90% off is not a deal if you don’t need it.

Photo: Tim Parkinson

I found myself in a strange battle of wills last week. My favorite store, Target, was having another one of those spectacular sales. Red tags featuring the 75% off, and the rare 90% off, sticker were scattered far and wide throughout the store. And try as I might, I could not find a reason to buy anything.

It was hard work leaving the store empty-handed. Some of the items were reduced from $40 to just $4. Others were down from $120 to $30. Deals, deals, deals. The one I had the most trouble leaving alone was a beautiful full sized comforter set, down from $80 to $20. Great color, good fabric, a steal.

Trouble is, we don’t own a full sized bed. So I stood there thinking “hmm, could I buy it and sell it, maybe make a few bucks?” and “do I get this now, just in case we get a full sized bed?” What was I doing? “Leave it alone!” I screamed internally. Then I walked, quickly, out of the store. I initially felt like a fool for not getting anything, but later realized I had done the right thing.

This is a quandary I often find myself in. As a deal hound, I can sniff out a bargain at 100ft. But then I just can’t leave it alone. The fact that it’s a deal turns off, for a moment anyway, that part of my brain that says “but you don’t need it…walk away.” Is it greed? You bet, I admit it. It’s also preparing for those times of feast or famine, too. I grew up in a poor family and if my folks saw something on sale they would grab it, even if they didn’t need it until months, or even years, later.

So, what’s my advice if you’re as tempted as I am? It’s simply this…take a moment. If you see an incredible deal, don’t just pop it into your shopping cart, take it home and then leave it to rot in your garage or basement.

Simply stop and think…do I need this? Will I use this? If I’m buying it to sell, will I actually go through with it? Often that pause is enough to stop yourself getting a bargain that’s really not a bargain at all. Saving $36 on a $40 item is not much of a deal if that $4 could have been spent on something you really do need.

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Guest's picture

It's such an obvious point that something's not a deal if you don't actually need to buy it but it's one that so often gets overlooked. It used to drive me nuts at the grocery store when they would circle the amount I'd "saved" because I had their club cards. My internal response was always along the lines of "I didn't SAVE anything, I spent $50.00". Of course, if you're going to buy something anyway then you should definitely look for those deals but you're totally right that you need to take a moment and see if you really need something before you buy it. A great deal is hard to pass up but it's easy to waste a lot of money on things that you don't need because of those deals. Congrats on walking away!

Guest's picture

and I used to buy stuff because it was a good deal, whether or not I needed it. I finally (most of the time) am able to say, spending $0 is cheaper than $2 for a $40 item I don't need.

Guest's picture

Agreed. Now please forward this to my spouse for me, who glazes over and salivates at the appearance of just about any XX% off solicitation from favorite vendors. Somehow, I'm just not convincing enough on this point.

Seriously, what happens when only one of a couple understands these issues for what they are and the other doesn't quite? Don't misunderstand: I too am tempted by discounts for unneeded items. But I tend to snap out of it more quickly and before plunking down the cash.

Paul Michael's picture

which was eerily true for a lot of people. A lady comes home with a microwave and a pair of shoes. The husband says "we didn't need a new microwave, the old one was fine." To which she replies "Yeah, but it was on sale, and with the money I saved I bought this great pair of shoes."

I'm not sure what you can do to convince your spouse of this point, but one way would be to collect everything together that she's bought on sale and display it in one room. And then ask her how much she uses each item. She may quickly see exectly what has been going on if all the evidence is in one place. This is often a way to convince shopping addicts that they have a problem, too.

Guest's picture

What keeps me away from sale items I don't need is - the cost of ownership. Even if you get something for free you have to pay to store and maintain it. Too much unused stuff is clutter which may have a negative impact on your life. You might even have to pay to dispose of it.

Guest's picture
Christine corgi

The best way to save money is to not spend it.

Guest's picture

I can't tell you how many times I found something on sale that I had already, and it was a fantastic buy. I wanted to buy it so I could feel like a got a deal, even though I didn't need it. Yeah, being a bargain hound can be really painful.

Guest's picture

I have to admit, when I read this post and saw the red 'sale' signs in the photo, I started getting the shopping itch. I actually considered going to Target's website to see if there were any good deals left. . . .

There's something about those red clearance tags that just get my heart beating a little quicker. It's almost like excitement or a rush. Even if I don't need anything, the idea of saving 90% on something (anything!) is almost too much to pass up.

I love Alyson's comment, that spending $0 is cheaper than spending $2 (even at 90% savings) on something I don't need. I'm going to try to remember this the next time those red tags call my name from the aisles of Target . . . . .

Guest's picture
martha in mobile

"you can good deal yourself all the way to the poorhouse."

Guest's picture

I come from a family of obsessive shoppers and collectors, my father being the worst at buying things on clearance that could be of no possible use to him. My dad's house is one of those scary packrat homes you hear about - rooms filled with stuff to the point of bursting, narrow pathways through kitchen and bedroom. He buys things like comforter sets all the time, except he buys a half dozen when there is only his bed in his entire house. He gives away stuff to my sister and myself, but the items are usually passed along to donation as they are either dated or completely useless.

As a result of growing up in a house like this, I had to break the habit of clearance shopping lust. My own husband berates me for not buying things I actually need due to my constant struggle on whether or not I REALLY need something.

Guest's picture
QL Girl

This is just too true!! Actually, I posted on my own website just yesterday about resisting those "good buys". (but my writing is in no way as good as yours!) I've fallen into this trap too many times. I can always come up with SOME way to use whatever's on sale, but that is beside the point...do I really need it? (Plus, if I have to spend money to save it, its not much of a saving is it?)

I'm seriously tackling the clutter in my life at this point, so this has really helped tame my buying impulses!