classic “five stages of grief” over this purchase.

    After I left the store, I kept telling myself, “The salespeople were right. This is a good decision. I really love this dress. It’s great.” I found it hard to focus, though. I kept telling myself it was fine. It wasn’t a big deal. I had the money for it. Something wasn’t sitting right, though. I was in denial that I let someone else decide what I should do with my money. 

    Once I couldn’t shake the feeling, I got angry. I blamed the salespeople, but really, they were just doing their jobs. Then, I started bargaining. “People spend a lot more than that on wedding dresses,” I thought. I even told myself, “Maybe I can wear it again.” Wear it again–I actually told myself that! Can you imagine?

    FRIEND: What’s with the outfit?

    ME: Oh, I just wanted to get more use out of my wedding dress.

    FRIEND: Bit much for brunch, but okay.

    After the bargaining and the anger, I got really bummed out. I found it hard to work. I couldn’t focus. After a while, though, I came to accept it. I felt duped. It hurt, but it happened, and I had to make peace with it so I could move on and get back to work. Making peace doesn’t mean giving up, though. But doing something about my financial mistake meant accepting it in the first place.

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    Come Up With a Plan

    Once I came back to reality and got my emotions in check, I thought about the situation practically. I thought about my options and made a list of them:

    • Ask if I can get a refund if they haven’t submitted the order yet
    • Try to talk to a manager and explain my situation
    • Email their corporate office and ask for help
    • Ask for store credit to use on other wedding stuff

    It took some work, but eventually, I got a refund. After you’ve accepted the fact that your spending got out of control, the key is to regain control. And that means putting your emotions aside and coming up with a practical plan. It helps to ask yourself what steps (even small steps) you can take to put yourself back in a position of control. If it doesn’t work, all you can do is learn your lesson and move on.

    Find Your Lesson, Make Some Rules

    It’s hard not to dwell on our mistakes, but keep this in mind: dwelling on your money mistakes means you’ll probably repeat them. In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers told subjects to spend money on an imaginary trip to the mall. Before deciding how much to spend, some of the subjects were asked to remember a financial mistake. Interestingly, those subjects were more likely to overspend and rack up debt:

    Perhaps the most surprising, Haws said, is that searching through the past can negatively affect behavior, depending on the ease of recall, even when past examples are positive…Instead of dwelling on the past, Haws said, her research into behavior suggests that setting goals for the future can positively change present behavior…In short, if we want to have better self-control, “Look forward,” Haws says. “Don’t look back.”

    Money has so much to do with mindset. When you feel like you suck at money anyway, you’re more likely to make bad decisions. On the other hand, it does help to analyze your mistake for the purpose of extracting a lesson. I took a long, hard look at my buyer’s remorse and came up with two important rules for the future:

    Don’t let someone else pick my spending priorities: It may not be a popular opinion, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with spending $1,500 on a dress or $3,000 on catering or $500 on a cake, if that’s important to you. Like I’ve said before, if you’re saving enough for the future and saving to make your dreams a reality, who cares how you spend your money?  My problem was, I let someone else determine the priorities I’d already made. For me, buyer’s remorse is less about the money and more about not being in charge of my own decisions.

    Come up with a specific spending threshold. When I went into the dress shop, they asked me how much I wanted to spend and I was like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ because I had no idea what the price ranges were. So when I asked to see cheaper dresses, they told me “oh we probably don’t have those.” Shady, yes, but they probably wouldn’t have done it if I’d have said, “I’m not spending more than $500 on a dress.”

    In the end, it goes back to mindful spending. We work hard for our money, and it takes discipline to budget and prioritize our spending. It’s no wonder we feel remorse when we let someone come in and screw it all up. For me, the best way to cope with buyer’s remorse is to accept it, then come up with a plan to put myself back in charge of my money.