Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bargain all the wrong places

I come from a family of bargain shoppers. Years ago my dad would drive my mother nuts by going across town for a cheaper tube of toothpaste, passing a half a dozen drug stores en route. His siblings were even worse. After retirement, they'd hit the mall on an almost daily basis, first having lunch, then keeping an eagle-eyed watch on the sales racks until something they wanted finally hit a price they found acceptable.

I have to tell you, this particular gene apparently skipped right over me. Not that I don't love a good sale, but if I need toothpaste, I'm going to buy the brand I like in the store I'm already in. If I find the perfect blouse and it's not yet on sale, it's still mine!

A couple of days ago, while in Ft. Myers to give a speech before a wonderful group, the Friends of the South County Regional Library, I was chatting with one of their members about bargains. David Hauenstein, who writes their newsletter, and I were talking about when a bargain's not really a bargain at all.

For instance, I had customers at my bookstore who would mention to me a particular book they were reading. I always knew when they hadn't bought it from me. They'd driven 45 miles to the big discount store to get it for 40% off the cover price. Not that they wanted to admit that. What they never seemed to calculate was that in my store bestsellers were 20% off, frequent readers got an additional 10% off and accumulated points toward actual dollars off future purchases. So for the 10% or so they saved by buying the book elsewhere, they had to pay for gas for that 90-mile round trip. By my calculations, even at the price of gas back then, they weren't saving much, if anything.

After my return from Ft. Myers I was talking to another friend about outlet malls. She'd just gone on a wild shopping spree and come home with bags of bargains...blouses for a couple of bucks and who knows what else. She'd managed to find the super sales within the discounts. Now, once you find a blouse for $2, chances are you're really saving some money, but I've often been told that unless you're a real shopper and know the prices of certain labels, you may not be saving as much as you think you are.

These days, folks aren't buying much unless it's on sale. Unfortunately, I'm not entirely convinced that all bargains are created equal. I recall a major department store listing an item in one of its ads at 40% off before the holidays a few years back. That SALE price was higher than the regular price I had on the exact same item in my store.

I guess what it all boils down to is how much you like to shop, how savvy you are about it and whether the thrill of the hunt balances out the time expended.

Given the state of our current economy, what does it take these days to get you to buy something? A huge discount? Necessity only? A special occasion? I'd love to know.

Sherryl Woods



Blogger still karibear said...

I’ve been thinking on this. With the exception of groceries, I almost never buy anything that isn’t on sale - I mean REALLY on sale, not just one of those phony markdown things. Mostly I buy in thrift shops or on ebay, and I do check prices of things on ebay before I ever bid! I brought my kids up the same way, and while my daughter loves thrift shops, my son doesn’t have the time and nothing in them would fit him anyway. So he gets new, whenever he wants/needs something.

Groceries are somewhat different. I mean, they can’t be ‘used’ of course! But I’ve also gotten partial case lots at garage sales. As for the stores themselves, I tend to get house brands, even at full price they are usually cheaper than name brands on sale. The exceptions to that are if I already know from experience that the house brand is inedible, or I particularly want a specific item. Then, if what I really want happens to be on sale too, I stock up. But I also have a reputation, or did, of being able to stretch a dollar further than anyone else I knew. I guess growing up with people who remembered the Great Depression like it happened yesterday had it’s effect.

But when I was much younger and single and worked as a cocktail waitress, I banked my check and lived on my tips - if there was enough extra, I did buy new clothes off the rack, but I considered them to be more working uniforms than anything.

And I never get rid of anything - old worn out clothes still yield patches for quilts, for instance.

January 24, 2009 6:25 PM  
Blogger Sherryl said...

What you said about never throwing anything out raised an interesting point. The same friend with whom I was discussing outlet bargains keeps her clothes forever AND her mom's. She mixes and matches old and new and does it with flair. I have an entire walk-in closet filled with things I wore several sizes ago. Periodically I let friends go in there and pick out anything they want that fits. What I SHOULD be doing, though, is cleaning some of those old suits, dresses and shoes and donating them to one of the shops that will outfit women who need appropriate clothes for job interviews. Those clothes need to be out in the world, worn by someone who needs them. Maybe just writing this will motivate me to get busy and do that.

January 25, 2009 4:35 AM  
Blogger Lexie said...

I have a slight advantage in that my mom works for Goodwill Industries so we get a huge discount on things from them (and honestly its amazing what people give away to Goodwill, and when you work at the central warehouse you see it all). My friend and I also have always shopped at Thrift stores for clothing because most of the time we'll find what we want for so much less. Plus I find so many consignment and indy brands that I like MORE then retail stuff.

Books wise...I buy new on Amazon, usually their 4 for 3 deal or bargain books. Very occasionally brand new retail price from them (has to be an author I adore above anything else). At Borders/BN sales or coupons. I buy at used bookstores a lot too--my credit line is um excessive at one (somewhere over $300).

January 25, 2009 8:49 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I love a bargin, especially for books, just like the next person, but I will not drive miles for one. I think you would spend more in gas, then the discount you get on the item you are looking for.

I live in a small city. It only takes me 10 minutes to get to our downtown area or drive to the main big mall.

It is where my favourite book seller is and they always have lots of special discounts on books, so I never have to go far and have their extra discount card, so it at least pays the tax on my purchase.

I am lucky that I have a small mini mall only a few minutes walk from my house and it has everything I need, but if there is an item, especially paper products, that is a good price on sale, I may go to each of the chain stores in town that advertizes the "special" just to stock up. But other that, I just buy it if I am in the store at the time and it is on sale. I don't really go hunting for bargins on a regular bases.

January 25, 2009 9:25 AM  

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