Five Things I Bought That Were Total Fails

Five Shopping Fails

Everybody makes mistakes. Even people who blog about personal finance. While it’s easy to judge someone for ignoring their credit card limit or failing to contribute to their 401k, here’s a universal truth: bad purchases happen to us all.

It’s probably safe to assume that anything bought from a SkyMall catalog is an impulsive, unnecessary buy. Those sweatpants on page 97 that are printed to look like jeans? Yeah, I’ve considered them, but they were never a serious temptation. But what about the non-obvious purchases? The ones that seemed good at the time, but later revealed themselves as terrible? Here are five items that make me feel a wave of shame for buying them in the first place:

1. Five $45 Diptyque Candles

No, that’s not a typo. I bought FIVE Diptyque candles on a Paris vacation a few years ago. Over $200. What compelled this madness? Diptyque is a Paris-based brand, so if I bought the candles locally I’d save about 30% versus buying them here in the US. I’d be stupid NOT to buy them there, right? What I hadn’t taken into account is that it’s taken over a year to get through ONE candle. Now I’m stuck with a five-year supply of expensive candles. Nobody needs that many. Now every time I open up my supply closet I get bummed out when I see the candles just sitting there, taking up space.

What I’m Doing About It: I haven’t let myself to buy any new candles until I go through all of the existing supply. Honestly, I’m questioning whether or not I need fancy candles at all. At most, just one will do.

2. A $150 West Elm Lamp

When I was younger, I thought the benchmark for “making it” was being able to buy a really nice piece of furniture. Like an $800 designer chair. Fast forward to a couple years ago and my SO and I were looking for a lamp for the living room. Our living room doesn’t have a built-in overhead ceiling light, so this lamp would have to throw off a lot of light. First, I did what I usually did. I checked Craigslist for used brand-name lamps. No dice. I could have bought one from IKEA, but as an “adult,” IKEA felt like a step backward. Then I looked on the West Elm site and found a stylish one that I thought would “elevate” the living room. I didn’t like the price of the lamp, but I had just made hundreds of dollars selling our old furniture on Craigslist. I pulled the trigger. Harmless, right? Selling old stuff to buy new stuff? Well, when I opened up the box, the lamp didn’t seem that special. When we plugged it in, it was even more disappointing. It didn’t emit any more light than the old lamp we had. I thought about returning it, but carrying a big, awkward shaped item on the subway seemed like a hassle. We settled and kept it, although I cringe a little every time I walk by it. Now I wished I went with a cheap IKEA lamp instead. The lesson I learned was that buying nice furniture doesn’t make me happy. So every time I even consider a designer furniture item—I’m looking at you, $1,000 Adnet leather mirror—I think about this lamp and I haven’t bought a new furniture item since.

What I’m Doing About It: To make the price worth it, I will use this lamp until the day I die.

3. A $250 3.1 Phillip Lim Tote Bag

Job interviews. Deciding what to wear is always the conundrum, isn’t it? And for someone like me who mainly works in casual environments, I don’t exactly have “go-to” professional clothes at the ready. I had an interview during the daytime, so I’d have to do it on the sly and change back into my normal clothes before heading back to work. The problem was, I didn’t have a “professional” bag to store all my everyday clothes and portfolio. I mostly carried small bags in my daily life. I decided that buying a big work tote was an investment, and could be that extra boost of confidence I needed to kill it in interviews, and also look put-together at work. So I bought a 3.1 Phillip Lim satchel from The Real Real on final sale. The first problem is that the handles are shorter, so I annoyingly have to actually carry it around in my hand. Second, I’ve used the bag approximately twice for interviews, and have brought it to work ONCE. Wait, but leather tote bags are a classic, they say. While nice tote bags are staples for lots of people, I usually don’t have that much stuff to carry around. Seems silly to carry a big tote bad with just a wallet and a book in it. And if I honestly look at my habits, the short handle thing is a major problem; I need a bag that I can carry over my shoulder, hands-free. And with compartments on the inside (which many totes lack), so it doesn’t feel like I’m digging through a black hole.

What I’m Doing About It: I’m going to try to re-sell it and replace it with a bag that is more practical for me (one with a longer shoulder strap).

4. A $10 Lap Desk

I’d read somewhere that it’s not good to consistently use your laptop on your lap because of possible overheating problems. Everyone in my house uses their laptops on the couch and beds, so I thought we’d all be fighting over this new lap desk I bought. It even had compartments so you could store your phone and your nail polish at the same time. Because, that’s a problem that needs to be solved, right? Well, no one fought over the lap desk. Actually, no one used it at all, including me. While the cushioned bottom part was cozy, the desk’s surface was slanted with no rubber stops. Laptops were constantly sliding around on it. And since it was bulky and pretty cheap, I was too lazy to go through the process of returning it. All in all, this was just a dumb, but fairly inconsequential buy.

What I’m Doing About It: I’m putting it out on our stoop in the ‘free’ pile this weekend. The free pile is the shopping equivalent of the walk of shame.

5. A Pair of $20 Girlfriend Collective Leggings

I’m sure you’ve been targeted on Facebook for these Girlfriend Collective leggings, too. FREE high-waisted leggings for just the price of shipping? SIGN ME UP. I put in my order and waited three months for my leggings to arrive from Asia. The leggings were so necessary, that during that waiting time, I’d forgotten I’d even ordered them. When they finally came, I tried them on, then folded them back up again without even taking off the price tag, and put them away in the closet. I wasn’t excited to wear them. Why? Because I’m NOT a leggings person. I don’t like wearing them for fun, or around the house, or as pants. I do not do yoga or take any dance classes. I only wear leggings for running and I already had two that worked fine. I had no business buying another pair when they don’t fit my lifestyle. By purchasing these new leggings, I’d fallen into the age-old trap of a sweet deal “that’s too good to miss.” But a sweet deal that doesn’t get used? Always a waste of money.

What I’m Doing About It: Since they still have the price tag, I’m pretty sure I can resell them online.

If your bad buys are getting you down, remember this: sometimes you don’t know something was a bad purchase until you actually start using it. And with every mistake there’s a silver lining: it’s a learning opportunity. Using myself as an example, I thought I valued designer furniture, but I learned that I actually didn’t. I thought tote bags were staples; after all, I see my coworkers carrying them to work every day; but they don’t fit my individual lifestyle. The important thing is to honestly assess and understand why something didn’t work for you, and to avoid making similar purchases next time. May there be smarter purchases in your future.

What about you? What were your worst buys?


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  • I might glad I’m not the only one who fell for the Girlfriend Collective leggings! Now, leggings are totally my jam (I’m a yoga teacher AND I work from home). But I just really don’t like the style of these ones- they are so thick I can’t imagine working out in them. Unless I’m working out in a blizzard. Thank goodness I only paid $20 bucks for them. All of my other ‘bad’ purchases fall into the ‘bought this for the person I thought I was’ category, like high heels and fancy dresses… even though I never go out and heels are the worst! Once again, being honest with yourself about your reality is the surest way to avoid buyers remorse!

    • So leggings make sense for you since you do yoga. Not for me, who only does running.

      Yeah, I didn’t like the material either. They were too shiny? And I’m short, too, so of course they were pooling at the bottom. Lame.

      So true–being honest with yourself is the antidote to these crap purchases!

      • Jae

        If you still have those unworn girlfriend collective leggings with the tag on and want to sell them let me know! (if they are a size small). I love those leggings.

  • I always thought I should buy a laptop table but never bit the bullet, I guess I can cross it off the list now! I used to be bad about buying clothes because they were on sale, only to find them months later in my closet with the tags still on. That always made me angry at myself but I’ve been better lately.

    • Yeah, there were so many good reviews on the laptop table, but it’s a pretty unnecessary purchase!

      I don’t think I’ll ever make perfect purchases but I buy less and less nowadays, which makes me think I’ve improved.

  • Dr. Curious

    I nearly ripped one of the arms off a $5 blue Hanes sweatshirt from Target the first time I tried it on. After briefly considering returning it, I just trashed it. Usually, you get what you pay for.

    • What did you do, turn into the Incredible Hulk? Yeah, $5 isn’t a huge loss so I would have trashed it, too.

  • Alicia McElhaney

    Pro tip: you can get a free Diptyque candle on your birthday. But I have a very clear regret: I would find ways to get super cheap Manhattan-y fitness classes. Great. Not great? Always forgetting to bring workout clothes. Those classes had cancellation fees, which I used to buy FULL NEW WORKOUT OUTFITS on more than one occasion. With my credit card, of course.

    Nowadays I work at a yoga studio once a week for free classes, so I never have to worry about cancelling. Not to mention, they have extra clothes to borrow for if you forget yours.

    • Wait, how did you know it’s my birthday soon? Because I was literally JUST looking up birthday freebies. Thanks for the candle tip! I’ll check it out and will report back.

      I think your experience with the fitness classes is exactly why I don’t do them. It would kill me to pay for them and then not go, or end up having to pay even more somehow. Nice recovery on the free classes, though!

      • Alicia McElhaney

        I had no clue but YASS so glad to tip you off. Make sure you’re signed up for the email list. P57 does a free class too apparently.

  • I need to do this list! Loved this summary and holyyyy moly how much were those candles? What’s so good about them? I think I saw it in someone’s house but I didn’t register that they would be so expensive…the text isn’t in English, LOL.

    • The thing I notice about cheaper candles is the scent isn’t as strong. With these, you can smell them even when they aren’t lit. Ha, yeah, they’re like $64 a pop now! I thought since I was saving $15 per candle in Paris, why not stock up???

      Yes, it’s super fun to assess your failures!

  • Oh man, I have a section of my closet dedicated to ‘sweet deals that never get used.’

    Luckily I have started to sell some of them online. I try to not get too upset at the amount of money I have wasted and count those as sunk costs, and recoup what I can.

    My biggest issue is keeping clothes that are about a half size too small. I keep them by telling myself I will work out and eat better so I fit in them. Well all of those clothes are still waiting on my to wear them…..


    • Yeah, I need to have a eBay reselling party soon. Things are getting out of hand here!

      Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with the size fluctuation problem…yet. I have not grown in any shape or form since I was 14.

    • alwaysconservative

      Holy moly I can relate to this. I have about 3 wardrobes in my closet in 3 different sizes. One size is “wishful thinking that I get back into it”, another is “darn it this is what I have to wear” and the third is “hopefully never again, but just in case”. The upside is that my closet really looks like I have a killer wardrobe.

      • Ha, I love the three very specific wardrobes. I don’t have them categorized quite so well, but I make mistakes just the same!

  • Pia

    I think so many people can relate to this! What are my shopping fails…. let me see.. it’s not even limited to just my wardrobe – how about all the other stuff in the house!?

    My Ball Jointed Dolls collection. Purchased when I was a uni student on a small income, these dolls were between $500 – $1000 each. I justified them to myself as collectables that I could resell in times of need. Rubbish. I have maybe 8 of these dolls. Let’s not even start on the other clothes and accessories that come with these collectables. Thousand and thousand of dollars in this!

    Then there’s the crazy Japanese Harajuku fashion I was following for quite a few years. Those dresses came in at $200 – $400 each. WHY!? did I feel the need to spend such insane amount on these dresses?

    My 20-something years were filled with lots and lots of shopping fails that my 30 something self just cringes at. Luckily I do not spend like that anymore. Wouldn’t mind being able to turn back time so I could un-buy all these things tho.

  • “It even had compartments so you could store your phone and your nail polish at the same time. Because, that’s a problem that needs to be solved, right?” I laughed so hard at this. Though I try really hard to use everything I buy, I definitely hit some duds still! I’ve always wanted to splurge on Diptyque candles, maybe this will allow me to hold out a little bit longer? 😛

    • I’m glad my fails were so funny! Apparently, per a comment here, you can get a free Diptyque candle for your birthday! But yeah, just get one, not five.

  • I bought a dry brush 3 years ago because I heard about all of the health benefits of dry brushing and OMG, how it’s so amazing for you lymphatic system and cellulite. …It’s still sitting in its plastic wrapper because I forgot to factor in how lazy I am.

  • Haha, I just had to look up what a dry brush was! So clueless here…seems questionable but if you ever take it out of the package let me know if it works!

  • nicolacash

    1) I’d be MORE than happy to take a Diptyque candle off your hands! haha I love them so much
    3) I totally feel you on this one – I asked my parents for a $200-ish classic red leather designer bag years ago for job interviews (so technically not my money, but still.) Although I do take it on every job interview I do, it stays folded over in my closet the 1-2 years I’m in between jobs because it can’t hold as much stuff as I need for work and I feel so guilty. I just ordered a dusty rose vegan leather medium-sized backpack for $99 off Target and I LOVE it for every day work stuff. Sometimes it’s the little things.

    • Hehe, maybe I should do a giveaway! Actually, another commenter here clued me in to some sort of Diptyque birthday promo. I guess you can get a free mini candle! I’ll have to investigate that soon and report back.

      Yeah, the “professional bag” things seems like it can’t be helped. I mean, you can’t just roll up to an interview with a ratty tote bag. I’m glad you found another bag that actually works better for you. In the meantime, maybe you can sell that red bag.

      Thanks for stopping by!