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7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Your Next Purchase

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November 8, 2019

Shopping is one of those unavoidable tasks in our everyday lives, but how we approach it can make or break the emotional impact it has on us — and our wallets. For most, everyday shopping is a necessity that includes purchasing groceries from retailers like No frills and Loblaws or wellness products from places like Shoppers Drugmart or Rexall. Others lean on the idea of retail therapy to cure a need they don’t otherwise know how to channel. 

How do we justify purchases?

When experiencing negative feelings, the instant gratification of an impromptu purchase can often alleviate the emotional spiral that comes with feelings of stress, frustration and sadness. Still, the aftermath of that isn’t always met with the same gratification. The same can be said for times of emotional highs; when our feelings of joy or happiness are so intense that we become clouded by our usual intentions to spend mindfully and with intention.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman digs a bit deeper into why we really shop by explaining that our happiness is not achieved by the objects we buy. That feeling is found through our motivation to buy that specific item. To curb purchasing habits that lead to regretful spending, it’s essential to equip yourself with some easy-to-answer questions. These questions are built to help you determine whether or not the next purchase you are planning to make is something that will truly bring you value and genuine happiness.

Ask yourself these 7 questions before you make your next big purchase:

1. Why am I buying this?

It seems simple enough, right? But when you ask yourself this question, you might be surprised by your response. More often than not, we think we are buying something because it serves a practical purpose when, in reality, we are feeding our emotional needs instead. Asking this question from the very beginning could stop you from spending money on something you don’t actually want or need

2. Do I already own something like it?

Take a mental inventory of the items you own in a similar category to determine whether or not you already have something like it in your possession. Take, for example, beauty products. If you’re about to purchase a lipstick or nail polish, you may want to consider if you already have a shade just like it. This same learning can be applied to any item, so long as you are familiar enough with what you already own.

Photo: Joshua Rawson-Harris

3. Can I afford it?

Asking yourself if you can afford an item really comes down to whether that purchase works within your budget and if you can pay for it in cash instead of charging it to your credit card. An impulse purchase may still feel like a necessity but if it isn’t in your budget and can’t be paid off quickly — it’s likely not worth it.  

4. Is it a want or a need? 

It’s a classic question when it comes to purchasing, and for a good reason. Understanding the difference between a want and a need could make the difference between a happy or sad purchase. Consider the item and then circle back to the previous questions in this list to help you drill down where this item falls on the wants or need spectrum. 

5. Can I borrow it or get it for less?

Something to consider if you are on a tight budget is whether or not you can borrow the item from someone else instead of purchasing it. Alternatively, you should consider doing some research ahead of time to see if you can track down a discount that would lighten the impact on your wallet, especially if the item in question has a high ticket value. Many retailers provide discounts online that can be found with a simple Google search.

Photo: Matias Difabio

6. Does it suit my needs at this moment?

It’s also important to acknowledge if you can wait to make the purchase at a later date. Taking the time to really think about it or adequately save for it could positively impact how you feel in the aftermath of your transaction. This is another area where impulse buying can take over our emotions and lead us to ignore the question at hand. Instead, evaluate your current financial situation before you make the decision. 

7. Is this for the person I am or for the person I want to be?

Perhaps one of the more profound questions is whether or not this purchase is meant for you or for a version of yourself you don’t currently embody. You may feel like a simple purchase can change your life or the person you are while you’re in the moment, but that sentiment is fleeting and generally leads to disappointment — along with an abundance of regret. Make it a habit of including this question during your spending journey and doing some soul searching before you open your wallet again. 

Discover how Wellspent can help you determine whether or not the things you buy are bringing you value.


This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change.  No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.