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Buyer's Remorse: What the Heck Was I Thinking?

A sign at a local thrift store read: "We are overstocked and no longer accepting donations of used exercise equipment (even if never used)."

I've often wondered how much exercise equipment Americans buy and never use. It must be near the top of the list of purchases with the greatest rates of buyer's remorse. But then again, I saw a consumer expert on a morning talk show a couple of years ago who claimed that when it comes to discretionary purchases, we have at least some regrets about 80 percent of the stuff we buy within the first year of buying it.

Think of all the money we could save if we could predict which 80 percent of our discretionary purchases are ultimately going to disappoint us and simply not buy those items or make different spending choices. Alas, if only there were a vaccine to prevent the spending that induces buyer's remorse!

Here's something you can do today to help curb impulse purchases and prevent future spending regrets: Sit down and make a "What the Heck Was I Thinking?" list. Carry it in your wallet or purse at all times. Next time you're tempted to spend money on something you don't really need, pull out that list and do a little soul searching.

A "What the Heck Was I Thinking?" list is a record of things you've purchased in the last year or so that you already bemoan. You know the examples—the $200 gelato maker you bought, only to find out that you really don't like gelato—or the $500 pair of super-chic boots that pinched your feet when you tried them on in the store, but that you were convinced would give with wear.

Or maybe it's the first generation iPhone you bought the day it came out, only to realize (once again) that the next generation would be on the market momentarily, and not only would it have all the kinks worked out, but it would cost about half as much.

Making a "What the Heck Was I Thinking?" list is simple, and even kind of fun. Once a year, pull together your sales receipts, charge-card statements, cancelled checks, and other proofs of purchase, and look at the discretionary items you bought during the year. Tally up the total, and ask yourself one simple question: "If I had it to do over again, would I still buy that?"

Make a note of those items you regret on your "What the Heck Was I Thinking?" list, and then take a few minutes to study the items on the list. If you're like most people, you'll probably notice some trends. For example, maybe you're prone to repent of some types of purchases (for instance, clothing or tech gadgets) more than others. Or maybe purchases from a certain store tend to disappoint you.

When I first started keeping this kind of list years ago, one of the trends I noticed in my own spending (or misspending, as the case may be), was that during times when I was particularly stressed out at work, I tended to make more impulse purchases that I inevitably questioned later.

The idea, of course, is to learn from your mistakes and to consciously avoid making the same types of spending mistakes again. I'll bet that if you were to make a "What the Heck Was I Thinking?" list every year, you'd find that each year, the list would get shorter. That would happen because you'd be conditioning yourself to resist impulse purchases and vaccinating yourself against buyer's remorse.

For part two of this week's challenge, post a photo or video of the most outrageous item on your "What the Heck Was I Thinking?" list to our online AARP Savings Challenge group. Even though our weekly challenge has ended, feel free to post your photos, videos and comments.

You can share your photos with the Savings Challenge group as long as you are a member of it. Keep in mind that every photo needs to be associated with a personal profile, so make sure that you add the photo to your profile before adding it to the group.

To add a photo or video to the Savings Challenge group:

After uploading the photo(s) or video(s) to your profile, click on the photo or video that you would like to share.

Locate the Groups header on the right-hand side of the page. If you have not yet shared this piece of content with any group, it will say "no groups selected."

Click the Choose link, and that will provide you with a list of all the groups to which you belong. Then simply click on the group name(s) where you'd like to share your photo or video.

Jeff Yeager is the author of the book, "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches." His Web site is