10 times a bargain isn’t really a bargain

I love to get a bargain. It’s a great feeling to find something that you really need (or maybe just really wanted) and walk out of the store knowing you got it for considerably less than its normal price.

But sometimes that bargain you thought you got wasn’t really such a bargain after all.

When is a bargain not really a bargainbargain

1. When you didn’t really need the item

Sure the TV was on sale for 40% off. But you are also working to get out of debt and barely making it month to month, not to mention your current TV is working just fine. Or perhaps you found a shirt you liked and it was in the clearance rack so it was a good deal. Except you have a closet full of clothes at home with shirts you haven’t worn in 3 years. Just because something is on sale or is a good deal doesn’t necessarily mean that you should buy it.

2. Liquidation or going out of business sales

Going out of business sales can be a good source of bargains but you need to be careful. Know the prices of the items. Sometimes the list price has been cranked up so that 25% off deal is really about the same price you would have paid the week before. Many times these sales gradually get bigger until everything is gone. I’ve often found though when it gets to 70% or 80% off, there’s really not much left most people would  want anyway. Another important consideration of going out of business sales, depending on what you are buying, is you may or may not have any recourse if your item is defective. If you are buying a $5 trinket it may not matter, but if you buying a $500 TV and it breaks a week after you get it, you might be in trouble.

3.  Rebates

Often times retailers will use rebates as way to entice you to buy a product. Most of the time these rebates are a legitimate way to save, but you have to understand there is often a certain hassle factor involved. First, you will generally have some paper work to fill out, which you will then often need to mail to a rebate center. You need to read the instructions on that paper work very carefully because some less than reputable rebate processors will use any little detail to reject the claim. The other problem is many times you will not get your rebate for 6-8 weeks after your claim is received. The problem is in 6-8 weeks you may well have forgotten all about your rebate and so if for some reason your check is not sent, you never even realize you never got your rebate. Another issue with rebates is some stores do not issue cash but instead simply give you in store credit. If you use that to buy something you would have bought anyhow, then maybe that’s ok, but if you buy stuff you don’t really need just use the credit, you really haven’t saved anything. Bottom line is there is nothing wrong with rebates, as long as you are willing to be diligent to make sure you really do get your money back.

4. If you’ll never be able to use all of the product

Warehouse clubs can be especially bad for this. Do you really need a 500 oz behemoth jar of mayonnaise even if the price per ounce is much less than you’d pay for a normal size jar? Unless you are running a restaurant or are seriously addicted to tuna salad the answer to that question is probably no. And if you end up having to throw out half the jar because it spoiled before you could use it, then you didn’t really get a bargain.

5. Packaging changes

And speaking of packaging, another place to be careful when if comes to bargains is packaging. One trend retailers have followed is slightly decreasing the the amount of actual product you get in the package. The size of the box of cereal may be the same, but while it used to contain 13 oz now it only contains 11 oz. You may feel like you are getting a bargain with the sale price but in reality you are getting less for your money than you were before. While this is somewhat of a fact of life that you really can’t change, it’s an important thing to pay attention to when you are trying to stretch your dollars as far as they’ll go.

6. Bait and switch

Black Friday is notorious for this. Many times stores will offer a great discount on an item to get you in the door but then when you get there you find out they only had 3 of them and they were gone 15 minutes after the store opened. They do this because they expect that you’ll decide as long as you are there, you may pick up a few other things that aren’t really bargains at all. If the sale item doesn’t say “while supplies last”, ask if the store will give you a rain check on the item. Many stores will, but few people ask.

7. Coupons vs. store brands

Sometimes coupons may seem like a good deal but aren’t really as good of a bargain as you might think. I’ve found that many times the store brand is just as good from a quality standpoint as the name brand, but it may be considerably less expensive. I have sometimes found that even with a coupon the name brand item is still more expensive than the store brand.

8. Misleading sales

It is important to do your research and know what the normal price is for the item you are looking to buy. Is the sale price a good deal? Or did they raise the sticker price 20% before putting up the 15% off sale price.

9. Cheap isn’t always better

While I am all for getting a good deal, sometimes cheap is just that – cheap! If the cheap item falls apart in just a few uses you didn’t really get a good deal. I used to buy dress shoes at a major discount shoe store. I wear my dress shoes everyday and I found over time the quality of my “bargain” shoes had deteriorated to where they were falling apart after just a couple months of use. I started buying shoes at a slightly more expensive store where the quality was better and my shoes last much longer so in the end I am getting much better value for my money.

10. Accessories

Lastly, be careful what “accessories” you need to buy with your bargain. Got a great deal on the new TV, but then I had to buy a new stand for it, and cables, and new speakers for my stereo so I’d get the full surround sound, and …. You get the idea.

So how do I make sure my bargain is really a bargain?

Knowledge is key. Do some research. Know your prices. Almost always the person that has the most knowledge will get the best bargain.

Be patient. Be willing to walk away if the deal isn’t that good. If you are willing to wait, eventually you’ll find a deal on what you need.

Getting a good deal feels great. Just make sure that the bargain you thought you received really is a bargain.

What tips can you share for making sure you get a bargain it really is a bargain?

Photo credit: Kevin Steinhardt (creative commons)

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