When A “Great Deal” Isn’t A Great Deal

I do venture into personal finance from time to time here at Change Is Possible. I know that how I look at, think about, spend, and manage money have all changed drastically for me over the past 10 to 15 years, and this is part of why my life is better now than it was then.

While my life is not quite debt-free, The Big Man and I have made great progress and are down to a mortgage and a student loan. Less debt = fewer bills. Who doesn’t want fewer bills to pay? (See this guest post at Get Rich Slowly for details on one portion of our success.)

Part of our success has been in buying less stuff. If we don’t buy it, we don’t have to pay for it, and we certainly don’t have to pay interest on it. We’re getting better and better about only buying things when we have the cash on hand. I waited three months to buy new jeans a while back. The old ones were faded, and I couldn’t wear them for casual Fridays at work, but new jeans (and casual Fridays) are not needs.

I know many people who will regularly buy things because they are a great deal. Let’s assume, for purposes of today’s post, that they actually are a great deal – either on sale, or with a coupon or other discount, etc.

So why not buy it?

“I can’t afford it.”

This is probably the strongest reason not to make a purchase. If something is on sale for $200 that is usually $2000 but you only have $20, you can’t afford it. It doesn’t matter that it’s a smokin’ deal unless it’s truly a need.

The list of things that we must spend money on is much shorter than most people’s list of “needs.” You don’t need new clothes. You don’t need soda or dessert or pre-made food in a box. You don’t need cable. You don’t need internet. You don’t need new furniture or home accessories. You don’t need gifts. You don’t need Christmas cards. You don’t need to eat out. The list goes on.

If ends aren’t meeting, cut out non-essentials as necessary. Does that make quality of life lower? Sometimes, yes. Does stressing about getting bills paid make quality of life lower? Yes. Does carrying debt makes quality of life lower? Yes. And debt piling on will stress you out more than not having new jeans. Even if they were on sale.

“I have no use for it.”

Regardless of whether you can afford it, if you have no use for it, leave it. I’m not talking about those rationalized, “Well, I might be able to use it for …” or “I’m sure this will come in handy some time.” It’s easy to make those up on the spot to pressure yourself into buying something that you like that you’re really not going to use. Admire it on the shelf (or the webpage, or in the catalog, or at your friend’s house) and leave it there.

“I already have something that gets the job done.”

If you already have a functional item that serves the purpose of the item you’re considering buying, no need to buy it. You already have something that does it. You don’t need another one. Even if it is shinier.

“I don’t like it.”

Fortunately for my faith in humanity, I have very little contact with people who buy things that are a good deal just because they’re a good deal when they don’t even like the thing they’re buying. (Or maybe I just have little contact with those who will admit it.)

If you don’t like it, unless it’s a need (using the strict definition of need) or a gift that the recipient will like (even though you don’t), please hang on to your money.

How to avoid some of these pitfalls

If you can’t go shopping without buying something, don’t go shopping. Or at least go shopping less frequently.

Make a list of what you’re going for and do not buy anything unless it is on the list.

Find alternative solutions. I used to be a book fanatic and would spend a decent chunk of money on books … which subsequently took up a decent chunk of space in my house. Most of the books are gone now, and I use the library for most of my reading wants and needs.

Our new budgeting system (which is detailed in the link at the beginning of this post) has really helped me/us to be very aware of what we’re spending money on, and not spending it unless cash is on hand.

Do you fall into these traps? What do you do to avoid them?

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lisa on 10 May 2011 at 13:11

    Target and Wegmans are my downfall. I love to go there and tend to over-spend when I do, so I just go a LOT less. When I’m being “good” with the money (which should really be all the time, but it isn’t) I have a Target envelope that has my month’s allowance for there.

  2. Posted by Ilana on 10 May 2011 at 13:37

    So why not buy it?

    “I have no place to put it.”

  3. I’ve always been blessed with the fact that I really don’t like shopping. I know it’s an oddity, but in the end it has worked out to my advantage. I cringe at the idea of going to the mall, I drag my feet if I actually have to go shopping to get something. It’s just a pain! My only downfall when it comes to spending needlessly is Starbucks, I love visiting that coffee shop. 😉

    • Most of the time, I don’t like shopping, either. I’m especially glad not to be into shoes, purses, make-up … any of the stereotypical woman things to be interested in.

      Thanks for commenting!

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