Context: Someone is trying to purchase an expensive product they not only don't need but won't have much use for. The result they are expecting to get can be achieved in a much simpler way without the involvement of said product, but they insist on getting it anyway. Think of a not-exactly-technology-savvy-grandma eager to buy a laptop to write down her shopping list.

In my native language, I would say they're buying roller skates for a fish. Is there an English equivalent?

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    In addition to "...fish needs a bicycle" (see below) there is "white elephant", which is a real thing from Asian cultures. – Hot Licks Aug 12 '17 at 13:11
  • That fits like socks on a rooster. - indicating that this thing is hard to implement and yields no benefit. – Davo Nov 10 '17 at 18:28
  • overkill is a common way describe a purchase of something far more powerful than needed, often to a fault. Someone buying the very best for appearances sake might be called a 'poser' - trying to look better than they are. A lot would really depend on what emotion LED them to the mistake. Sometimes you might call a person a "gear-head" who always is prone to buy the best equipment of any kind.. not based on most value for the price or doing the things they need it to do. – Tom22 Jun 20 '18 at 0:30

The idiom you're looking for is "white elephant". As in, "Grandma wants to buy a laptop but doesn't realise it will just be a white elephant for her."

IDIOM ORIGINS: In ancient Siam the white elephant was a sacred animal and could not work to earn its keep, making them very expensive to maintain. One particular king made a habit of giving white elephants to his political enemies, thus ensuring their financial ruin.

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage. You may have written a good answer, but without any citations as to the sources of your information, it is just opinion. Citing sources will produce a much more appreciated answer. – J. Taylor Feb 26 '18 at 10:36

So many similies for this.

I like this one in a U2 song ...

And a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle
When you're tryin' to throw your arms around the world. - http://www.u2.com/lyrics/152

An earlier source of this witticism - found by @HotLicks.

Irina Dunn, a distinguished Australian educator, journalist and politician, coined the phrase back in 1970 when she was a student at the University of Sydney. She paraphrased the philosopher who said, 'Man needs God like fish needs a bicycle.'
- http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/414150.html

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    Actually, the term was coined in 1970 by an Australian feminist, though she was apparently paraphrasing someone else. – Hot Licks Aug 12 '17 at 13:09
  • @HotLicks Thanks - I've added your info to the answer. Cheers! – k1eran Aug 12 '17 at 16:13
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    That's "simile", I think. – empty Nov 14 '17 at 23:35

A discretionary purchase could be what you're looking for. Cambridge Business Dictionary defines discretionary spending as:

money spent by consumers on things other than necessary things such as food, clothes, and fuel

In your situation, the laptop may be essential for your job or study. For your grandmother, however, it might be a discretionary purchase. It's nice for her to have, but if she didn't have it she wouldn't necessarily miss it.

Attribution: (Definition of “discretionary spending” from the Cambridge Business English Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

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