9 Costly Mistakes Many Bargain Shoppers Make

by Andrea Norris-McKnight

Costly Mistakes Bargain Shoppers Make photo

Is bargain shopping costing you more money than it is saving you? See if you’re making any of these common bargain shopping mistakes and find out what steps you can take to make sure that all that spending is actually saving you money.

If your budget has gotten particularly tight this year, bargain shopping is probably one of the many cost-cutting tools you’ve used to make ends meet. But bargain hunters, beware! Bargain shopping can be one of those slippery slopes that can cost you money if you aren’t careful.

Those excessive good buys may not be doing your budget or your savings account balance any good.

Here’s a look at nine costly mistakes that can make bargain shopping budget-busting. If you’re a sucker for a good bargain, see if any of these ring true for you and resolve to reform your bargain-hunting habits so they do save you money.

1. Scoring Amazing Deals on Things You Don’t Need Soon or at All

A bargain really isn’t a bargain if you don’t need the item right now or sometime soon. This is especially true when the budget is tight or your savings account balance is low.

By spending on things you don’t need until a far-off future date, or at all, you reduce the amount of money you have available now for necessities and savings. Your money could be doing you far more good in an emergency fund, protecting your budget from future unexpected expenses rather than buying you things you’ll use ‘someday’. Some ‘just in case’ purchases make sense, such as insurance and first aid supplies, but few purchases fall into this category.

Money-Saving Solution: Only take advantage of bargains on things you need right now or will use sometime in the next 12 months.

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2. Overstocking your Stockpile

Stocking up on food, toiletries, and other frequently used household items when they are deeply discounted can save you a ton of money. But when it comes to stockpiling, too much of some items is not a good thing. If you sometimes find expired food in your pantry or stockpiled items you’ve forgotten you even have, you’re probably over-stockpiling.

Track your stores’ sales cycles so you know how often your most-purchased items are on sale. No need to buy eight cans of black beans if you only use one a week and they go on sale every four weeks. Don’t buy more than you can reasonably store and use, and keep an inventory of all stockpiled purchases to avoid buying duplicates or losing your savings to waste.

If you have little in savings but enough stockpiled food to feed a small country, you’re not helping your financial situation unless you can pay your bills in cans of beans.

Money-Saving Solution: Don’t buy and stockpile more than you can use by expiration dates, and keep an inventory of your stash to avoid unnecessary and excessive purchases.

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3. Continuously Hunting for Bargains Out of Fear of Missing Out

As a bargain shopper, you’re probably a pro at comparison shopping and searching out the best deal on any item you’re looking to buy. But the need to buy should drive your bargain search and not the other way around. If your search for random deals is driving your spending, you need to take a hard look at your bargain-hunting habits.

Your fear of missing out could be causing you to overspend. If you find yourself opening every sales flyer that hits your inbox or visiting Amazon daily to check out the Daily Deals, you could end up overspending your way into financial trouble.

Money-Saving Solution: Avoid your bargain-shopping triggers, such as your inbox and daily deals sites, unless you are searching for something specific that you need.

4. Shopping To Feel the Thrill of Scoring a Great Deal

Perhaps it’s not a fear of missing out that drives your hunt for bargains, but the thrill of the hunt. And it, too, can cause you to overspend.

If you look to shopping, even if it is bargain shopping, to improve your mood, you’re likely shopping to fill an emotional need. And emotional shopping can become costly. You might consider why shopping improves your mood and how to resist the urge to bargain splurge.

Money-Saving Solution: Stop bargain-shopping yourself happy by finding ways to overcome your emotional need to bargain shop.

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5. Failing To Determine if a Deal Is Really a Deal

Just because an item is marked down 50% does not mean you won’t find it much cheaper elsewhere. Retailers use all types of tactics to get us to spend, including discounting an initially inflated price, so don’t fall for their tricks when they make something appear like a better deal than it is.

It only takes a few seconds online to compare prices, whether you’re shopping online or in a physical store. And your research might also point you to coupons or cash-back opportunities to save you even more on that bargain.

Money-Saving Solution: Do your homework to ensure that the deal is really a deal and that you can’t get an even better one elsewhere.

6. Getting Great Deals on Low-Quality Items

For a time, I could not bring myself to spend $20+ for a pair of headphones for anyone in my family when I could grab a cheap $5-or-less pair as needed. Turns out that when you buy the cheap ones, you need new ones quite frequently. I finally wised up and watched for a stellar deal on a more expensive name brand and got a pair for everyone in the family. Yes, I spent more for that one purchase, but we’ve not had to replace a single pair over the past few years, saving us quite a bit in the long run.

Sometimes, a good deal is nothing more than junk disguised as a good deal.

Money-Saving Solution: Always consider the quality of the bargains you find to determine if spending more might save you more in the long run.

7. Scoring Deals on Items That Are Expensive To Use or Own

Too many of us fail to consider the ‘real’ cost of many of the items we buy on sale.

Perhaps the printer you picked up on clearance is a steal at 70% off, but how much will the ink cost you each time you have to replace it? Used gaming consoles can be bought for next to nothing, but unless you’re also hunting for used games to go with that steal, you’re looking at $30 to $50 for new titles.

Money-Saving Solution: Always look at the ‘real’ cost of any bargain requiring you to spend money to use it.

8. Paying for All of Those Bargains With a Credit Card

Unless you pay off all of those cheap purchases in full each month, they cost you in interest. If you aren’t careful and your debt gets away from you, you could end up paying more than the original full price of those sale items.

If the purchase is not an absolute need, and you couldn’t pay cash for it if necessary, you really should pass on that bargain.

Money-Saving Solution: Stop charging bargains that you can’t afford.

9. Allowing Bargain Shopping To Give You a False Sense of Financial Security

Those good buys can make you feel like you’re doing something good for your budget. After all, you did just save 75% on that latest purchase. How’s that for penny-pinching?

But was the 25% you spent actually in your budget? Because that 25% can have a much more significant impact on your financial well-being than the 75% you saved. When the budget is tight, pennies do matter. And spending some pennies, even while saving a lot of pennies, can hurt your finances.

Money-Saving Solution: Don’t get so caught up in what you’re saving that you lose sight of how those bargains affect your budget.

Bargain shopping can save you a lot of money. But it can also cost you dearly if you’re making any of these bargain shopping mistakes often. Resolve to make sure those bargains aren’t hurting your budget. 

Reviewed November 2023

About the Author

Andrea Norris-McKnight took over as the editor of The Dollar Stretcher and After 50 Finances after working under the site founder and previous editor for almost 15 years. She has also written for Money.com, GOBankingRates.com, HavenLife.com and The Sacramento Bee.

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