The Thrill of the Spend: When Bad Impulse Purchases Turn Good
You don’t need it, but you want it. #NoRegrets.
What do a pit stop at Bloomingdale’s after a particularly boozy brunch, a lunch hour pick-me-up in the form of a star-spangled spatula, and simply hitting “purchase” on the mini waffle maker that’s been in your Amazon cart for weeks, have in common? They are impulse buys, those dopamine-inducing, spur-of-the-moment purchases.
If you’ve been there, you’re not alone. A recent report from deal sharing platform Slickdeals found that the average U.S. consumer spends $5,400 annually on impulse buys. But don’t let that stat drive you to the nearest “Shopaholics Anonymous” meeting: a significant portion of our impulse buys turn out to be surprisingly useful favorites. When we asked New Yorkers to confess their most memorable impulse purchases, the responses came flooding in. Here are some of our favorites. (If you want to share your own story, get in touch.)
The Buyer: Adam J. Kurtz, Graphic Designer and Author
The Buy: Vintage Kingsley embossing machine for $584.99
The Reason: Once a mainstay at every stationery and party supply store, this machine is now virtually extinct thanks to the digital era. Brooklyn-based artist Adam J. Kurtz bought a refurbished model on eBay thinking he could use it to hand-stamp items for his online shop. In reality, however, he says “the machine mainly sits on my desk looking ‘interesting’ when people come over.” Still, even if he never ends up using the embosser, we’ve got to give him kudos for the legwork he did after ordering it—Kurtz spent a month scouring the internet and reading a niche Facebook group for “Kingsley enthusiasts” to source the parts for manually setting the type.
The Buys: Most recently: 4 stainless steel tongue scrapers for $19.90; valerian root drops for $14.29 a bottle; eye-brightening “Lumify” drops for $18.88; Ultrasonic facial scrubber for $49.99; a magnifying light-up face mirror for $25.99
The Reason: Helming her own business, Ashli Stockton is pretty time-strapped, which is why taking an hour during the day to go shopping is not an option. Stockton’s solution? After-hours retail therapy. “It’s a whole thing,” she says, describing an entrenched weekly routine: “I love nothing more than to go home, get right into my kimono—I don’t even shower—and get super cozy in bed with my dogs. I light candles, turn on The Real Housewives, have some wine, and go on Amazon.” Her purchases run the gamut from high-tech hygienic appliances (like this Ultrasonic Spatula Facial Scrubber and these stainless steel tongue scrapers) to cosmetic eye drops, sleep-regulating valerian root supplements, and a 15x face magnifying light-up mirror. It’s the little things, as the aphorism goes—and for Stockton, that’s coming home to a package she forgot ordering: “it’s so satisfying. I do it all the time.”
The Buyer: Justin Teodoro, Artist, Designer and Illustrator
The Buy: Gap Pocket T-shirt for $18.00
The Reason: Justin Teodoro’s work resides at the nexus of fashion and art, buoyantly celebrating style icons and pop culture moments with quietly bold—and sometimes political—humor. (His re-conception of Melania Trump’s “I Really Don’t Care” jacket went viral.) It’s no surprise, then, that his favorite impulse buy is sartorial. “It must have been on an especially hot summer afternoon last year when I had been running around all day and by 3pm my silk shirt was drenched in sweat (a pretty standard NYC summer look for me),” he says. “I had to meet a friend later that day, so I stopped into a nearby Gap store in Soho and picked up a quick t-shirt to look somewhat more presentable.” Teodoro opted for something simple, a pocket t-shirt. It’s an item he hadn’t really thought about since those “Everyone in a Pocket Tee” commercials of the 90s, but the snap decision proved fortuitous. He returned to Gap the following week and picked up a dozen more. “My shirts feel somewhat empty without a pocket now,” he says.
The Buy: Rag & Bone “Paige” mules for $495.00
The Reason: When advertising strategist Alex Burke needed shoes for a party after work but didn’t have time to go home and change, she took the plunge on a pair of Rag & Bone mules. When shopping for higher-ticket items, Burke abides by a simple rule of thumb: “I have to be able to wear it to both work and outside of work, so I feel like I'm getting the most out of it.” She says these Rag & Bones fit in well with the laidback artsy dinner party aesthetic of the event, but they also work in many other contexts: “I wear them all the time now—work, dinner, party, weekday, weekend.”
The Buyer: Eliza Lewis, Lab Technician at Mount Sinai
The Buys: Hanky Panky crotchless teddy for $78.00; a haul of Anese products (the booty scrub for $28.00, collagen booty mask for $35.00, facial toner for $23.00, and the exfoliating enzyme mask for $22.00)
The Reason: Eliza Lewis’ day job is Lab Technician at Mount Sinai; her unofficial side hustle is impulse shopping. The two professions sometimes overlap, especially when her research lab is conducting 24-hour experiments: “it's easy to convince yourself of what you need when you haven't slept for 25 hours,” she says. Lewis has an extensive collection of impulse buys, notably a Hanky Panky crotchless teddy and nearly the full inventory from Instagram-famous “booty scrub” brand Anese (“they got me with the free shipping and discount,” she insists).
The Buyer: Liza Therkelsen, Publishing Strategist at Quiddity
The Buy: Tickets to the Panorama Music Festival for $125.00
The Reason: Liza Therkelsen bought tickets to the Panorama Music Festival just to prove a point to her boyfriend. She recalls a conversation a week before the festival in which he “was harping on about how music festivals are mainstream, ‘not cool,’ and we're past the age to go anymore.” Thoroughly offended, she and a friend embarked for Randall’s Island with the sole objective of disproving his claims. According to Therkelsen, the spur-of-the-moment purchase was a success: “Was I surrounded by underage kids on questionable rave drugs? Yes. Did I find myself hanging out with mostly the parents in the back of crowds? Yes. Are we still cool and youthful and can go to music festivals? YES.”
Frances Thomas is a writer based in New York City. She recently graduated from NYU.