Five Things I Bought That Were Total Fails

Five Shopping Fails

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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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