Spending The Frugal Handbook

TFH #25: Fake Discounts

Everyone loves a good discount.

Discounts allow us to get more by spending less, so what’s not to love?

Unfortunately, discounts aren’t all made equal.

While they are often presented as excellent opportunities to save money, they can also be designed to trick you into spending more than you might have originally planned to.

One common way in which merchants offer discounts is via vouchers.

However, they usually set a minimum purchase amount to use such vouchers.

And this minimum amount is probably higher than the price of a casual purchase you’d make at the store, which means that you’d have to buy more than what you usually do.

Take Uniqlo’s vouchers for example.

Once in a while, you may find yourself with a Uniqlo voucher – on your birthday month if you’re a Uniqlo member, by downloading the StyleHint app, etc.

The most common type of voucher they offer is a $5 voucher with minimum spending of $60.

Here is a generic price range for most of their men’s items:

  • T-shirts: $14.90 – $19.90
  • Shirts: $29.90 – $39.90
  • Shorts: $29.90
  • Pants/jeans: $49.90 – $59.90
  • Outerwear (jackets, blazers, coats): $39.90 – $200+

As it turns out, trying to hit the minimum spending amount of $60 is pretty hard if you’re just shopping casually – even buying 3 t-shirts or 2 pairs of shorts won’t cut it.

If you want to buy, for example, 1 pair of pants that cost $49.90, you’d be tempted to look for something else you can buy that would put you over the $60 threshold so that you can use your $5 voucher.

Ideally, this would be something that costs $14.90 – since adding on a $9.90 item would still leave you short of $60 – so your total bill comes out to $64.80.

This isn’t an issue if there’s something else you’re already intending to buy – it simply allows you to save $5.

But if there isn’t anything else you actually want to buy and you end up buying something just to hit the $60 price point and using the voucher, then you’ve fallen into a trap.

Because in this scenario, you’ve spent $10 more than you really wanted to.

Even though on paper, you’ve saved $5, your final bill is still $59.80 instead of the $49.90 you were intending to spend.

It would only be a discount if you were prepared to buy 1 item at its original price and the other at $5 off.

Otherwise, you’d have been better off not using the $5 voucher and instead just buying the pants at $49.90 while trying to find other ways to get a discount.

Another example is when merchants only offer a discount with a minimum number of items purchased.

The same logic applies – if you were already planning to buy multiple items, you should gladly welcome such a promotion.

If you weren’t, and only intend to buy 1 item, then this promotion might be a trap for you.

The point is that it defeats the purpose of trying to save money by making use of discounts and promotions if, in the process, you end up buying things you weren’t planning to buy, causing you to spend more money than you originally would.

P.S. I love Uniqlo, but I just wish their vouchers have lower/no min. spends – who remembers the OG Scan to Win vouchers with no min. spend?

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