Shop Courageously: Learning to Trust Your Judgement

Shop Courageously: Learning to Trust Your Judgement

Find your strengths and feel worthy of that next big purchase.

We were deciding where to hang some paintings.

"Over the sofa," I suggested. "Oh, but then we'd have to hammer nails into the wall. So, no."

My husband groaned.

"Ten years after we bought this house, you still insist on hanging stuff only from the nails and hooks that were already in the walls when we moved in. This is our house. This is your home. No one's going to evict you for hammering in a few extra nails."

He had a point. To this day I feel that my house isn't really mine, that I had no business buying it, that I'm merely a guest here.

Some of my highly confident friends could never comprehend this predicament. Unlike me, they view major purchases as positive milestones—viewing each new car, cruise, and even root canal as yet another bold assertion of their adult identities. By comparison, those of us with who have low self-esteem are terrified of undertaking major purchases, because we're sure that we'll regret our choices and because we deeply believe that we don't deserve good things—even good things we need. We waver and quaver, then often chicken out and do without.

Major purchases can be risky and nerve-wracking for most people, but they are a double-decker challenge for us. They demand that we surrender lots of money, which can make us feel duped—like Jack-in-the-Beanstalk trading his mother's coins for a single bean—and/or physically depleted, as if we're literally spending an arm and a leg. Large purchases also mandate taking ownership. Given our hazy sense of agency, entering "our" new house or car makes us feel like fakers and thieves.

But ironically enough, low self-esteem naturally primes us to be smarter shoppers. Our chronic fear and hesitancy, which hamstring our daily lives, render us risk-avoidant and less impulsive than most overconfident customers. Recast your fear and hesitancy as care, conscientiousness and caution—which, when it comes to shopping, are valuable traits.

Because low self-esteem teaches us to deny our desires, we aren't rash, gotta-have-it, resultantly overspent consumers. For all its agonies, low self-esteem gives us the patience to comparison-shop and the humility to seek affordable secondhand or second-string—but still viable—versions of whatever it is that we want or need. Take pride in this patience and humility—and perspective—too.

Even our belief that we're too ignorant and incompetent to make major purchases can be a perverse plus: Doubting our own strength and wisdom spurs us to seek second (and third and fourth) opinions before signing on the dotted line. This lengthens the purchasing process, but it usually pays off. Self-assured people might march blindly into stores and offices blaring I got this, however little they really know about what they're buying, whether it's real estate or purebred puppies. Our self-abasing compulsion to compensate for our "ignorance" and "incompetence" by seeking expert advice and intensely studying every option empowers us with every new fact we acquire.

But how to tackle our insidious sense of not deserving costly things? Start with a small purchase every day for a week. Try to stay present while doing so. Which parts of the process are fun and easy? Which parts trigger anxiety? Why?

Now, visualize your next major purchase. Reassure yourself that not only do you deserve it, but feel confident that you have the tools within you to make savvy decisions.

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