Bargain Shopping Gone Berserk!

Who doesn't love a good sale? But when bargain-hunting, coupon clipping, or mastering the deal becomes the objective, you and your budget are likely headed for big trouble. I can't tell you the number of people who have said, “But it was such a deal!” Really? You spent the money you need to have available to pay off your credit card balance in full — but it was a deal? Hmmm.

  • If you're spending money you don't have — if you're putting it on credit and not paying it off in full by the end of the month — it's not a deal.
  • If you're buying something you don't need, it's not a deal.
  • If it takes you three weeks, three months, or never to put what you bought to use, it's not a deal.

A deal is buying the snowsuit your child is going to wear next winter on sale at the end of this winter at 70% off. A deal is picking up a new book you know your sister is dying to read for half price. A deal is getting something you really need or want at a significant savings — and being able to pay for it in cash.

There are some places that are known for having “deals”, and people take the value they're getting for granted without actually checking the prices. Dumb! And there are people who will go to extremes to get a deal, lining up for hours to browse — and ultimately buy — in stores where they wouldn't normally shop. Whazzup with that?

Shopping for bargains has become a social disease. So how do you know if you've been bitten? Here are three clues:

    1. Your home is jammed to the rafters with Stuff. Chronic bargain shopping is often unconscious spending, so you may not even know you're doing it. Take a look around. How much of the Stuff you bought is sitting unused?

 

    1. Your favorite phrase is: “It was on sale.” All of us fall prey to impulse shopping from time to time. The problem for people who can't curb their desire for immediate gratification is that they're not prioritizing. They've lost (or never had) the ability to figure out if they can do without, so, but for a whopping salary, they're a centimeter away from destitution.

 

    1. Acquiring something new makes you feel happy. As counterintuitive as it may seem, some people become chronic bargain shoppers out of a fear of poverty. It can be a self-esteem thing too. If you have to have the latest fashions and accessories to feel you're admired, you're self-esteem issues are showing. And if you have more scrap-booking supplies than you'll use in your next five projects, take it as a sign that your bargain shopping is out of control.

 

People who can't pass up a good sale — even if it's on something they don't want, need, or even particularly like — aren't smart bargain buyers. They're compulsive shoppers. Scoring deals helps them to ease their insecurities and feel more competent and in control. And they rationalize their purchases as something good they are doing for themselves or their families.

A study by Norwich Union Insurance in Britain in late 2007 showed that 17% of Brits spent more than planned because they couldn't resist a bargain, and almost a quarter of them could justify buying more because of a low price tag. In fact, nearly a third got such a buzz from bargain shopping that they were always on the look out for the next hit

So are you a bargain junkie? Do you:

  • Hit sales and clearance racks when you're feeling sad or mad?
  • Spend more than you can afford?
  • See sales as opportunities you just can't pass up?
  • Feel guilty about your shopping?
  • Walk out of stores with things you hadn't expected to buy?
  • Hide your purchases?
  • Routinely forget what you bought and find things in your closets with the tags still on?

The next time you find yourself sidling up to the cash register with a bargain in hand, ask yourself some simple questions: “Do I need it? How will I pay for it? What will I do with it? What would happen if I waited?”

Better yet, get yourself a small notebook and promise you'll never again shop without a list. In this notebook, keep a list of the things you need and want. If you find a bargain, look at your list to see where that item is. If it's at or near the top of your list in terms of priority, and you have the cash on hand, buy. If not, walk away.

You'll accomplish a whole bunch of things with a list book:

  • You'll keep yourself on track, looking only at things you know you need or want,
  • You'll prioritize your spending, and
  • You'll only spending money you have available.

In a culture that worships shopping, it's only natural that the “bargain” be the Holy Grail. But if you find yourself being suckered into buying stuff just because “it's a great deal”, you're definitely not as smart as you think you are. If you've saved so much money with all your bargain shopping, show it to me.

If you can't show it to me sitting in your retirement plan, in an educational savings plan for your kids, or in your emergency fund, you're deluding yourself. You need to find something constructive to do with your time. Bargain-hunting isn't doing it for you.

More about...Psychology

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Becca
Becca
10 years ago

I pride myself on being an excellent bargain-hunter, but it was completely ignoring this fact – “If you’re spending money you don’t have – if you’re putting it on credit and not paying it off in full by the end of the month – it’s not a deal.” – that got us where we are today.

I wish I’d found you years ago!

bon
bon
10 years ago

Love ya Gail – and love your show – can I view it online anywhere (living in Asia w/o cable? 🙂

I think it is also critical for people to realize that the $200 dress on sale for $50 is NOT actually a “$200 dress” – the retailers play this game too and recognize that the majority of sales are not happening at original price. You are not getting a “steal” you are just buying at one point on a who-knows-how-long pricing curve.

April W.
April W.
10 years ago

bon,

You can go to slice.ca, and find episodes of TDDUP there that you can watch. There is also a few bonus videos there also, like the ever-popular Where are they now? updates on some of the couples.

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

I found the easiest way to avoid sale shopping was to avoid shopping, don’t go to the mall or outlets, or anything similar. I also find that I can satisfy my shopping crave by on-line browsing. I spend a half hour or so shopping at my favorite stores on-line, I pick things out and I put them in the little on-line shopping bag, and then I close the internet explore without buying anything. My amazon.com shopping bag has items in it from two years ago that I still have not purchased. Sometimes I go back and buy some of those… Read more »

Steven Williams
Steven Williams
10 years ago

I love to bargain hunt but you’re right it makes no sense to buy something at a bargain because you or someone you know will use it a next season. That money could be used for better immediate things including saving or paying down debt. But there are certain situations that a deal is a BIG DEAL. An example that comes to mind is one where my wife purchased a sink well in advance for a property we were rehabbing. It was actually $200 cheaper than if we were to buy it at the regular price. We usually purchase the… Read more »

Steven@hundredgoals.com
10 years ago

Love the show…my gf and I used to snuggle up on the couch together to watch (while we still had cable). It gave us the opportunity to discuss our own financial situations, our goals and to talk about how we were going to succeed financially as a couple. Thanks!

Rob Ward
Rob Ward
10 years ago

I couldn’t agree more. Buying something on sale does not mean you’re saving money – you’re still spending it! You are only saving if you planned on buying that item in the first place. This is also why I am a little suspicious of how valuable coupons really are.

Greg
Greg
10 years ago

Coupons are definitely valuable, but most people don’t know how to use them. The right way to use coupons is to use them on: 1.) Things you already buy, OR 2.) SUBSTITUTES for things you already buy. All other coupons should be thrown away to prevent them from tempting you. For an example of #1, one time at Target I got a coupon for $5 off frozen food. It was that generic, “frozen food.” Who DOESN’T buy some kind of frozen food? That was a fantastic coupon. Similarly, as an example of #2, I have my favorite brand of frozen… Read more »

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
10 years ago

I would add that even the snowsuit for your kid for the following winter still isn’t always a “deal” at 70% off. Some years my kid has plateaued at the same size for two winters, and made do with the previous year’s outfit, and some years my kid has grown like crazy and zoomed up 2 sizes or more over the summer. I find it’s a lot better to go to a consignment shop in October and save money that way, rather than stocking up on clearance goods a year in advance trying to predict the exact growth rate of… Read more »

Jenn
Jenn
10 years ago

Great article, Gail. Love all your shows!

Nell
Nell
10 years ago

Love this article, Gail!!! Unfortunately, I recognize some of these characteristics in myself and the way that I shop, but this article will help me to get myself back on track.

Again, thank you Gail!

Cely
Cely
10 years ago

Agree about the snowsuit. In fact one of the rules was:

“If it takes you three weeks, three months, or never to put what you bought to use, it’s not a deal.”

So a snowsuit that will sit in the closet for 11 months seems to break that rule, especially since kids can shoot up in size so fast.

Gal @ Equally Happy
Gal @ Equally Happy
10 years ago

I avoid shopping unless I actually need something. Seems silly to just walk around “looking for bargains” when I don’t need anything, you just end up with a pile of stuff you didn’t need.

Keep a list of stuff you need to buy and, when the list gets big enough, go shopping for those specific items. Don’t buy anything not on that list, even if it seems like an amazing bargain.

Kim
Kim
10 years ago

Good article – you can go broke saving money.

Love the show, Gail! Thanks for the streaming link; I miss it far too often – 9 PM on a Saturday night is just not a good time for us.

Carol@inthetrenches
10 years ago

I love lists! Sometimes I wonder if that is my compulsion. Whatever the subject it goes on a list, shopping, to do, things that bug me. So much easier to steer a straight course with a list!

Anne
Anne
10 years ago

I love Gail!! I watch reruns of Til Debt do Us Part to keep me on track financially. And more recently her new series Princess. Tough love, straight talk. As for bargain hunting, I agree with the points she has made. I have a few family members who seem addicted to shopping for the buzz factor. Because I don’t enjoy shopping as a sport, they often buy things for me, too, and I feel so guilty as I know financially they really shouldn’t be doing that. I finally said “no thanks, I really don’t need anything, stop buying me stuff… Read more »

Avistew
Avistew
10 years ago

Gail’s show is such an inspiration, it’s what got me started looking at my finances. I think with “bargains”, you have to ask yourself “would I buy this at this price if it was the original price?” You’d be surprised how often the answer is “no”. Well, if it’s not worth that much full-price, don’t buy it just because it’s “on sale”! It’s so easy to find uses for things as you buy them (we’ll use it all the time! We can use it for so many things! It will make our lives easier/save us lots of money!) but the… Read more »

strick
strick
10 years ago

Definitely been guilty of this…darn you slickdeals.net!

I found that by focusing on purchasing what I truly want (setting savings goals) I was less likely to make that purchase “because it was such a good deal!!!!”

Thanks for the post!

KarenJ
KarenJ
10 years ago

I like to shop clearance racks, flea markets, yard sales and consignment. I do have a great deal of discipline and can usually avoid buying things unless I know I have a genuine need, but still when I’m browsing, it’s easy to find something I can’t resist. For me, the trick is to plan my day in advance and schedule alternative activities that keep me engaged. Filling up my off time doing things with my husband or friends, taking walks, reading, playing board games, etc. keeps me away from “slippery places.”

Adrian
Adrian
10 years ago

My two favorite Personal Finance writers in one blog! Whoo! 🙂 I agree completely with this concept of “bargain shopping” (although admittedly, before Gail mentioned the notion several years ago, I saw this action in quite a different light.) There is far too much conspicuous-consumption taking place all for the sake of a “bargain.” This, in itself, also extends to the purchasing of ultra-modern “energy-efficient” appliances and automobiles. What one must understand is that if you truly want to preserve the Earth (and your wallet) simply STOP PURCHASING SO MUCH! The more concious we become as consumers of our wants,… Read more »

Holly
Holly
10 years ago

I let a 20% off Kohl’s coupon expire today because:
1. I do NOT need anything
2. Only summer stuff is on clearance
3. Today is a no spend/no drive day for me

Oh well. I have learned that if I don’t use these Kohl’s coupons several months in a row I get a BIGGER/BETTER % off coupon.

Steven
Steven
10 years ago

I think it’s interesting how no one has addressed the time cost of bargain hunting (although the article mentioned it briefly). There’s a real cost (such as spending car miles and gas to find a cheaper store) and an intangible one (such as time you could use somewhere else).

I’m a sucker for Black Friday, but I won’t go out unless it’s something I’ve wanted and I’m saving over $100. The time cost of standing in line for 3 hours isn’t worth it.

Karen
Karen
10 years ago

I love watching Til Debt Do Us Part! Gail tells it like it is with no sugar-coating the truth. I DVR the show and watch it when I am tempted to tune into QVC for stuff we don’t need.

Gail has saved us a lot of dough!

Grace
Grace
10 years ago

J.D. I love how you got Gail to write an article for your blog. That’s so exciting. I love to watch TDDUP!!!!

Bonnie
Bonnie
10 years ago

I got into coupons and bargain shopping back in January when I lost my job. At first I spent a lot of time checking 3-4 blogs, looking at ads and printing/clipping coupons. It took a lot of time and I started wanting to get things I didn’t need and we wouldn’t use, just so I could score the great deal. Luckily, I realized my problem pretty quickly. I’ve found that looking at the deals is enough for me. It feels indulgent to check out the fancy coffee on that website, or the pretty clothes on this one. But I recognize… Read more »

Trina
Trina
10 years ago

I love your show, Gail! My partner and I used to shop for entertainment, and always ended up buying something we didn’t need or really want. We had a LOT of stuff sitting around in closets. We stopped that a number of years ago, and we have been much better off for it!

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
10 years ago

I do use coupons and I do stockpile. However, I only buy as much of a product that is on a super sale that I will use until that product usually goes on sale again. (Usually less than 2 months.) Some people just love to shop and dig through the bargain bins. Not me. I only go to the store when I absolutely have to, and I have something specific in mind. If I am at a clothes store and they have a sale on end of season items, I will look though. I have gotten some great deals that… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
10 years ago

This reminds me of a ‘Three’s Company’ episode. Chrissy bought a case/gross of bird food because it was on sale. Janet had to point out they didn’t own a bird, so she really didn’t save that money. It always stuck with me!

zoranian
zoranian
10 years ago

I love Gail! As a credit counselor, I wish I could do some of the things she does on her show. You wouldn’t believe the number of people I met who have $50-$60k in credit card debt and want to be debt free, but then they ask if they can leave their Kohl’s card off of the debt management program because it “saves” them so much money. Even when I point out that they have a $3,000 balance on the card and are paying 26% interest, it still takes awhile to convince them that they are NOT saving any money… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

I really don’t watch for sales anymore at all. It’s much easier to not buy something until we need it or have made the decision to purchase, then comparison shop for the best price at that time. Yes, I would save money on those particular products by watching sales, but I would also buy things sooner than I need them or even buy things I don’t need. There’s a lot of advice out now to start Christmas shopping now (or months ago) looking for sales rather than putting it off, but I’m not sure how good that advice is. Exception… Read more »

Jaime
Jaime
10 years ago

Woohoo, awesome to have an article from Gail on the site. I love Til Debt Do Us Part. 🙂 It was always on my dvr list when I had cable. It is definitely amazing how many people fall for the bargain shopping mindset. My big pitfall were deals like $1.19 for one hot dog or $2 for two. Sure, if you buy two that makes each one cheaper, but I don’t need two and by buying 1 I’ll save the extra $.81 I would have spent to get two. LOL, it sounds so no brainer now but I was definitely… Read more »

El Nerdo Loco
El Nerdo Loco
10 years ago

Brilliant post! I’d like to read more from this writer. Please invite her again whenever you can. One of the things I learned somewhere about “bargain shopping” for clothes is “if you wouldn’t buy it at full price, don’t buy it at discount”. That’s how you avoid a closet full of junk you never wear. I guess that can extend to everything else. Finally- I’ll just playfully disagree with #29 zoranian about the butter– yes, there are many kinds of butter, and the generic might be equal to most common brands, but the joys of grass-fed butter are not to… Read more »

ditchtheboss
ditchtheboss
10 years ago

I like your comment about using credit card to purchase items on special.
If you can’t pay for it with cash or cannot afford to pay the credit card balance in full at the end of the month then it is not a bargain.

Unfortunately many people are fooled by the indiscriminate use of credit cards and endup in a serious debt situation.

http://www.ditchtheboss.blogspot.com

Kim @  Cash Back Shopping
Kim @ Cash Back Shopping
10 years ago

If you are “SAVING MONEY” by buying something on sale, then actually take the difference in price and put it in your investments/savings account. If you don’t, you’re not ‘Saving Money’, you’re just freeing it up to SPEND on something else.

Aleks
Aleks
10 years ago

My motto is, No matter how cheap something is it’s still cheaper not to buy.

I shop sales for things I use that don’t go off, like clothes, toilet paper, canned goods and so on. Other things, I try to focus more on what I will use rather than the price. I used to buy bargain-bin videogames until I realized that a $50 game that I’ll play for a month is a much better value than a bunch of $10 games that I’ll play for a day or two each.

JMK
JMK
10 years ago

I buy most things on sale, but not because they are on sale, but because they are on my list of things I need and it’s finally gone on sale. I find that distinction helps. Most purchases don’t have to happen immediately. If I need to replace something I look around for the best sale price and if there are no great deals I’ll wait for a sale whenever possible. With grocery shopping I meal plan around what’s on sale and what I already have in the pantry and freezer. At the store I always look for unadvertized sales on… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
10 years ago

I just found out about this show today here on GRS and her videos on slice.ca are not available to the US!! I was all ready to tuck in for an evening of debt-reduction television.

Where can I find these episodes online and available to the US??

David/moneycrashers
David/moneycrashers
10 years ago

This is the fine line that so many so-called smart shoppers fail to realize.

Maybe not so much the credit thing, cuz that’s kind of obvious, but you need to honestly assess the second and third ones (do you need it, and will you use it in the next several months) before even looking at the price.

If the answer is no to either one, then not only is it not a deal, but you’re just wasting your money

sewingirl
sewingirl
10 years ago

Oh Gail! Luv, Luv, Luv your show. I work the night shift in a retirement home, and the other ladies and I plan out wee hours supper break, around the we hours re-runs of your show on our cable system. Tough (financial) love rocks!

MommaBee
MommaBee
10 years ago

I agree with some posters on this board that stated that if you don’t shop, you can’t spend. I also agree that getting a bargain doesn’t mean you are “saving” money, it simply means you are “spending less.” If you were saving money on that bargain, you would be, well, putting money in a savings account or similar plan and not be spending it! When my kids were very little,I refused to shop at malls because their behavior declined after an hour. I just shopped online and never went back! It’s kind of good in the sense that I can’t… Read more »

bon
bon
10 years ago

Thanks for posting the streaming link – but i am guessing it is for Canada only (not working here in Singapore). – Gail, may i humbly request that you (

KarenJ
KarenJ
10 years ago

I got a coupon from NY & Company the other day. They said they “missed me!” 🙂

Rosa
Rosa
10 years ago

I would say one exception is food storage. I buy canned goods when they are on sale and incorperate them into my meals over the next 2+ years. These are foods I would buy normally over the course of time, but this way I buy them all at once and have it when I need it. Also, I do price matching to avoid having to drive to several different stores for the sales. If it is something you are going to buy anyways, why not buy it for less?

Crystal@BFS
10 years ago

I also hate it when I hear a friend say “But it was on sale!” when I know they couldn’t afford it anyway…sheesh. Step away from the sales signs.

Great post and I love your show!

dotCOMreport.com
dotCOMreport.com
10 years ago

Very sound advice. Just remembering the bit about “not spending money you don’t have” could revolutionize this entire country!

BB
BB
10 years ago

Like Rosa, I stock up on food and household supplies on sale. Everything will be used and I don’t have to run out on a moment’s notice because I’m out of toilet tissue or garlic powder.
Another item I stock up on (within reason) is good-quality knitting yarn at bargain prices. This year alone I made over a dozen gifts, sweaters for family, an evening top for myself- the list goes on.

psychsarah
psychsarah
10 years ago

It’s great to see Gail on this site! I read her blog everyday and watch TDDUP and Princess (her new show)religiously.

Melissa Wong
Melissa Wong
10 years ago

I love that show! I am so guilty of this 🙁 I’ve become more discrimminating in my bargain shopping so I’m getting there and the appliances I have purchased in the last 2 months will be paid off by mid November. I keep failing the “final exams” of the impulse bargain for example: Electrolux range retails for $2400, I bought it for $999 as a return with a $100 rebate and was able to sell my old stove for $200…however I am also only up to my ankles in debt rather than my eyeballs. I couldn’t pass it up but… Read more »

Kelsey
Kelsey
10 years ago

I try to only buy things that I need, but it’s hard when there’s such a great deal you can’t pass up.

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