When you make a big purchase, do you ever get that butterfly feeling? That little internal tingling sensation where you question whether this purchase is really a good idea?
When I get that feeling, that’s my cue that I’m about to make a purchase I might regret. Sometimes I go through with it, but more often, that’s when I know I need to understand all the fine print.
This is a life rule that I implemented after one horrible purchase decision.
It all started at a Bass Pro in Nashville.
My husband and I were shopping one day and came across someone offering us a free weekend vacation to Gatlinburg. We had been wanting to travel there anyway and said why not?! So we signed up. The only catch was you had to sit through a teensy sales presentation.
We thought it was no big deal. We didn’t care about whatever they were selling us. All we wanted was to get away and enjoy the Smoky Mountains. So we did!
As native Rocky Mountain people transplanted to Tennessee, we had been missing mountains and heading to the Smokies gave us a bit of that mountain fix we had been craving. We enjoyed the hiking and kitschy shops and when the time came, we went to our sales presentation.
It was a timeshare pitch and they drew us in hook, line, and sinker. I thought I was strong, but that day I learned that no sirree, I was not. Their presentation was a master class in marketing psychology and we left that day with a contract and $10k loan for a timeshare.
The entire three-hour drive home we asked each other, “What the hell were we thinking???”
It was the most immediate and strongest case of buyers remorse that I had ever felt. In the first place we couldn’t afford it (hence the loan), and we also had two car payments that were too expensive at the time. To top it off, would we really actually use it? I highly doubt it.
I spent the next day frantically researching if there was any way out of it. Luckily, we lived in Tennessee – a state with extensive laws regarding timeshares, one of which gave buyers the right to cancel their contract within a certain time period (not every state has that). I immediately drafted a letter stating our intent to cancel the contract, packed up all their promotional purchasing gifts (farewell tablet), and promptly shipped it all via certified mail.
And it worked. We got ourselves out of that mess before it hurt us, but the bigger lesson for me was the importance of understanding your options and taking action to get yourself out of bad financial situations.
Don’t settle for being a financial pushover
I want to be clear that I’m not advocating you make purchases with the intent of cancelling them or with the intent to return them. I believe that’s extremely unethical and unfair to businesses. However, I will be the first to admit that sometimes life happens, or our judgment is clouded, or we haven’t considered our whole financial picture.
Once you do make those realizations, you need to have the skills and the maturity to correct the situation.
If you ever find yourself with a bad financial purchase, here are five steps to help you move forward:
1. Keep all documentation
Whenever you make a big purchase (whatever that means to you), keep the documentation from it. Whether that is a receipt, a contract, a bill of sale, etc., file that away and definitely don’t toss it.
2. Don’t wait
If you decide that you made a financial mistake, time is of the essence and in most scenarios acting sooner is better. You are more likely to have more options and take less of a financial hit if you act quickly.
3. Research your escape clause
Can you return it? Did you sign a contract? Is there a cancellation period?
To answer those questions, start by looking at your documentation. Does it mention their return policy on there? Does it say anything about your right to cancel? If it does, follow those instructions; if not, don’t give up. Many states have right to cancel laws, but they’re often limited in scope and not a silver bullet. Like I did with the timeshare, research the law specific to the item in your state. If the item was expensive enough it may be worth consulting an attorney (but again remember, act fast and do this quickly).
Also, think about how you purchased the item. Many credit cards have return protection policies that extend your return options for an item and allow you to return it to the credit card company rather than to the store. Details are specific to each card.
4. Adapt and Overcome
Sometimes there isn’t an escape clause. Maybe the window to return or cancel has passed, or the option didn’t exist in the first place. In this scenario you need to own up to the purchase and figure out a plan to handle it. In this event you have two options: keep it or resell it.
If you’ve lawfully purchased an item, you always have the right to keep it, but if you’re considering this a ‘bad purchase’ that may not make the most sense financially. Whether it’s a large item that put you into debt, or something you realized you didn’t need, conscious consumerism means recognizing that this item doesn’t fit in your life and finding a plan to handle it properly.
That leaves reselling the item. Sometimes you may have to take a loss to do this, but the loss may be less painful than absorbing the whole cost. The internet has made the world of reselling easier than ever and you have many options. A few of them include Ebay, local Facebook sale groups, Craigslist, Poshmark, and many more. Don’t just keep a bad purchase because reselling takes a bit more effort. The payoff can be large.
5. Understand your big picture financial goals
Once you’ve made a purchase you regret, take some time to reflect on what got you into that situation. Did you put yourself in a position of temptation for something you couldn’t afford? Did you not understand how it would fit within your budget? Having strong, motivational financial goals will help you avoid these regretful purchases. You should also know and avoid your weaknesses.
I am confident that these days, I’d be able to walk out of that timeshare presentation without a second thought because I have a clear vision of what I want and I know the timeshare would only get in the way of that.
However, even despite that, I don’t put myself in situations like that anymore. If someone offers me free things in exchange for sitting through a sales presentation, I usually politely decline. My goals are too important and it’s just not worth it to me.
Find something that motivates you and stick a reminder of it in your wallet so that the next time you’re tempted to make a purchase you may regret, you can remind yourself of your bigger goals.