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When a Deal is Not a Deal

If you’re like me, you love getting great deals and using coupons for all your purchases. But all too often, people end up spending more money by using coupons and taking advantage of deals. After all, if offering discounts and coupons didn’t make stores money, they wouldn’t do it! So how do you know if a deal is saving you money or costing you money? There really is just one golden rule that encompasses all the different “deals” I’ll talk about: if you weren’t already planning on purchasing the item, buying it with a coupon or discount is costing you money.



Pretty simple, isn’t it? The reason stores offer you deals is to get you in the door. They know that a lot of people only come in because they heard about the deal, and they know that many of those people will end up buying more items than just the one on sale. Keeping the golden rule in mind, here are a few other “deals” that should raise red flags:

Buy one, get one half off - were you already planning on buying even one of the item? If not, then why on earth would getting a second one for half off be a deal? And if you were planning on buying one, do you actually need a second one? If you only need one of an item, and there is a buy one, get one half off sale, DO NOT buy a second one!

$1 off when you buy 3 - I see this one at grocery stores a lot. I always have to chuckle a little bit when the item is priced at something like $5, so you would need to spend an extra $10 to get $1 off. Another rendition of this one is 10 for $10. These are like the buy one, get one half off deal on steroids. From my experience, it seems that these deals are usually offered on items that people often do buy several of at a time. They’re also typically for items with a very low price point. The combination of these two factors means that it’s incredibly easy to convince people to buy enough to get the deal. But the problem with these deals is that all too often they’re on perishable items, so if you buy more than you need, you’ll end up throwing some of them away when they go bad. If you can’t use 10 avocados before they go bad, forgo the deal and only buy what you can use (unless of course you only want, say 7 avocados for $1.50 each, in which case getting the extra 3 would save you $0.50; always do the math). These can be good deals on non-perishable items though, and you’ll sometimes see them for canned soup or veggies. If they won’t go bad and you know you’ll use them, go for it.

Get a 20% off coupon to use on your next purchase - this is the classic tactic to try and make you a regular visitor of the store. You usually don’t see these advertised (though I have a few times), rather they are typically given to you at checkout after you’ve just purchased something. The problem with these deals is that they often have an expiration date set in the very near future. If you just bought, say a pair of shoes, are you really going to need to buy another pair of shoes in the next month? While I’ve never tried this myself, you could always go back the next day, return the items you purchased, wait until they’re re-stocked, and then re-purchase them using your 20% off coupon. Now THAT’S the way to take advantage of a deal!

4 Responses to When a Deal is Not a Deal

  1. I have family members who buy stuff on sale, and then look for someone to give it to for Christmas, birthdays, etc.

    • That’s not a bad idea, but I would suggest only buying something if you know immediately who you would give it to, and only if that person is someone you would have given a gift to anyway. If you just buy every giftable item that’s on sale and then try to figure out who you know who would like it, you’ll probably end up spending more money than you need to.

  2. This is so true! I often find myself dragged into a shop by the huge red %50 OFF sign in the window! A week goes by and i think to myself, why did i ever buy that thing?!

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