Do You Justify Purchases?

A couple of folks commented on my post about upgrading to the iPhone 4S that I shouldn’t have to justify a purchase, which got me thinking. What does it mean to justify a purchase, anyway?

Two ways to look at it

One of the definitions of justify is “to show a satisfactory reason or excuse for something done.” — which means there are two main ways to look at the idea of justifying a purchase.

A satisfactory reason

On the one hand, I think it’s good to at least make sure you’ve got good reason for buying the things you buy. That reason could be anything from deciding to replace a worn out item that’s used regularly, to just plain old buying something (or spending money on something) because you think you’ll enjoy it.

And I don’t think that the amount of money you have available, or how good you are at money management ought to play into whether or not you take the time to think about a purchase rationally. To me, making sure to justify a purchase in that manner is just common sense.

After all, why buy things that won’t suit your needs, that will just clutter up your house, or that you’ll regret?

Maybe it’s just that I hear my mom saying “Where will you put it?” and “What will you wear it with?” in my head many times, but I do think it makes sense to make sure what you’re spending your money on is likely to be worthwhile.

An excuse

The flip side of that though, is when you justify a purchase to yourself or someone else by rationalizing. Basically, you want what you want and are determined to get it no matter what. So instead of just saying “hey, I want it!” you list out all kinds of “reasons” why doing what you intend to do anyway is the best decision. It’s coming up with excuses, instead of actually thinking about what’s best for your situation — and what might not be.

When the reasons you come up with to justify a purchase all point to “yes”, chances are you’re making excuses.

This often comes into play when you “need” something expensive that you can’t quite afford. You might tell yourself that you need to buy a new SUV, because you’ve got a baby on the way and you’ll need the room. Also, you want the baby to be safe, and sometimes you like to take your dog with you or go to garage sales, and you won’t be able to do that with the baby in your current, smaller car that would carry you and the baby OR the dog just fine.

Because naturally you couldn’t leave the baby or dog home with dad, or rent a truck for those garage sales, buy a used SUV, or try it for awhile to see just how much trouble it really is with your current car. You may not always like the alternatives, but they are there. And if you’re not considering them, chances are you’re just making excuses to do what you want.

The critical difference

The critical difference is that when you justify a purchase in order to see how (and if!) it actually fits in with your life, money and goals, you’re more satisfied with the purchases you do decide to go ahead with — and you waste less money on things that aren’t really that important to you. When you justify a purchase by coming up with reason after reason why it’s the right decision, you’re just trying to fool yourself, and the resulting purchases never feel as good.

I know this, of course, because I’ve done some of both.

What about you? Have there been purchases you rationalized and then regretted — either because they didn’t work out, or because their purchase caused you to struggle financially? And ones you thought through and were really happy with?


  • I’m definitely a justifier when it comes to making purchases. Very rarely I make purchase decisions that I regret. Usually it was because I didn’t plan properly and was in a time crunch. I’m all about researching.

    • Sounds like researching works really well for you. I more often just go with my gut once I’ve decided to buy something (as far as picking a particular model, etc.) goes. My husband is the opposite so I probably drive him crazy.

  • Vonetta

    I agree about researching things before making a purchase – I always check out reviews online and read blogs to make sure my purchase is worth it.

  • I wont say that I have necessarily had purchases I regret, but rather “leases”! I pay way too much for my vehicle right now, and it’s a long term commitment. I shouldve rationalized it a bit better in my head.

    • Ouch, yeah, those can be pricey. My ex husband and I once leased a minivan, and I’d never do that again. Is there a way you could get out early from the commitment? We did, but only because ours caught on fire and literally burned to the ground. It wasn’t pretty, and we were left without a van but still owing money.

  • It’s been said that our mind makes a decision almost instantly and subconsciously before we even know it. Then after we’ve followed through with it, our mind finds ways to justify why we did what we did.

    • That sounds really interesting. I heard something similar with deciding to move say, your arm. Supposedly we actually start to do so, and then decide whether or not to override that movement.

  • I know that sometimes I do tend to justify purchases. However, I never spend beyond my means. I refuse to go into debt for an item. It’s not worth it.

  • I think it’s good to have a little dialog with yourself before making a big purchase. The
    only purchases I’ve ever really regretted were impulse buys.

    I talked myself out of an IPAD for over a year before I finally bit the bullet and got one, but now I know that it’s something I will really use. Yes, I did rationalize my decision, but it’s been good so far because I will also make an effort to use it to it’s fullest potential now that I know what it’s capable of from my other colleagues.

  • I think the key difference between these two is when the decision is made. It sounds like ‘excuse’ is made to support the buy decision versus satisfactory reasons which happen ideally before the decision to buy is made. Mindful purchasing is definitely a key to being happy with what we ultimately buy!