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By: AgFed Credit Union

Welcome to AgFed Credit Union's MoneyDig blog! 

Get confident about your personal finances with a number of articles, tips, advice and more.


When is a Bargain Not a Bargain?

 May 21, 2024
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Q: I’m a bargain-hunting beast who can’t resist a good sale. But lately, I’ve been wondering: Is every marked-down item a great purchase? When is a bargain not a bargain?

A: You are absolutely right. Not every bargain is actually a bargain. Sometimes, you may actually be worse off buying the marked-down item than giving it a pass. Unfortunately, though, it can be hard to spot the bogus bargains from the genuine finds. Here are five times when a bargain will actually cost you.

  1. When you hadn’t planned on buying the item

If you find a new home speaker system marked down from $399 to $249, you just scored a great deal, right?

Wrong. If you were not out shopping for a new stereo and you hadn’t planned on purchasing one at any time in the future, you haven’t saved $140, you’ve spent an unplanned $249.

Before you buy, ask: Would you buy this if it was not “a great deal”?

  1. When you can’t afford it

If you can’t pay for this item with cash today, it’s likely not a bargain. Blowing money you don’t have on a purchase just because it’s on sale is a great way to break your budget and weaken your financial health. In general, don’t buy it if you can’t pay for it today.  

The one exception here is if you’ve been saving up for a large purchase and you’ve almost reached your goal when it goes on sale. If buying the item early can save you 25% or more off the usual price, and you have most of the funds saved up, it may be a good idea to purchase the item on credit. Pay off most of the bill as soon as you can with the funds you’ve saved and be careful to meet, at least, the minimum monthly payments, using the money you would otherwise have put into savings for the purchase. However, before going this route, run the numbers and make sure the interest you’ll be paying on this item won’t be higher than the amount you save off the purchase price.     

Before you buy, ask: Can I really afford this?

  1. When it’s a faulty product

Sometimes, what’s too good to be true, truly isn’t. If a price is glaringly lower than its market price and you can’t find this item marked down nearly as much through any other retailer, there may be something sketchy about this sale. You can be looking at a knockoff that will look and perform like the cheaply made bogus product it is, or you may be buying someone else’s heavily used item that is being sold as a brand-new product. In the worst-case scenario, you may be dealing with an actual scammer who is after more than your money. If the alleged seller asks you to share your credit card information over the phone  or through an unsecured website, and/or demands that you disclose other personal details, such as your date of birth or Social Security number, you’re likely dealing with a scammer.

Before finalizing a purchase, especially on a heavily marked-down item, take these steps to avoid getting scammed:

  • Research the seller. Look for a street address on their website and for reviews and ratings from previous buyers. 
  • When buying something pricey from a private seller, don’t agree to pay for a purchase before you see the product. Look for structural defects and a manufacturer’s label to see where the item was made. Finally, look for signs of heavy use. 
  • Never wire money or pay via prepaid gift card to an unverified seller. 

Before you buy, ask: Is this a quality product or worthless junk?

  1. If there’s a cheaper alternative

Don’t assume every bargain you encounter is truly being sold at the lowest price you can find. Before you plunk down your money on a large, marked-down purchase, do some research. Look up this item online and see if it’s being sold through other retailers at an even lower price. Depending on the item, you may also find a generic version of the product that does the job well for a fraction of the cost. 

Before you buy, ask: Can I find this at a cheaper price somewhere else?

  1. If it’s not really a bargain

Not every sale is actually a sale. Retailers will often inflate the “original price” they print on a price tag to make it appear as if the current price is a genuine bargain. To spot an actual marked-down product, look for an older price tag that has been topped by a newer tag sporting the sale price. 

Another way a bargain is not a bargain is when you opt for a BOGO deal or “buy one get one at half-price” when you actually only need one of the items. If you find yourself falling for one of these sales, and you know you don’t need the second item, take a step back and ask if you’d still buy this item at this price if you’d only walk away with one of them.

Before you buy, ask: Is this actually a bargain?

When shopping sales, sometimes, you may get more than you bargained for. Use this guide to learn the five times a bargain is not a bargain.