We see them everywhere we go. Walking down the street, on your favorite websites, TV, radio, you name it, you’ll likely run into an advertisement for something that’s on sale. With so many opportunities to save money, how are we all not millionaires? Well, that’s the sneaky trick advertisers are playing on us. Store discounts are not normally meant to help out the consumer, but rather the company selling the product.
More than likely they are attempting to get rid of a poor selling product or making room for new inventory. Selling a product, even at a loss, is better than not selling it at all. That’s not to say that no sale item is useful to us. There are plenty of times that buying a product on sale is a win-win. The seller gets rid of their inventory and the consumer gets a product at a discounted price. So when is buying on sale a good idea? Glad you asked, below are my Do’s and Don’ts of buying on sale to help guide you.
Don’t: Don’t Buy Stuff Just Because it’s on Sale
If there is anything you take away from reading this, it should be this point. Many people see the big sign with “SALE, SALE, SALE” and assume they need to get in on the action, can’t pass up a good deal right? They assume they are “saving money” and it’s the smart thing to do. Here’s the thing though, no matter what the item, and no matter how big the discount is, you know what is always cheaper? Not buying it at all! Nothing is cheaper than zero. The lesson here is don’t buy something you don’t need just because it’s on sale.
Do: Buy Stuff You Typically Would Have
On the flipside, if there is something you need or normally purchase that is on sale, then go ahead, that is saving money. If it’s an item that you buy, but not the same brand, make sure that the price is still better than the brand you typically buy. If not, resist the urge of “getting a good deal” and buy your normal brand. Buying a more expensive item even if on sale is still money you don’t need to spend.
Don’t: Replace Items you Already Have
This more or less builds upon the previous Don’t section. If you already have something that works just fine, don’t replace it with something that’s on sale unless you absolutely need to. If you have a working, perfectly good TV, don’t buy a new one. Have an old phone? As long as it makes calls and texts, you’re probably fine. You likely don’t need another pair of jeans or that new shirt either. Replacing or even upgrading (don’t buy a TV just because it’s bigger than your current one) something you already own is still money better spent, or even better yet invested, elsewhere.
Do: Maintain Your Stuff, Replace Broken Items
Here’s where you can really save some money. Make sure you keep anything you own in good shape by taking care of it. Do regular cleaning\maintenance (even if it means investing a few bucks) for things that need it or just use things with care in general. Maintaining your stuff will always be cheaper than replacing it. The longer you can keep an item in good working condition, no matter what it is, the more value you’ve gotten out of that purchase.
Don’t: Buy Extra Perishables
When buying any food on sale, be aware of the expiration dates. Some foods expire in a few days, others in a few weeks. Don’t stock up on anything perishable if it falls outside your normal consumption of it. Basically, if you typically eat 5 apples in a week, don’t buy 10 because they are on sale. One of two things will happen. One, you’ll throw a few of them away, which is a waste of food and money. Two, you’ll eat more than you need to. That hurts both your wallet and your waistline.
The exception here is for items that might expire, but at times where you don’t need to rush to eat them. A good example of something I buy on sale is yogurt. Typically, it has an expiration date a few weeks out from when I buy it. Having extra containers doesn’t hurt me here as I can still eat it at my regular pace without it expiring. Even on these items, make sure you check the expiration dates, as the reason they can be on sale sometimes is that they actually do expire soon and the store needs to get rid of them.
Do: Buy Extra Non Perishables
What you can stock up on, to an extent, are nonperishable items. Again, make sure they are something you would typically be eating anyway. I say to an extent because you don’t want to end up needing an extension on your home to store everything, but there is nothing wrong with having a full pantry. If these items go on sale often, buy enough to get you to the next sale. This brings me to my next point…
Don’t: Buy Only One
We are always looking to save money, but this is one place where many of us fall short. If something is on sale, don’t buy just one if it makes sense to buy more. Yes, you’ll be paying more upfront and you might get a bit of a shock at the register if it’s a pricier item, but in the long run, you’re saving money. In case you already forgot, here’s where it makes sense:
1. You need it or would buy it anyway
2. If it expires, the date is far away enough where it won’t change your normal use
3. The item never expires
If the item fits number one plus two or three, don’t be afraid to pay more now to save in the long run.
Do: Buy the Limit
Not much else to add here. If you aren’t buying one, don’t be a fraidy cat and buy only two. Buy the limit that the store will let you buy. This will maximize the savings. Saving $10 dollars on one item is good, saving $40 because you bought four is better!
Don’t: Assume More Expensive is Better
Many times, you’ll see an expensive item go on sale to entice you into spending more. Even at its sale price, the expensive item could still be pricier than a more affordable option. Don’t assume that because something is more expensive that it’s better. A higher price could just mean it costs more to make, to ship, or the company simply wants a bigger profit (imagine that!). Don’t fall into the mindset that “it’s a good deal” means you should buy something. It doesn’t matter how much you knock off the original price, paying more is paying more in the end.
Do: Figure Out if the Higher Price Tag is Worth it
With the above being said, that doesn’t mean it’s always a bad idea to spend a little more when it’s worth it. So what makes it worth it? There are cases when a higher price tag does mean better quality, but you’ll need to do your research. There are plenty of reviews online for most items. Check out the one star reviews, this will give you an idea of your worst case scenario. You’ll also be able to find out if a company’s customer service is any good. Many times you’ll be see bad reviews with updates saying the company made right on a defective item. If you are in-store, you can look the item up with your phone or wait to buy until you can do more research at home.
Don’t: Buy Seasonal Items during their Season
Ok, so this isn’t exactly a reason not to buy something just because it’s on sale, but it’s still good to mention. There are plenty of products we buy that are meant for a specific season. Maybe you need a new winter jacket or a new swimsuit for summer. Whatever it is, if you buy it during the season you need it, you’ll be paying full price. What you should do is…
Do: Wait for the Season to be Over
We all like to buy something for immediate use, but when it comes to seasonal items it makes more money sense to buy and wait. Stores will usually sell any extra inventory at a big discount to get them off the shelves to make room for the next season’s items. Buying that new winter jacket or swimsuit when they are on the clearance rack can mean big savings. Again, no buying them if you don’t actually need them, but if know they will be needed next year, getting them far in advance is to your advantage.
To sum up, blindly buy something because it’s on sale is a good way to waste your money. The best way to save money on a purchase is to not make the purchase in the first place. When buying items on sale, make sure it’s something that you typically buy and doesn’t change your normal use for them. You should also never assume that more expensive means better. When it does make sense to buy on sale, make sure you take full advantage, you will be paying more upfront, but will come out on top in the long run.
Have any more tips on sales? Leave them in the comments!
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Jeff is a fan of all things finance. When he’s not out there changing the world with his blog, you can find him on a run, a Mets game, playing video games, or just playing around with his kids.