Budget Fail: Unrealistic Expectations While Shopping

Those of you that come to Debt Roundup often know that I am not a big fan of shopping.  It is a combination of spending money that I don’t want to leave my pocket, going to multiple stores, and dealing with salespeople.  All of these things combined just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  No wonder I love to shop online (pretty much Amazon) so much.  At least I can take out the salespeople and having to go around to multiple stores.

couch in room

This is not our home, but our couch

My wife and I have been shopping around for a new couch to replace our old one.  We have had it for close to 7 years and it has just started to lose it all.  There are parts starting to break and the cushions and backing are losing support.  It makes it extremely difficult to get out of the couch once you get it.  It may actually be alive and trying to eat us, but I don’t know.  We finally decided that we wanted to get rid of it and purchase a new one.  I have tried to fix it and save money, but it is too far gone.  Some of you may talk about getting a couch on Craigslist, but that is something where I draw the line.  I don’t know what has happened to those couches and where they have been.  Some times it just makes me feel better and cleaner to purchase new.

We have a unique advantage when purchasing furniture because my Mom is a great interior designer.  She has owned her own interior design business for years.  She always provides me free services when I need them, so I don’t hesitate to ask.  Armed with an interior designer, my wife and I went out to the furniture stores to find the best couch.  I hadn’t really known how much I wanted to spend on a couch, but I know that I didn’t want to go over $1,000.  I mean, I should be able to find a lot of options under $1,000, right?


Well, after looking around quite a few stores over the span of two weekends, I realized that my expectations were very unrealistic.  We stopped by stores like Rooms 2 Go, Ashley Furniture, Home Comfort Furniture, and many others.  These places had couches, but nothing that made us go “this is it”!  If we are going to spend the money, we wanted a couch that we wanted to sit on.  When I shop for large items, I have a lot going on in my head to make the decision.  Can we afford it?  How should we pay?  Is it in our budget?  How long will it last?

Luckily for me, my wife understands that I have trouble pulling the trigger on large purchases.  She knows that it could take me a few days to actually make the purchase.  I research things to the extreme.  If I can find reviews on an item, then I am going to read through them and dissect them with a fine toothed comb.  I rarely make impulse purchases anymore.  It is just what I do.

A Couch is How Much?

Money Hand Holding BankrollWith my couch budget goal of $1,000, we found that our options were quite limited.  We wanted a sectional sofa because we both love to lounge.  We both cannot lounge on our current setup.  We also wanted to get an ottoman to put our feet up.  There are many options of sectional sofas pretty much everywhere, but they were always out of my made up budget in my head.  We didn’t only want a couch, but we also wanted quality.  This is where my Mom came in handy.  Since she deals with so much furniture on a daily basis, she knows which brands are good and which brands are bad.  She knew how much we were going to have to pay in order to get a couch that would last for 10+ years.  Her advice first annoyed me because she recommended everything out of my “made up” price range, but then after stepping back for a few days, I realized that her advice was what I needed.

After two weekends, we finally narrowed our couch selection down to 2.  They were both over my $1,000 unrealistic limit, but I had to make a decision.  After seeing both of our options and their price tag, we finally pulled the trigger on our couch.  We got a couch, ottoman, and new chair for about $2,000.  They came with just a few pillows, so we didn’t have to purchase more.  The other option would have cost us the same price just for the couch.  I think getting a few more items helped me make up my mind.  It also helped that we could be sitting on the couch in 2 weeks compared to 6 weeks.  I got the salesman to pull down the price by around $400 along with a free 5 year warranty.  Since I was paying with my AMEX card, I saved more than I would if I would have financed the purchase.  Now, we are waiting (until Wednesday) for our furniture to be delivered.

My Lesson

This shopping trip really taught me a lesson.  I realized that when shopping with an unrealistic expectation, you will never be satisfied. We looked at a lot of couches.  Each one would have been great, but I wasn’t happy because they were over my $1,000 “made up” budget.  I had no idea how much couches really were and that was a problem.  I should have done my research before we went shopping.  I did look at a few online, but that didn’t give me the real overall picture.  With furniture, you really do “get what you pay for”.  I realized that our furniture purchase was really an investment.  We spend a good amount of time on the couch when we get home from work, so we want to be comfortable.  Though we spent a little over $2,000, I know that we spent the money wisely.  Some of you may gasp at this number and think this isn’t what a personal finance blogger should do.  Well, I am a person and my finances are personal.  This purchase decision worked for us and we are happy with it.  What is the point of making money if we can’t enjoy it now and then?

Moral of the story…..Don’t shop with unrealistic expectations.  You will never be satisfied and you might end up spending money for something you don’t really want.

Have you ever shopped with an unrealistic expectation?  How did you handle the situation?

Photo via stevendepolo

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Grayson Bell

Grayson Bell

I'm a business owner, blogger, father, and husband. I used credit cards too much and found myself in over $75,000 in debt ($50,000 in just credit cards). I paid it off, started this blog, and my financial life has changed. I now talk about fighting debt and growing wealth here. I run a WordPress maintenance and support company, along with another blog. It is Empowered Shopper, which helps people get information about products they want to buy. You can also check out Eyes on the Dollar, which is a great blog that I co-own.


  1. February 25, 2013 at 7:49 am — Reply

    I hope you negotiated the free removal and disposal of your old couch.

    I disagree with your mother about spending more for a quality couch. This is the time in your life to buy an inexpensive couch. When all your babies are house broken is the time to start investing in furniture. Your new addition will be drooling, vommiting and having diaper leaks on your couch.

    • February 25, 2013 at 10:42 am — Reply

      We are actually donating the couch and another chair to a program here in my city, so that wasn’t part of the negotiation. While I understand the issue with kids, we purchased this couch because of it. Having an interior designer as a mother can be useful in these situations. She knows more about the right type of fabrics that can hold up to the wear and tear of children. She does this for a living and deals with the “kid” scenario more often than she would like to admit. When her clients spend $10k on a couch, she has to make sure that it can hold up to a child. The cheaper couches don’t come with the type of warranty that you get with a more expensive couch. I got a free warranty (negotiated) that will repair anything on the couch, literally anything for free. If they can’t repair it, then I get a new piece. It even goes with dealing with bodily fluids. You don’t get those type of warranties on a cheaper couch and if you do, then you end up paying close the same price for the couch. Not a worthwhile investment.

  2. February 25, 2013 at 8:23 am — Reply

    Ugh…I hate shopping too. I could have written this post myself. I’m glad that you finally found something, but you are definitely right. If you have unrealistic expectations to begin, you will never be satisfied.

    • February 25, 2013 at 10:42 am — Reply

      I am glad that we found something as well.

  3. February 25, 2013 at 8:45 am — Reply

    We hate shopping as well and hated shopping for couches when we bought out house six years ago. I do like to have quality as opposed to buying just the cheaper option as I want something that’s going last. That can be a hard balance though when you’re also including kids into the equation. You’d be amazed at how much crap gets spilled on the couch, so we went with something more functional for the main room as the kids are constantly on them. We have nicer ( and much older) couches in the basement for our family room that the kids rarely get on as they’re leather.

    • February 25, 2013 at 10:43 am — Reply

      A cheaper option couch would get torn up in an instant with kids. You truly get what you pay for when it comes to furniture.

  4. February 25, 2013 at 9:22 am — Reply

    It’s a tough call, and there are good arguments for both sides of the story: quality vs. price. I guess the good part about getting quality is that you can re-upholster (SP?) if the kid(s) wreck it. :-). Plus, it’s good to have a couch that’s comfy and you love. We had a similar situation when we had to get a new mattress a decade or so ago, and to this day, I’m so glad we chose the expensive one, even though it was more than we expected. Well worth the investment.

    • February 25, 2013 at 10:44 am — Reply

      That is what I think this purchase is, an investment. The warranty on the couch will cover anything from bodily fluid to rips and tears. I don’t have to worry about it at all, and I didn’t have to pay for the warranty. I think I came out on top of this one.

      • October 2, 2014 at 1:24 am — Reply

        I hate to say it, but reupholstering can cost more than buying a new sofa due to the amount of yardage a sofa needs. My day job is interior design and the price of sofas is through the roof! I have been fortunate to be on both sides and quality goes a long way when it comes to buying furniture!

        • October 2, 2014 at 9:08 am — Reply

          You are correct there for sure Kristin!

  5. February 25, 2013 at 10:37 am — Reply

    As Laurie said, even though you paid more, I’m sure you got a better quality than a $500 couch. We have one similar to the picture that you have, and we LOVE it.

  6. February 25, 2013 at 10:49 am — Reply

    I hate how expensive furniture is, but I know that if you buy quality pieces, they’ll last longer and end up costing you less in the end.

    I had to laugh about the couch eating you part…reminds me of some lovely couches I encountered while in college…blech! 🙂

    • February 25, 2013 at 10:58 am — Reply

      Well, after it broke, it really did start to eat us. It had been slowly deteriorating, but now it has a mind of its own. We have to help each other get out of that thing some times.

  7. February 25, 2013 at 12:59 pm — Reply

    Glad you were able to find some pieces that you liked 🙂 Looks like we might be going your route also, as my husband wants a brand new couch as well. Now to find one that won’t break the bank 😉

    • February 25, 2013 at 1:04 pm — Reply

      Thanks Mackenzie. They all really break the bank. The inexpensive ones are cheap feeling and don’t sit well and then the really expensive ones are just crazy priced. It can be hard to find the right spot.

  8. February 25, 2013 at 1:33 pm — Reply

    That sucks that you couldn’t find what you wanted for within your budget. I totally agree about shopping for something without a realistic budget. We’re currently setting our budget for our family reunion this summer and I’m trying to, for once, be realistic about what we’re spending so I don`t feel crappy come time to go!

    • February 25, 2013 at 1:37 pm — Reply

      Yeah, that is what happens when you have an unrealistic budget. I wouldn’t have found anything that would meet all my needs for what my original made up budget was. We did find one, but it had a water stain and two broken legs and wasn’t comfortable. It was sold as-is.

  9. February 25, 2013 at 2:05 pm — Reply

    One example of when I shopped with unrealistic expectations was our cruise we just returned from. The problem with cruises is you have to be very careful not to wrack up a huge tab while you are on the ship. Between drinks, gambling, excursions, gratuity, off-shore expenses, etc. the prices really start to add up! I thought we could go for a bit cheaper than we did, but I am still happy to only be “over budget” by a couple hundred dollars when it was all said and done.

    • February 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm — Reply

      You only live once right DC! It is hard to stay on budget when on vacation, especially a cruise. They do very well to get you to spend money.

  10. February 25, 2013 at 2:26 pm — Reply

    I spent nearly $3k on a sofa last month. Some people might think that’s excessive, but I don’t. The sofa is the biggest piece of furniture in my house (other than my bed). It is not only the focal point of the living room, it’s used every single day by multiple people for hours at a time. I anticipate I’ll have this sofa for 10 years (or longer). I had my last one (a cheaper one) for 8 years. If you cost out using that piece of furniture over time, then $3k is actually not a bad deal at all.

    • February 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm — Reply

      At least you thought about it and understood what you were getting into. Pricing it out over many years makes the pill a lot easier to swallow.

  11. February 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm — Reply

    My wife gets frustrated because I struggle to budget over £10 for any purchase! Obviously some things will cost more but £10 seems like a fair starting point 🙂 Thanks for the mention Grayson, I really appreciate it.

    • February 25, 2013 at 4:16 pm — Reply

      Yeah, I think £10 would have been quite the low-ball on a couch. I don’t think I can even get a pillow for that price. You have to start somewhere and that is why I thought $1000 would have been good enough. I have been wrong before.

  12. February 25, 2013 at 5:11 pm — Reply

    I’m like you in that respect. If I buy a couch, it has to be new. That philosophy also applies to mattresses! We purchased our current living room set which consists of a full sized leather sofa with two built in recliners and a single leather recliner for $1000 at Sam’s club (2 years ago). We settled on this after weeks of shopping at various discount stores (Furniture discount stores in North Carolina are as abundant as tobacco plants). I was surprised that the best deal on that set was in Sam Club but it’s worked out well for us.

    • February 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm — Reply

      Yep, on the same page as you Jose. Where are you at in NC? I am in Raleigh and there are furniture stores everywhere.

  13. Justin@TheFrugalPath
    February 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm — Reply

    I hate shopping and salespeople as much as you Grayson. We shopped around for our washer and dryer last year and hit mostly big box stores. We walked into commission based store and walked out within three minutes.
    When we deal with salespeople the first person, no matter how much we like or dislike them, is the person we’re going with. We were greeted and told the man that we were just looking, he was going to be our guy.
    We looked he left us alone but a woman came in and started bugging us. We told her that we were just looking. She stood over our shoulders like a vulture on the verge of consuming it’s meal. Needless to say we walked out pretty upset. Sorry for the rant.

    • February 25, 2013 at 9:19 pm — Reply

      I enjoyed the rant Justin. That is how it is when furniture shopping. They just want the sale and will bother you until they get it. I am pretty good with letting them know how I feel, but sometimes my hints don’t catch on.

  14. February 25, 2013 at 8:32 pm — Reply

    I love Amazon too. In part because I do a lot of research and comparison without a salesperson breathing down my neck. It’s one of life’s greatest ironies that when you need a salesperson they have disappeared but when you don’t want one – you can’t get rid of them!

    Furniture is always tough because it’s generally a long-term investment, so in my book, buy the best you can afford, which it sounds like you did. You use it every day so you want it to be able to withstand wear and tear, especially now that you have a baby.

    • February 25, 2013 at 9:20 pm — Reply

      That is always the case Shannon. They are around when you don’t really have an idea of what you want, but when you can’t find what you want, they are no where to be found.

  15. February 25, 2013 at 11:01 pm — Reply

    No kids for us yet, but we do have a dog and two cats. A dog and two cats who sleep on every piece of furniture we own (including the dining room table-when we’re not home they sneak up there sometimes ugg). So for now we’re fine with our old furniture-in fact we’re keeping it as long as possible but it would kill me to buy new and have one of them vomit on it. Someday when we have a separate more formal living room we’ll do nice leather.

    Enjoy the new living room set, I know you’ve worked hard to plan everything and do your due diligence about the purchase!

    • February 25, 2013 at 11:17 pm — Reply

      We have two dogs and we will work on keeping them off the furniture. We don’t have cats because I am highly allergic. I worked on this purchase for a long time to make sure that it would work. Though I was unrealistic about the budget, I am content with the purchase.

  16. February 26, 2013 at 12:15 am — Reply

    I think initially I may have went out with unrealistic expectations for some things but if it was a big ticket item we would window shop. We knew what the price range was of what we wanted and we saved for it. That helped eleviate any surprises. When I lived on my own I did the same thing and it worked out. Glad to hear you picked up what you needed!

    • February 26, 2013 at 10:28 am — Reply

      Yeah, I was only able to really window shop a bit, but also didn’t really know what I wanted at the time. It took a little bit to understand what we wanted to fill our current need.

  17. February 26, 2013 at 12:45 am — Reply

    We have needed a new couch for years, but haven’t gotten serious about getting one because of these exact same reasons. I think not making an impulse buy is important. Other than that, buying quality furniture is better than buying something cheap that you will have to replace in a couple of years.

    • February 26, 2013 at 10:29 am — Reply

      I am with you Kim. The quality is deemed as an investment. I think it will last much longer and we won’t have to purchase a new one for many years.

  18. April 21, 2015 at 5:32 am — Reply

    We had that problem last time we went furniture shopping. We didn’t realize how expensive a quality bunk bed could be and ended up going to several stores several times comparing quality before making our purchase. Hope you enjoy your new couch!

    • April 21, 2015 at 9:30 am — Reply

      Quality furniture really does cost money, doesn’t it!

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