Necessary Evil: It’s only a bargain if you need it.


As is probably obvious, our budgeting system only works effectively if we adhere to it. (Whatta shocker.)

One of my favorite hand-staying mantras for shopping is “it’s only a bargain if I need it.” It’s only a good sale if it’s something I was going to purchase anyway. It’s only a valuable coupon if it’s already on my list. If I get a voucher for $1 off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (and I love me some ice cream), but it’s not on my shopping list (spoiler: it isn’t), then that coupon does not qualify as a great deal.

One of the easiest traps to fall into is the sale pit. Stores know that they can get far more impulse purchases out of people if they print out a “sale” sticker for an item. And clearance racks? Forget about it.  One of the big lessons I learned in my many years of retail is that the average consumer actually spends more money when they are using coupons than when they aren’t. Our brains have a funny little way of tricking us into thinking that we are being responsible with our money if we only spend $16 on that $25 bag (even if the alternative was to spend $0 and not buy another bag we don’t need.)

Here are three of my pet techniques for avoiding the bargain trap:

  • Make the grocery list before you scope for coupons.

Coupons can be a fantastic way to save some money. I’m a huge fan of buy-one-get-one deals and 10% off ads. By making the shopping list prior to glancing through the paper, I can ensure that I’m not tempted to go over my spending limit. If you happen to find a truly fantastic bargain on something you’d rather buy, switch it out for something else on your list, and keep your total consistent.

  • Avoid the clearance aisle.

It’s so tempting, walking past the cheap-as-dirt guilty pleasure aisle (as it’s so affectionately called in my house.) Resist! Be strong! Don’t even give yourself the opportunity to browse.

  • Shop with cash.

I know this one may sound counter-intuitive. Often people feel that carrying cash is dangerous, because it’s more likely to get spent on a whim. The beauty of this step lies in the assumption that you’ve made your budget and are sticking to it. If you want a spending allowance, put in in the expense list of your budget, and withdraw the allowance in cash. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. (At least until next month.)

What are your best practices for avoiding the song of the Sale Siren?


9 thoughts on “Necessary Evil: It’s only a bargain if you need it.

  1. I admit we have fallen prey to the “sale” and spent more than we wanted to in the grocery budget for example. We have done our best to catch up so we didn’t spend more over the course of the month. We also have a small stockpile budget now where if an item is on sale that we will use we can stock up on it. I agree many people see the “sale” sign and buzzers go off to spend. If one doesn’t have the cash or if it’s not in the budget that can pose a big problem with the budget and finances. It’s important to keep organized, budget and do the best you can to stick to the plan. It’s not easy but once we got into the rythmn it helped us see the bigger picture- Debt Freedom! Can’t argue with that can you now. Cheers

  2. A question we use in our house is “It was a great deal, but was it a great deal for you?” My husband and I love saving money, but we kept finding ourselves buying clothes that weren’t really right for us just because they were a great deal. Now we try to follow your advice to avoid the clearance aisle all together.

  3. I completed my “get out of debt” quest in January (yea!) and to help make that possible I stopped roaming around stores. I’ve always been a list maker, but I fell victim to taking the long aisle around Target when all I needed was dish soap and toilet paper. No roaming = no seeing things you don’t need but can’t imagine living without now that you’ve seen them. I’m enjoying reading your story! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you for commenting! 🙂 I’m so inspired by people like yourself who have successfully gotten out of debt. My husband and I are still in the process, but I foresee a huge celebration the day we make our last payments!

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