The August issue of O: The Oprah Magazine takes as its theme "Big Deals," with articles on how to find bargains in various realms of life (from personal care products to car loans) and literally hundreds of "bargains" available for purchase, most of them clothes, shoes, and makeup.
Reading the magazine was, for me, something of a roller coaster ride: I loved life coach Martha Beck's advice on how to know what not to spend money on, for example, but found myself almost whimpering at the page-after-page emphasis on stuff, and the encouragement to buy it because it's being offered at a discount.
Far too often, clients will show me items--and sometimes bags, closets, or even entire rooms full of items--that they don't use, don't need, and don't especially like, but that they purchased simply because the things were on sale and were "bargains." Almost inevitably, these "bargains" wind up in the Donate pile, or slink back to the bottom of a closet if the client can't bear to part with something he or she spent good money on.
So when is a bargain not a bargain? When it's something we buy not because we truly need it, will use it, or absolutely love it, but because it's on sale. Here's how to identify these un-bargains and prevent them from cluttering your space, causing you guilt, and emptying your wallet.
How will you know when something that seems to be a bargain in fact isn't? Put it to the test.
- Are you truly attracted to it before you see the price tag? If it's something that catches your eye on a store shelf or rack, in the pages of a catalog or magazine, or online before you see what it costs, it might be worth taking a closer look at. Is only the price tag what draws you in? Take a pass.
- Can you very, very honestly say you need it or love it? Note that I don't include "want it" on that list--and on purpose, because far too many of the bargains we buy are things we don't especially adore or have a true need for but simply think we want. If you need or love something and it's available at a good price, it might be a bargain. Just want it? Strongly reconsider.
- Is it in a color, shape, style, design, or size that's actually right for you? Buying a sweater that's a size too big or in a color you don't like simply because it's on sale is as much as waste of money (if not more so) than spending too much on one that's a perfect fit in your favorite shade.
- Is it a good deal based not on the original price, but on its value to you? If you'd normally spend, say, $80 on a table setting for 4, shelling out $160 for a designer set that's been marked down from $300 isn't a bargain. It's easy to get sucked in by amazement at how much something has been discounted, or how much you're hypothetically "saving" by buying it on sale rather than at full price, but if you're still spending more than you normally would, you're not getting a deal.
So, What Is a Bargain?
Now that you can spot and steer clear of un-bargains, here's how to know what is in fact a good deal.
- A lower price on something you really need or love. If you're in the market for, say, a new printer, have a budget of $200, and find a model with the features you're looking for on sale for $160, you've scored.
- Substantial savings on a splurge you've planned for. Waiting until late in the year to buy a new car, for example, can save you thousands of dollars if you opt for that year's model--a great bargain if you've been planning on a new set of wheels.
- A great price on something you have a definite use for. Some very budget-savvy folks will shop throughout the year for birthday and holiday gifts they know they have recipients for, as they might be more likely to discover a much lower price on something in July than in December. Saving cash on items you know you'll use is a good deal.
Living an organized life doesn't mean being an ascetic, never splurging, or not buying stuff you truly need or love, but it does mean learning to identify and steer clear of bargains that aren't really bargains. Put these tips to use the next time you're tempted to buy something that seems like too good a deal to pass up and you'll avoid making purchases that quickly turn into clutter and disappointment.