Budgeting · Frugal Living · Grocery Shopping · Saving Money · Thrift Shopping

When A Deal Isn’t A Deal

I had a request for this blog post several days ago, and have been rolling it around in my head since then.  The question posed was, more or less, how to know when buying something is a true bargain, vs buying things because they seem to be a bargain.  Even when the price itself is a bargain, that doesn’t always make buying it your best move. This is tricky territory for a lot of us frugalistas.  Or frugalista wanna-bes.

sale
(Photo courtesy of www.mylitter.com)

The first area in which I tackled this has been grocery shopping.  Formerly, if I saw something on a good sale or on clearance, and thought… we might eat that!… I’d buy it.  Same with having coupons for things.  If the coupon was good enough, I’d buy it.  I didn’t understand that no sale, clearance price or coupon made for a true bargain if I didn’t need and wouldn’t use the item.

I know a lot of people are big into couponing, and some are really good at it.  I… was not.  At least 75% of the time that I was using a coupon, it was for something I would not have bought if I hadn’t had the coupon.  Sometimes that’s okay… say, buying one brand of cereal over another because you have a coupon.  You would’ve bought cereal anyway.  But a lot of times it’s something you wouldn’t have bought at all, but you’re suckered in by the “deal”.  Always remember — If you don’t need it and/or won’t use it, it is NEVER a deal.

After mostly giving up couponing {I still use them for some things}, I still had the sales to contend with.  I mean, that IS why stores have sales — to get you to buy things, preferably things you wouldn’t have bought otherwise.  Or to get you to come in for a good deal and stay and do more shopping there.  Either way, sales work the same way as coupons.  If it’s something you need and/or will use, and it’s at a good price, then certainly buy it.  Stock up if you like.  But again… if you don’t need it and/or won’t use it, it is NEVER a deal.

I’ve mostly gotten myself under control when it comes to grocery shopping and good deals.  Most of the time I can recognize something for a legitimate good deal, vs discounts on something I don’t need.  This is not to say I don’t ever try new things with a coupon or sale, but rather to say I consider it carefully and realize it will not be a deal if I don’t like it.  Still, as I used to tell my beloved grandmother… sometimes you just have to try new things.  And if you can do it with coupons and discounts, by all means do!

discount
(Image courtesy of Blog.wiser.com)

Unfortunately I am not so good at this in other areas of my life.  Namely discount stores, dollar stores and thrift stores.  Discount stores like Ollie’s and Big Lots can offer up big savings… but do you NEED it or just WANT it?  Or worse, neither, but it’s a “good deal”.  I particularly struggle with Ollie’s.  Everything is so cheap that it seems okay to buy “just that item” and in the end, Hubs and I come out with a cart full of stuff.  Shopping at Ollie’s is not inherently bad… it’s our lack of strict discipline that’s the problem.  I have a similar problem with Dollar Tree.  I can come out with $20 worth of stuff, and $15 of it will be things I didn’t go in for or don’t particularly need, but hey… it’s $1, right?

Thrift stores are a whole other beast that’s even harder to slay.  Very often I go in looking for something in particular, which I may or may not find… but you can almost set your watch by me coming out with things I didn’t know I “needed”.

So the question is… how to determine what is truly the frugal choice, as opposed to what seems like a good deal.  And I can’t say I’ve solved that problem yet.  If, for example, I find something for the house that Iike, many times I can talk myself out of it.  I will remind myself we have plenty of stuff, and there’s really no room or need for it.

I can even do that with clothing to some degree.  I consider that I already have a lot of clothes, and ask myself if I already have something similar.  Often times I do already have something {like the half dozen or more black shirts I have}, and I pass on it.  But this one is a slipperier slope.  Even if I do already have something similar, there’s nothing saying I can’t have MORE, right?  I mean, you have room for so many throw pillows or knick knacks, but you can always throw another shirt into the mix.  Sometimes this one is a really hard call, though I am getting better about it.

The biggest trap for me is books/hobby supplies.  I go through phases with interests, and the one perennial link between them is that I love to buy stuff for what I’m interested in.  I have DRASTICALLY cut this back by using the library, but when I’m in a thrift store and see something related to my hobby, I have a very hard time leaving it behind.  For example, I’m learning to sew.  For a few weeks, every piece of fabric I found at a thrift store {that wasn’t horribly tacky} came home with me.  After a few weeks, I realized I would have to rent another apartment to store fabric in if I didn’t calm down with it.  I became a little more discerning with what I bought.

There are still books to contend with though.  I should first confess that I am a huge bibliophile.  Hubs and I have hundreds and hundreds of books on a dozen or more topics, and fiction.  It’s very, very hard to pass up a book that might be useful when I find it at a thrift store.  This is the part I have the most difficulty controlling myself with.  Maybe I don’t NEED this new book about sewing, but I do WANT it and I will USE it, and it’s such a good DEAL, so it’s okay… right?  Well… sometimes I’m just not sure.  The closest I’ve gotten to getting this under control is being more discerning about each particular book.  I ask myself if the book is genuinely on a topic I’m interested in, or is it sort of about what I’m interested in but it’s cheap so I wanna buy it anyway?  This is not fool proof but it does stop me sometimes.

bargain
(Photo courtesy of  www.ultimatesheepskin.com)

All of this long post is to say — I don’t have a fool proof method to determine if something is or isn’t a good bargain.  I’m better at differentiating on some things than others.  To live a truly frugal life, though, I need to get better at ALL of them.  I’m not there yet, but I find that every time I talk myself out of something, it comes easier to talk myself out of something the next time.  Self control is a muscle to be built up, apparently.

Does anyone have any stories or suggestions about real bargains vs bargain prices?  And advice?  I’d love to hear it!

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8 thoughts on “When A Deal Isn’t A Deal

    1. You are right about that! I should have been a little more clear that I meant things that are at a good price, but whether or not you need them determines how good the deal is. I’ll see if I can find a way to clarify that in the post, thank you for pointing out that I wasn’t clear about that point! {Blogging is confusing business sometimes! 🙂 }

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  1. I can relate to the whole couponing thing. At one point we were doing the same thing. We found out that we normally would not buy or use items that had coupons. Now, unless it’s organic we simply buy the generic or store brand. Lots of food for thought in this post!

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  2. I love a good deal… sometimes too much.. I have a stash of ugly sweaters that were only a dollar that I’ll maybe eventually wear, but most likely won’t 😉 They were a bargain, sure, but now they’re just taking up space. Now if it’s non perishable foods we’re talking, I don’t feel bad snagging those deals. Like 25 cent cans of soup. They keep and I can use them for more than just soup 🙂

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  3. I always stick to the rule of stocking up only on things I know I need. I used to be a couponer and I simply wasted so much money. The only things I stock up on now are things like toothpaste, deodorant, soap, and toilet tissue. Okay, and diapers. That’s about it. I never stock up on food items anymore because my daughter is one of those picky eating kids who will eventually tire of eating the same pop-tart every day. So if I bought 10 of them because they were a dollar, only 3 boxes would be eaten befor e she got sick of them.

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