How to avoid buyer's remorse

A shopper carries shopping bags on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Kai Ryssdal: From the government's financial decisions, we turn now to our own: How we make the decision to spend or not spend our money, and what happens when those decisions are bad ones?

Tess Vigeland, the host of our personal finance show Marketplace Money, is here with the start of a semi-regular series we're going to be doing about the relationship we all have with our money. Because we do actually have a relationship with our money, don't we, Tess?

Tess Vigeland: We do. And I hope yours is a good one.

Ryssdal: I do. I like my money.

Vigeland: So do I, but I don't always like what I do with it.

Ryssdal: Oh now, like what?

Vigeland: Well Kai, I have a lot of regret over some of the things that I buy.

Ryssdal: Like this thing that you brought with you today.

Vigeland: Yes. I brought you an example of this. And let me show it to you for a moment. It's called the pianist.

Ryssdal: You have to describe this. Obviously made of plastic. Tell us about it, 'cause I can't do it justice.

Vigeland: Well this is a plastic mechanical hand that will play lovely classical music for you. I believe that is Motzart.

Ryssdal: This is so delicious, though, because you actually play the piano. Well, too.

Vigeland: I hope I play better than that. But I am a pianist and I have all these piano-playing friends, so I bought this thinking it would be a fun gift. Well, birthdays came and went and I looked at it and I thought that's really kind of lame and stupid. So it sat around in my guest room. And then eventually it made it into my car because I was thinking, well I would take it to Goodwill. But I spent $17 on it.

Ryssdal: Eat the money and chuck it!

Vigeland: I can't! I'm not like you, Kai. But you know, there are lots of people who do this. They have this buyer's remorse. And in fact, I recently visited a college classroom where they were studying this at Cal State Dominguez Hills and the students had to do what I did today. They had to bring in items that they regretted buying. And here's a sample...

Montage of students: This shirt here, the tag is still on it. It's a wok. And the shower curtain I bought like a few months ago, and they kind of match. I bought these earrings. So these are all my favorite lipsticks. A waffle maker. It's a red-orange, little blazer coat.

So Kai, there were a lot of clothing items as you might have noticed there.

Ryssdal: Yup. A lot of food items.

Vigeland: Yes. Funny enough, quite a few kitchen-related items, like a cast-iron skillet.

Student: I bought this in 2000 and I thought I was a Food Network chef, so that's why I bought it.

Of course, she's not.

Ryssdal: She's not.

Vigeland: But I have to tell you, for a class of 30 people, there was a lot of stuff piled on the table at the front of that classroom.

Ryssdal: So the point, though, of this exercise in collective regret?

Vigeland: To be introspective. Lots of us do things with our money without even thinking. Frankly, that's exactly what the marketers want to happen.

Ryssdal: But what are people supposed to do with all this introspection? 'Cause they've still got all this garbage lying around like your little piano hand.

Vigeland: Indeed, they do. It's all about just having a sense of why we're buying the stuff that we buy and making sure that we actually will use it.

Ryssdal: And how about this: If you're not going to use it, you chuck it. I'll take that hand off your hands for you. It will be gone within four minutes after we get out of this studio. You'll never see it again.

Vigeland: But then you're just going to regret having it?

Ryssdal: No really, I won't 'cause I'll chuck it. We'll just move right on. Tess Vigeland, she hosts our personal finance show Marketplace Money. Thank you, Tess.

Vigeland: Thanks Kai.

Ryssdal: You gotta chuck it, man. You gotta shed.

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