Save 20%. Save $5. Buy stuff and save. It’s the siren song that coaxes us inside the stores that we weren’t planning on stopping in.
As consumers, a sale sign, text, or email alert boasting “coupon inside!!” drives us to scratch a spending itch. It’s permission to act on the consumerist instincts we’ve been conditioned to exploit.
We see a sale, we spend less money than we would have on something, and what happens? We walk away feeling accomplished, rewarded, gratified. After all, we took advantage of an opportunity to spend less!
But are we really saving money by pouncing on all of those sales? Or has the retail world fixed rose-colored glasses upon the reality of spending, merely disguising the sale as a method of saving?
The Allure of the Sale
Think about the last time you found yourself inside a store advertising deals like BOGOs, discounts, mark-downs, last chance items, and limited-time-only-must-haves. Evaluate your purchasing decisions. Was the purchase motivated by an impulse to fulfill a want or did necessity drive it? Did you already plan on buying said items? Or did the event of a sale convince you?
Odds are, your sights were set on something you wanted in the moment rather than something you already knew you needed and planned on getting. The urgency and appeal of the ad promising a once-in-a-lifetime sale goaded you into thinking that you just had to have the sale item, and quick.
It’s an easy trap to fall in once a sale catches your eye, and you’re not alone. According to a study conducted by Slickdeals, Americans spend an average of $450 per month on impulse buys.
The Promise of Saving
The hook that snags some of us into the midst of an impromptu shopping spree is the appeal of saving money on one thing by purchasing other things.
Think about it.
Let’s say that, on one particular day, four $18-shirts weren’t something you planned on buying. But suddenly, they were something you needed because you couldn’t pass up the four-for-the-price-of-three deal (ending tomorrow!) slapped on the t-shirt rack.
Let’s also say that you only liked the navy shirt, but you couldn’t pass up the deal precisely as advertised. So you also added the red, green, and white shirt to your cart, too. Besides, “saving” $18 adds to the clothing’s appeal, at least in that instant. You’ll find a place for them in your wardrobe eventually…maybe.
Not only can you convince yourself that the value of four-for-the-price-of-three shirts is worth it, but you may also fall into the habit of justifying unnecessary purchases that you may not make use of down the line.
The Reality of the Sale
To truly save, we have to be mindful of the tactics we use to justify superfluous spending like saying, “But I bought four shirts for $54! That’s a $72 value! I saved $18.”
Sure, you may be buying an item or items at a discounted price, but you’re still spending the money needed to make that purchase.
Next time you find yourself in a store on a sale-guided whim, remember that spending $54 for the sake of saving $18 may not be the best bargain, especially when it wasn’t your intention. Next time, remember that if you opt to buy three $18 shirts for the price of four when you only wanted one shirt, you’re spending 36 more dollars than you would have if you only bought the one you wanted in the first place.
Evade the allure of the sale and reframe the way you think. Spending is spending, not saving. At least, not unless you’re stowing the $18 you “saved” into your savings account.
Sales and their supposed correlation to saving driven by advertisements can be a ruse—an excuse or justification we use to coddle the guilt out of our unnecessary spending decisions. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of sales, but to be wary of misleading and constant calls-to-action.