budgeting, purchases, stories


Choosing Wisely-3

Last weekend I decided it was finally time to go shopping for a pair of walking shoes. I’d been alternating between rain boots and regular boots for the past five months, but now the weather is getting a bit warmer, and there are days when wearing boots feels weird and constrictive. And my go-to walking shoes—a pair of Converse that I’d been wearing for six years straight—were literally falling apart. While I don’t have to dress up for work, I do need to look presentable, and that probably means no falling-apart shoes.

My original plan was to simply get a new pair of the exact same Converse to replace the falling-apart ones. But when I got to the shoe store, I found that they didn’t have my size in stock. I was about to go ask the cashier to order a pair in my size and have them sent to me when I noticed a pair of purple-and-gray walking shoes nearby. They were a brand I’d never heard of, but they looked a little like a pair of Skechers I’d owned a while back that I’d really liked. There was a pair in my size. I tried them on. They were comfortable, and about the same price as the Converse, and I wouldn’t have to wait for them to be shipped. So I figured, hey, I’ll get these instead. Might as well try something different. It may also be relevant to mention that I was reeeeeeeally hungry and wanted to get out of the store as quickly as possible so I could go get something to eat.

So I bought the purple-and-gray shoes and took them home, and on Monday morning I cut the tags off and wore them to work. I think I was about halfway to my first appointment when I realized that I HATED these shoes.

I hated the shape. (The wide, boxy toe made me feel like I was wearing hiking boots.) I hated the color. (The purple that had seemed kind of cool in the store seemed loud and garish outside.) I hated the material (a sort of mesh that the wind whipped right through). And I hated them even more when I noticed a tiny tag on the side that said “water-ready”. These weren’t even walking shoes, for gosh sakes…They were boat shoes.

So I sat on the bus and spent a few minutes googling “Can I return worn shoes to DSW?” even though I already knew the answer. And then I put away my phone and looked down at my shoes and scowled. And that brings us right about up to the present moment.

Let me be clear: these purple-and-gray shoes were a planned purchase. I’m not upset that I spent the money—it was exactly as much as I had planned to spend. Here’s what I am annoyed about.

Remember that scene near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where they’re in the room with all the cups and goblets, one of which is the Holy Grail, and that guy who’s not Indiana Jones picks up a big fancy cup with a lot of jewels on it and scoops up the water and drinks it and turns into a crazy scary zombie skeleton that disintegrates before everyone else’s eyes, and the knight says, “He chose…poorly,” and then Indiana Jones picks up a plain, wooden-looking cup and says, “The cup of a carpenter!” and drinks the water and the knight says, “You have chosen…wisely” – remember that?

Okay, I know it’s a bit of an overdramatic comparison, but I do think that in this particular instance, I chose rather poorly. It baffles me that, given the fact that I had budgeted $40-$50 to buy new walking shoes that I planned to wear for the next five years or so, I somehow managed to end up with a pair that I don’t like. I should have just ordered the Converse, since I already knew I liked them. Or tried on some Skechers, since I already knew I liked those. But instead, I grabbed the first thing off the shelf that caught my eye and now I am stuck with them until they wear out. Which will probably be never, since they appear to be made out of some kind of planet-destroying synthetic something-or-other.

I’m also a little annoyed because I have kind of a track record in poor shoe purchasing decisions, though usually the problem has to do with sizing. I wear either an 8.5 or a 9, depending on the brand, and for some reason it’s very hard for me to figure out in the store if the 8.5s are just right and the 9s are too big, or if the 9s are just right and the 8.5s are too small. I have had the experience multiple times of spending upwards of thirty minutes trying on one size, then the other, walking around in them, hitting my toes against the ground, consulting with shoe salespeople, and then somehow still managing to choose what later turned out to be the wrong size, and not being able to return them because they had a bit of sidewalk dust on the soles.

*              *               *

Okay, enough complaining. If I can figure out what’s actually going on here, maybe there’s something I can learn from it instead of just sitting around and glaring at my feet.

First off, there’s obviously a practical lesson here about making thoughtful choices with one’s hard-earned and hard-budgeted money. I’m pretty sure I’ve learned this lesson before, but I obviously forgot it and so am willing to learn it again. The lesson is: when purchasing something useful that you expect to use for years, be smart. Do the research. Take your time. Make sure you’re choosing wisely.

Second, my irritation with myself is founded on the assumption that I definitely could have made a purchase I was totally happy with. And, sure, it would have been awesome if I had managed to spend my $40-$50 on shoes I ended up loving. But I’m not confident that that would have been a likely outcome. Here’s why:

The sheer magnitude of choices we have in our everyday lives is truly astounding, particularly when it comes to our potential purchases. No matter how specific of an item we think we are looking for (and “walking shoes” is not very specific), there are always going to be a wide variety of options available to choose from. Even if we think we’ve looked around in a lot of stores or websites to find the perfect [insert product], we know in the back of our minds that there are even more stores and more websites that we didn’t take the time to browse. And just the knowledge that those other choices are out there somewhere—and knowing that we might not have made the Absolute Best Possible Choice—can be oddly distressing. I suspect that I probably wouldn’t have been able to escape this experience no matter what: even if I had bought the Converse, it’s likely I would be wondering whether I could have looked around some more and found something even better. (I didn’t think of this concept myself; I’m paraphrasing from a book I read a few years back called The Paradox of Choice, which discusses how having thousands of possible options is paralyzing rather than liberating. I definitely recommend the book if you’re interested in the psychology of consumer culture.)

And finally, I think it would be a good idea for me to step back back and get a little perspective. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal. “I hate my shoes” is the quintessential example of a first-world problem; I mean, seriously, the fact that I have the option of electing to buy new shoes in the first place means that I have very little to complain about. I may not love these shoes, but they’re still shoes. I can still walk around in them. They’re good enough. (And speaking of the first world, I also regret not doing any research into the ethics of purchasing random-brand shoes that were likely made in a factory overseas.)

Here are the shoes in question.

With all that in mind, I think my best option, at least right now, is to keep the shoes and wear them. The other option (donating them and buying new ones) seems wasteful, and furthermore, I’m not really in a position to be making any non-essential purchases at the moment—more on that next week!

But if you can think of a third option, please tell me about it, because I am still not a fan of these shoes.

Have you ever made a significant (or, ok, semi-significant) purchase that you later decided you hated but couldn’t take back? What did you do? Tell me about it!

PS: In the summer I’ll switch to wearing TOMS with no socks, which are actually my preferred walking shoe. But at the moment it’s still too cold for me to consider going without socks!

42 Comments on “Shoes

  1. “but I obviously forgot it and so am willing to learn it again.”

    Oh my god, *story of my entire life.* I feel like my autobiography will be titled “I Thought I Had Learned All Of This Already, BUT APPARENTLY NOT.” (It’s wordy, but I mean, the book will be too, so.) I love the grace that you gave yourself in that quote, of being willing to learn it again – such a wonderful approach and I love that you’re kind to yourself in those moments.

    Also I’m so so sorry you don’t love your shoes! Do you think that breaking them in might help? Like, eventually they end up feeling great on your feet regardless of what they look like, and that might be a benefit?

    At the very least, you got a stellar blog post and a kind of funny story out of them. In a few years it’ll be even better – if anyone asks about your shoes, you can be all “I’ve had them for three years and fun fact, I hate them.” It’ll be a cool intro to a conversation about everything you value more than shoes (like debt payoff!)

    1. Hahaha, I will definitely read that book.

      Sigh. No, I don’t think I’ll love these shoes. They feel fine; it’s mostly the way they look that I don’t like. But I should think about it a bit longer before buying anything else. Who knows; maybe they’ll grow on me. This will be a good exercise in patience, which I typically am not so good at (hence the impulsive shoe purchase while hungry).

      1. I read it a few years ago and was really struck by it, and it changed the way I think about making purchases. Definitely recommended!

  2. I very much sympathize with you here! I am awful at buying shoes. Usually I order like 6 pairs from Zappos and then spend a few days walking around the house in them to decide which one to keep and even then I sometimes have buyers regret. So this may not be the most PC answer, but if you didn’t wear them real hard already, you can clean them off and most likely DSW will take them back. I have to imagine they have a margin for this kind of thing built into their huge corporate budget and would rather have you as a happy customer. Another idea is to sell them on eBay. I did this last year with some shoes I bought online “final sale” which did not fit (obviously, I didn’t realize they were final sale when I bought them bc I never would have otherwise!!). I was able to sell them fairly quickly for about 2/3 of what I paid for them and at least the buyer seemed really happy 🙂

    1. Sigh. Unfortunately I don’t have the receipt anymore. Usually I’m super good about keeping receipts, but not this time. I think I am stuck with them.
      It really is so hard figuring out which shoes are the right shoes, isn’t it?? It seems like it should be easy, but somehow it’s not. Maybe I’ll look into eBay, that’s a good idea. I’ve actually never sold anything on there before, but maybe this is the time to start!

  3. Upon graduation from college and having never worked, I got a job in the big city and felt it necessary to pre-buy an entire “work” wardrobe inspired by many magazine articles on “must haves” for the young working woman. Despite the fact that I meticulously budgeted and carefully picked out each and every item, it was in general a bad decision. I arrived at work to realize I could have worn clothes I already owned and no one was all-dressed up each day. I immediately switched back to wearing regular-day-clothing and those work items went untouched for years. Finally I gave them away or sold them, with not a single item left in my closet from that work wardrobe I learned an invaluable lesson, only buy when you need. Now I capsule wardrobe and I have a single wardrobe (daytime, nighttime, work, relaxing – its all the same). I think about an item for a minimum of one month before I purchase it and always review the return policy.

    Another note – my most recent shoe purchase was dansko clogs which I waited about 6 months to buy. When I bought them I LOVED them for days, then I noticed if I wore them for a full day that the top of my feet would hurt very badly, and a dark red line would appear from the tighten-ness of the shoe. I tried to ignore it as I had invested over 125 dollars into the shoe and planned on wearing them for years. Finally I woke up one night with a pulsating pain in the top of my left foot that would not go away, upon going to the doctor (it was that bad) I found out it was a pinched nerve from the tight shoe. — Moral of the story, sometimes you just need to accept your losses.

    1. Wow, Mary, thanks for sharing that story about buying work clothes! I can totally picture that type of thing happening to me — clothing stores are so good at making us feel that we “need” a certain item or set of items to fit in and look appropriate. I wonder who actually does wear those really fancy work clothes…nobody? CEOs maybe? 🙂

      And I am so sympathetic towards your experience with the clogs. I’ve definitely gotten blisters from pricey shoes before, but wow, a pinched nerve! I hope it resolved itself when you stopped wearing the clogs. And yes, I guess sometimes we do just need to accept our losses!

  4. I say return them. I bought a pair of running shoes
    from DSW a few years ago and after one run, my feet were hurting. So I returned them and said they just weren’t a good fit. It’s worth a shot – the worst they can say is “no” but I personally think they’ll take them back. I’ve never had trouble returning worn items before to any store.

    1. Ah, interesting that this worked at DSW. I’m sorry to say that I no longer have the receipt for these shoes, or I would probably do that. (Yes, on top of everything else, I didn’t keep the receipt! I’m not sure what I was thinking!)
      Good to know for next time!

  5. Even if their standard policy is to not take returns once the shoes have been worn, you might try going back to the store and asking in person. Be polite and honest and just explain that after you wore them once, they just really aren’t working out for you, and is there any way you can exchange them? I’ve found that just asking — and being nice about it — often gets good results!

    1. Yes, I should have done this the first day, you’re right. Unfortunately I had managed to recycle the receipt since I was *so* sure it was a final purchase. So I think it’s too late. But your point is well taken — I bet niceness does go a long way. Next time! 🙂

  6. I would (and have) just wiped off the soles and return them then. Most shoe stores allow for wear around the home and then return if you don’t like them after that.
    I also like shopping at places where they have a 30 day guarantee for returns – it makes it a lot less stressful!!

    1. Yeah, I should have done that! I did take a look at the bottoms that first day — they were clearly dirty since the soles are light-colored, but I could have tried anyway…unfortunately I realized I had already recycled the receipt! Ack! So I think I’m stuck with them. But it’s a good thought for next time. 🙂

  7. I feel your pain — I feel like every pair of shoes I’ve bought recently has seemed imperfect, but only after wearing them and losing the ability to return them. Sigh. And the boots that I looooooove and would wear every day forever are on the verge of dying, and the company no longer makes them. #firstworldproblems

    You may not have time to do this, but have you checked out thrift stores for other shoe options? I know tons of the shoes I’ve donated over the years have been essentially new, because they didn’t work out after I wore them once or twice. So I’d imagine others have done the same, and there must be like-new shoes available at your local secondhand spots.

    As for shoes I buy now, I basically just buy the same four pairs over and over again (a pair of Birkenstocks, a pair of Keen water shoes, a pair of ballet flats for work stuff, and a pair of walking/travel shoes that work for everything), because I know they work for me. And then I wear each one as long as I possibly can!

    1. Ok, wait, we may be onto something here. What do you use your Keen water shoes for? Maybe there are some specific activities that I could delegate to these that shoes I hate, since they’re “water-ready” and all, and then I would feel less wasteful about buying a new pair to serve as my walking shoes. Are we talking canoeing? Sailing? Walking on the beach?

      I have tried thrift stores for shoes before but haven’t had a lot of luck. Typically there are a lot more trendy (read: uncomfortable) shoes than anything else, and 9 is not a popular size anyway. :/ #firstworldproblems indeed.

      1. I use the Keens for anything wet or muddy. River or lake stuff, muddy hiking, sometimes biking, festivals where I want sandals but also toe protection so I don’t get stomped, etc. And yeah, I’m 8 1/2-9, too, so I understand!

  8. I totally did the same thing with those TWO packs of Costco socks I bought! I hate them! WHY did I buy them?! And TWO. Oy. Shoes are tough too. Mr. T has two different sized feet and he always struggles with shoes. He makes sure he wears them in the house for a few weeks before ever going outside so he really knows if he likes them before he can no longer return them. I’m too impulsive: “New Shoes! I’m wearing them RIGHT NOW!”

    1. Yes, that’s exactly what happened to me! I knew on some level that I should probably wait and try them on in the house a little more, but I was like, NEW SHOES! I think it was a form of wishful thinking, like, if I just BELIEVE that these are great shoes, then they will be great shoes! I also recycled the receipt, so brilliant all around.

  9. I’m in the same boat you are. I’m between an 8.5 and a 9. I must try on the shoes first. And I have no patience for Zappos. I found a shoe repair shop nearby that I’ve been using so that I can both avoid shoe shopping and save money. Also, my favorite phrase of the day is “planet-destroying synthetic something-or-other.” I laughed out loud. 🙂

    1. Oh my gosh, shoe repair shops are awesome! I just discovered them earlier this year. I had literally never thought of getting shoes repaired before, but a friend told me she’d been to one of these places, and so I tried it, and they fixed my falling-apart boots and saved me tons of money. It was amazing. 🙂

  10. Well if you ever change your mind about the Skechers I can give you a 25% off coupon since I’m a brand ambassador for then. Totally no pressure though! I feel your pain. I’ve done stuff like that before. For me it was mostly clothes that it was too late to return. I’m not sure what to say about what to do with the shoes. I think it’s really a personal choice. But like you said, better weather is almost here so it might be worth just sucking it up and waiting to wear your Toms.

    1. Ooooooh, I may take you up on that offer — I’ll let you know. Thanks! 🙂 I used to get tons of compliments on my old Skechers. I only got rid of them because they were completely worn out.

  11. I must admit (begrudging) that I do a RIDICULOUS amount of research before buying shoes. I have a pair of boots that I researched for at least a year (reading forums about how comfortable/durable they are), searching Pinterest/Google Images for outfit photos, that sort of thing. They were really, really expensive so I was so afraid of buyers remorse – but luckily I’ve had them for 5 years and absolutely adore them, so I think it was worth the research.

    Having said that, I can definitely still relate. A few months ago I bought a cardigan in Spain with ‘batwing’ sleeves (I think that’s the term!) I ended up wearing it a few times and donating it because I realised I can’t wear it with a coat – the sleeves won’t fit!

    I used to be much worse (during my shopaholic years …) what helped me was making fashion rules/nonnegotiables. For example – no white, no maxi skirts, nothing low waisted. I like how these things look in theory, but in real life they never get worn for various reasons. By drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘never’ to these pieces it helps me make decisions in the shop.

    Anyway … about your shoes. Are they a known brand? If so you can probably sell them on Ebay (I used to do a lot of Ebay reselling.) You’ll make back some of your money and then buy a new pair you love, and write it off as a learning experience. It’s not fun wearing shoes you hate.

    1. I love that you did a year of research about a pair of boots — that’s fantastic! I’d like to be making those kinds of purchases instead of the “aaaahhh, I’m hungry, so I’ll grab a random pair of shoes and run out of this store!” purchases. Unfortunately these are not a known brand — I have a feeling they’re a DSW-specific brand — so I might be stuck with them.

      Sorry about your batwing sweater! I totally know what you mean, and that would bother me too if I couldn’t fit my sleeves in my jacket. Hopefully someone else is enjoying it!

    1. Oh gosh, yes, heels can be seriously awful, and it’s so hard to tell in the store.
      The Paradox of Choice is definitely really interesting, and all based on research — I definitely recommend it! It changed the way I think about making purchases.

  12. Three cheers for buying the same shoes over and over again. I used to wear only Converse All-Stars as well, for the last twenty years almost. And I still do in the colder months, unless it’s icy out. In the warmer months now, though, I’m on the Keens sandals tip. They’re pricier, but you can usually find a less desirable color on Amazon for $50 or $60. Wear out, replace. Wear out, replace.

    As for items I can’t bring back? A metal tv antenna. It doesn’t work well for our location, but I only figured that out after I finally bothered to try it out, which was after the return policy ran out.

    1. Yes, I still wish I had just gone with the Converse. If you find something good, why mess with that? All-Stars are great — unlike you, though, I can’t say I’m tough enough to wear them in the winter! More like fall and spring. 🙂

  13. I think a lot of people can relate to your story. There are a couple pairs of shoes I bought that I only wore a few times. On the other hand, there are other pairs of shoes I absolutely love that I wear day after day. Same can be said for clothes, where there are some key purchases that I wear for years while some other purchases I barely wear. I’m more comfortable now with returning things I don’t absolutely love, because I know I won’t wear them enough.

    1. Yeah, it’s too bad that we can’t foresee which purchases are going to be worn every day and which ones are going to sit in the closet WHILE we’re still in the act of shopping! That would be an amazing superpower. 🙂

  14. Since I’m so frugal I just HAD to try on a pair of Costco/Kirkland running shoes. You always hear stuff like store brand is just as good as name brand right? Not in this case. It felt like running on cardboard. I tried to tough it out so I wouldn’t get the annoyed eyeroll from my wife for not listening to her and getting the Adidas next to it. After a week I ended up returning my Kirkland shoes bc I didn’t really want to kill my feet to win a battle of wits with my wife. This is why I always lose – my wife is always right. 🙂

    The shoes were ugly too.

    1. Hahaha, yeah, shoes seem to be one of those items when the more expensive version is often worth it (provided you choose a style that you like, as I did not). But hey, at least you gave it a shot! 🙂

  15. I recently had a very similar mishap and I have a solution for you! I purchased 3 pairs of workout shorts online and 2 of them didn’t fit: 1 too small, 1 too big, 1 just right….I was basically Goldilocks-of-the-Gym. I purchased them when they were on clearance, so I wasn’t allowed to return them. Without many options, I posted them on Kijiji (I live in Canada, so Craigslist might be better for you). It was completely free and I figured worst case scenario, no one wants them and then I am back in the same boat.

    I sold both pairs. Admittedly, I sold them for a loss and only recovered about 75% of what I spent. But I used the money that I recovered to go shopping for new shorts on a super tight budget. The shorts I bought were Reebok brand and I ended up with Old Navy discounted shorts, but at the end of the day I was much happier to have items that I would actually use and enjoy!

    I wish you luck!

    1. Thanks so much for the suggestion, Melanie! And I’m glad you were able to sell the shorts that didn’t fit and get a pair you liked.
      As it so happens, after I published this post I actually ended up taking the shoes back to DSW just to see if there was any chance I could still return them…and they let me! They were really nice about it too. You could have knocked me over with a feather, especially since the shoes had a bit of dirt on the soles and I didn’t have my receipt. I need to write about this in a post next week, along with various other updates.

  16. Not going to lie the shoes are sort of well unique 😛 ha.. Completely agree about the need to be conscious about clothing and other decent sized purchases.. I’m sure there’s plenty of items I’ve bought and then realised I didn’t like them although nothing springs to mind.

    How’s your new job going too? 🙂

    1. The job is good, thanks! Especially now that I was able to return the shoes (which I wrote about in my post from today). I couldn’t believe they took them back! I definitely learned my lesson on that one. 🙂

  17. I get so much anxiety when I buy something and need to return it. I don’t know why because sometimes the things are so inexpensive and insignificant but it still bothers me. For ex – I bought a clearance hair conditioner at the grocery store for 50% and they double charged me. It was only an extra $3 but everything I use the conditioner I get anxiety about it! Anyways, the reason I am posting is about return policies. Nordstrom has an awesome return policy and despite the high cost of purchase, sometimes they pay for themselves. I bought a pair of jeans in 2014, that I returned in 2015 because they looked worn, that I returned again in 2016 because they looked worn. I also have a pair of shoes that I bought in an 8.5 and convinced myself that is my size when I’m really a 9 that I need to return 🙂

    1. WOW it’s late and I can’t type! I meant to say that I exchanged the jeans twice and I am now on my third pair. It’s worth looking at the return policy when deciding where to purchase. 🙂

    2. Wow, I should definitely start shopping at Nordstrom’s! They let you return a pair of jeans after a year?? That’s amazing. And I think I can relate a little bit to having anxiety around returning things…I think I am often afraid that the cashier will think I’m trying to rip off the company or something, so I get nervous when I have to explain my request.

      Haha, welcome to the “Am I an 8.5 or am I a 9?” club. The update on these shoes is that I took them back to DWS after I wrote this post, just in case, and (miracle of miracles!) they took them back and were really nice about it.

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