How to Determine If a Purchase Was a Good One

Last week, I posted an analysis of all of the purchases I made during the first half of this year.   I discovered that over half of these items could be considered smart buys in that I still love them and have worn them regularly.   Another 18% of my purchases were basically mistakes and have already been purged from my wardrobe, as well as five pieces (13%) that I was able to return for refunds. Rounding out my analysis were an additional five items (13%) for which the proverbial jury is still out.

Good purchase or not

How do you decide if a purchase was good or not? 

I learned through my analysis that many of my mistakes stem from settling for just okay when I should have held out for stellar, especially in terms of online purchases.  It’s definitely better to make returns, even if they can be a hassle, than to keep e-commerce buys that didn’t live up to our expectations.  Returns are often a necessary evil for those of us who like to shop online, as colors and fits can be distorted by monitor variations and strategic clothing placement on models or in displays.

Likewise, it’s usually not a good idea to throw good money after bad by attempting to alter sub-standard pieces to try to force them to work.   If you don’t love an item before you tailor it, you’re not likely to love it afterwards.   I was asked several questions about alterations in response to my purchase analysis, so I am going to do at least one additional post on that topic shortly.  In the meantime, those who want to read my thoughts on alterations and when they should or shouldn’t be done can check out this post from the archives.   I need to make sure to always follow my own advice!

A Powerful Question

Shortly before I did my purchase analysis, I posed the following question to the members of my private Facebook group:

Soon I will be doing my purchase analysis for the first half of 2015 to see how well I am faring with my shopping this year. One question I’m going to ask with my analysis is, “Would I buy this again today?” I will also look at how many times I have worn the new items and how I would rate them on a scale of 1-10 today. What other criteria do you use to determine if a purchase was a good one or not?”

Advice from the Facebook Group

The following is a sampling of some of the excellent responses I received from the group:

  • I often find myself reaching for certain items on bad days, whether I’m feeling a bit tired, ill, stressed, or just bloated! The best items are ones that make you feel good and are still flattering on those days. For example, comfortable shoes are paramount on days when you’re not 100%. That’s often how I know to purge a pair, if I always bypass them for the more comfy or less fussy version. I’ve learned a lot about my own fabric preferences this year and am happy to report I recently returned several items that included too much polyester for me, whereas I previously might have “settled” because they were right in front of me.
  • I would ask, “Is this something I now reach for before other things in my wardrobe?” So if I brought a new dress, for example, is it now a first or second pick when I want to wear a dress or do I still pick older things above it when I have a choice?  If the new item becomes a first or second choice, I would consider it a successful buy.
  • I think of how many other items in my wardrobe it goes with. If I can’t wear it 5 different ways, it should be gone.
  • This is not something I thought I would say because a) I am an analytical person and b) I am getting burned out on reading about “KonMari” everywhere, but I think a subjective, “Does it spark joy?” type question works really well here. When I look at my closet, I intuitively know whether an item was a good buy or not. That can be based on many factors, but they aren’t always easy to put a number on.
  • For things that I’ve gotten rid of, I ask myself if it’s something I’m glad that I had. I’ve had a few trendy items or new prints or colors that I wore many times during a season and passed on at the end. I don’t want to do that with too many things, but I’m usually happy that I bought a few pieces like that to have something a little different to wear than my basics.
  • There are always the questions of comfort (paramount for me) and color suitability (does it work with my palette?). Other questions I ask are:  Does it express something about me that I want to express?, Does it make me happy to wear it?, and Will it be durable? I also look at how versatile the piece is in creating different looks and moods that go with it. Wearing things in one way, even if I’m combining them with different pieces, is boring for me. That’s why I think I can get away with fewer clothes. I’d rather have fewer clothes, wear things more often, and have a higher wardrobe turnover than have more clothes that get less wear.
  • Your question is really useful! (“Would I buy it again?”), and most useful is to note down, or remember very clearly, why not, if the answer is no.I don’t like acrylics; I try to go more for wool and cotton. That’s one criteria. Another criteria is how the item fits on the parts of your body that you want to either highlight or hide. Another question is, “Would I wear it right now, I mean right now, when going to the street?” Or, when I’m in doubt, after a while looking at the mirror and not being convinced, I turn away from the mirror for five seconds and then turn again suddenly to look at it! This is how I find my first impression without thinking. It’s kind of a way to see if an item “sparks joy” or not. I often do this in fitting rooms…
  • I usually see if what I bought has lived up to its purpose… Was it a workhorse or was it a piece I only ended up wearing once or twice? I also double check for duplicates and to see if the new item has surpassed the old one it replaced.
  • I used to buy clothes and let them hang in the closet, sometimes for years, unworn, still with the tags on. (That “method” came in handy when I actually purged my closet and took stuff to consignment, as proof that they were “new”!) Now, if I don’t wear something within a month, I figure it was a fluke, or maybe I found something I like better, which is often the case…  So I just take it back to the store within the allotted time span.

What Do You Think?

Lots of food for thought from the group, don’t you think?  Now I’d love to get your input. How do you know if a purchase you made was a good one or not? What types of questions do you ask yourself?  Do you have any rules that you employ to help guide your purchase decisions when you shop?    Please share your feedback in the comments section.

I’ll be back later this week with my latest “Love It, Wear It” Challenge (LIWI) update (see previous ones here) and I will share my October accountability update soon as well.   Also coming soon are posts on alterations and exercises from “To Buy or Not to Buy,” as well as other articles on wardrobe management, shopping behavior and psychology, personal style, and living a fuller life beyond shopping.

If you have a suggestion for an upcoming post or if you would like to be featured in a “stories of recovery” feature (you don’t have to be fully recovered to share your progress), please contact me.   I’m open to guest posts on a variety of topics, too.  Just send me your idea and I’ll see if it’s a good fit for the mission of this blog.

32 thoughts on “How to Determine If a Purchase Was a Good One

  1. I know it’s a good purchase, if I can’t wait to put it on and wear it! I found a beautiful, blue-violet knit top at thrift the week before last, and managed to wear it three times in five days, before taking it to the dry cleaner. (I know, ew, right?) I plan to wear it again this weekend. Same with a pair of secondhand boots I bought online. I’ve put those things on my feet 3-4 times a week since buying them last month.

    Sometimes I don’t get to wear an item right away, because I shop out of season. It may be months before I get to wear something – but the same thing applies: if I find myself eagerly anticipating getting to FINALLY wear that item, because it’s finally cold enough (or warm enough), then I know it was a good purchase.

    • Wow, Mary Beth! I definitely think something you wore three times in five days is an excellent purchase. That’s pretty much immediate all-star status! Both the top and the boots sound like they were really great choices for you. I think the benchmarks you have set are good – either wearing right away or WANTING to do so.

  2. Adding to my previous comment…

    And for the as-yet-unworn stuff (because it’s seasonal, or dependent on an occasion), I really know it will be a good purchase, if I find myself trying it on again and again, and prancing around in the house while I do boring, everyday stuff. 😀 😀 😀

    • This sounds like a very good guideline for out of season stuff. I don’t usually do this, but I do sometimes look at those items longingly and think about how I will wear them. I guess if we just throw them in the closet and don’t even think about them or look at them, it’s not a good sign.

  3. I agree with MaryBeth. Wanting to wear it immediately is a good indication that the purchase was a right one. I try not to buy out of season clothes because all too often I am out of love with the item by the time it’s cold or warm enough to wear. I’ve been making this mistake every year for the past 6 years, usually for winter clothes as I have a huge weakness for sweaters and coats and I tend to get too excited for all the shiny new fall items and end up buying compulsively. I made some mistakes this early fall already so I know that I will have to resist a great deal during the year end sales. But when I buy something that I am excited to wear right away, I usually wear it over and over again and that item usually stays in my wardrobe for a much longer period.

    • I agree that out of season purchases are risky, Wendy. I tend to fall out of love with things, too. If I do buy out of season, I usually buy from stores like Nordstrom that have a very generous return policy. I like to shop at their anniversary sale, but I try to mostly buy things that I can wear right away. I do still have a few things from that sale that I haven’t worn yet, but I don’t think I will return them. I have been looking forward to wearing them and the weather has finally gotten cooler. I definitely think that we should be excited to wear what we buy. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  4. It seems to me that you do better when you don’t buy consigned or online items. I know that they feel like a good deal or great way to shop at your convenience but the miss steps happen with these the most. Let me if your numbers don’t bear this out but just a perusal of your blog leans this way.
    I also think if you do not sew or tailor yourself that any alteration that is more than hemming a pair of pants (I too fall in the regs to short, talls to long leg length) you are throwing money away. More expensive alterations change the drape and preparations of the garment that drew you to it in the first place. If you sew, then you can use thrift for superior fabric to totally remake new garments. This isn’t a criticism, but an observation. In the long run, buying the best at higher budget bites seem to work better for you.
    I wonder if you don’t like to go to stores because you think they are more tempting than online. I use the technique of the “if I’m paying “full price” it better be a 9 or 10. This keeps me from binging and getting sucked in to trends. I even do this when I thrift. I am so picky now with fabric ,cut ,color and construction. I’m worth it. We will never change fast fashion if we don’t demand quality goods made of superior fabrics. The fashion industry wouldn’t treat a man like this. If they don’t get high quality for their dollars they won’t go back to that store/brand. Retailers know that when men shop it’s rare and they only have one bite at the apple for their wardrobe dollars. When a man buys a suit they usually tailor it to fit perfectly. When is the last time a woman had this done? We accept less and we get less. No more.

    • I agree that my track record with consignment and online purchases hasn’t been good, Kathy. I wrote a post about my resale failures and really cut back on shopping second-hand after that. In fact, I rarely do it anymore, but I did have much better luck when I shopped at a few resale stores in August. I use online shopping usually for very specific items that are tough to find in store, as well as my pants and jeans (because I need talls). I haven’t done an analysis of my online purchases, but I think the biggest problem there is not doing returns when I really should. If I can be honest with myself and do what needs to be done, I will fare much better.

      I think both stores and online can be tempting. With online, though, we don’t have the salesperson issue, which can complicate things. I like your guideline of wanting full-priced items to be 9’s or 10’s, although I think that should be true of everything we buy. Yes, women need to demand better fabrics and construction! We speak with our dollars and we should return pieces that don’t wear or wash well. I am appalled at how much things have gone downhill. My older clothes are holding up so much better than newer items. It’s sad…

      I have definitely gone overboard on alterations at times. I have learned which types of alterations are riskier to do and haven’t made as many mistakes as of late. I almost always need the sides of garments taken in because I have broad shoulders and a narrow torso, but I don’t recall any of those alterations not working out. I agree that the more complicated alterations are risky and often don’t turn out as we hope. I’m going to write more about alterations in future posts soon.

      • Hi Debbie, an alternative to taking in tops which are too big is to wear a waist belt if you wear your tops untucked, which will flatter your hourglass figure and show off your small waist and make the tops fit better. You can also wear a waist belt to make dresses fit better. If you are short waisted wear a narrow-medium belt and if you are long waisted you can wear a wide belt. I am tall, slim, broad shouldered with an hourglass figure. As I have a short waist I wear all my tops untucked which balances my proportions and I wear a narrow-medium width waist belt which really flatters my small waist & makes clothes fit better.

      • Thanks for your suggestions, Sally. I am a total belt novice and never know how to wear belts properly, but I do like the look on other people. I am also short-waisted and tucking never seems to look right on me. I do try it sometimes, but always opt for the untucked look. I think I just need to experiment with different belt sizes and shapes. I do worry that belts will be too “fussy,” but I’m sure there are some that will stay in place better than others.

  5. 3/4 of my tops are white and now if I like a particular white cotton top (not see-through is hard to find) and think “I wish I had bought two”, it’s a good purchase. Ditto with other garments. If I wish I had bought another identical one, it was a good buy.

    • Good guideline, Nutrivore. I’m wondering if you ever actually DO buy two and if so, are you happy to have done so? I worry about my buying duplicates, but there are some instances in which it would have been a good idea. I think that for me, I would wait a bit to see if the original becomes an “all-star.” By that time, it might be too late to buy a second one, but at least I would know what types of items I wear a lot and are good purchases to make.

      • I often buy two from Land’s End, L.L. Bean – stores with a good return policy. I’ll buy two and return both or one or keep both, but I usually buy two in the first place when I find a deal. If something has free shipping, I’ll buy one and if I like it, I may buy another one.

      • I think it’s always good to buy from stores with a good return policy and I generally confine my online orders to those merchants who offer free shipping (fortunately, there are more and more of them these days). It seems like you have found a shopping method that works well for you. Multiples can be tricky, but sometimes they are a good thing.

    • I like the idea of “I wish I’d bought two.” I feel that way about the leopard flats I bought in September. I love them so much my friend told me I’d better get another pair before they were gone. But I think I will wait until they wear out. My style might have changed by then.

      I do have four pairs of sandals in the same style but different colors, bought over 4 years, first 2 pairs retail; the others on eBay. I still love their classic form and perfect comfort. But I have also learned that buying more than one of the same style in different colors isn’t always a great idea. I bought 2 J Jill dresses. I should have returned them but I didn’t. I need to just let them go but I keep thinking I’ll find a way to style them that I like. The difference between the two is that I first tested out and loved the sandals before I bought another pair; with the dresses, I bought them at the same time and didn’t love them from the beginning. My takeaway is if I really love something and wear it a lot, then it might make sense to buy the item in a different color.

      • You made a really good point, Anne. I definitely think it’s better to make sure a purchase works out for us before buying a second one in an alternate color. It sounds like your sandals have worked well for you, which is great. I think it was smart for you not to buy the second pair of leopard flats. It’s definitely possible that your style might change and you will be stuck with shoes that you will feel compelled to wear. If you find that you totally love them, you’ll probably be able to find another pair of leopard flats once your current pair wears out. I am in that situation myself in that my leopard flats are on their last legs. I may replace them or I may opt for an alternate print like something black and white. We’ll see…

  6. Part of the challenge is knowing what you reach for, and hanging on to those preferred garments. Another part is knowing what to reach for – allowing yourself to fully wear and even flaunt your nicest clothes. Saving everyday clothes for something special is a waste of money and a slap at yourself. TODAY is special, and YOU are special. Wear your favorite clothes. Just because!

  7. A good gauge for me is how long it takes me to wear an item five times. I used to count to ten wears but now that I’m back to working in an office I have completely different requirements for work clothes vs. everyday wear. (If I buy something out of season I’ll ‘start the clock’ the first time I wear the item.) Right now I have two things that are on the fence of being bad purchases because even though they’re in season and appropriate for my workplace I’ve only worn them twice each. I keep a fairly small wardrobe and it really shouldn’t take too long to reach five wears so I know that either I don’t like the items as much as I thought (probably true for one) or I have too many of a certain category of clothing.

    • I really like this one, Sara. Of course, the number could vary by person or even for different types of items. But the point of our clothes is to WEAR them, so if we’re not wearing a new item, it probably wasn’t a good idea for us to have bought it. Your last sentence was a key for me. I know that I don’t wear many of my clothes enough because I just have too many items in certain categories.

    • I agree that the cost is not usually a good benchmark, frugalscholar. Some of my best purchases didn’t cost much, while some things that cost a lot sit in my closet and don’t get worn much. I’m starting to learn what types of things tend to get worn most often, but I still have a long way to go before I really have it figured out.

  8. I agree with frugal scholar that it’s hard to plan because it is only in hindsight that i realize if it was or was not a good purchase. (The Nordstrom sale on EF crepe black pants was wonderful. Thank you!!!) I also agree with others that it isn’t about the number of items, but what feels right. I still have a large wardrobe that needs to be pared down, but I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet since soon after this blog started. Thanks, Debbie, for that tip. I’ve had professional help in determining my very best colors and have spent an enormous amount of time trying to determining a flattering style, but his is still extremely difficult for me. I spent nearly 50 years thinking that as long as my body was covered and everything was clean that it must be ok.

    Did I mention that this is extremely hard? Did I mention that I am determined? Thanks for your help, Debbie.

    • I’m glad my tips on wardrobe tracking has been helpful for you, Deb. Yes, it IS extremely hard to get this shopping, wardrobe management, and personal style thing down! I’ve been blogging for almost 3 years about it now and I feel like I still have a long way to go. But if we keep working at it, we make progress, even if it seems very slow sometimes. Just keep taking it one day at a time. You’ll get there eventually. Glad I could help!

  9. One I have established the correct fit & comfort level I leave the item displayed in a prominent place with receipt attached. The item once worn can then be placed in the wardrobe. This ensures I don’t forget about the item and more importantly by looking at it often I can gauge my feelings towards ir. No more what was I thinking moments! Additionally I’ve learnt just to accept my inherent taste preferences and buy accordingly to avoid recurring mistakes. It’s like embracing your true nature rather than trying to fit societies norm. I really like my comfort zone!!

    • Great idea to leave new purchases prominently displayed, Sharon! Out of sight, out of mind sometimes. I think I will try this one, although sometimes I buy a few things and don’t have a lot of space to display things prominently. I will figure that part out. I like what you wrote about embracing your true nature. That really is one of the keys! Glad you like your comfort zone 🙂

  10. I’m with Deb in KY and frugal scholar, with a few exceptions it’s only in retrospect. I judge success by how often and easily I wear it, which in turn depends on how it works with other garments, and sorting that out requires a lot of work (spreadsheets and photos help). I wish I had put the work in when I was younger, rather than just buying stuff that grabbed my attention, but at least I’m enjoying doing it now.

    • I think that if we realize enough things in retrospect, Alice, we learn how to shop more wisely and make fewer mistakes. Yes, it is a lot of work to figure all this stuff out, at least for some of us. There are those who seem to “get” it more intuitively, but it’s required more analysis for me. I think that enjoying the process is key and I’m glad you are doing that!

  11. I read this column yesterday and the question “would I buy this again today” stuck in my mind. I opened the spreadsheet where I track purchases and realized this is what is needed for my review – it instantly clarified my thinking, so much so I am going to note brief analysis where useful in the spreadsheet. I can see that waiting a bit to do the analysis is crucial, as I am prone to letting the excitement of a new purchase sway me for a while. I really appreciate the tip, and your blog in general has helped me become a more reflective and thoughtful shopper.

    • I’m so happy that this post was helpful to you, Gigi. I think that question can really tell us a lot. In fact, your comment gave me an idea! I think I will go through my spreadsheet and answer that question for everything in my closet. I may even write a post about it… I’m really not sure what my percentages will be, but it’s all a learning process and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for mistakes we have made. So glad that my blog is helping you to be a more thoughtful shopper!

      • Yes, I think Gigi’s suggestions is really good, and I would be interested in the post, Debbie. I would like to do it for my own purchases since I started my wardrobe project in 2014 (maybe a good project for end 2015) – but I would exclude anything bought very recently. Like Gigi says, there is definitely a honeymoon period, so maybe discount the last 3 moths or so. I’ve no idea what my own answer will be!

      • I think this would be a good project for both of us, Alice, and I agree that more recent purchases should be excluded. it does take some time for us to know if something was a hit or a miss. I hope that if you decide to do this that you will share what you learn! I think I will definitely do the post, as I really want to know the answer (even if it’s not the one I’d ideally want).

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