I have a confession to make.
I bought a pair of ethical boots last winter, and now I rarely wear them. It was during the holidays, a few days before Christmas. I was online shopping for last-minute gifts. The boots, I told myself, would be a holiday treat—a gift for myself.
The decision was a tug-of-war at first. I’d been eyeing the boots for some time, reading the reviews and watching for coupons. I was struggling to justify the triple-digit price tag that was way outside of my purchasing comfort zone.
A few remarketing campaigns and a ten percent off coupon later, I made the purchase. When the boots arrived, they were beautiful. Sleek and sexy, crafted with the utmost care and excellence. They were the nicest boots I’d ever seen, let alone owned. Each one was wrapped in an individual dust bag, packaged like delicate flowers.
The problem was they were more narrow than I’d expected and, despite them only having a small heel, I was surprised by how much I was struggling to walk. My feet felt claustrophobic, and every time I took the shoes off, I felt a sense of relief.
For some reason though, I didn’t want to return them. Maybe it was because I felt ashamed for having spent so much money on shoes. Or perhaps it was because I so desperately wanted to love them. The relief I felt when taking them off should have been a red flag, and I should have sent them back. Instead, I packed them in my suitcase and got on a plane to London. I told myself I just needed more time to really break them in. Surely it would only take a few days walking around the city, right?
I don’t have to tell you how the rest of this story goes. The boots were not for me, and I knew it from the moment I purchased them. Frankly, the purchase was entirely rooted in emotion rather than logic. Trying them on was just further confirmation that they did not belong in my closet.
So why did I buy them? And why did I keep them even though they hurt my feet? Was it because they were from an ethical brand that I love and support? I think that’s partly true. But I also think my emotions were deeply intertwined with this purchase. I made an impulse buy and then kept the shoes because of shame—and because I was convinced I could make them work. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. Many of us have made impulse purchases and experienced buyer’s remorse. Together, though, we can learn how to be more conscious shoppers, making healthier spending choices and avoiding regretful purchases in the future.
Identify Triggers for Impulse Buying
To better understand buyer’s remorse, it’s essential we are aware of our triggers. The more conscious we are of psychological and social influences—the ones designed to sway buyers—the more mindful we can be when shopping. Purpose-driven purchases give us agency and buying power. We regain control when we are intentional with our money and conscious about the items we allow into our lives.
Remarketing Tools & Targeted Advertisements
When you exit a website without making a purchase, you become a target for remarketing campaigns. I know this because in another life I worked in marketing; my job was to help brands convert prospective customers. Using sneaky tactics like social media advertisements, coupon pop-ups, and those invasive “Did you forget something?” emails, I helped businesses strategize ways to encourage buyers.
While marketing itself isn’t a bad thing, it’s essential we’re aware of its psychological influence. Remarketing works to remind us about a product until we buy it. This is true even for the most ethical and sustainable brands. Products are made in hopes that people buy them, no matter how green or fair-trade the company.
FOMO & Social Media
I once overheard someone say they were buying an expensive jacket “just for the ‘gram.’” It seemed like an absurd statement at the time (why make a purchase solely to impress a social audience?), but the reality is many of us have done this in some way or another.
We’ve purchased a product or a meal or a vacation just so we can snap and post pictures. It’s a hard truth to swallow, but creating an online persona is something we do. And it often has the power to influence our spending habits.
Additionally, FOMO is a serious trigger for impulse buys. It’s funny how a photo can trick me into thinking I need to change my wardrobe or redecorate my house. We can avoid this kind of pressure by breaking toxic social media habits and replacing them with much healthier patterns. For starters, acknowledging that the majority of social media posts are heavily edited and curated to enlist an emotional reaction is key. It’s also essential that we realize we are the ones in control of our consumption. If certain social accounts cause envy and jealousy rather than joy, a simple unfollow will do.
And this is a two-way street. By committing to only posting photos that are authentic and true to who we are—not the curated versions of ourselves—we avoid contributing to FOMO culture. And remember, when all else fails, regular phone detoxes are excellent for keeping the influencers at bay.
Practice Setting Shopping Boundaries
One of the best ways to avoid buyer’s remorse? Don’t buy stuff.
Seriously, though, as soon as I began telling myself that I had to budget for anything outside of bills and groceries, my purchases became very intentional. I found myself thinking hard about the item I was saving for—did I really want it, did I need it? If it wasn’t something I’d use and love almost every day, it no longer seemed like such a wise purchase.
Depending on the price of the item, try setting a small chunk of money aside from each paycheck for a few weeks. I've found this gives me time to really evaluate the purchase. If after a few weeks of saving for the product I decide I still want it, then I'll buy it. This method ensures logic rather than emotions influence my decision.
See Urgency as a Red Flag
If I don’t buy it now, it could be gone. This thought used to motivate my purchases. But I’m learning to see urgency as a red flag. If I ever feel emotional about a purchase, I tell myself to walk away, to remove my emotions, and to evaluate my needs and budget. If I truly love something, I trust it will be there once I have the money for it. Layaway is also a wonderful thing. Most stores (even thrift shops) will hold an item for a few hours, or even a day.
Enlist Family and Friends
If buyer’s remorse is something you frequently experience, you may want to enlist a close family member or friend to help keep you accountable for your purchases. My sisters and I do this—we call or send a photo of an item we’re mulling over—and we’ve helped save one another from regrettable purchases on more than one occasion.
Learn to Say No
Just because it’s ethical or sustainable doesn’t mean you need to buy it. Moreover, don’t buy something solely because you love it. Reducing our consumption is quite possibly the best thing we can do for our planet, for our wellbeing, and for our wallets. Less is more. Always.
Move Forward from the Regrettable Purchases of the Past
The final and possibly most important tip: have grace with yourself. If you’ve made a purchase in the past that you now regret, learn from that mistake and choose to be more mindful in the future. Then love and use whatever it is you bought. If you’re unable to do that, resell or donate it to someone who can.
Funny enough, I found another pair of boots, also from an ethical brand, at a secondhand shop a few weeks after returning to London. They were a quarter of the cost, in excellent condition, and have since become my favorite pair of shoes; I wear them almost every day.
The other pair? I’m trying not to let them collect too much dust in my closet. They get worn on a nice night out or when I don’t have to walk too far. They have become special occasion shoes, which honestly feels a bit frivolous.
But I’m learning to see the shoes as a reminder. They remind me to be a more conscious buyer and to forgive myself for the past purchases I regret. They also remind me that buying is a privilege and that my dollars hold power. It’s essential that I am conscious of that power and choose to use it wisely.
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.