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To some extent, I’ve always been a marketer’s dream.
When I see a commercial for or email from a restaurant I even just sometimes eat at, I immediately want that company’s food. Red Robin, Wendy’s, DQ and it’s damnable delicious Blizzards, etc.
Physical items rarely tempt me as much, but once in a while a commercial or email will hit just right. And in the past couple of months, emails have gotten me.
Those of you who read my spending diaries know that last month, I got some new Skechers. And I did it because a Shoes.com email got me.
To be fair, I’d been unhappy with my current pairs* because I wasn’t able to find a solid black pair at the point where I needed to replace my old pairs ASAP. (Back and knee pain are usually how I know it’s time to replace my sneakers.)
The Shoes.com email had a $30 discount but it also mentioned a Skechers sale. That’s the brand I wear pretty much exclusively. So I thought “What the hell” and clicked through. And found the perfect pair for $40. They usually run $55 to $60. Meanwhile, Rakuten.com was having a crazy bonus rate of 15% cash back. (I prefer Mr. Rebates, since it usually has higher percentages, but I try to always rate compare just in case something like this happens.)
The only downside was that the coupon wouldn’t apply, presumably because the shoes were already a low price. But by the time I found that out, I’d already been sucked in. Damn you, marketing!
I hemmed and hawed a bit because I felt bad buying replacements for shoes that would easily hold up for another year, minimum. But the thought of wearing those shoes for that long actually made me a little sad. So after 40 minutes, I took a deep breath, reminded myself I had the money and placed the order.
The good news is that I love them. They look better and they have way more cushion than the other pair. Now I just have to figure out where I can donate the two pairs of my gray/black shoes so they don’t go to waste.
*I buy two of the same pair and alternate days, which allows each one to thoroughly dry out after use, thereby greatly extending the life of the shoe.
Around two weeks ago, I made the mistake of opening a tarte cosmetics email. I usually delete them because I don’t really need any more makeup — or the temptation. But there was a sale of up to 70% off.
I debated opening it. For like 10 seconds, anyway. Then I clicked through and… Purty colors! (I’m convinced I was a bower bird in a previous life.)
I put several items in my cart and was horrified by the total.
So I messaged a frugal friend and told her to talk me out of it. There are no parties or bars to go to. (Well, bars are open but… no.) I can’t go out a bunch and meeting dating app guys. Most days I don’t see anyone at all.
Alas, she failed at her job. She told me we’re living through an awful time, so if pretty new colors would make me happy I should just go for it. Another friend — one pursuing FI, so I expected better of her — said that if I have the money, why not buy something that will apparently make me happy?
I closed the tab and told myself I’d come back to it — hoping that I’d forget all about it. Unfortunately, I did not.
So I critically compared the different palettes to make sure they weren’t too similar to one another or items I already had. I took two palettes out of my cart with those comparison. And I removed a lip color that I decided was too dark for me to pull off.
Even so, I ended up with $77 of products: three palettes, two lip colors and a single eyeshadow. Not bad on a per-item basis, but yikes!
I rationalized that it was a very belated birthday present, but it was still a highly unnecessary purchase.
As with the shoes, I love what I bought. And assuming this year’s awful dating luck doesn’t continue, there’s a chance I’ll have an excuse to put on makeup two or three times a week for a new guy who’s in the picture.
But still… The marketing definitely sucked me in.
All of this is a good reminder that we need to be careful about getting sucked in with sales and marketing — especially with Prime Day and Black Friday sales coming up.
The short sale periods for Black Friday and Prime Day (especially those Lightning Deals) really aren’t conducive to the back and forth I usually employ to discourage purchases.
Slightly helpful for Prime Day is the fact that the Amazon app gives you sneak peeks at some deals — and you can even choose to be alerted when the sale goes live. While the sneak peeks aren’t exhaustive, it’s at least a few items you can look into/debate for more than a couple of hours.
This will give you time to research the products, debate their merits, read reviews, see whether the sale price is really that different from the regular one and see whether pre-Black Friday deals have close enough pricing to make it worth skipping the stress of BF.
Incidentally, while it won’t keep you from impulse purchases, it’s worth noting that through today (Monday the 12th), if you spend $10 at certain small businesses on Amazon, it will send you a $10 credit to use on Prime Day. This won’t help you stop impulse purchases, but it’ll at least defray their cost.
And don’t forget that if you want to take advantage of Prime Day but don’t want to pay $119 for a membership, you can sign up for a 30-day free trial and just cancel after Prime Day. (As an Amazon associate, I am compensated for sign-ups through my links.)
But if you’re really trying to avoid impulse/unnecessary purchases, here are some techniques to help.
If you’re easily tempted to check out sales, the first step is to unsubscribe from store emails. If you don’t see sales alerts, you’re less likely to browse the site “just to see.”
It’s an especially good idea to unsubscribe if the store emails are usually for offers shown on the store’s website. If the stores send you exclusive offers, it may be worth staying on the email list — assuming you can keep yourself from clicking on the alerts too often.
But even exclusive offers may be listed on coupon sites, since most sites allow users to post any offers they come across. So those websites can be a great way to still get good deals when needed without flooding your inbox (and prefrontal cortex) with alluring deals.
Walk (or navigate) away
Unless you’re looking at a Lightning Deal, chances are you have some time to think through your purchase before the sale ends. So by all means, keep the items in your cart. But walk away from the computer or just go to a different site.
You might completely forget about the sale (I have), in which case it’s likely that the item didn’t have enough value to you. Question answered. (If you have ADD-like symptoms and worried about forgetting even though the item does have value, set a timer or leave yourself a sticky note to check back in a few hours.)
If you remember to check back, really look at the items critically. Are they still as tempting as they were before? They very well might be, but there’s also the chance your initial ardor has cooled off. If so, you can empty or pare down your cart accordingly and save yourself some money.
Failing that, you have some questions to ask yourself.
When would you use it?
This is an especially key question with electronics and gadgets. How often will you really use it. Not ideally. Not “Oh wow I’m sure I’d use it so much.” Based on your current habits, how frequently you find yourself wishing for something like it, and the complexity of using the item, how often will you actually make use of it?
Every so often I think I should hit a Black Friday sale for a DVD/Blu-ray player since I do have a few movies> Plus I could rent from Redbox if I miss a movie in theaters and it’s not on Netflix.
But honestly, I probably wouldn’t rent that many movies. And I’ve gone this long (around two years since Tim took the movie-playing devices with him) without watching the films I do have. So… meh.
When you are thinking about your purchase, ask yourself whether this is something you’ve wanted in the past (or perhaps it fulfills a need you’ve noticed for a while), or whether you only wanted it when you saw it. Because if it’s the latter, you may not be able to realistically gauge ho w often you’d use it.
Will it make your life better?
If you hate vacuuming or have all tile flooring, I will absolutely help you reason your way into a robot vacuum — especially at Black Friday prices and especially now that so many can be run remotely, so you can run even if you forget to start it before you leave the house.
If you love gaming and your current computer’s lag is driving you nuts, then by all means hit a good sale on gaming PCs.
But if you are thinking about an ice cream or donut maker that you see on sale on Black Friday, I beg you to back away from your keyboard. I’ve seen enough Craigslist ads from newlyweds to know that they rarely get much use before people admit they like Ben & Jerry’s or Dunkin’ Donuts better.
So ask yourself how the item will make your life better or easier. And once again, how often that would be. If it’s only going to be employed a couple of times a year, it had better save you a ton of effort.
Do I have access to something similar?
My aunt makes pesto every Christmas. So she has a deal with a friend to borrow the woman’s food processor each year and the woman gets a little extra pesto as thanks. (But really, any homemade pesto is a coveted prize.)
Similarly, some people borrow a neighbor’s lawnmower or tools as part a bartering system. So especially if you’d only use an item rarely, you might be able to borrow (or pay a little to rent) it from someone you know.
And in other cases, you’ll realize after some thought that the item is a little too similar to something else you have to be worth spending the money. (Even when it’s just a makeup palette with a few very similar shades.)
So it’s worth asking yourself if there’s another way to get what you need without making a purchase.
Explain it to a friend
Can you justify — not rationalize, justify — the item to an objective observer? Trying to explain why a purchase is worthwhile could give you the answer you need.
Yes, my two friends failed my spectacularly in this step. (Or I guess arguably they did their job perfectly.) But you yourself may find that just talking about the purchase out loud (or via text) gives you some clarity. Especially if it’s to a frugal friend or one who can judge how likely you are to actually use the item.
Having to give an actual explanation to someone else means you might realize your rationale is lame — or that you want the item even more than you initially thought.
Either way, you could get a solid answer from this exercise.
And if after all that, you decide the item is worth the purchase, be sure to enjoy it.
You thought about it critically. You’re darn sure it’s going to get used. You were able to explain to someone why it was a good purchase to make. So don’t let any guilt about the expense cloud your enjoyment.
After all, frugality is about spending on what’s valuable. And if you made it through all those steps, this item is clearly valuable to you. So go ahead and be delighted with your indulgence.
Speaking of which, I may or may not have a fellow coming over, so I’m off to play with some of those purty colors I mentioned.
How do you avoid or deal with temptations from sales and general marketing?