The psychology behind bad buying decisions


Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow recently penned a fascinating article titled “The Science of Why We Buy Clothes We Never Wear”. The piece examines the psychological calculus that takes place when we make purchases we don’t end up ever actually using. If you’ve got a limited budget, yet you can’t seem to stop undermining yourself with bad purchasing decisions, understanding why can go a long way towards helping you build better, less destructive habits.

You blind yourself to all the cons

In the moment of decision, when you’re tallying up all the pros and cons of making a purchase, you may suffer from something called choice-support cognitive bias. This is where you ignore all of the perfectly valid reasons why the purchase in question is a bad idea and instead focus only on the pros.

This can be especially pronounced where sales are involved. In fact, that’s a big reason why retailers use discounts as a selling technique – we have a tendency to focus too much on the price reduction and not enough on whether or not the item is something we actually need.

When it comes to sale items, your first thought should be, “Would I buy this at full price?” If the answer is no, then that may be a sign you’re putting too much weight on the sales price. When considering items that aren’t on sale, try to remove the top selling point from the equation – it may be making it hard for you to be objective.

You imagine a reality that will never be

Some purchases don’t pan out because they are entirely aspirational in nature. They reflect a future state that either never comes or was never possible to begin with. In other words, you buy something because you think it will go hand-in-hand with life changes you have yet to make. So while you fail to make those changes, your big ticket purchase just sits there, unused.

Breaking from these kinds of purchases requires that you step back and be honest with yourself. A lot of us treat these purchases as motivation – I’ll buy these pants a size too small so I’ll be motivated to lose weight. Unfortunately, that rarely works out. A much, much better strategy is to leave the reward for after you’ve accomplished your goal. (In this example, you could buy yourself some new pants after you’ve reach your weight loss goal).

Additionally, buying things ahead of your goals can actually be demotivating, especially if you’re prone to looking at your purchase and feeling bad about the changes you haven’t made.

You buy things you like too much to use

Finally, counter-intuitive though it may seem, some people are prone to buying things they like so much they aren’t willing to risk ruining them by actually, you know, using them. It’s those fancy shoes you bought and never found an occasion good enough to warrant wearing them. Or those fancy plates. Or those expensive earrings you’re so afraid of losing.

Sometimes we can revere a purchase too much to actually enjoy it in a meaningful way. So before you finally make that big purchase you’ve been dreaming about, make sure it’s something you won’t be afraid to take out of the box.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI. All typos are a stylistic choice, honest.