Are You Spending More Just to Get a Discount?

Are You Spending More Just to Get a Discount - picture of presents with Sale spelled out

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Please enjoy this guest post from Ben Luthi.  Ben is a personal finance blogger who does his thing over at The Wealth Gospel. He’s passionate about helping people to stop thinking about personal finance according to the template society has created, and to find their true potential and align their behaviors with it. His favorite food is chips and salsa and his spirit animal is Warren Buffett.

I love a good discount. In fact, I can’t remember the last time my wife and I went out to eat without some form of a discount, whether it was through a Living Social or Groupon deal, a gift card, or a restaurant special. But when I scroll through online deals or go through mail ads, I can’t help but think, “There’s a whole lot of useless crap on here.”

When normally-rational human beings see discounts, their first thought isn’t, “Do I need this?” Rather, it’s usually more along the lines of, “OMG OMG OMG! I’ve always needed a Thighmaster! I better buy it now so I don’t have to pay full price later!” The only problem is that you’re a dude and you have no business owning a Thighmaster.

Junk is Junk…Even When It’s On Sale

I’m sure you’ve done it. Maybe not with a Thighmaster, but there has probably been a time in your life where you’ve fallen for the trick. Whether or not you need it is absolutely irrelevant, because it’s freaking 75% off! And really, that’s all it is. A big trick. Retailers don’t give discounts because they think you’re great. All they want to do is drive traffic into their stores, so they’ll slap a discount on a few items and then wait for all the suckers to come in. Oh, and a few other things that just so happen to be in the same aisle. And they do it all in the name of “customer appreciation.” That way you feel like they care about you and not your money. They also like to try to get you to think that you have to buy it now or else the deal will go away and you’re never going to be happy. Ever. Again. Case in point: Black Friday. But in all honesty, most of that crap you and your loved ones don’t need anyway and a lot of it is going to be on sale again at some point in the future.

Two years ago was my first—and my last—Black Friday experience. My mom and sisters love doing Black Friday shopping every year and convinced my wife to join them. I wasn’t planning on going, and my wife knew better to push me on it because I hate shopping to begin with. But a few minutes before they left, I realized that with school and work, my wife and I didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, so I thought she would really appreciate it if I went.

Let me just say the brownie points definitely weren’t worth it. In fact, I was a big butt the whole night because of how ridiculous it all was, so I probably didn’t get any brownie points anyway.

We first went to Target, where we found a line snaked back and forth around the back of the store. I didn’t bring a warm enough coat, and I drank too much water before we left. I was seriously contemplating wetting myself just for the few seconds of warmth. After an hour of waiting, they finally opened the doors. And we spent another hour in the cold before we finally made it inside.

As soon as we got in, I bolted for the bathroom while my wife, sisters and mom split up with their battle plans. After joining up with them, I started searching the aisles and shelves for something I could really use. And I found nothing. Where are all the deals I saw in the newspaper? Oh yeah, all that stuff was gone within the first 2.6 seconds after they opened the place. But look at all the other stuff! After a total of four hours in the store, three and a half of those hours spent waiting in line to get to a cashier, I made out with a Country Christmas CD for my wife, which I paid full price for. After Target, Wal-Mart was a blur and I was so annoyed by that point that I just sat down on a bench and waited for everyone to finish.

So what is it? Are discounts good or bad? Well, that depends on how you use them. To me, it’s a lot like a credit card. Credit card companies don’t give you that money because they like you. In fact, they keep the minimum payments low to lull you into a false sense of security, making you focus on the small payment rather than on the fact that you’re spending more to begin with. But if you use credit cards the right way, you can enjoy the benefits of rewards points and other perks at the expense of the credit card company without paying them a penny of interest. Now who’s the fool?

The same goes for discounts. If you only use discounts on things you actually need or will realistically use, it’s a great way to live frugally and save that extra cash for something more important. But when discounts are tricking you into spending more because you’re focusing more on the discount than on how much you’re spending, you’re in trouble.

When it comes to online deals like Groupon and Living Social, the best way I have found to cut down on my spending was to unsubscribe from their emails. That way I can go search if I want, but I don’t need the daily solicitation. I also generally try to avoid big sales or discount circulars unless I actually feel like I need it. Does that mean I miss out on deals every now and then? Yeah. I hear about some things too late and kick myself. But I’d rather miss out on a deal now and then than spend all my money buying more crap than I need.

Are you planning to hit the stores on Black Friday?  Have you ever bought something you didn’t need just because it was on sale?

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  1. Oh man! Seems like there are less painful ways to earn brownie points! That’s kind of how I feel about Black Friday. The only people who will get the really amazing deals like a $3 toaster are the ones who stand in line for hours (or DAYS) waiting. My time is worth more to me than that! I’ll buy a toaster some other day, thanks!

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      lol yeah, life’s lessons learned 🙂 Seriously. It’s just ridiculous what people will do to save a few bucks

  2. Last month I had an impulsive buying because I saw on the website that it was 75% off. So I purchased the stuff but I was a little disappointed because of the quality of the audio and the battery life.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      That sucks 🙁 But unfortunately with some of those deals, you’re really getting what you pay for and in the end you realize it’s not a deal after all

  3. If I get a gift card this weekend (belated b-day present I asked for), I might hit up an outlet or two on the way home from the airport on black Friday. I’m on the hunt for a new swimsuit and wouldn’t mind getting one at the crazy discounts the outlets offer on black Friday. But this is a need at this point – buying more just because it’s on sale drives me nuts!

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      That is acceptable 🙂 Buy because you need it and take advantage of the sale!

  4. It’s not exactly discounts for me, but I’ve fallen into this kind of trap with credit card rewards. I’ll know I get 5% on certain spending for a month, and for some reason that makes me want to spend more. It doesn’t make any logical sense, but our brains are very strange sometimes.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Agreed! Someone I know did something similar when they were moving. They talked about getting their moving expenses deducted from their income tax, so they spent an extra night at a hotel. Soooo you’re willing to spend an extra $150 just so you can get a tiny tax deduction that you may not qualify for anyway because you don’t have enough other itemized deductions? Strange indeed!

  5. I’m sure I have bought things I don’t need in the past simply because they were on sale. Nothing specific comes to mind, but I’m sure if I thought long enough I’d easily come up with examples. I went out last year for Black Friday shopping and got a few very specific deals. I was actually just looking at my post from last year and I’m still happy with my purchases, as I have put them all to good use and probably saved $100-$200 by going on Black Friday instead of other times. Yes, they were doorbusters, but if you are going for one thing it shouldn’t be too hard to get in and out (probably depends on the store, though).

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      I guess it depends on where you live 🙂 We went in Utah and even if I had wanted to just get in and get out, it still would have been a few hours.

  6. Being a (former!) over-spender, I’ve always been cautious with those sales tricks of ‘buy three, get one for free!’. Oddly enough, if I don’t need three of something, I’m not going to buy it – except it’s books or socks, because you can never have enough socks. And as for Black Friday: unless I would absolutely NEED something, I’d try to take advantage. But I usually don’t participate, and I won’t this year either.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Good! My mom tried to tell me that I’m going with her this year because we moved away last year and are coming to visit, but that’s definitely not happening! And it’s true that you can never have enough socks 🙂 I feel the same way about ties.

  7. Deals are the way companies get people to buy the things they weren’t going to buy in the first place. Rarely are deals on the items in demand.

    It can be tough to pass up an incredible deal. I go to slickdeals online all the time and I have to resist the urge to pick up some random gadget each time.

    The sooner we can all develop the habit to stop, breathe, and analyze when in the position of spending, the sooner we will start saving more and being in less debt.

    The Warrior

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      I love Slickdeals! They have some good stuff on there every once in a while. I especially love it when they have free Amazon mp3s 🙂

  8. Since I’m a financial coach, I get to hear tons of personal finances stories. When I’m looking over bank statements with clients and we start talking about expenses, one of the big comments is always “oh, well I bought that on sale so it’s cool”.

    When someone says that to me, I always go to this example: “If the item was 75% off of $100 but you wouldn’t have purchased it otherwise, you’re still spending $25. That’s still a bad deal if you ask me”. Like you said, junk is junk, even when it’s on sale.

    The same thing holds true with taxes. Everyone is always talking about spending money to get tax deductions. Well, if you’re buying something for $100 just to get a deduction, you’re still going to end up spending more money than you’re saving. If it’s something that you need, I can certainly understand it. But if you’re spending money just to save a percentage, that’s just stupid.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      So true! I’m related to some people that have that line of thinking, and it makes me just want to shake them lol. I bet you have similar feelings sometimes 🙂

  9. Oh I’m so happy to see this post! lol

    Not related to Black Friday, but every year I’m always frustrated by the number of people who clamor over the “free turkey” deals at grocery stores. It’s not really free if you have to force yourself to spend $150 on a bunch of other stuff you don’t need! 😛

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Thanks! It’s totally true! I mean, if you can spend $150 on non-perishable stuff that you’re actually going to use and it’s not marked up, go for it. But otherwise, it’s just ridiculous.

  10. We used to go nuts on Black Friday, but those days are long gone and it just give me a headache now. We may shop a bit just because we’ll be in the city for Thanksgiving and we have no stores where we live, but we won’t be lined up in the cold. I’m thinking around 10AM and only if there isn’t huge crowds.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      10 A.M. sounds perfect to me! Make sure to report back your purchases so we can keep you accountable 😉

  11. No way to Black Friday. Never done it and never want to try, ever. When I first signed up for Groupon I got an email about 75% off for a comforter. My husband and I had a queen sized bed and we only had throws and full size comforters. I wanted a comforter to fit the bed so we picked one out. It ended up being pretty cheaply made and hubby prefers his throw blankets instead so it barely gets used. Instead of jumping at the deal, I could have searched online for a nice comforter for a similar price.

    1. Ugh, I hear ya. Some deals are just too good to be true =/

    2. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      That sucks! I’ve gotten some pretty shoddy stuff through Groupon too. I never use them for actual products anymore. Mainly just for restaurants anymore.

  12. I’m very guilty of buying clothes that either don’t fit right, don’t look right, or are just bad purchases because they were on sale. I almost fell into that trap yesterday with a “buy 2 get 1 free” deal on basic shirts – they were all sheer and didn’t fit right but get one free!! Thankfully I walked away, this time…

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      High five! That just means it will be even easier to resist next time!

  13. I must admit there have been a few occasions in which I’ve gotten t-shirts and tank tops just because they were $9.99 or less. Most of the time I use discounts to buy things I need.

    I know a lot of Canadians enjoy going down to the states to partake in Black Friday Sales. I’m not a big fan of shopping or crowds so I tend to stay away from that and stay local. I used to do a lot cross border shopping with my parents as a kid though.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Yeah, you’re not really missing much. It’s sad, but I’m wondering how many people will get killed this year because some stupid parent wants some stupid toy for their kid.

  14. You hit the nail on the head Ben. Most retailers use all sorts of gimmicks to try and trick us into thinking they’re allowing us to save all sorts of money, when in fact we’re spending more. We get to see it from the other side as we work in advertising and they use these gimmicks all the time. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it in the past, but not really any more. As for going out on Black Friday – I’d rather get a frontal lobotomy. 😉

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Haha yeah I’m not sure I’d go that far either, but I’d come pretty close!

  15. I totally agree about unsubscribing to lists. It just takes that temptation away. And I always think when you are ready to actually purchase something, you will find a discount somewhere. No, I don’t plan on shopping on black friday.

    1. I might go out for ONE THING! That’s it, I swear!

    2. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Yep, that’s exactly it. You just need to wait and you’ll find it at the right price every time.

  16. I don’t do Black Friday in-stores anymore– Amazon has everything I need on sale in one place, and I don’t have to fight the weather or strangers to get it!

    1. I like online shopping when I really need something!

    2. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      I love online shopping. I’ve never participated in Cyber Monday or anything like that though. Any experiences with that?

  17. I generally buy a bit more to get free shipping but not because it is heavily discounted. I try to stock up on something I’ll need later, although I often end up with a year worth of XYZ and sometimes throw some away when I move house.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Yeah, I don’t see a problem with spending a little more on something you’re actually going to use. But that does become a problem when things end up expiring or it just gets wasted. My wife’s grandparents have a whole storage area full of expired food because they keep buying food at Costco “because it’s cheaper”, but with the two of them, they can’t eat even half of it before it goes bad.

  18. I don’t think we’re doing any Black Friday shopping this year.

    I mentioned a couple things I was hoping would be on sale at Joann Fabrics and my husband asked what the regular price was. I know him well enough to know that he was calculating the price discount and figuring that gas to make a trip into town (we live in the boonies) would not be worth the savings, when I could stop by and buy the items at regular price when I’m already going to be in town. Or better yet, maybe the deal will be online too!

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      I’m always wary when my wife wants to shop at Joann 🙂 But that’s because she wants everything! It doesn’t matter if there’s a deal or not lol

  19. I always ask myself if I really need something when it’s on a great sale. I try not to fall for the advertising gimmicks! I generally only look for things on sale that I’ve previously determined I need. I will hold out on a purchase to see if it will go on sale within a few weeks. I feel much better scoring a great deal on something meaningful than I do purchasing a random thing I found browsing the clearance rack. If you’re saying, “oh I’ll find a use for it,” you’re probably lying to yourself.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Agreed! I really think that’s the best way to do it! And it’s silly to find uses for something you don’t need, because then you are not only wasting your money, but also your time!

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Word. 🙂

  20. You have to wonder what the true cost analysis is when you factor in the time those people spend camping out. Sure, something might be heavily discounted and save you 200 dollars. Then you spend a day camping out by the store to make sure you get the item. That would break down to $8.33 an hour. I’m pretty sure you could have gotten a better return on your time by doing something else.

    The other thought is the really cheap items might be of poor quality. A $98 32″ TV is not a deal if it dies within a year and I have to pay full price for a quality one anyways.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      So true! My time is definitely worth more than that to me.

  21. My biggest pet peeve is the BOGO deal, buy 1, get 1 for 50% off. I have never seen one of those where I actually needed or could use the 2nd one but I always say “I should probably get the 2nd, heck, it is 50% off.” But fortunately I always talk myself out of it.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Yep, those ones drive me nuts too. It rarely makes sense, but just like someone previously said, we generally find uses for the second one just to make ourselves feel good about buying it.

  22. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    I used to be lulled into crazy deals on clothing items like coats and shoes. But then you realize, if you only wear that coat once, you paid $20 to wear it once! Nothing is wasting more money.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Sounds like an argument I lost when talking to my wife about her wedding dress 😉

  23. I totally know where you’re coming from when you doubt discounts for their true value. Lots of people hunt for good monetary value and not always functional value. A friend of mine went to a warehouse retailer and bought a small carton of crisp at 40% off. But what an unhealthy purchase that was.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      haha yeah it’s interesting what people do in the name of being rational, isn’t it? 🙂

  24. Whenever I get one of those ValuePack coupon booklets in the mail, this topic is pretty much all I can think about.

    All of the coupons in there would be things that are “nice” to have, but are things that I don’t buy in my required daily life. By “saving” money, you are really just being promoted to spend more money in the first place.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Those ones are horrible. I can never find anything in there that’s actually valuable. It’s all just extra crap no one needs.

  25. We have ignored the BF sales (many stores had it one week before in my country – don’t ask me, don’t know why) and saved a lot of money. I’d rather shop when I NEED something and look for a good deal, than to waste money just because some useless junk is on sale.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:


  26. It’s one of the beauties of marketing also the weakness of human mind. The “Spend this much $$$ to save this much” trickery just makes you spend even more on things that you don’t really need.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      Seriously. Sounds like marketing is a great place to be! There’s never a shortage of dummies out there 🙂

  27. This is funny, because my fiance is always saying this about my dad’s spending habits. “He’s always spending a lot of money on stuff that’s on “sale” that he doesn’t need”. He’s right, often many people will spend a lot to save a little on something they would never otherwise buy.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      It’s true! Some people just don’t get it.

  28. When I was younger and had just started to earn on my own, I am really guilty with this. I used to shop around even for those things that are not useful to me because of the discount I can get. But right now, I am wiser in choosing which discounts I can really save up.

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

      That’s great! There’s always an opportunity to make changes for the better.

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