Buyer’s remorse: Why do we buy what we buy?

Marketplace Staff Dec 11, 2010

Buyer’s remorse: Why do we buy what we buy?

Marketplace Staff Dec 11, 2010


Tess Vigeland: Look around you. Look at all the things that surround you in your daily life. Got regrets about any of those purchases?

Montage of voices: This shirt here, the tag is still on it. It’s a wok. And the shower curtain I bought a few months ago. I bought these earrings. You know so these are all my favorite lipsticks. It’s a waffle-maker. It’s a red-orange little blazer coat.

Those were just a few of the items sitting on a large table at the front of Anne Choi’s consumer education class. Her students at Cal State Dominguez Hills had scoured their homes for examples to use in the day’s lesson.

Anne Choi in class: The assignment was that you should have brought in — I brought my two things in — and then you had to wear something that you had some buyer’s remorse over.

Buyer’s remorse was the latest topic in a semester-long class on American consumerism. These returning adult students had already kept a journal for two weeks to track their spending. Now they were exploring regret over their purchases.

Lynette Bell, a 52-year-old from Long Beach, held up a cast-iron skillet.

Lynette Bell: I bought this in 2000. I thought I was a Food Network chef, so that’s why I bought it. And my others are lipsticks. So these are all my favorite lipsticks. Do you see me with lipstick on?

Choi, who’s writing a book called “Spent: Downward Mobility and the Middle Class,” says this class teaches consumers to question why they’re buying the things they’re buying.

Choi: Everything is calculated and thought out to make us purchase things and then also for us to be constantly dissatisfied with the purchases that we make so we continue to buy. I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t buy anything — if we’re buying for the right reasons.

Renee Acero, a 34-year-old from South Gate, displayed a purple velvet jacket, polkadot pants, sandals, a bath rug and a shower curtain in her turn at the front of the class.

Renee Acero: You know, I did notice that I was just buying things because they were a good deal, because I was bored. And so now I’m trying to not, you know, yeah it’s a good deal, but it’ll still be a good deal if it stays in the store.

Paulina Martinez, a 30-year-old from Wilmington, opened what she called a huge duffel bag of regret: full of kickboxing clothing and gear worth $4,000.

Paulina Martinez: Sometimes when I go into a store, it’s like maybe if I exercise enough this month, I’ll fit into this.

Choi: Well I think we also buy stuff because there is a particular version of ourselves we want to be.

And there was a lot of exercise equipment and one-size-too-small clothing on that table.

Our buying habits aren’t always about us, of course. But thinking of others can get us in just as much trouble.

44-year-old Michelle Ricketts of Lakewood told the class she’s just a giver who can’t stop buying things to give. Like the coffee machine she plopped on the table. One of three sitting in the trunk of her car for the past two years.

Michelle Ricketts: And the reason why I bought the three is because Target had them on clearance. And they were all for $7. I’m not a coffee drinker so I figured that O.K., I know that I will eventually be invited to someone’s wedding.

Choi: So you’re still waiting for the event?

Ricketts: I’m still waiting for that event.

Choi: I think we like the idea of also being prepared. We think that we don’t have enough time, so if we see something you’re gonna buy three or four of them but don’t feel bad about it. That’s how the system is supposed to work, you’re conditioned in that way.

For most of the students, the day was an exercise in self-analysis. Joni Wilson, a 29-year-old from Los Angeles, had earrings, a jacket, and a computer anti-virus CD with her. She said she was convinced she could become an IT expert for the day. That CD never made it out of the case.

Joni Wilson: I have a problem. I really do have a problem. I didn’t know before but I really do have a problem with just accumulating materials just to have it.

Choi: I think we’re primed to buy and buy more and buy continuously and never to really have any satisfaction from the goods that we purchase but that’s the way the system’s supposed to work. And what my students are probably suggesting is that we can probably make better decisions and still be consumers and just have a better sense of why we buy the things that we do.

Montage of voices: My boots. This is a cake plate. Earrings and necklace. So I have about 20 DVDs at home that have never been opened. This is a can opener. This dress, I bought two of ’em. This yellow shirt is my buyer’s remorse. I do not like the color yellow.

An excellent reason not to buy a yellow shirt!

We’ve got photos of Anne Choi’s class and that table full of buyer’s remorse.

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