Shopping at sales and using coupons seems like an intuitive way to save lots of money and and stay within your budget.  But don’t be fooled, it’s not all good, there is an ugly side to sales and coupons. Browsing stores on big sale days and collecting the coupons that are mailed to you can suck the life right out of your finances.  In this article, we’re going to look at the reasons why sales and coupons can be bad for your finances, and how they can destroy your shopping budget.


We’re all familiar with those crazy sales that come up from time to time; you get a flier in the mail that advertises 50-80% off on all kitchen appliances.  If you saw an advertisement today for a nice new refrigerator at 60% off, chances are you would at least consider upgrading. Even if your current refrigerator is fine and probably still has plenty of life left in it, the advertisement for the big sale plants the seed for buying in your brain.  Some deals just seem way too sweet to pass up.

Sales and coupons that offer a big discount trigger the fear of missing out on a great saving opportunity.  The problem is that when you buy something you don’t need at 60% off, you are not saving anything, you are just spending 40% of the price of something you would probably never have bought in the first place.   


I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone, especially when it comes to restaurant coupons I get in the mail.  When those packs of coupons show up in the mail, like most people, I usually look at every single one. And almost every time, there is a coupon for some restaurant that I have forgotten about.  And now, all of a sudden, I’m hungry and I want to go there to get some good food, and save 20%.

The businesses know that getting your shopping started is the big obstacle. Offering sales and coupons is a great way for them to overcome this obstacle.  Once you start shopping, you’re probably going to buy more than you planned, because sales give you the perception that the more you buy, the more you are saving.  Also, keep in mind that the sales might not actually be as good as they seem in the first place: read Fake Sales and Phony Discounts to find out why.


The important thing to remember is that these sales and coupons are just marketing tools for businesses.  The advertisers are not trying to save you money, they are looking for a way to get you into their stores with the promise of big savings.  It is a way to get you to spend more, not less. The whole point of the sale or the coupon is to tickle your buying impulse to make you to buy things you weren’t planning on getting in the first place.  

One of the big problems with shopping deep-discount sales is that it encourages impulsive shopping behavior over intentional spending.  When you are shopping, and you see a great deal that will only last for a day or two, it makes you feel like there is no time to consider your buying decision and that you must act now.  Impulsive spending, even on relatively inexpensive items, really adds up and becomes a total budget-buster.

Think of the barrage of impulse items you are hit with when you shop.  When you are on the checkout line in a store, you are surrounded by cheap little things you can add to your cart at the last minute.  And of course, anytime you shop online, it’s tough to get to the point of paying without being presented with at least a few other suggested items.  The website’s algorithms specifically select the products that you are most likely to buy impulsively at the last second.

Even if you actually got a good discount on the item you were planning to buy, adding just one impulse item will probably completely wipe out any savings you might have enjoyed…and then some.


Avoiding sales and coupon purchases takes the pressure off, and gives you the leisure to act intentionally when you are shopping.  It’s much easier to avoid adding extra (unplanned and unnecessary) purchases to your shopping cart when they are NOT being offered at some big discount.  By being intentional about shopping, and not snapping-up sale items, you will ensure that you are only buying things that actually add value to your life.  And by doing so, you will end up spending less, not more. Not to mention that you won’t be adding the clutter of all of the unnecessary impulse purchases to your life.


By avoiding sales and being forced to pay full price, some friction is added to the buying experience.  It’s a lot easier to resist the urge to spend money impulsively when you know you are not getting any kind of deal, when there is no time pressure to buy, and when the item is going to feel a little expensive.  This allows you to pause, and consider the purchase for a while. Usually, the impulse to buy passes quickly, and you realize there is absolutely no need for most of the things we are tempted to buy.


Adding some friction to shopping by avoiding sales is important.  There are so many ways in which businesses try to lubricate the shopping experience to make spending money totally frictionless.  

Sales and coupons are one way to reduce the resistance to spending, but there are others too.  Something as basic as credit card usage is an example. People spend more money when using a credit card when compared to using cash. Credit cards reduce the friction of the purchase: you don’t have to hand over your physical cash, or worry if you have enough in your wallet.  

Or how about online shopping? It’s an experience that is carefully engineered to be totally frictionless.  You just have to click a button. You don’t have to take out your wallet, you don’t have to leave the house, you don’t even have to get out of bed and get dressed.

Adding a little friction to your shopping experience will end up saving you big money in the long run.


Of course there are ways to use sales and coupons responsibly, and actually save some money.  I’m not suggesting that you should never buy anything on sale ever again. Sales and coupons can be good money saving tools, but only if they are used in the right way. Here are some ways to get your discounts without being tempted to buy things you don’t want or need.

Make a list of larger planned purchases that you can wait a little while to buy.  Then, keep an eye out for sales that come up for those specific items. When you do go into a store to buy something on your list, only buy that item.  Don’t allow yourself to buy anything else on that shopping trip.

For everyday shopping, first make a list of what you are planning to buy, and then look for any applicable sales and coupons.  Don’t look for the coupons and sales before you make the list, if you do, you’ll find your shopping list getting very long, very fast.

Remember, making even one or two unplanned, impulsive purchases will more than wipe out any savings you thought you’d be getting from the sales or coupons.

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