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Buyer Beware: Think Twice Before Buying These Six Things

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When my colleague Clover was younger, she spent $1,000 on a concert ticket, and fronted another $2,000 so two friends could join her at the show. As we all know, buying tickets in a single transaction is the only way to get seats together, and the friends committed, of course, to paying her back.

“Well, the concert was great,” she told me, “but my friends took a year to pay me back, without interest, because we were all broke. I had to email their parents every month to collect small payments.” 

The Bank of Clover is now permanently closed. “Never again.”

Luckily, Clover has fully recovered from her financial mishap, but her story is a cautionary tale about buyers’ remorse. Any purchase that creates an ongoing financial burden can make us susceptible to the feelings of regret and anxiety we know as buyer’s remorse. Credit card debt, in-store financing, and mortgages all fall into the category of ongoing financial burden.

Becoming an unwilling debt collector in your friend group is certainly aggravating, but there’s a whole lot more at stake when it comes to bad financial decisions. Financial hardship is a prevailing root of divorce, depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. Obviously, not every dumb impulse buy will ruin your life, but it’s generally best to avoid the danger zone.

With a little help from my friends, I’ve rounded up ten of the most egregious, regret-inducing purchases any of us could make if we’re not informed. Thank you to the kind souls who shared their foolish mistakes for our benefit.

Timeshares

On the top of every list ever published about bad financial investments is timeshares. The timeshare industry actually innovated its own high-pressure sales tactics, the likes of which the business world had never before seen. (For a jaw-dropping peek behind the curtains, check out the 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles.) I have more than a couple of friends and relatives who attend timeshare presentations regularly just to study the sales tactics for repurposing in their own sales careers.

While in the pressure cooker pitch, your achilles heel will be leveraged, your emotions tapped. You’ll argue with your spouse. You’ll lose sight of what you’re actually buying—a lifetime commitment to renting a hotel room at a premium price with many inflexible restrictions—and mistakenly think you’re buying a luxury condo at a helluva deal.

The tactics are so manipulative that even veteran financial experts will be separated from tens of thousands of dollars. That’s how Planswell’s Chief Financial Officer Trevor became the regretful owner of a timeshare.

“About 20 years ago, I saw an advertisement for a free vacation. Four days and four nights in Mexico with just one small catch: we had to sit through a timeshare presentation. No big deal, right? But they just kept persuading, persuading, persuading and ‘oh, the deal’s going to be gone tomorrow. You’ve got to buy it today,’” recalls Trevor, “So, that timeshare has been sitting there for an awful long time and I haven’t been able to use it. Don’t buy a timeshare; you will have buyers’ remorse for the rest of your life.”

Pets

Nobody loves pets more than me. Under the right circumstances, the adoption fee will be the best money you ever spend. The “right circumstances” are key here. If you’re a renter, you’ll be lucky to even find a place that allows pets, but four-legged family members typically don’t live rent-free. A hefty pet deposit is practically guaranteed, and often monthly fees are charged as well. If you plan to be away from home ever, like for business travel, add on boarding fees too.

Then there’s food, vet bills, obedience school, and—in my case—a whole closet full of adorable little sweaters. 

My colleague Ashley has the most extreme story about wrong circumstances for pet ownership I’ve ever heard. She was attending university in England, living alone, and decided a puppy was just the companion she needed in a foreign country.

“My very first weekend, I took a train up to Manchester and bought a puppy. Of course, I was a student with no income and didn’t realize how expensive dogs are. My whole English experience was very expensive with that dog. And, of course, I was attached to the dog so I wanted to bring him home to Toronto after school. To get him a passport and his shots and everything, I paid $7,000, then immediately realized upon our return that it wasn’t going to work out with my new job. I had to give the dog away,” said Ashley, “I still love that dog and he’s actually still in my life, but financially that was impulsive and stupid.”

If you’ve got puppy fever but it’s not quite the right time to make a 15-year commitment, you may want to look into pet fostering or even volunteering at a shelter.

Exercise Equipment

“I bought an $800 coat rack,” said Planswell Account Executive Andy. It started as a treadmill with good intentions, “Yeah, I’ll get on that thing. I’ll watch TV.” As it turned out, watching TV on the sofa is a lot more comfortable, something Andy discovered about a week after making the purchase. “It was a huge pain to get it into the house, and an even bigger pain to get it out. I damaged my basement door when I took it out. Every part of it was a completely bad decision.”

My question for Andy is, “Have you tried drying sweaters on it?” That’s how I use mine. It’s currently occupying a main floor closet because I can’t physically get it up or down stairs. Not only is it ridiculously heavy, it’s very awkward to move. In hindsight, Andy and I would have been better off buying day passes to a gym in the fleeting moments we prioritized physical fitness.

One of us, who is not me, actually went on to get in tip-top physical shape without any big, heavy equipment at all. Andy used a DVD workout program with inspiring results. If you’re re-committing to exercise, there are a gazillion ways to test your commitment before splurging on an $800 coat rack. Jogging in the neighborhood is free, and there are endless free workout videos on YouTube. 

Food Delivery

Uber Eats, DoorDash, and the likes were an absolute lifeline during the pandemic when restaurants were closed to in-person dining. These apps kept local restaurants in business and, for that, we thank them. It was our civic duty to keep our local economies going, right? And working remotely meant not passing by the grocery store on the way home from the office. No grocery stop, no problem; I’ve got my phone right here, glued to my palm. But…

“I looked at my credit card statement and saw how much I spent on Uber Eats,” said my work friend Amee, “Oh my gosh. That has stopped.” 

I’m having a harder time quitting Uber Eats than Amee did despite living within walking distance of four grocery stores. The convenience of ordering a good meal after a long day is hard to give up, even though I’m typically surprised by the total bill. What starts as a $3.49 delivery fee quickly becomes $80 by the time my kids add their orders and we tip. 

If you carry a credit card balance from month to month, add your interest payments on top of the total. Just a couple of orders per month can easily turn into a major expense. During the peak of the pandemic, I was ordering several times per week

I’ve discovered there is one fool-proof way to ensure I don’t have a weak moment and cave to the convenience: delete the app. 

Sound System

Much like a puppy, a kickass sound system requires the right circumstances. In this case, the right circumstances would be far from civilization. 

In the interest of being the Host with the Most, Planswell’s Head of Sales Lukasz once invested in the best speakers money could buy. In university, his downtown Toronto apartment was the gathering spot for friends before a night on the town. “Within two or three days, I got so many noise complaints I was in jeopardy of being evicted,” said Lukasz, “To this day, I’ve never lived in a place where I could actually use those speakers.”

When shelling out big bucks for a stereo system, the salesperson will not mention that you may face eviction or worse—a misdemeanor conviction and a fine upwards of $1,000— if your music can be heard in the hallway of your building. Local noise ordinances vary from city to city, but there’s typically a slim margin of error whether your amazing sound system is in an apartment, a single family home, or even in a car. 

Low-Profile Tires

I had never heard of low-profile tires until my colleague Ermos warned me about them. I did a quick Google search to see what he was talking about and spotted a page-one result titled, “The only good thing about low-profile tires is replacing them.” Ouch.

Apparently the sole appeal of these tires is the look. I can appreciate form over function in many scenarios, but it seems like the wrong criteria when buying tires. Another article I saw detailed pros and cons, with the single pro being “eye-catching appearance.” Cons listed include a harsh ride, more road noise, frequent blowouts, and subsequent rim damage.

“They sold me on how beautiful these tires look,” said Ermos, “What I didn’t realize: low-profile tires are like tissue paper. I got six flat tires in under three years with those tires. With every pot hole I went over, I just waited for the notification to come on saying a tire is flat. Worst decision ever.”

Because the sidewall is stiffer and shorter than regular passenger tires, low-profile tires don’t absorb the impact of potholes so well. On the plus side, you probably won’t blow out all four of them at once, so at least a couple will still look quite eye-catching on the shoulder of the freeway when you’re stranded.

Avoiding Buyers’ Remorse

A quick lap around our virtual office and I heard all kinds of stories about sorrowful spending, including $40,000 solar panels, a political science degree, and a life savings lost in crypto currency, to name a few.  But I was also able to gather some solid advice for avoiding buyers’ remorse:

  1. If you don’t understand what you’re getting into, don’t do it
  2. Think about big purchases for a while before pulling the trigger; use that time to research
  3. Try before you buy; rent or borrow from a friend
  4. Use credit cards for major purchases so you have recourse if you get scammed
  5. Use cash for small indulgences so you don’t pay interest on top of higher prices
  6. Save receipts and return items you regret buying

Finally, whether you’re buying a few groceries or a house, the advice is the same: make a list and a budget. Don’t get caught up in the homebuying whirlwind and blow your budget on upgraded features that didn’t even make your must-have list. Likewise, at the grocery store, avert your eyes away from the impulse items at the checkout. Everything you came for is already in your basket.

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