Who has the time (or money) for deals?

Photo: Ben Ostrowsky

I pay almost no attention to "deals" sites. I scarcely even read the lists of deals here on Wise Bread. There are several reasons, but they pretty much come down to two things: I don't have the time, or the money, to pay attention to deals.

In the abstract, deals are great. And, of course, actual concrete deals that you can use are even better. My wife, who does most of our grocery shopping, gets the grocery store fliers and plans shopping trips around what's cheap at the nearby places where we're going to buy our groceries anyway. But I think that's key: deals only save you money if they let you pay less for stuff you were going to buy anyway.

Lists of random deals, though, don't provide that. In fact, I find a list of random deals is usually just a big waste of time — because it consists almost entirely of things that I had no plan to buy.

In practice, it's even worse than that: a list of random deals is (and is intended to be) a temptation to buy stuff I don't need. After all, that's the whole point of deals.

The only good result from spending time trawling through deal lists is the happy coincidence of finding exactly what you were going to buy at an especially good price. The usual result — finding nothing I need — means that it was a big waste of time. The other possible result — finding something that I wasn't going to buy, but that's so attractive I end up buying it anyway — is a big waste of money.

I do sometimes go the other way around — decide that I want to buy something and then look around for a great deal. The companies that offer deals, of course, try pretty hard to make that effort unsuccessful. After all, the point of the deal is not to save you money, it's to get you so spend money that you otherwise wouldn't have. Once you've decided to spend the money, there's no point in giving you a deal.

The internet is a useful tool for finding a good price, once you've decided to buy something. It's more useful for finding ordinary low prices, though, rather than great deals. Happily, that turns out to be more useful to me than lists of deals.

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Guest's picture

Of course you're right, but I suspect you're someone who doesn't like to shop in general. For lots of us, shopping is recreation whether we buy anything or not. Admittedly, most of us are women, but I hate to stereotype.

Philip Brewer's picture


I actually enjoy some aspects of shopping.  (The only part I really dislike is going to places devoted to shopping, like malls.)  It's true, though, that I don't much engage in undirected shopping.  When I shop it's almost always because I've decided that I need something and I'm investigating what's available so that I can decide what I want and try to find the best price.

As hobbies go, shopping at least has the advantage that you can make it as cheap as you like--even free, if you include the subcategory of window shopping.

Guest's picture

I agree with you on trawling bargain sites, but I still utilize them in a different way. I have a small list of items I'm usually looking for and I use feedfilter.com to automatically search the feeds of such bargain sites for the items I actually care about. If there's a "bargain" I actually care about, it pops up in Google Reader. The rest (meaning the 99% I don't care about)? I don't even see them.

Philip Brewer's picture


Yeah!  If you can get a technological solution to work, that's great. 

Sometimes, other people who follow deal sites for their own reasons who will let you know when they spot something they think you'll be interested in--very useful if they're highly accurate in guessing what you'll be interested in.  Very narrow-purpose deal sites (just cameras, say, or just baby products) can be useful if you're interested in their narrow purpose.

Guest's picture

When I went to feedfilter.com, it looks like one of those placeholder webpages with lots of advertisements and links to catch the attention of search engines.

Guest's picture
Amy K.

I seldom go yardsaling because I know I'll come home with things I don't need. I went this weekend and picked up 2 things I had been mulling over but refused to pay retail for, and yes, a few things I did not need.

On the upside, I didn't spend much on the extras. On the downside, I have clutter. If I did this one weekend a month, I'd have a mountain of clutter and wonder where my time went. Going only once in a great while keeps me in check.

Guest's picture

It just launched a few days ago, but it's gotten a lot of great coverage in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.

Go to Ask.com, click on Deal$, then you can either search for something specific or browse the categories.

Worth checking out!

Guest's picture

I agree with you that sometimes one may spend more money than originally intended when seeking for deals. However, I've found that the time I put into looking for them really does save me money even after factoring in the time.

When it comes to grocery shopping, I put in about 2 hours of deal searching/reading flyers/ getting coupons together every two weeks and I end up saving enough to make the time worth it. When you go to a grocery store and purchase $100 dollars worth of groceries (and yes, they are things we use), for only $25-35 dollars, I consider that time well spent.

Guest's picture

I try to use the deal sites mostly to check for a deal on something we have already decided we need. I do this for grocery coupons also. I see no reason to buy packaged foods or drug store items just because they are on sale or there is a coupon.

One that works well is finding an item we want and then going to check for coupon codes, sales, or other deals we can use to lower the price. We end up buying a good amount of our clothing online due to the stores here having limited offerings. So I have had good luck grabbing coupon codes to get an additional discount or free shipping. Already on sale with a coupon and something you already decided you need uses far less time that just cruising deal sites.

I do check the various deal sites about once a month for free magazine subscriptions. I get about four or five better magazines free for a year. That is worth the small amount of time I spend checking.

Guest's picture

I have automatically archived all of the "sale notification" emails for just that reason. If and when I feel like shopping for clothes, electronics, or leather goods, I can search my gmail for the sale email. Otherwise, it's nothing but a temptation to buy that which I don't need.

Guest's picture

I agree. Look for deals only when you've already decided you are going to purchase an item. Otherwise, the temptation to buy something you don't need or want (just because it is on sale) rears its ugly head. We've all been there.

Likewise, the price club type stores tend to encourage similar bad habits in many people. And just because you use something you bought on sale does not mean it cost you less. How many times do you end up eating some food in your cupboard just because it will go to waste if you don't? Did you really want it in the first place? It takes a lot of self-knowledge and discipline to evade the consumerism trap.

Guest's picture
pam munro

Since I work at home, I use my downtime to trawl for freebies and deals. I find that sites like www.graveyardmall.com and the better known www.overstock.com have rock bottom deals - I also find hints here at Wise Bread's deal of the day! (Also on email lists - & buy, at Avon, for ex. when they have sales and offer FREE shipping, etc.)

Guest's picture

http://www.feedfilter.com/ goes to a junk site. Did Trent mean something else?

Guest's picture

This is the first time I have seen these thoughts expressed so clearly. I always wondered what was "wrong" with me that I didn't see the need to pour through ads and all the sites on the Internet to get coupons, etc. I have figured out that I just don't need that much. And I will get into trouble trawling those sites. After all, I LOVE to shop. However, bringing in more stuff is not needed, nor is the spending desirable right now (probably ever, though I don't know that intuitively yet). I don't even do a lot of reading the grocery ads because most of the fresh stuff doesnt' get put on sale and I am not convinced that going to several different stores is worth a few cents, or even dollars.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

There's a beautiful relevant quote in our book (10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget):

Just because the caviar is half-price, doesn't mean it's in the budget!

Guest's picture

Thanks so much for posting this, your thoughts really crystalized for me what annoys me so much about the wisebread deals of the day posts! I've looked through them a couple of times, but it's never anything I need, and always felt like a total waste of time - to the point that now I just skip past them in google reader without even reading. They actually feel more like a negative aspect of the blog to me than anything else...

When I decide I need to buy something, I use froogle, and then (for a given site) retailmenot to try to get the best deal... But I pretty much never just go trolling for random deals. Although sometimes friends who do find stuff that they know I'd like, and send me the link - that can come in pretty handy...

Thanks for the great post!

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

I personally hate shopping, but when I do need to buy something, I feel like I'm not getting the best deal possible because I'm not an avid deals shopper.  So while I don't like trolling deals sites (and deals lists like we have at Wise Bread), I very much appreciate the folks who do, because when I do need a TV or jacket or flight to Berlin, I ask one of my savvy deal hunting friends to find the best deal for me.  It's awesome. :)

Carrie Kirby's picture

Philip, you've struck on an issue I think about a lot -- the irony when those of us who profess to be frugal spend so much of our time and money chasing deals. Sometimes it's more about the rush of the deal than the actual financial goals we'd like to reach.

That said, I adore the deal blog Wantnot.net because the author has good taste and often posts unusually good prices on things that make good gifts. With a social butterfly 5-year-old in the house, I am on the hook for a birthday party gift every 6 weeks or so. When I see a great price on a toy on Wantnot or W00tkids, I buy a bunch of them and that's what kids are getting for the next few months.

Guest's picture

I find that knowing the market place and price is the best way to go. I don't like to buy anything today...rather I would far rather follow the price of items that I "need", ok really, really want for a considerable amount of time. Patience can really pay off. I have found the items used on Craigslist, reconditioned online, ebay, or even retail on clearance. I learn to really know the prices and know when it is truly a bargain. I had an instance last week for instance on an item that I waited over a year...pushed my old equipment for that year while I waited and watched...and was able to acquire the item for half price literally on ebay. I noticed that unlike this time last year, there were no competing bidders on the item. Knowing your prices is something that applies to any and every product.

Guest's picture

I used to be a big couponer, but have pretty much given it up. Most of the coupons are for things that I wouldn't buy anyway. So I just watch the sales, and dollar store prices are quite reasonable all the time. It's harder out here in the boonies, no big box's for bargains.

Guest's picture

Figure out what you want to buy, then look for a deal to match your needs. If you wade through the muck (random L@@K! HOT BUY! posts), then you are definitely wasting your time and money.

Guest's picture

I used to have Slickdeals as my home page, but was spending too much money on stuff, that although nice to have, I didn't need!

Now, I am able to stay on budget by avoiding temptation.

Guest's picture
Lauren McCormick

Where is the feed filter site you wanted us to go to? The site I got doesn't do anything. PLEASE update us with the right site! Thanks

Guest's picture

I check every 1-3 days here and have found sales plus free shipping for a set of new tennis shoes, walking Tevas and a Cabelas parka each under $30. Dozens of coupons for free things that come in handy on the road for fast food or office items. Finally the most fun is finding the not too tedious and personal information divulging give aways. It's like a Christmas surprise in the mail when packets of samples or test items are delivered.

Guest's picture

I can't tell you how reassuring it is to see this article! My friends and I came to the same conclusion about the inefficiencies of finding sales. Great sales are out there but it takes a lot of work to find them.

Since we're software engineers, we've been working on a website for the past few months that lets you search for sales on items you already want to buy based on location (everything is plotted on a google map).

The idea is to make it so that finding relevant sales doesn't actually take any time. The site is www.mapyeti.com, and it's still in its infancy but I'd love to hear what you think about it!

Guest's picture

I have every intention of surfing the coupon sites for the best deals, etc but after about 2/3 minutes I feel like banging my head against the wall as there is just too much information on there. How does anyone find anything useful on these sites?

Guest's picture

my strategy is know what i want to buy and then look around deals website to see if i can find better price or deals

Guest's picture

I agree with this post for the most part. I wrote a similar one here: http://www.talkingcentsblog.com/2010/10/18/just-dont-shop/

But I think you nailed home the point a little better. I also believe that deal sites can be very useful. The value of a person's time may vary, so some won't mind trawling the internet for deals. For me, I'll often check out deal sites when there's literally nothing else to do at that moment. To me, the few minutes it takes to look are worth it in case I find something that I want/need at a good price. Just try not getting into the habit of buying every little "deal" that you come across.

Guest's picture

I think deals are great it keeps a competitiveness about different retailers. Sure it can make you loose sight of what you were really going to buy. But if I'm at the grocery store picking up food and while I'm shopping I see grapes on sale for dollar per lbs and they are normally three dollars per lbs. Sure I wasn't planning on buying them but I will enjoy eating them and feel good that I got them at that price. Sure food is different than if I was to see an electronic item on sale or clothing but if its something you can use and the deal is right I will still consider the purchase.

Guest's picture

I respectfully disagree! I think long term, scouting for deals can save you a ton of money. Sure if you aren't careful, you could wind up indulging just for "deals" sake. But I am a firm believer in the good ol' gift closet!

I scout for deals year round so I can keep my gift closet well stocked. Never again do I have to rush out the week or day before a birthday party and pay full price for a gift. Instead, I just shop in my closet!

So, even though I might be biased (having a deal site of my own), I think that daily deal seeking can be a great way to save time AND money.