As I mentioned in my “Friends, Shopping, and Telling the Truth” post last week, I recently went shopping with a friend. While I wrote about my hesitancy in telling this particular friend – a fellow shopaholic – about my blog, I didn’t share anything else about that shopping experience.
Today’s post covers how I shopped, what I bought, and my process for deciding whether to keep or return one particular item. My hope is that my process will help you when wrestling with a similar decision.
Confession Time – I Bought Four Things
In truth, I did buy a few things (four) when I shopped with my friend. While I felt good about three of these purchases (two short cardigans and a moto-style jacket – photos in my accountability post next week), I experienced quite a bit of anxiety and indecision regarding the fourth. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I’d like to share my shopping process, as it was different than what I’ve done in the past.
Following My Own Advice
I followed much of the advice I gave in “Avoiding the 3 Most Common August Shopping Mistakes,” including the following:
- I spent some time in my closet before shopping and created a list of priority items to either fill in wardrobe gaps or satisfy deep sartorial wants (it’s okay to want things and to buy some items simply because you love them; not everything has to be ultra-practical!).
- I didn’t just make a beeline for the sales racks. While I did peruse them a bit, I kept my list at the forefront of my mind and didn’t allow myself to become sidetracked by “good deals.”
- I only tried on items from my list. So many times in the past, I’d try things on just because they caught my eye or were on sale. That led to a lot of misguided purchases and more than a few “wardrobe benchwarmers.” I now know it’s better to leave non-list items on the rack and not tempt myself by trying them on.
- I used the “power pause.” At two stores, I put items on hold to allow myself time to ponder whether or not I should buy them. I ended up buying only half of the garments I had asked the sales associates to hold.
- I bought items to wear now. Instead of “stocking up” for next year, I only purchased items I could see myself wearing during the current season.
One Big Buying Faux Pas
Although it seems like I did everything right, I did commit one big buying faux pas. I bought a dress that was on my priority list yet put me over my August budget. When I bought it, I knew I’d either have to return some unworn garments or go against my word and land in the proverbial shopping “doghouse.” I allowed myself to be seduced by the “love factor” and threw reason and practicality out the window.
Allow me to elaborate… For at least two years now, I’ve wanted a striped dress. While I’m a bit of a “stripe-aholic,” I do not own a striped dress despite a long and difficult search to find one. I seem to see such dresses on others every time I turn around, yet I’ve unable to find one that fits both my body and my budget. Being tall, dresses are not an easy fit for me. They are often too short in both the waist and length and I end up looking like a child who has outgrown her clothes. Not the best look!
A Dress Sighting Leads to a Dilemma
After such a long a fruitless search, when I saw a cobalt and white striped maxi-dress on a mannequin outside Tommy Bahama, I gasped. I just had to take a closer look and try it on. Even the price tag, which was about double what I normally pay for a dress, didn’t stop me from marching into the fitting room. As I pulled the dress over my head, I half hoped it wouldn’t fit or that it would look horrible on me. But instead, it looked fabulous. It looked like it was made for me and I loved it.
My friend echoed my enthusiasm for the dress, but actually cautioned me against buying it. She correctly stated that the dress “screams summer” and isn’t all that versatile. Even though summer weather lasts through October where I live, how often would I really wear the dress before it would be relegated to my closet until next summer? In addition, I didn’t have a cardigan or jacket to wear with the dress, so I would need to make another purchase in order to create an outfit (I get cold easily and it’s a sleeveless dress).
Faulty Reasoning and My Inner Shopaholic
I placed the dress on hold until later in the day, but ultimately went back to buy it after my friend and I parted ways. I reasoned that I’d show the dress to my husband and we’d decide together whether to keep that dress or the one he had bought me when we shopped together on my birthday. Deep down, I knew that was the wrong thing to do and I felt anxious as I drove home that evening.
After I got home, I tried on both dresses for my husband. While he liked the new dress, he felt I should return it, as the “birthday dress” is far more versatile (it’s solid blue, short-sleeved, and knee-length). During my conversation with my husband, my inner shopaholic fully reared her ugly head. I wanted to keep both dresses and came up with all sorts of reasons to support my “case.” I sounded like a bratty child, although I stopped short of actually kicking and screaming. It makes my stomach crawl to recall the way I behaved during the dress debate.
How I Made the Right Decision
Fortunately, I came to my senses and was able to use my rational mind to make the right decision. My wise husband, who has been around the shopaholic block with me more than a time or two, used some of my own logic to snap me out of my bratty haze. I always read my blog posts to him before I post them and it seems a lot of my words have stuck with him!
Ultimately, it was “cost per wear” that got to me. I just wasn’t going to wear both new dresses enough to justify keeping them, even if my budget would allow for it (and that’s a big if). I primarily wear skirts and dresses during the warmer months and I typically only wear a dress (instead of a skirt) once or twice per week. I also have six other dresses in my closet that I’d like to wear on a regular basis. Logically, I would only wear the new dresses probably three times each before the cooler weather begins.
Since the dresses were pricey, keeping both would not be the best use of my money. What’s more, my husband was right in that the birthday dress is far more versatile. The striped dress is highly recognizable and couldn’t be worn as often for that reason.
A Hard Lesson Learned
I ultimately returned the Tommy Bahama dress and I know I did the right thing. However, I can’t help but wish I’d never bought it in the first place. I felt embarrassed when I returned it and guilty for potentially docking a sales associate’s commission (I say potentially since I don’t know if Tommy Bahama salespeople are paid commission). I wasted a lot of time and energy – both mine and my husband’s – by letting my emotions run the show. Another hard lesson learned.
Use the 6 Key Questions Before Buying
I probably could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I’d asked myself Dr. Benson’s six key questions (my answers in retrospect are in parentheses):
- Why am I here? (I was seduced by a mannequin display and ignored a price outside my budget.)
- How do I feel? (Anxious because I know I shouldn’t even try on a dress that doesn’t fit into my budget.)
- Do I need this? (No. I already have a new dress that I haven’t worn and six other dresses that aren’t worn all that frequently).
- What if I wait? (The dress would likely still be available in September and I may decide it’s not really a good choice for me anyway. There will be other dresses I will love, even with the fit issues. I’ll also feel better about myself for honoring my commitment to my budget and personal shopping rules).
- How will I pay for it? (I would ultimately need to return at least one other purchase. It’s mean to consider returning a birthday gift from my husband.)
- Where will I put it? (I have space for it, as my closet is not as packed as it used to be, but I also want to be mindful not to let it get out of hand again!)
A Few Questions I’d Add…
Dr. Benson gives a laminated card with these questions to all of her clients. I’m thinking of creating my own laminated card and using these questions every time I shop. I would also add a few new questions of my own to the mix:
- When and where will I wear it?
- Does it fit my body, lifestyle, and personality?
- Will I wear it often enough to justify its cost per wear?
I know those are a lot of questions to ponder while standing in a fitting room, but that’s where the “power pause” can be very useful. Yes, it’s an extra step and takes some time, but I’m tired of buying things I shouldn’t have bought. I’m tired of playing the serial returner game. I’m tired of wasting my own time and the time of others because of my misguided purchases. It’s time to stop the insanity and follow my own advice!
What do you think? How do you decide whether or not to buy something? After you’ve purchased an item, how do you determine whether to keep it or return it? Are there any questions you’d add to the ones above?