When I get a good deal, I get an emotional high and am so excited I can’t stop talking about it (luckily I married a very patient man). But every once in a while I wonder whether, in my pursuit of a good bargain, I’m blind to additional costs.
Here are eight questions I ask myself to make sure the deals I’m getting are true bargains in every sense of the word.
1. Does the math add up?
This is likely a question you already ask yourself. Calculate the price per unit and ask yourself, can you get it for less? Saving 50 cents on a 5-oz tube of toothpaste that costs $3.50 is still more expensive per ounce than getting a 10-oz tube for $5 ($0.60/oz vs $0.50/oz). At the grocery store, despite having coupons for brand names, you can often get a better deal buying the generic version.
2. Are there any hidden fees or costs?
Particularly for internet purchases, don’t get so set on the sticker price that you miss shipping, taxes, and fees. I recently joined a co-op mom’s group where we pooled our purchasing power to get great deals on large quantities of products. For example, an 8-pack of reusable baby food pouches would be $23.47 instead of $39 on Amazon. But after accounting for the co-op fee ($4 to the “host” of the sale), shipping from the host to me ($8.05), and Paypal fees (3% of purchase plus $0.31 for initial payment and for shipping payment), my total was $36.84. Still a savings, but no longer a steal.
3. Are there any incidental costs?
Similar to “hidden” costs, but they don’t show up on your receipt. These are often transportation related, such as gas, parking, tolls, or food. One of my favorite day trips is to go to the Fashion District in downtown Los Angeles to hit up the fabric stores. But after driving 45 miles each way, parking, and eating lunch while I’m there, all the money I saved usually goes out the window, especially since I could order the items online and pay a nominal shipping fee.
4. Will this last?
I recently bought a generic adapter for my new iPhone for $14, vs buying the Apple-branded version for $36. But when it arrived, the plastic piece felt cheap and hollow, and I had to fidget with it for a while to get it to work. Since it’s a piece I’ll be using every day, it may have been a better “deal” to spring for a higher quality product with a better warranty. While it’s true that in some cases you’re paying far too much just for a brand name (Pottery Barn, anyone?), there are times when you get what you pay for.
5. Will I spend more than I meant to in pursuit of this deal?
Before leaping into a deal-filled environment (e.g. sample sales, dollar stores), realistically assess whether you can limit yourself to the deal you really need. In my case, I’m a sucker for the steals to be found at REI used gear sales (often 50-75% off retail price). But I go for one thing and always leave with a carload. Ask yourself if you can afford to “save” this much money!
6. Will I use this?
No matter how good the bargain, it isn’t saving you any money if it’s going to occupy your attic. Groceries in particular are easy to overstock, and may go bad before you can consume them. Make a realistic assessment of your needs and capabilities, and let yourself take a deep breath and let a good deal go if the item will be wasted in your hands.
7. How much time or sanity will I sacrifice to get this?
Beyond merely financial considerations, in the past few years I’ve begun to ask this question more often. It’s no longer worth two hours to search the internet to save $3. Or to wait two weeks for a sale to save $5 if the item in question will make my life easier for those two weeks! For years, my motto has been “retail price is for suckers!” I still argue with myself over this one, but realizing I’m “earning” $1.50 per hour for my time can help nudge me to buy and move on.
8. Will getting this deal negatively impact an important relationship?
Talk about hidden costs! While my husband appreciates my frugality on many levels, sometimes I drive him crazy trying to get a bargain on absolutely everything, and missing out on moments and activities we could be sharing in the meantime. While I still try to keep us on a budget, I realize my marriage is more important than whether my husband (who loves movies) goes to a matinee to save $4.
Whether the questions end up being about cents or sense, ultimately I’ve come to value a few intangibles over the bottom line. Because if I have to spend too much of my time or sanity, or if someone I care about bears the costs of my frugality, then I’m not getting a true bargain. And ultimately the greatest deals should serve my life, and not the other way around!
How do you evaluate a good deal?