When Buying on Sale Isn’t Frugal

Make sure a sale item is a frugal purchase before forking over the money. I’m all about saving money.  You know that.  And I love sales.  I hate paying full price.  But there are some times when buying things on sale just isn’t the frugal thing to do.  You heard me.  Sometimes buying things on sale isn’t frugal.

When is buying something on sale not a good thing?

When you don’t need it

There’s no sense in spending money on something you don’t need.  You might see a sweater on sale for $9.99 down from $29.99, but it’s not a good deal if you have a week’s worth of sweaters sitting in your closet at home.  You’re spending $9.99 that you didn’t need to spend at all.

When you don’t have room for it

Clutter costs you in stress.  A cluttered home is a stressful home, as I’m finding out.  I recently got rid of 3/4 of my books.  Most of them were good deals from eBay, half.com, and other bargain places.  But they didn’t fit on my bookshelves, and I didn’t have room for all those books anywhere else.  I was stressed out from the clutter.  I can’t tell you how much better I feel now that my bookshelves are neatly filled with the remaining books that fit nicely.

If you buy something and don’t have room to store it, more than likely it will go unused, because you won’t have the room to use it.  I have a dream of buying a treadmill.  I love to walk, and the exercise would do me good.  But I know that I don’t have room to store a treadmill in a place that would make it easy to use.  So I know that even if I bought a treadmill at a great price, it would be a waste, because it would be a pain to store and use.  My guess is I’d use it for a week, and then I’d get sick of hauling it out and folding it up, and I’d stop using it.

When a sale isn’t a sale

It’s important to know your prices.  When I looked at the list for the Grocery Game this week, I noticed that taco shells were listed for $1.00 a box.  That’s a great price for my Grocery Game list store, Albertson’s.  But it’s more expensive than the regular price of taco shells at Winco, the other store I regularly shop at.  I know I can buy a box of taco shells for 79 cents at Winco.  Therefore, the sale price at Albertson’s would cost me more than paying full price at Winco.

When you buy too much

25 pounds of mangos for $10 isn’t a great deal if you won’t eat 25 pounds of mangos before they go bad.  Wastefulness is never frugal.  Before you buy a lot of something on sale, make sure you will be able to use it.

This is even true for things besides food and perishables.  If pumpkin pie spice scented candles are on clearance after Thanksgiving, figure out how many you’ll actually use, before buying 100 candles.  We live in a society where excess is the norm.  If one candle is good, 100 must be better right?  Wrong!  Don’t be excessive.  There’s no need to be.  Next year pumpkin pie spice candles will be on clearance again right after Thanksgiving.  So only buy what you will reasonably use in the next year.  Don’t go overboard.

The bottom line is that you always need to be aware.  Aware of what you need.  Aware of what things regularly cost.  Just because a store advertises something as “on sale” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good deal.

Have you ever fallen prey to a sale that wasn’t a great deal in the long run?  Are there other situations when buying something on sale isn’t necessarily frugal?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.


By , on Feb 18, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Very good advice. A lot of people still don’t realize that by making small, simple changes in their habits, it will affect their financial status in the end.

  2. Bonnie:

    Regarding what Matthew said….

    If I do find that the sale on Mango’s pencils out to be cheaper for 25lbs than it usually would be for 10lbs, then I ask myself, “Do I know people I could give mangos to?” If the answer is yes, then I buy them, and keep what I would normal eat, and give each extra one as a gift. I often give people really delicious fruit as gifts for no reason. It enriches my relationships with them in a unusual way. Imagine if after Church next Sunday, a friend came up to you with a cardboard box, that had two ripe (but not over ripe) mangos in it and gave them to you for no reason other than that they wanted to share something tasty with you.

    Sometimes I make the fruit into something. In the case of the Mangos I probably would make Mango salsa, and give some to a friend of mine that makes chicken 4 times a week for her family and I know she would really appreciate a new recipe to try, with the ingredients and instructions all provided.

    p.s. I do not give holiday or birthday gifts unless I am bringing the gift in response to a party that I am attending. So giving gifts throughout the year (especially healthy and tasty food) is a good way of letting people know that I care about them and am thinking about them, while removing myself from the merry go round of traditional gift giving.

  3. Mandy Cat:

    Several years ago my husband and I took a look at a bank-owned home for sale in our neighborhood. The house was still jam packed with bags of “stuff” — from Target, from Nordstroms, from Saks Fifth Avenue, from Bed Bath and Beyond ….. etc. Apparently the couple who had lost their home to foreclosure had hauled away as much as they could in their two fancy cars and left the rest behind.

    I’m guessing they bought a lot of their abandoned goodies on sale. The weirdest was a stack of electric irons in the garage.

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