Opinion | Sales save you neither money nor headaches

By Mark Toledano, Columnist

Buy one get one free! Half off! Everything must go! Sales are everywhere. They’re catchy and attention-grabbing. At first glance, they appear to be a way to save yourself some money. A lower price is less money out of your pocket, after all.

But the nominal value on the sales tag is not the only bit of information that gets calculated into the bottom line of a receipt; the supply and demand model of economics is always complicated by human psychology.

Are sales designed to save you money? Thanks to the impulse buying that sales can bring on, they often don’t. We all know how it goes. It starts harmlessly enough, thinking you’ll only buy a little. Ten minutes later, you’re buying more than your arms can carry.

Impulse shopping is a well-documented phenomenon that’s driven by a fear of missing out. Sale-induced “FOMO” plays on our evolutionary instinct to grab as much as we can, while we can. There are ways to outsmart these tactics, but they require conscious discipline.

Have you ever experienced buyer’s remorse? It’s easy to want something today and be uninterested in it tomorrow. Here’s a rule you can use to protect yourself from impulse buying on big purchases: for every $10 over $100, wait one day before buying. If you still want it after those few days, there’s a good chance you want the product and you’ll get good use out of it.

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Sales encourage excessive consumption. They get you to buy more than you would have if there were no special promotions. By not seeking out deals, I’ve found I consume far less. That’s a good thing. Good for the environment, good for my personal savings and suitable for my apartment, because I accumulate less clutter. Valuable items are ones that have a purpose other than collecting dust.

A better way to save money is to look for value. If you focus too much on price, you’re likely to sacrifice some quality. If you pay no attention to price, you’ll likely spend too much. Value combines price and quality. Get into a routine of finding goods you like that are affordable and durable.

Could sales ever save you money? Yes, if the product is something you would have bought even if it weren’t on sale. The best way to determine that is to stick to a routine, finding products of value you trust and buying them regularly. When those items get marked down, you know you’re getting maximum utility out of your money. Knowing which products to buy on sale will save you the big bucks.

There’s nothing wrong with spending your hard-earned money. There’s nothing wrong with splurging every now and then on treats. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. For most young adults, being able to splurge requires the discipline to be thrifty most of the time. Removing yourself from the hype of sales and consumerism allows you to do so.

Mark is a junior in ACES.

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