When Bargain Shopping Doesn’t Pay

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Sale-prices_02-Feb-2015There is something so tempting about a great deal. From face wash and toilet paper to new clothes and electronics, the choices are endless – and so are the sales. However, “bargain shopping” is not always what it seems. Though we all love the allure of a good sale or moneymaker, responsible financial management is as much about deciding what not to buy, regardless of its price, as it is about what you do buy.

Ultimately, there are two, major instances when bargain shopping just doesn’t “pay.” The first is pretty obvious, but still tempting, especially in the flooded inbox reality of the internet age. The second is an age old question about quality and contentment over price.

Buying “Stuff” You Don’t Need

This first, and most obvious danger of bargain shopping basically boils down to the aimless pursuit of a good deal. In this scenario, people are roped in via signs that say “SALE!” or emails for massive discounts from favorite or even once-patronized retailers. My own inbox is flooded every single day with promises of sales, discounts, and bargains. Here is just a sample of subject lines from this morning’s messages:

  • Especially for You: 20% off Your Order + Free Shipping
  • You’ve Received a Gift
  • Twice as Nice! 2 for $20 Deals Start Now
  • Save up to 50% Storewide. $5.99 ALL Basic Denim + $3.75 ALL Short Sleeve Graphic Tees, PLUS, Up to 72% off ALL Clearance – NO EXCLUSIONS!
  • Last Chance: Up to 15% Off Clearance

I could go on, but you get the point, right?

There are some great deals out there, and on some random day in winter no less. There’s no holiday, no occasion, just bargains.

Now, if I needed any items from these companies, or maybe if I wanted to buy a gift and knew that I wanted something related to one of these emails, the bargains presented would be great. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t. So, no matter how much money I “save” by cashing in that “Free Gift” or taking advantage of that clearance price, it’s money I did not need to spend and, had I not read the email or clicked through to the site, I wouldn’t have spent it.

There’s no “saving” money in that, now is there?

The basic point, and I think most of us understand this on some level, is that, the only way to “save” money is to save it on things you need or on things that you already plan on purchasing. As long as you have the extra room in your budget, stocking up on toilet paper will never be in vain. However, buying another purse or graphic tee will.

Settling for a Lower Price

However, there is a flip side to this scenario and that is when purposeful bargain hunting becomes more about the quest for the lowest price and less about getting what you actually want. There is a huge difference between doing research, cost comparing, and couponing for a great deal on something you want and doing all the same things for something you are less-than-thrilled about. Buying an item that isn’t exactly what you want just because it’s a good deal isn’t saving money, either.

This is especially popular at outlet malls or internet clearance sections where discount items are plentiful, but selection is not. When you have specific needs or wants, trying to find a “great deal” can only be a secondary consideration. Otherwise, you end up with as much of a waste as with the scenario above.

Let’s make this a little more real. Say you know you want a particular pair of shoes or even a pair of shoes with a particular look or of a particular color because they will perfectly match with a dress for a wedding or your favorite business suit. If you go bargain hunting it is possible to find those shoes at a discount, but what if another pair is even cheaper? Or what if they are the same price, but “worth more” – a $200 pair of shoes for $50 versus a $350 pair for $50, for example? Which do you buy?

Buying the “other” pair, the one that is less dressy or off color doesn’t make sense if they don’t fill the need that the original ones would. Even though you went out looking for shoes, and therefore bargains on shoes, you are not “saving money” if the shoes you buy end up sitting at the back of your closet because they just don’t “go” with your outfit or personal style.

Sometimes, you have to spend more money to get more value. It’s that simple.

Bargain Shopping the RIGHT Way

So the trick is to bargain shop with a purpose and to keep that purpose in mind regardless of the price tag. Spending money, even on wants, is not a bad thing. However, spending it aimlessly or buying things you don’t need or that don’t quite fit the bill is a waste, no matter your bank account balance.

Just like meal planning and stockpiling, good bargain shopping is all about having a clear plan. It’s also about making mistakes along the way and learning from them.

When was a time that your bargain shopping “didn’t pay”?

Why Bargain Shopping is Not Always the Best Way to Save