You Can’t Save if You Don’t Try
There has been much discussion about whether certain money-saving strategies are worth your time. Our own Philip Brewer recently gave his two-cents on how much his time may be worth in relation to some of the more popular “free money” offers out there (great article). In a recent article in Parade Magazine, Tim Harford alerts us to “Bargains That Aren’t.” Here’s why I disagree, and how I’ve successfully cashed in where others have walked away.
The “Bargains That Aren’t” article is available online for anyone who wants the unabridged scoop. Basically, it gives six common ways people try to save money and how behavioral economists have deemed them to be more harm than good. While the article does bring up some valid points, there are always ways around the lure of spending more, and many disciplined shoppers (including myself) have found at least some of them to be great opportunities to stash some cash. Let’s take a look at the presumptive examples:
Anything you buy on credit – I don’t disagree with Mr. Harford’s stance that using a credit card can lead to higher spending habits. The sky-high consumer debt numbers confirm this fact. But to discount the value that a low-interest rate card in the right hands can have is irresponsible. When handled the right way, credit cards have provided many people with liquid funds when they need it. Small business owners, especially, find credit cards to be the tool they need to succeed and thrive. (I myself have been fortunate enough to have a variety of very good cards to help in my business purchases while waiting on client payments. Plus, I can’t even tell you how much I’ve earned in rewards!) By keeping my debt to available credit ratio extremely low, my credit score has increased dramatically over the past two years – from average to excellent with relatively little effort.
Mid-Ranged Products – I’ll file this topic into my “Good to Know” folder. I hadn’t totally considered the effects that marketing certain high-end products could have on purchasing decisions at the mid-price level. (Although I doubt it affects me too much – I’m more of a “I got it on Craigslist” type of girl.)
Manufacturer’s Rebates – You don’t have to be a CVS fangirl or a couponaholic to understand how unfounded it is to claim that rebates are all-in-all a bad deal. The article claims that less than half of all rebates are successfully redeemed (and therefore leads readers to believe they should be avoided.) But why is this? While I admit that some companies have made it increasingly difficult to redeem rebates, it isn’t exactly rocket science. If you want that $25 back on a PC upgrade, make a copy and mail your stuff in on time. If you don’t want it, don’t do anything. But please don’t assume that it’s something most people can’t get a grasp on.
If you really want the money, you’ll follow through. And while rebates can “lure” many into buying something they don’t want or need, I am a living example of the opposite. I have waited months (even years) to find the right combination of sale price and rebate to get luxury items at almost no cost and not effort. My favorite purchases (including my iRobot Roomba) were examples of successful rebates. To date, I’ve had little to no trouble redeeming them through reputable companies when following their guidelines.
An Ebay Auction Deal – Here is another example of where consumers are presented as the “victims” in this article. The allure of auctions is made out to be so powerful that many don’t know when to stop bidding, thus paying more for their purchases than they would have otherwise. I equate this to gambling in some ways. The thrill of the bid is a sign of deeper problems, in my opinion. (And the article actually gives some good advice to pick a price and walk away if the auction goes any higher.)
Free Stuff – I’ll agree with the article on this point (kind of.) People tend to buy something overpriced or unnecessary because of the emotional reaction that getting another item “free” can give them. This is obviously not a good choice. The article went on, however, to compare buying a overpriced DVD player (with free DVD) to free entry into a museum or gallery (claiming that the time spent in line is most costly.) It is still up to each individual to decide what their time is worth – please don’t decide this for me.
Yearly Gym Memberships – This one is either a great deal or not. It’s up to you and your lifestyle entirely. The key is to know yourself well enough to know if you will really use that membership, and plan accordingly.
The Parade article has readers’ best interests in mind, I’m sure. But I try to avoid generalizing consumers’ spending habits by labeling any deal as a time-waster, a money-trap, or beyond the comprehension and abilities of all shoppers. Instead of crossing rebates, auctions, and the other “bargains” off the savings list, why not teach the steps to success and let buyers make the right choices for themselves? While these ideas aren’t for everyone, you might just be surprised at your own financial savvy – when you take the time to learn and try!