The 7 Dumbest Big Purchases People Make


Retail therapy is no myth. Psychologists have found that there's a real science behind the burst of joy we feel when we treat ourselves with a big, exciting purchase — no matter how impractical it may be.

Unfortunately, buyer's remorse also exists. Once the newness wears off, our prized purchase sometimes becomes just another thing in the pile of stuff that occupies so much of the space in our lives. We begin to compare it to other things like it that we don't have. A faster sports car. A bigger jacuzzi. The latest cell phone upgrade. And just like that our big buy loses its luster.

Some items are prone to invoke buyer's remorse. Typically these items are just downright absurd, yet we've convinced ourselves that they're an important, practical, or smart purchase anyway. Thanks to the mistakes of thousands of consumers before us, we've been able to identify a few of them for you. (See also: What Is Your Financial Kryptonite and How to Conquer It)

Read on for our list of the top seven purchases that are sure to leave you wallowing in your own tears of regret.

1. 3D TVs

The majority of 3D television owners regret their purchase. It's not that the technology isn't cool. The leading complaint is that there just isn't enough 3D content to make ownership of one of these futuristic devices worthwhile.

More than half the 50 movie titles offered in 3D in 2011 were kids' flicks, while most blockbuster movie titles opted out of the 3D format altogether. When you're coughing up between $2,000 and $12,000 for the TV plus another couple hundred bucks a pop for the glasses, that's sort of a deal breaker.

That leads us to another popular complaint: It can be a major annoyance to wear the glasses that make the third dimension pop. Sort of like wearing your sun shades in the house.

2. Whirlpool Tub

It's a vision of romance: Flower petals, candle light, a bottle of wine — and then you turn the thing on. Who wants to canoodle with that grumbling sound? Yeah, it's a vision alright.

Jacuzzi-style whirlpool tubs can be a real mood killer. Not only are they noisy, they're time consuming to fill with water and prone to completely draining the hot water tank. Plus they're expensive to operate, not to mention expensive to buy and install.

Bottom line: Most people don't use them enough to outweigh the negatives.

3. A College Education (No, Really….)

Okay, so most people would say a college degree is a smart investment — but it can certainly be regrettable. A third of millennials say they would have been better off working than going to college, according to a Wells Fargo study. The reason? They're drowning in debt.

More than half the 1,414 college grads surveyed by Wells Fargo said they afforded their education by taking out hefty student loans that have become the crux of their financial distress. Many said they think they'd have been better off with a less expensive, public education than a much more costly degree from a top-tier school.

If given $10,000, more than half of those surveyed said the first thing they would use the money for is to pay off student loans or credit card debt.

4. A Timeshare

The cost of owning a timeshare extends well beyond the mortgage. Annual maintenance fees, property taxes, and special assessments are piled on top — and they can be quite expensive.

Another major gripe among timeshare owners is that it's not always easy to schedule their allotted time at the unit. In fact, it can be downright maddening. Some timeshare contracts have so severely misstated the ease in scheduling that several states have passed laws to punish these misrepresentations.

Timeshares are also difficult to unload. Few people are interested in purchasing a timeshare in the aftermarket, meaning you're very likely to lose money even if you do find a buyer.

5. A Car They Didn't Research

Nearly a third of all motorists regret their most recent car purchase, a consumer watchdog report found. Among the top triggers of dissatisfaction: The car is faulty, it costs more to run than they anticipated, or they simply didn't do enough research.

A car is one of the most expensive purchases many of us will ever make. So before pulling the trigger on a flashy sport convertible or a clunker with the little engine that could, experts say it's important to weigh all your options and do your homework.

Here are a couple good online resources to get you started: Edmund's Guide for First-Time New Car Buyers and Popular Mechanic's How to Buy a Used Car Without Getting Burned.

6. High-End Designer Bags, Clothes, and Shoes

Speaking of cars, a Gucci handbag can cost more than the down payment on your vehicle. Ditto that for many designer scarves, furs, and dresses. What you're really paying for is an air of luxury and exclusivity.

Many of the clothes and accessories we find to be swoon-worthy at the store, high-end and otherwise, end up spending nearly their entire existence in storage. That's because the average person wears only about 20% of the clothes in their closet, according to retail specialists.

Among the top reasons our garments go unworn? The items no longer seem as unique or important as when first purchased, or we realize it was an impulse buy rather than a smart, practical purchase.

7. A $5,000 Watch

So you got a big promotion at work. Why not reward yourself with a Rolex? You earned it. Plus, what's more practical than a classic timepiece?

Ted Jenkins, who co-operates a financial advisory firm focused on generations X and Y, speaks from experience when he says: "Don't do it!"

"The dumbest purchase I ever made was spending $5,000 on a watch," Jenkins wrote on his financial literacy blog. "I wore two watches over the course of a year, one that cost $5,000 and one that cost $79. The $5,000 watch was a Panerai and the $79 was a Diesel… During that year, my compliment ratio was four to one in favor of the $79 Diesel watch. I never really cared that much about brand names and it taught me that nobody else really does as well. Now I don't even wear a watch because my phone can tell time."

Have you ever made a big dumb purchase? Please share your experience in comments!

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Guest's picture
Lisa Ann Schreier

So, it's smarter to spend thousands of dollars to rent inferior hotel rooms annually? Timeshares aren't for everyone, but this 'advice' is just plain wrong.

Guest's picture

You see more of the world that way.

Guest's picture

When you consider how much you are spending on a timeshare the hotel rooms are a real bargain.

Guest's picture

How about renting out someone else's timeshare? Many people are desperate to get even a little money back on that white elephant. You can do this privately or through a timeshare resell comany. Make sure you stress that you are only interested in renting, not buying as the owners and the companies are VERY eager to unload the property.

Guest's picture

Depends on the type of timeshare.
My sister was embarrassed to admit they had a been 'conned' into a timeshare. Now she uses it on interstate travel accommodation, sons Italian honeymoon, and gives to friends and family of discounted accommodation.

Guest's picture

I think a timeshare is a waste if you don't use it. My motivation to buy a timeshare was when taking vacation with my husband and 3 small children and staying in one hotel room was horrible. Five people in one hotel room and using one bathroom is no vacation. I have been a timeshare owner for 26 years. I have been to places under normal circumstances I could not afford. My children are now adults. I gave one of my children a week of the timeshare for his wedding gift and honeymoon . My sister and her family have shared a timeshare unit with me. If you owned a second home in a resort area the cost and maintenance would exceed the cost of a timeshare. I would also like to add that I do not and never worked for a timeshare company.

Guest's picture

The right watch can be a very good investment. I know many people who have made more money on a watch over the course of a year than a high interest savings account. Though admittedly you may need to spend more than 5000 to get a desirable and profitable watch.

Guest's picture

Buy and reselling an expensive watch is something best left to those who have experience doing it. Even then it is still a risky venture.

Guest's picture
Living large

Save your money and if you want to drop big bucks on a watch for yourself, do it for you and not for everyone else!

Guest's picture
Noah BoardwalkSavers

Interesting. I think those purchases wouldn’t be necessarily labeled as the “dumbest” if people bought them during the right time and place. For high-end brands, if you take advantage of sales and visit online shops that price their products below the average, you can essentially acquire goods that are worth way more than what you actually paid. Places like Saks Fifth Avenue offer relatively cheap prices for big brands. How dumb or smart you shop really depends on all the resources you use aside from money.

Guest's picture

Time shares are the biggest waste on that list. Who wants to go to the same place year end and year out. Friends have one for Disney the points system is to high for there nice hotels. Why lock yourself in when you can just pick one hotel brand and earn points with them and go where ever you choose.

Guest's picture

A rich person wrote this. Real working class don't:
1. Go to top tier schools unless it is on scholarship .
2. Buy new cars, much less research them.
3. Buy an expensive watch.
4. Buy designer close or bags. We are the champs at finding designer knock offs.
5. Buy timeshares.
6. 3D TV's & Whirlpool hot tubs, yes but off of craigslist with no regrets.

Guest's picture

My bad habit is just buying something because it's a great deal. Anything from an expensive handbag (that just sits in my closet) to magazine subscriptions that just pile up and make me feel bad for not finding the time to read them. Fortunately, I am now attempting to pause before each purchase and ask myself if I really need it. I am now doing more window-shopping (vs. buying) and letting my magazine subscriptions expire (no matter how low the annual subscription price goes). Less is more!!!

Guest's picture

This is a great list! I still think a college education is a great buy in the right circumstances: to "get an education", not to live in a country club for 4 years.

Guest's picture
W Fernandez Jr

A college education in a tough market can truly make matters more difficult. One just can't quit at a Bachellors anymore and that just adds more debt. A difficult quandry.

Guest's picture

And I bought a Whirlpool Tub :D Well, I somehow agree with this post. We don't use it regularly and the investment seems like a complete waste of money. I don't know whether this is the case with 3D TV's also! Thanks for sharing useful information... I hope people might read this.

Guest's picture
Alex @ Credit Card Xpo

I have never watched a single 3D movie on my 3D TV since I bought it back in 2012. However, I didn't buy this TV for the 3D feature, all the "smart" TVs that I wanted to buy have it.

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Guest's picture

I had a Whirlpool for 16 years, and in those 16 years I used it less than 20 times.
As the article says, they take too long to fill, drain the water heater to empty and the tub is still not full at that point.
The only positive is that it came with the house I bought, that and a sauna, which I also only used about 5 times.

Guest's picture
Ken Smith

I like expensive things. Unfortunately I'm not rich so I simply buy used. I'm wearing a Rolex GMT that I bought 20 years ago for $1400.00 I could sell it now, on Ebay, for about $3000.00. Driving a 2004 Mercedes S500 with the AMG sport package. Cost new over $100,000. Bought it three years ago for $15,000. In two years I'll sell it for about $10,000 and buy another, five years newer. Been doing that every five years, this is my fifth one and what a fantastic ride it is.

Guest's picture

I like your style Ken!

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avabuttler|mexican timeshare solutions

Timeshares need to be looked up as a purchase and not an investment. Regardless of how timeshares are presented, they don´t perform as well as a house or stock investment. If you look around the resale market for timeshares on websites like EBay, Redweek, or TUGBBS will find that you can buy a timeshare for far less money than what the first owner purchased it for.

Guest's picture

One such purchase I made was when I bought an above ground swimming pool. I did some research and found one that was about $100 less than retail, but it was still around $600. What I didn't consider was the mimosa tree growing above the site where would put the pool. Mimosa trees are known for dropping a lot of debris. We swam in the pool two or three times and then it became apparent that we couldn't keep it clean. Now the pool sits in our storage building and I would prefer to have the $600 cash.

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