In case you hadn’t noticed, it seems that every month, a stack of ads appear in your post and email inbox on the same day you get paid or your pension check arrives. This is, of course, intentional, as merchants scramble to get your last pound before some other store gets it. Those ads often contain some real markdowns, and if you’re smart, you can save yourself a lot of money by taking advantage of them. We won’t get into a discussion of your relative smartness (or lack thereof) here, but a few tips on getting the best deals through such promotions might help you stretch your budget.
Is it really a bargain?
Markdowns that aren’t – Don’t immediately assume that the “sale” price is really a sale at all. Some merchants have been known to increase the regular selling price of an item, then “mark it down”, sometimes leaving it even higher than the original price.
Buy one, get one free (BOGO) sales – It is not that unusual to discover “sale” items that require you to purchase more than one in order to get the sale price. Do the math and compare the regular price of single items against the price you are charged for purchasing more than one. If a single item cost $3, and the “sale” price is $10 for three items, you are losing money by buying the sale item.
Is the shelf life of the product adequate – Merchants dramatically mark down prices for one of two reasons: either the item is a poor seller, and the merchant wants to unload it to make room on the shelves for faster moving items, or the item is approaching its best by date, and needs to be sold quickly or be discarded. Stores don’t like losing money, and would rather lose a part of their cost on some items than lose the entire amount. Stock that gathers dust for an inordinate period of time represents lost opportunity cost, because a single slow-moving item takes up as much room as a number of inventory items that sell more briskly. If shelf life isn’t a factor, and you will actually use the product, by all means, stock up when the price is deeply discounted. But if the item is only going to gather dust in your pantry, rather than the store shelf, it is no bargain. And if the product sits unused well beyond its best by date, you will likely end up either tossing it in the rubbish or eating it anyway, and regretting doing so in short order.
Items on special displays are not always on sale – Be aware of common marketing practices that are geared toward getting customers to purchase things to which they would normally not give a second glance. Stores will often place sale or coupon items at the end of the aisle, often completely apart from locations where similar products are stocked, and heralded with waving, highly-colored flags. Such items might be offered as a special promotion, but are just as often prominently displayed, and at their regular price. Customers will instinctively assume that such displays consist of sale items, and not bother comparing prices against competitive items.
Are you being seduced into buying?
If you weren’t hungry before you came in… – As with the end-of-aisle displays, most merchants will locate goods in a manner conducive to impulse sales. Have you ever noticed that stores with bakeries, delis, or coffee shops usually locate them near the entrance to the store? This is done so that customers see (and smell) the ready to eat or drink items immediately upon entering the store, and thus have their appetites whetted before they even begin to shop. We all remember the admonition not to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, but some foods will be appealing, even if we’ve just come away from a meal. Ironically, if a particularly enticing treat is being offered at a good price at the front-of-store bistros, a customer might actually find him or herself being a more frugal shopper after sampling the food. Yielding to the temptation once, at a good price, can help you refrain from grabbing up as many items that look enticing as you make your way through the store.
Samples can be hazardous to your budget – Shoppers really appreciate it when a store gives out free samples. Some people half-jokingly claim to make a meal of the samples offered, especially in the big box, warehouse stores. There is certainly no reason to avoid partaking of the samples, so long as proper cooking and handling practices are being observed. Bear in mind, however, that it is rarely the more economical products that are being given out, and yielding to temptation after sampling a tasty treat can prove costly. In addition, while the sample might be deliciously sweet or enticingly savory, ask yourself if it is something you will grow tired of before the product is fully consumed. This is particularly relevant where the more highly-seasoned samples are concerned, since a little bit of rich, spicy food goes a long way.
If you’ve managed to ignore every bit of the above advice, you might find yourself faced with a gargantuan bill at the checkout. Here, you have the option of picking through the items in your cart and removing those that are unessential, or that you found yourself seduced into purchasing. This is, of course, a highly embarrassing activity, certain to endear you to those waiting in line behind you. Alternatively, you could just turn about, looking altogether confused, and exit the store without your purchases, which will likely eliminate your desire (or welcome) to return to the store from your future shopping escapades. A third option, and one that is, we suspect, the most frequently chosen, is to bite the bullet and write a cheque, even if you lack the funds in your account to cover it. And at that point, you have two further options – to flee the country to avoid being arrested for writing bad cheques, or scramble to come up with the funds elsewhere, thus delaying the point at which you will have to come up with your own actual money. But that is an altogether different topic, deserving of its own post. Happy shopping!