When we see a great deal, we are inclined to think that we are “saving money.” Some store receipts even help with this illusion by giving you a total of your “savings” at the bottom, so you can see what a savvy shopper you are. However, in many cases, you might just be overspending when you think you are getting a good deal. Here are 3 ways you could be spending more than you should — even while thinking that great “deal” is “saving” you money:
1. Buying Bulk Items
At first glance, buying in bulk seems like an obvious way to save money. The per-unit cost is often (but not always, so watch out!) lower than the single item price. However, that doesn’t mean that you are actually saving money. My husband is about done with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology, and he tells me that there is an interesting study showing that if you have more, then you consume more, and that packaging makes a difference. The bigger the container, the more you consume.
Buying in bulk has much of the same implication. If you have a large amount of food that you bought in bulk, you are likely to adjust your consumption habits by eating more. The same is true of buying toilet paper or paper towels in bulk. The large amounts of these items can, in some cases, encourage you to use more, since you feel that it is “safe” to use these items liberally.
While you can sometimes save money by buying in bulk, it is important to make sure that you don’t increase your consumption as well. One way you can do this is to repackage bulk items when you get home, so that they are in smaller containers, encouraging slower consumption. Another area of concern is purchasing items that won’t go bad before you have a chance to use them.
2. Clearance and Sale Items
Sometimes we see that something is on sale. And we feel we need to get it, right now, or miss out. It might not be something that we need — or even want. However, if you are getting something just because it’s on sale, and you’re afraid it won’t be later, you are setting yourself up to overspend. Even if you buy something on clearance, you are spending money. If it’s money you weren’t planning on spending anyway, you aren’t actually saving anything, no matter how good the deal is.
Instead, evaluate the purchase. Is it something you actually plan on getting in the next few weeks? If so, it might be worth it to get the item while it is on sale. But if it’s something that you vaguely think “might be useful to have around”, you might end up spending when you should be staying your hand. The same goes for clearance. I bought a pair of jeans because they were $5. I didn’t like the fit, but bought them anyway because they were just $5. Those jeans are never worn, and I just wasted five perfectly good dollars that could have been spent on something I’d actually use. This is far from saving money.
3. Using a Credit Card
You’ve probably seen posts and articles based on a 2008 study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology showing that those who use plastic are more likely to spend more money than those that use cash. The thinking is that when you swipe your credit card, you aren’t watching the money disappear. You can’t physically see the money leaving your hand. Instead, you are able to look more at what you are purchasing, since using plastic is more abstract. You focus on what you are getting, and don’t worry so much about the cost. Once you stop thinking about the cost, it is easier to overspend. Couple that with the interests associated with carrying a balance when you realize that you have spent more than you can afford, and the problem magnifies itself.
You can help reduce the chance that you will overspend with plastic by keeping track when you get home. Get a receipt, and enter the amount in your personal finance software or a ledger at home. Holding yourself accountable can help you reduce the chances that you will overspend.