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False Frugality: When Buying Stuff On Sale Doesn’t Save You Money

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Sale signs like this are a common sight for shoppers, but they don't always save you money, if you end up buying a lot of things you don't need. (Credit: CBS)

Sale signs like this are a common sight for shoppers, but they don’t always save you money, if you end up buying a lot of things you don’t need. (Credit: CBS)

Kate Sullivan Kate Sullivan
Kate Sullivan is co-anchor of CBS 2 Chicago News at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m....
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Since the start of the recession, many of us have become avid sale shoppers and coupon clippers, but is all this bargain hunting really saving us money? Or is it just giving us a false sense of frugality?

“I feel guilty for buying so much,” said Lisa Cahm. She and her twin sister, Jenna, love to find bargains.

“If there’s a sale, you’ll buy, like, four shirts,” Lisa said. “Then you actually spend more.”

Suzanne Hullinger said the same thing.

“I usually spend money on things I did not have plans on buying,” Hullinger said.

Retailers realize it, too.

Shoppers used to have to hunt for bargains. Now, the sales conveniently come to us in emails, Internet sales, even in offers sent to our cell phones.

“We’re literally being barraged by these images, almost 24/7,” said Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology.

With the kinds of deals shoppers find nowadays, they make out like bandits. Right?

“They almost feel like they’re pulling a fast one: ‘I got them. I got this thing for so much less than what it’s worth,’” Durvasula said.

She believes, oftentimes, what shoppers think is careful spending, just isn’t.

“You can go broke saving money,” she said.

Durvasula called it the “all you can eat buffet effect.” Once you’ve been reeled in by retailers and advertised discounts, it’s hard not to buy lots of what you see on sale, until you’ve spent more than you planned and bought things you don’t need.

Another example of the phenomenon can be found at dollar stores.

“Before you know it … you’ve just filled a bag with $30, usually, of junk,” Durvasula said.

Then there are the coupons. How often do you buy something, just because you have the coupon?

Durvasula said we all need to distinguish between what we want to buy and what we actually need to buy; and then look for sales on the items we really need.

“To that end, take inventory. Spend one day going through your house and seeing what do you have? Throw out the stuff you don’t need, or that is no longer working,” she said. “That way, you know what you actually do need to replace if the sales come up.

When you buy, use cash instead of credit cards, and avoid overstocking on items.

“If you don’t have the money, and you don’t need that thing, at the end of the day all you’ve done is spend money, not saved it,” Durvasula said.

The bottom line is just because you see something on sale, doesn’t mean it’s a bargain, unless you need it.

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