Budget Bzzzz: The Mystery of Sales

S.A.L.E. I love hearing and reading the word “sale,” because I know where there’s a sale, there is money to be saved. However, when it comes to finding deals in stores, it is important to understand the fine print. Sometimes, an item on sale ends up costing you the same amount, if not more, as the regularly priced item. Back in December, I read an article from The Washington Post titled “Why the money-conscious should beware the after-Christmas sale.” Writer Michelle Singletary states, “We have been brainwashed to see a sale as a thrilling event. It’s not. We’ve been bamboozled.” Later in the article, she says that the problem with sales is that we often don’t know whether or not the sale is truly a discount. As an example, two weeks before Christmas I noticed an item was “on sale” at the grocery store. Then, the week before Christmas, the same item was “on sale” again, but with a higher price. Why? Because retailers know you are going to pay the higher sale price, without noticing last week’s price, and still believe you have saved money. The end of the article gives readers a challenge, which is the same challenge I’m going to give you: be careful when it comes to sales and, before you fork over money, know whether or not it is actually going to put more money into your wallet. How do you do that? Continue reading and I’ll tell you.

  • As with any form of budgeting, it is important to plan and scope out the deals and sales ahead of time. It is also imperative to do the math and know the product’s regular price and exactly how much you’ll be saving with the purported sale. Retailers use psychological tricks to make shoppers think the closer it is to the holidays or on major sale days, such as Black Friday, the better the deal a person is getting. However, most of the time, sale prices go up as the days approach. To avoid this trap, try using apps, such as ShopAdvisor. This program alerts customers when products they want to purchase drop in price. If you are like me, you always wonder “Will the sale go any lower?” Think about what day you are shopping. Is it near a major holiday or sale day? If so, the answer is probably no and you should buy the item now. Is it an out of season purchase, such as Christmas wrapping paper at the beginning of January? It might decrease. This is the beauty of paying attention to apps to help you shop.
  • Another psychological trick that fools people is the “left-digit effect” or the difference of one cent in price. For example, more consumers will buy something if it is priced $x.99, instead of a whole number. In a 2009 study, researchers at Colorado State University and Washington State University ask participates to analyze two identical pens. The only variation between the two was their price – one was $2.00 and the other was $3.99. The study’s results showed that 44% of the participants chose the higher-priced pen, because they only noticed the 99 cents and not an even number.
  • Watch out for bulk bargains. There are times when items are placed on sale, but with a maximum limit. Research has found that having a limit makes sales jump, even if there is no discount. A person’s mind and the store’s marketing department cons one into thinking the product is on sale. So, the next time, ask if the “2 for $4” means if you are only purchasing one is it only $2.00 or regular price.
  • Lastly, notice the placement of certain items in a store. Normally, half-priced, pick-up purchases are at the entrance, because they get customers shopping immediately after walking into the shop. These products are known as “open-the-wallet” items and are displayed in an elaborate and random design. During the holidays, retailers began this ploy as early as October and hope it keeps consumers purchasing into November and December. Continue walking into the store if you are looking for the real deals. In addition, look at the position of products. For example, many stores will put two very similar, but different in price, items side by side, in hopes people will purchase the higher priced item. Be aware of the “compromise price effect” and look at the price tags. Also, keep in mind the quality of a product. Just because it is the lowest price or on sale, is it durable? Will it last a long time? Sometimes it pays off in the end to spend a little extra on quality purchases.

Shopping for items on sale is a great way to put extra cash in your wallet. However, it is important to shop smart and know whether or not the sale is actually worth it.


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