I am a master of rationalizing impulse buys—I don’t want it, oh no. I need it. It’s vital. In fact, it’s a miracle I’ve been living without that straw bag, or pair of silver candlesticks, or cashmere scarf, or insert other totally unnecessary thing here, this whole time.
This dangerous ability to turn all my wants into needs is exactly how I came to spend $171 on fancy sunscreens in the dead of winter—all just-for-me purchases that felt indulgent and, yes, necessary after a marathon month of holiday shopping for everyone else on my gift list. The past month has been filled with impulse buys. After making a stop in my hometown in Michigan, I spent most of the month in Australia—a trip that not only required a robust arsenal of sunscreen, but that was also ripe with opportunities to snap something up at a beach boutique or in a duty-free shop on a whim.
Paying attention to the purchases that aren’t exactly practical (and probably a little impulsive) for the past month has taught me one thing: I’m a highly strategic impulse buyer. You could call that an oxymoron, but my bank account would beg to differ. After all the holiday purchases I’d budgeted for, I found my wallet hemorrhaging money on frivolous purchases I somehow managed to deem necessary.
Did I go a little overboard on impulse-driven indulgences while traveling this month? Maybe. But I can’t imagine how I ever could have lived without them.
The big end-of-year J.Crew sale that I couldn't not shop: $101
Sale emails are sure to be the death of me—especially around the holidays when I inevitably find myself adding a few items for myself to every online present order I make. Case in point: I can’t remember the last time I purchased something from J.Crew, but within 30 seconds of a 50 percent off email landing in my inbox last month, I was cruising the site. Didn’t I need a new bathing suit? Or boots? Wasn’t I just looking for a leopard-print blouse? One hundred dollars I didn’t plan to spend later, I was the proud owner of two new bathing suits, one pair of dainty gold earrings, and one leopard print blouse. Considering the sheer amount of satisfaction I’ve gotten from telling anyone who will listen about what a deal I got, I’d say my new swag has almost paid for itself by now.
The gold hoops at Target that were so cheap they practically cost nothing: $10
Is it possible to go into a Target without impulse-buying something? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I really want to know because I have never, ever managed to walk out without at least one item I didn’t really need but was oh-so-happy I had. Last month, while making a last-minute Christmas shopping trip, it was a pair of nineties-inspired gold hoops.
The takeout I ordered when I was back home because it was easier than cooking: $31
While I was home over the holidays, my mom had hip surgery, which made takeout an easily justifiable impulse buy. I thought about hiding the takeout containers and convincing my mom I was responsible for the creamy chicken pan roast, but in the end, I knew Kruse and Muer’s Michigan-famous house-baked bread would give me away.
The fancy sunscreen that might have developed into a full-blown obsession: $171
After spending Christmas in the Michigan, I quickly stocked up for my yearly trip to Australia. (Please humor me by taking a moment to appreciate the packing challenge of cramming enough clothes to satisfy below-freezing Midwest temps and 90-degree Western Australian heat into one suitcase.) Because I'm a health editor, that translates to a stocking up on a truly impressive amount of SPF. For most people, this would mean throwing a bottle, maybe two, in their carry-on. But I take my sunscreen shopping seriously. This year I came with a small collection in tow—seven bottles, to be exact, all of differing formulas and sizes to cover every possible permutation of sun exposure.
My current favorite? A $34 bottle of Supergoop Forever Young Body Butter—a prime example of my most frequent variety of impulse buy. Does the fancy formula (which for the record is lighter than air and makes my skin feel like brushed silk) really protect my skin better than the $11 bottle from the drugstore? Probably not. But I had to buy it. I mean, it’s sunscreen. It’s a responsible buy. It’s just smart spending, really.
The bougie bottle of water I grabbed at the airport: $9
For anyone who hasn’t spent the better part of two days on a plane, I wouldn’t wish that particular hell on you. But for those who have languished in sardine-small quarters breathing recycled air (and God knows what else) for 12-plus hours at a time, you may know that hydration is the key to survival.
After three years of making this particularly hellish commute, I have decided that if I’m going to make it in economy (because, let’s be real, my Target-earrings salary isn’t exactly getting me into the business class lounge), I will spare no expense on small luxuries—luxe face cream, diva-worthy facial mist, and sumptuous lip balm. But bar none, the one ridiculously overpriced luxury I treat myself to time and time again is Evian water. On my most recent trip, I grabbed a jumbo bottle in the Frankfurt airport, gleefully handing over my card. When I looked at the receipt, and did a rough currency conversion, I realized I’d just dropped nearly $10 on water. But honestly, my liquid rebellion against economy is worth every cent, every time.
The primer so nice I bought it thrice: $108
Normally, I wouldn’t consider this an impulse buy—a decent SPF-heavy primer is part of my regular beauty routine. But spurred on by the exquisite high that accompanies the frenzy of holiday shopping, I bought not one, not two, but three tubes of my all time favorite formula from Nars, the Smooth and Protect Primer—all from different retailers—to rack up points or clear the threshold for free shipping. Seriously, this primer is worth it.
The duty-free mascara that was calling my name: $32
Duty-free shops are the unofficial homeland of the impulse buy. They’re rarely ever cheaper, but somehow they have the semblance of being thrifty. Under my money philosophy, that translates to a green light for purchases I probably don’t need. With two hours to kill in Singapore’s famously luxe Changi International Airport, I was rather proud of myself for managing to make my connecting flight with only one duty-free purchase: Chanel’s Inimitable Mascara.
The linen top that instantly made me feel Aussie: $103
Southwestern Australia is what I’ve affectionately come to refer to as the land of linen. Linen pants, linen tops, linen shorts, linen dresses—name an article of clothing and I promise you, you can (and should) get it in linen. Idiotically, I’d packed a suitcase totally devoid of linen, so when I stumbled upon a breezy linen tie-front top at a beachside boutique, I snapped it up without a second thought as to when I’d possibly be able to wear it again after this trip.
The straw sun hat that just made sense to buy on vacation: $100
I can’t say I ever expected to fall in love at first sight with a hat, but then again, I’d never seen a hat by Lack of Color before. After a long day in the hot Australian sun, the extra wide brim straw hat with Madeline-esque black velvet ribbon felt like an easy sell. The three-figure price tag did give me a second’s pause—after all, my life in New York doesn’t exactly call for a lot of Riviera-ready headgear—but something about spending in a foreign currency makes any buy feel a bit like using Monopoly money. I am officially considering this purchase my justification for spending more time on beautiful beaches. Now that I have the hat, I need to, right?
Macaela Mackenzie is a wellness editor at Glamour.