Select Page

Are you really saving money on that?

The following is a guest post from Miranda Marquit. She edits information on debt consolidation for and writes for

Every where we turn, there are “special offers” and “bargains” that save us money. But sometimes, these are just gimmicks designed to help us spend more. Here are some ways that you may actually be spending more, even though you are supposed to be “saving” money:

1. Credit card and financing deals

“0% financing for 12 months!” is a common refrain, as is “Pay nothing until 1010!” However, when you buy something on this premise, planning to pay it off, the store wins. Most people actually don’t pay off their purchases before interest is charged. And in the case of the “no payment” deal, the interest is usually capitalized and added to the principal when it is time to start making payments.

Another problem with buying things on credit (besides the interest charges) is that you have a skewed idea of how much you spent. Study after study shows that people spend more money when they shop with credit – and they have a harder time remembering how much they spent.

2. Big superstores

The idea behind the superstore is “one stop shopping.” Additionally, it’s supposed to have a plethora of items at lower prices. However, many of us spend more money when they shop at these superstores. A few items are priced lower, but most of them are just as expensive as elsewhere. And people tend to buy more at a superstore, as well as buy impulsively. Comparison shopping for sales and using coupons often don’t enter the equation, either. You’ll buy less – spending less overall – if you make a list of the best prices at two or three stores, and plan your shopping trip in advance.

3. Free shipping

Many web sites offer free shipping when you spend a certain amount of money online. So, in order to save $5.97 in shipping costs, you make an unplanned purchase of $10.64. Your “free shipping” actually cost you $4.67.

This principle applies to other similar ploys. The “buy two, get one” sale and other gimmicks are designed to have you spend more money than if you stuck to your original plan to just buy one. It looks like a bargain, but you are really spending more than you planned – on something you probably do not even need.

Before you part with your family’s hard-earned money, it’s important to research whether you’ll really save money. Any “bargain” that requires a purchase of items you don’t need or want, or hadn’t planned on buying in the first place, isn’t really a money saver.

Agree? Disagree? What’s been your experience with these marketing tactics? If you avoid these kinds of strategies, I’d love to hear how else you “work the system” to save money.

top photo source

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Leanne

    I try to only visit supermarkets once every month or two and shop locally in between. The best way I’ve found to save money is to shop with friends or family. I’ll meet my mum and a another friend at the supermarket and then we can take advantage of the “buy two get one frees” and actually save money at the same time. It means we can also bulk buy those huge bags of rice and pasta and just split them into separate bags when we return home.

    We take it in turns adding the bargains to our individual trollies and then just add up who owes who what over coffee when we get home. OK it takes a bit longer with the dividing up at the end, but if it’s done over coffee with friends I don’t mind the extra few minutes.

    Leanne’s last blog post…WFMW – Blazing Bloggy Trails

  2. simplemom

    @Leanne – To me, you’re killing multiple birds with one stone – you’re getting social time, you’re making a dreaded (for me, anyway) chore more fun, and you’re saving money! Great tip.

  3. Andrea

    For me, a big time/money saver is’s Prime program. I live in the country at least 20 minutes from *any* significant shopping area. I pay the fee once a year, which this year is about the price of a tank of gas for my big van, and I get free shipping all year, no matter what size purchase. They have many things I need, I don’t have to leave the house (read: use gasoline), and it is delivered to my door in a couple days. The only caveat is to be careful to buy items only offered by Amazon, not one of their third party vendors, as these do not qualify for free shipping.

    Things we often buy are tea, vitamins, foods like hummus (hard to get & even more expensive out here) books, and other household items. Since I pay the fee up front, I don’t try to add more to my order to get free shipping…I’ve already got it!

  4. Emily

    And along that Amazon thought, what about subscribe & save? If you set it up to send periodically, you get free shipping despite the dollar amount, a 15 0r 20% discount on the item, and can cancel it anytime (even after that first shipment). In most of my life, I’m cheapcheapcheap, but I insist on my Torani sugar free vanilla syrup in my AM (and PM) coffee…I figure this stops me from having a daily Fourbucks habit, cha-ching! And it’s so much cheaper on Amazon than anywhere else I’ve seen it. So sometimes hard-to-find items (or your guilty pleasures, like my Torani syrups) are much more profitable to get on Amazon, using this technique.

    Now, back to my wanna-be Fourbucks brew….mmmmmm!

    Emily’s last blog post…School Daze

  5. Dominique

    I visit different supermarkets to buy different items as I discovered that certain same items can be priced anywhere between $0.20-$2.00 difference. It does help to get items that I have orginally planned to buy if it is on discount for that week. Other wise I try to stock up if there is a sale.

  6. Jeni

    I agree with not giving in to sales that encourage you to buy more, but with an exception – if the item on sale is something I buy regularly anyway, and I have the room in my budget that week, I’ll stock up. For instance, we use Quaker Instant Oatmeal a lot around here in the winter. I found a sale that made the boxes about $1 apiece, less than half their normal price. I bought ten boxes, and didn’t have to buy any for a couple of months!

    Jeni’s last blog post…Book Review – A Passion Redeemed, by Julie Lessman

  7. Bridgette

    One thing that annoys me is when you are watching infomercials and they introduce the idea of giving you a “free gift.” I don’t really recall anytime in my life where I got a GIFT that cost me anything.

    Another thing I am annoyed by are these new and improved items. If it’s new -there’s been nothing else out there like it, and if it’s improved -shouldn’t you get the previous item they improved at a much lower price than the “new and improved” one?

    However, I see those two things as ways to get people to buy stuff. I see this being used on everything from swiffer to workout dvd’s to knives and many other things.

    I’ve also seen people buy items that are “too big” for them. Example: buy a dvd shelving unit that holds 100 dvd’s/videogames. They only have 35 to go on the shelves. But, the one that held 100 was the smallest they had. So, generally -these people are going to go out and buy more dvd’s/videogames to put on the shelves. My solution to keep myself out of that mess… I buy the BIG cd cases, and put all of my dvd’s in [about four, currently] them. Then I have some more of the cd cases for videogames, tv seasons, and the kids movies. This takes up a LOT less room than shelving, doesn’t cost as much, and they are ready to go -when I am on the go [and lightweight!]. I am currently still using the cd cases I had in highschool. The big ones that hold 200+ in them. I’ve really got my money’s worth out of them!

    Another reason that many people spend more, is because of the convienence. “Well since I am HERE, and they have THIS…. ” I have seen myself do it many times. I will think that all of the stuff looks good in the cart, however -lately, once I get up to the counter, I just put all of the stuff aside and say -I won’t be needing any of this stuff. People look at me funny – but that’s only because they can’t see that I just took a whole lot of money out of my cart, and put a whole lot back into my budget. Plus, I don’t have to waste my time trying to find a place to put everything that I don’t need, instead I now have more time to read books and drink coffee!!

    Bridgette’s last blog post…flabulous vs fabulous

  8. Lucie

    I have definitely fallen prey to the free shipping scheme before. But no more!

    As a student I try to find stores that offer student discounts with an ID. I also (try) to only buy clothing when it is on sale or at a vintage store.
    We try not to eat out very often but when we do we usually try to make it at a restaurant that has a “kids eat free” night.

    It definitely helps to ask what is a deal and what is tempting you to buy something you don’t need! In one finance book I read the author mentioned the concept “spaving” – you know, if you spend some more money you save in the end (buy more to get free shipping, buy two to get one free). As the author said, the road to being broke is “spaved” with good intentions!

    Lucie’s last blog post…Mommy Meltdowns – How Do You Handle Those Moments?

  9. Tawnya

    I used to be in marketing for a living, so I’m pretty immune to all the tactics.
    I do is frequent the fruit markets and local bakeries for all of our fresh produce (much cheaper) and bread and go to the local lower cost grocery store for the pantry staples… and for those, I stock up when something is really on sale. I make my own baby food rather than pay $1.00/jar for the organic stuff at the store. It takes a little longer to “shop local” than one trip to the grocery store, but if you turn it into an adventure for the kids (we walk or bike to the markets, my eldest helps pick out the freshest fruit and gets to choose one item she’s never tried before, etc.), it’s worth it to know that they’re growing up with an appreciation for the food as well. Also, buying in season is a great help… if you’re not in Argentina in December, why are you buying strawberries from there in the middle of a cold Canadian winter??)

  10. Deanna

    I usually don’t order from Amazon until I’ve got enough on my to-buy list to hit the free shipping amount. I’m not usually in a situation where I have a “book emergency” and need something right away. I also watch the prices of the books, and try to order what I want when it’s cheapest. I also check books at of the library first when possible to make sure it’s what I really want.

    I also live at least 20 minutes from the nearest anything, so I plan my trips to save gas, and if something is on sale that I normally buy then I stock up to avoid later trips.

    Deanna’s last blog post…Magic Cabin Catalog

  11. Amy WB

    I have been guilty of overshopping and impulse buying at Costco (our warehouse store of choice). I go in with a list and still leave at least $50 over budget with stuff I never intended to buy in the first place. I have been able to change my ways by making a firm list and taking in only the cash I know will cover it. If I’m not using plastic, I won’t buy the extras. In fact, sometimes I even pass on the list items I really thought we needed because I hate to give up all my cash!

    Amy WB’s last blog post…have I told you lately?

  12. Miranda

    Thanks for all the great tips and information in the comments. I especially love the cash idea, as well as planning trips to save gas and the idea of keeping a list of what you plan to get from Amazon, so that you can get the free shipping without the extra spending.

    We partially solved the warehouse store over-spending problem by not going. We stopped shopping at Wal-Mart and Sam’s (no Costco here) and we’ve actually started saving money. Sales at the smaller, local stores often beat the prices at the bigger stores. And there is much less impulse buying. Also, it’s hard to spend $2.50 on a bag of chips at the local grocery. Not so much when that same bag of chips only costs $1.35 at Wal-Mart. So we’re actually eating healthier, too (which will have it’s own savings benefits in the long run).

    Miranda’s last blog post…Keeping Tabs on the Bank: A Debit Card Horror Story

  13. mama k

    I agree on the superstores… especially stores like Target and the -marts. I definitely am tempted by impulse purchases there.

    As far as the free shipping deals, you have to do the math. Free shipping with a $25 purchase is a better deal than $20 + $7 shipping charge. So sometimes it does pay to add a few more dollars in your cart. Of course the cheapest option is to find it locally on sale, but for some items that’s just not possible. I purchase all of my (new) books online because they are discounted off of the regular price as it is. So I just make sure I have enough to make the min free shipping offer before I place an order.

    mama k’s last blog post…the consumer prevails!

  14. Mydailydollars

    Great tips. . .I know that staying out of the big box stores really helps me. My philosophy is that if I don’t see it then I can’t want it!

    Mydailydollars’s last blog post…Please Take a Number

  15. Stacie@hobbitdoor

    We’ve found that my husband and I have to go to the store separately. We tend to impulse buy more when we are both there because we can agree on it together. Separately, we tend to stick to our lists. The Amazon Prime membership really works for us. Sam’s Club is a great savings for us but you do have to price check because buying in bulk is not always cheaper.
    Love all these great tips! Thanks for sharing!

    Stacie@hobbitdoor’s last blog post…Blueberry Boy-Bait

  16. Stacie@hobbitdoor

    Oh, I almost forgot! We stopped buying CD’s. It’s so much cheaper to download our music from iTunes or Walmart. You don’t have to pay for the packaging, etc. You also don’t have to buy a whole album, just the songs you want. We love our music and this saves us a lot of money!

    Stacie@hobbitdoor’s last blog post…Blueberry Boy-Bait

  17. hair4myprincess

    I agree with a lot of this. And, I’ve noticed with coupons, most of the time they are for namebrand stuff. The store brand is usually cheaper without a coupon. (Although there are exceptions.)

    hair4myprincess’s last blog post…Elastic Pony Crosses With Ribbons

  18. christy

    i totally agree. when i grocery shop i plan out what i need and then make a list of all the ingredients, i look at what i have and then figure out what i need. then i make a chart of the items i need and check prices at the three grocery stores i have the option to shop at. two of the stores are within walking distance and make for a great get-out-of-the-house escape. when it comes to buying our items we only buy the cheapest things at the store. i usually save a ton of money this way!

    christy’s last blog post…so proud

  19. Teri Rogers

    I agree with all these money saving tactics when you have the time and organizational capacity….but there are times when it’s all you can do to get your menu plan from your head to the table with a cranky baby in the cart. In these situations, I think it’s great to be kind to yourself and get it done with a one-stop shop. In a way, it gives you greater freedom and peace of mind that you are taking care of yourself while taking care of your family – and not trying to be too perfect.

  20. CarrieK

    I’ve greatly reduced my trips to Costco. I go maybe once every other month. It’s close by so distance is not an issue and I really do save on bagels and peanut butter – 2 staples at my house! But I can see myself cutting that trip out…or sending my husband on his bike! Shopping with a list helps a lot, especially with a cranky toddler in the cart. Using a cash envelope also went a long ways toward keeping me “honest”.

    CarrieK’s last blog post…It’s about time

  21. Anne

    shopping used to be a chore I dreaded…we lived in a small I had to shop for a month…then go to the wallymart for milk, bread etc too much. I found myself having alot of waste
    we have since moved (cali) and have a larger selection…and I actually enjoy shopping now
    I go the day after the sale papers come out. I go weekly with a menu and a list…and a budget…it is working!!!!
    I am so darn proud of ourselves as a family…(we are dave ramsey fans and debt free!!!!!!!!!!)
    I find our money goes longer and the food is “healthier” fresh fruits and all!
    It is working!

    Anne’s last blog post…A layout for a challenge!

  22. Barbara

    I think the phrase “marketing tactic” says it all! It just seems really important to remember that the purpose of sales and “discounts” are to get us to buy more and spend more.

    I’ve find that one of the best things about having kids is that I hate going into many stores with them, so I just don’t go. And I often find I can do without what I “needed” after all.

    Barbara’s last blog post…Breakfast in the rain, then vegetable math

  23. simplemom

    @Andrea, Emily, and others – I agree, Amazon has its pros and cons. I agree with Deanna – I build up my shopping cart until I get the free shipping, and then I buy. Very rarely do I have a book emergency, either. πŸ˜‰ I’ve also heard it’s a good place for diapers in bulk. Anyone try that yet?

    I find that shopping online in general saves me money. I don’t spend on gas, many things (such as mp3s, like what Stacie said) are instantly downloadable, and there’s less impulse buying because I just don’t see as much.

    Great thoughts, tips, and ideas, everyone!

  24. Aimee

    Very enlightening post from Miranda- she’s bang on about the impulse buys. Guilty as charged!

    Aimee’s last blog post…Chocolate-Raspberry Oat Muffins

  25. jaye

    …i *love* this post πŸ™‚ so many great tips!

    two things i’d like to add….(learned from my dear ol’ mom….)

    1) diversify your thought process in the store (grocery, etc.). for example, when i moved into my apartment during grad school, i needed a new kitchen scissors. in the kitchen department of the store, they were priced at a scorching $9. unsatisfied, we headed over to the tool section and found a pair of **better** scissors, much better made than those in the kitchen scissors for HALF the PRICE.

    2) clipping coupons isn’t always a money saver. for those who live in cities with a diversity of grocery stores AND get the Sunday/Wednesday paper, it may be well worth those 15 minutes spent each week. but for those of us who live in smaller cities, try signing up for “Deal Emails” from the grocery stores that feature their weekly/monthly sales & specials–this alerts you to the deals at the stores without eating up precious time from your day!!

    keep the tips coming…i LIKE this post πŸ™‚

    jaye’s last blog post…a man born blind.

  26. Rebecca

    Can I say that I *mostly* agree with what you’ve said?? I truly *love* your blog, so I don’t want to be the lone dissenter!! I think if you are hyper-vigilant, you *can* use some of those things to your advantage. For example, with existing debt {due to foolishness} we have moved our credit card balances several times to take advantage of those 0% offers. I *hate* being in debt, so I would agree with you not to use those financing plans, period. Pay cash!! I like what a previous commenter said about the “free shipping” deals: to wait until your order is big enough to qualify. Even so though, I sometimes still find that it would be cheaper to buy a used a book & pay the shipping than it would be to buy brand new. When it comes to big box stores, you surely have to be on your guard about impulse buying. For those that live in less populated areas, like me, driving to several different stores is just not an option. I try to save money by using the pantry principle: rotating through the different stores, one per week & buying whatever items are cheapest at that store to get me through until the next time I am at that location.

    Thanks for all the great inspiration :>)

    Rebecca’s last blog post…Win Some, Lose Some

  27. CiderSapling

    There are several things to mull over here… I currently have an Amazon Prime membership and I’ve grown to love it this last year. I’ve been debating over renewing it. I have certainly saved tons of money buying through Amazon, but I probably could have planned ahead better and used free shipping. Things to think about.

    As for the ‘big box’ stores, I admit I like to to to them – my favorite is Target. I go into the store with my list and I as I walk through, I use the back and side aisles – not the main drags. This way, I don’t see as many of the impulse buys so I am tempted less to over spend. I also go into the store with $10 -$20 extra in my budget for the clearance items I can use. I limit this to laundry soap, diapers, paper towels, toilet paper, etc. Unless there is a very large quantity, clearance ends up on the back “end caps” of the aisles off the main path. Using this technique, I can budget for household items and save money at the same time. I admit, though, it took me a while to control those impulse purchases!

  28. mandy

    I just stumbled across your blog & appreciate this article. However, the one thing I don’t agree with is encouraging people not to use credit cards. We have a cash-back credit card with a huge interest rate. But I treat it like a debit card- I keep track of everything we’ve spent with it, but use it to buy EVERYTHING. We pay it off completely each month & never over-spend, so we’ve never had to pay the interest rate. Then at hte end of the year we have an average of $600 FREE from the cash-back benefit of the card. It takes self-discipline, but if you keep track of everything it truly is FREE MONEY.

    mandy’s last blog post…We’re Finally Home!

  29. Leanne

    I disagree on the free shipping for purchases over X point. Yes, you end up spending more. However, you get product for every penny you spend. Whereas if you pay for shipping, you may spend less, but part of what you are spending is just leaving your wallet with nothing coming into your home in exchange.

    I’ll always make sure to spend enough for free shipping. If it means waiting a little longer until I have enough items on my list to make it, or if it means sticking an extra item into my order.

    I agree with every other point, though!

  30. Anne

    I just wanted to make a comment on the buy now/pay later schemes. Here in Australia they are called “interest-free loans”. Of course the interest free part only applies if you pay it off during the interest free period. We have used these schemes successfully three times so far, by following a few unbreakable rules. We got a minimal credit limit. The credit limit reflects what we can afford to repay per month on one income. We *never* spend up to the credit limit. *Ever*. We repay more than the minimum monthly repayment. Every month. We buy what we need i.e. bedroom furniture for the kids, but one kid at a time; a microwave and a clothes dryer; and currently a lounge after our second hand, more-than-25-years-old one gave up the ghost. The interest free period expires in March 2011, but we’ll have it paid off by half way through next year. We get offered an increase in our credit limit every month. Every month it goes in the shredding box.
    These schemes work, but only if you set rules before hand and don’t break them. Ever.

    Anne’s last blog post…WARNING

  31. Jenn

    Oh my gosh, I totally fall for the free shipping deal – and I recognize when I do it, too! I’m also terrible about going into big box stores, I always see so many things I “need”! Of course, I didn’t even know I needed them before I went shopping… πŸ™‚

    Jenn’s last blog post…Struggles, part 3

  32. Jenny

    Just found your blog and love it so far. Another tip – I started using to purchase diapers. They have free shipping on orders over $49. I almost always spend that much and the diapers, wipes, etc. are delivered to my door. And the real money saver – it keeps me out of Target! I’ll go to Target to buy diapers, but somehow end up spending $100 or more on stuff I see while I’m there. So between keeping me out of Target and saving gas money, is a bargain!

Join thousands of readers
& get Tsh’s free weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where she shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

It's part of Tsh's popular newsletter called Books & Crannies, where she shares thoughts about the intersection of stories & travel, work & play, faith & questions, and more.