What not to buy (and what to buy instead)
1. Item-of-the-month club memberships
While there are no hard-and-fast statistics that state exactly how many shoppers regret these purchases, item-of-the-month clubs rarely deliver the kind of savings you can find in other ways. Plus, knowing exactly when each month's gift arrives takes all the surprise out of it!
- What to buy instead: A lovely, hand-picked, one-time basket filled with things you know the recipient will love.
Whole books, articles, blog series…are written on how to avoid the timeshare trap. The "Timeshares Users Group" has 70,000+ members—half want to sell their shares. Plus, timeshares make for awful investments—they have little (if any) aftermarket value.
- What to buy instead: Nab one of the cheap after-holiday vacation packages, or pick up cheap tickets using a "smart" price search tool like Carryon.com to visit a place on your bucket list!
3. The very latest technology
Oooooh…that shiny new smartphone sure looks nice! But you will pay a premium, and you will also be a guinea pig as the manufacturer works out the inevitable bugs.
- What to buy instead: Give your recipient (or yourself) an IOU if the very newest model is an absolute must. Wait until demand dies down, the bugs die off, and you can get a better deal. Or opt for the next-latest version, which will be more reliable and more affordable.
4. Extended warranties
Well, heck, you're spending this much already—why not throw in an extended warranty too? From cars to electronics, appliances to workout sets, the Service Contract Industry Council says warranty sales top 250 million per year. So why does Consumer Reports advocate against buying an extended warranty? And why is it a top 10 regret for money-conscious consumers?
- What to buy instead: If you are really concerned about paying for repairs, set aside some extra cash into a "repair fund." If you change your mind later and want the extended warranty, it will be there (and you can often find one for cheaper through a third party).
5. Season tickets
From the ballet to the ballpark, season tickets can look like a steal. They are cheaper than buying by-event, and they promise a year of fun and excitement. Here, the most common reason for buyer's regret is lack of foresight. Bad weather? Illness? Travel plans? An emergency? There are too many reasons to miss the big night, month after month.
- What to buy instead: Pick one event and buy the tickets. See how you like it. Watch for discounts, sales, contests that could score you free tickets. Or, go in with a few friends so if one of you can't make it on a particular night, you can trade dates with someone else.
6. Super-specialized gadgets
Items that make just one thing—home-cut pasta, quesadillas, poached eggs—are far less likely to be well used than their all-purpose counterparts…and they are likely to be pricier too!
- What to buy instead: Mint.com suggests saving counter space and money by thinking like a chef. Many chefs can make nearly anything with just a few items! A food processor, a set of really great knives, an all-purpose peeler—these items will get used and used and used.
7. Gym/fitness memberships or home exercise sets
Like season tickets (see #5), gym/fitness memberships and home exercise sets only deliver full value (and savings) if you use them a lot…which most people self-report that they don't.
- What to buy instead: Give yourself a monthly budget and try out a number of classes—maybe go to a yoga class, a CrossFit class, a Pilates class, some other classes you are curious about. See what you like. Check out local running/biking clubs too—these might be more fun.
8. Pet gifts and novelties
These days, pets are part of the family. It’s becoming increasingly common to splurge on pets, who are as likely not to appreciate the offerings. From "kitty condos" to "doggie day spas," "parrot play stations" to "ferret hotels," these can be the priciest purchase mistakes of all.
- What to buy instead: A gift certificate to a pet store. Pets, like people, often prefer to pick out their own gifts. This is also the most reliable way to be sure what you buy will be liked and played with.