Quiz: Are You an Over-Buyer or an Under-Buyer?

I’ve posted this quiz before, but I can’t resist putting it up again. This distinction encapsulates one of my very favorite (if not most weighty) personal insights into human nature: the difference between over-buyers and under-buyers. I also love the satisficer/maximizer distinction, but I didn’t come up with that one myself.

It’s not particularly productive to be in too deep as an over- or under-buyer; both offer certain advantages but also some definite drawbacks.

Does one of these descriptions fit you?

You’re an over-buyer if …

–You buy several summer outfits for your as-yet-unborn baby, then it turns out he outgrows those clothes before the weather warms up.
–You often lay in huge supplies of slow-moving items like shampoo or cough medicine.
–You often make a purchase, such as a tool or tech gadget, with the thought, “This will probably come in handy.”
–You have a long list of stores to visit before you travel.
–You find yourself throwing things away—milk, medicine, even cans of soup — because they’ve hit their expiration date.
–You buy items with the thought, “This will make a great gift!” without having a recipient in mind.
–You think, “Buying these things shows that I’m responsible, organized, and thoughtful.”

You’re an under-buyer if…

–You buy saline solution, which you use every morning and night, one bottle at a time.
–You often scramble to buy an item like a winter coat or bathing suit after the point at which you need it — and often, these items are sold out by the time you show up at a store.
–You’re suspicious of specialized objects and resist buying things dedicated very specific uses: suit bags, special plastic plates and cutlery for children, hand cream, rain boots, hair conditioner.
–You often need to come up with a makeshift solution, such using soap because you’ve run out of shaving cream, because you don’t have what you need.
–You often consider buying an item, then decide, “I’ll get this some other time” or “Maybe we don’t really need this.”
–If you must buy something, you buy as little as possible—say, by putting $10 of gas in the car.
–You think, “Not buying these things shows that I’m frugal and not a consumerist sucker.”

Me? I’m an under-buyer.

Under-buyers feel stressed because we don’t have the things we need. We make a lot of late-night runs to the drugstore. (I constantly run out of saline solution.) We’re surrounded with things that are shabby, don’t really work, or aren’t exactly suitable.

Over-buyers feel stressed because they’re hemmed in by stuff. They often don’t have enough storage space for everything they’ve bought, or they can’t find what they have. They feel oppressed by the number of errands they believe they need to do, and by the waste and clutter often created by their over-buying.

So under-buyers—buy what you need, without procrastination! Don’t wait for the first morning of your ski trip to buy ski gloves!

Over-buyers—think it over before you whip out your wallet! You don’t need a ten-year supply of toothpaste!

What do you think? Do you recognize yourself in either of these categories?

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Apol

    I am 100% an under-buyer. I dislike shopping. I have clothes from 10 years ago that I still wear. Thankfully classic styles and thankfully they still fit me. I NEVER shop without a list. I buy what is on my list and not a thing more. This keeps me focused and on task. My home is modest. I don’t like a lot of stuff, and I too get a high from downsizing, donating, consigning. I live by the rule for every 3 things bought, 3 things must go. I love living this way. I am proud of my organization and ability to avoid over-buying. Shopping is NOT my “drug of choice.”

  • I’m definitely an under-buyer which is really weird because I love shopping and adore having new things. But I find it hard to buy stuff when I am out shopping, I always get in an argument with myself and make excuses for not buying something. In a really odd way, this somehow ends up making me happy because when I do buy something, its something I really love and feel like I deserve. Do you have a name for me Gretchen?

  • Lesley

    I’m not sure I agree that you are one or the other.  Black or white.  My own personal experience is that in some areas, I’m an  over-buyer.  Because I dislike being an under-buyer and running out at an inconveninet time.  The ideal is to have a constant steady supply isn’t it?  Why not a middle way for those of us who are somewhere in the middle with both tendencies?

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh, probably most people are a bit of both. But when you’re firmly in one camp—you know it! I’m about a 95% underbuyer.

  • I vacillate between the two. If I’m trying to be “good” I’m an under-buyer but my natural inclination  is to over-buy, you know, so I’m always prepared! 🙂 Can totally relate to feeling trapped by stuff… it becomes too much to manage. There is a major freedom is turning that off.

  • Anon

    I’m in the sort of middle camp; for some things (soap, saline, consumables, etc) I’m an under-buyer. For others, I have been an over-buyer, and feel the regret when I look at some clothes I haven’t worn in seasons, shoes, jackets lying unused, etc. Sometimes, it’s also unused veggies in the fridge, etc. It does make me feel guilty twice – about not consuming / using them in the first place, and then about the waste. :-/

  • Ashok

    I really believe Gretchen, that I am an under buyer, generally I want to have ONE good winter coat not two or three and might stretch a year or two extra years use out of it, while I am getting hints from family that I should buy a new coat. But when comes to filling up gas, I would rather fill up my car when I stop, than. Buying $ 20.00 dollars worth and stopping for it again and again to get a little more, not a smart thing to do, because you are not saving any Money here but wasting time. Sometimes over buyers are smart too, buying in bulk like at Costco, even if you only use 75% of what you bought, and if you paid only 60% of what you would have paid some where else, you still comes out ahead and you can always give the balance to charitable food pantry. But mostly we are slaves of our habits and I generally let my mindset to do the shopping.

  • Nancy Man

    I’m about 98% under-buyer.

    The only items I’ll over-buy are:

    –tea, if it’s really good-tasting (this is my main luxury item!)

    –sale-items that happen to be things I use daily and don’t like to be without. Things like floss, toilet paper, paper towels. Even then, though, I’ll only get 2-3 extras.

    One more thing I think about is: Does a particular product “lock” me into buying extras? If so, I’ll avoid it. For instance, I have glasses, not contacts. A broom/dustpan, not a Swiffer.

  • Victoria

    I’m an under-buyer with an over-buyer mother. She hates shopping with me because I always tell her she doesn’t need something.

  • Michele Zacks

    This, among all your posts, has really lent insight into some of my dire self-induced stress. I read it many times, but it took me until now – and partly bc of the pushing of my personal trainer – to make a list of CONVENIENCE PURCHASES. I am about half way through my small list. It’s truly amazing how much relief, indeed HAPPINESS, I got from buying underwear that fits. This made me look forward to getting dressed in the morning, and it also saved me time and stress of needing to do laundry frequently. My trainer said that I should buy some new things to help me appreciate my hard work having lost 16 lbs! Smart guy!

  • Danica Pearce

    I lean toward the under-buying, because I’d much rather make do with what I’ve got (toilet paper instead of tissues, body wash instead of shaving cream, rags instead of paper towels, etc), but if it’s something I know I’ll need (like TP, dish soap, etc), I always buy in bulk or get the largest size bottle they have. I hate HAVING to shop, so I try to make necessary trips as infrequent as possible. But of course, the biggest reason why I buy in bulk is to save money.

  • Veena Grover

    I am under buyer,I live my life very simple,I have inner peace & i don’t feel like collecting too many itema.I have value for every penny.

  • I would have totally dubbed myself as an over-buyer, but upon reading your list, I’m definitely an under-buyer! What’s up with that? Maybe I’m a little of both, perhaps in different seasons of my life? Right now, I live in a small (tiny!) apartment, and I can only house one of everything, so even if I wanted to stock up on soap or something, I would have a hard time even finding a place to store it.

  • jb

    I am an over-buyer but am learning to be less of one because of the very problems you mentioned. I no longer buy things unless I know that I will definitely make use of them soon, and I am generally able to resist buying things if I already have something that I need to use up first. Poverty, or never being far away from it, has, through its many lessons, driven me to this point — to the extent that now I occasionally make the wrong decision and don’t buy something when I really should have. I still feel that I could do better at not overbuying, though — maybe because I tend to live with under-buyers who are militantly proud of it and endlessly make me feel bad? I need to work on that too….

  • cinna

    I’m both. In some areas I’m over but I’m others I’m under. It has more to do with my ADD than anything else

  • Sarah

    I am an overbuyer, but I am okay with this because I stock up on products that do not have a tendency towards expandable consumption. For instance, the more cereal you buy, the more you will likely consume (cereal has opportunity for expandable consumption). It benefits the cereal company if you buy 2 boxes instead of just one at the store, because by the following week, you will probably have eaten both boxes, not just your usual one. However, for a product like deodorant, you won’t use more deodorant each morning if you bought 2 bottles instead of just one. Thus, I am comfortable with my shopping habits because I am aware and vigilant of the products I maybe shouldn’t stock up on so I don’t over consume them. When I first heard the phrase “expandable consumption” this week at work, I knew I wanted to post a comment on the Happiness Blog because I was thinking of this article!

  • T & K

    I shop at Costco – need I say more ? 🙁

  • Ducky7

    This is so funny! I am an under-buyer all the way, surrounded by over-buyer colleagues. Two stories to illustrate:

    1- I was in Target at 8:30 pm on Halloween night searching for costume accessories to wear to a party that started at 7:30 pm. (They were totally sold out of everything, for the record!)

    2- My co-worker cleaned out her wardrobe and gave me 15 J Crew cardigans. Not a typo. 15. And I had zero before then!

    I think it might be a Perceiver thing, on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I’m fo sho a Perceiver.

  • J L

    I am a little of both, but my “under buying” also is geared exclusively to saving money. I make a good income, but that does not keep me from visiting Big Lots (a variety store that sells home goods, food, toiletries on clearance). If I run across a particularly good deal of nonperishable staples, I stock up. I found Seventh Generation natural bath gel, in two scents, for super cheap and bought about 8 bottles. Toothpaste is also a great bulk buy there, as well as paper towels, cleaning products which I buy almost exclusively there. You can find great deals on organic cereal (check the expiration dates before you buy 10 boxes of organic O’s, so it doesn’t expire before you can finish it).

    Though my toiletries closet and pantry is stocked, I under buy on more expensive things, and really loathe clothes -shopping for myself.

    • Candace Hamilton

      I read this and immediately thought over buyer. But really I shop a lot like you. I rarely buy new clothes, I hate it too, if my jeans wear out or dont fit I will wander out to goodwill…

  • Phyllis Coulter

    I am definitely an under-buyer. I always linked it to struggling financially. I really want to find out why I am this way.

  • AM leranaholic, love shopping, brisk walking,etcetra

  • I’m a total under-buyer. Except for books. I feel the urge to buy all the books I might be interested in through Amazon. It’s so f* easy to click that button… and yet I never buy on physical stores or online stores for clothes. I’d just be like: nah, I don’t need this. I have this similar at home.

  • Diva

    What if you do both for different kinds of things?!

  • Katie Grosvenor

    It was interesting to read this. I have a lot of under-buyer tendencies, but they are definitely “acquired”, and very joy-bringing to me, whereas buying more things does actually make me happier. (Unless it goes to far. Some things are limitless to acquire, like recipes, and I feel like I need to have all the recipes in the world! That’s pretty stressful. But buying things = win.)

  • Carol Daniels

    Hi Gretchen, fascinating as always. Was interested in Eating for Beginners but it goes to a CRM software page. 🙁

  • Laura

    I used to be an under-buyer for things I needed but an over-buyer for useless impulsive buys. A few years ago I got really sick of the stress caused by never having what I needed to function or do a task properly so I completely changed that. Now I almost always have what I need on hand, yet I subscribe to a minimalist 40-item wardrobe. Wouldn’t go back for anything. I guess I’m an appropriate-buyer lol

    • angelika

      “so I completely changed that”
      … sounds so simple – how in the world did you do that ???

  • Kathleen Salmons

    Buy the 10 year supply of toothpaste! You know they will quit making it…

  • Corrie Howard

    I am an underbuyer. I hardly ever buy convenience foods at the grocery store because I assume I can just make what I need and eat it at home. Then I get hungry and complain that there’s no food in the house, when there really is, but I have to make it. On the flip side, when I do buy more food, I find that some of it goes to waste. I can’t seem to find a happy medium.

  • Barbara Saunders

    Totally an under-buyer. I remember having to have a “come-to-Jesus” talk with myself about the reality that I was not going to find a single pair of shoes that was comfortable, dressy, good for walking long distances, and matched every single piece of clothing I might possibly want to wear.

    • Esther

      I’m with you in wanting shoes to fit every occasion!

  • angelika

    I am both. As a general rule, I like to keep a stock of things and I may buy “things that might come in handy” – which a lot of them actually do! However I hate throwing things away, and usually don’t.
    When it comes to more costly expenses, I am definitely an under-buyer – simply because my income is so limited.