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My Money, My Choices

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a personal finance writer, television host and radio broadcaster. Every Wednesday, she arms Metro readers with tips to keep spending in check.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade: It's not a bargain if you don't need it

Three ways to tell that you aren't a great bargain hunter, but consumed by shopping instead.

As counter-intuitive as it may seen, if acquiring something new makes you feel really happy you might have a shopping problem, writes Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

imtmphoto / iStock

As counter-intuitive as it may seen, if acquiring something new makes you feel really happy you might have a shopping problem, writes Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

Who doesn’t love a good sale? But when bargain hunting, coupon clipping or mastering the deal becomes the objective, you and your budget are likely headed for big trouble.

I can’t tell you the number of people who have said, “But it was such a deal!” Really? You don’t have the money you need to pay off your credit card balance in full, but it was a deal? Hmmm.

If you’re spending money you don’t have — if you’re putting it on credit and not paying it off in full by the end of the month — it’s not a deal. If you’re buying something you don’t need, it’s not a deal. If it takes you three weeks, three months, or never to put what you bought to use, it’s not a deal.

A deal is buying the snowsuit your child is going to wear next winter on sale at the end of this winter at 70 per cent off. A deal is picking up a new book you know your sister is dying to read for half price and stashing it for her birthday.

A deal is getting something you really need or want at a significant savings, and being able to pay for it in cash.

Shopping for bargains has become a social disease. So how do you know if you’ve been bitten? Here are three clues:

1. Your home is jammed to the rafters with stuff. Chronic bargain shopping is often unconscious spending, so you may not even know you’re doing it. Take a look around. How much of the stuff you bought is sitting unused?

2. Your favourite phrase is “It was on sale.” All of us fall prey to impulse shopping from time to time. The problem for people who can’t curb their desire for immediate gratification is that they’re not prioritizing. They’ve lost (or never had) the ability to figure out if they can do without, but for a whopping salary, they’re a centimetre away from destitution.

3. Acquiring something new makes you feel happy. As counterintuitive as it may seem, some people become chronic bargain shoppers out of a fear of poverty. It can be a self-esteem thing too. If you have to have the latest fashions and accessories to feel you’re admired, your self-esteem issues are showing.

The next time you find yourself sidling up to the cash register with a bargain in hand, ask yourself:

• Do I need it?

• How will I pay for it?

• What will I do with it?

• What would happen if I waited?

Better yet, get yourself a small notebook and promise you’ll never again shop without a list.

In this notebook, keep a list of the things you need and want. If you find a bargain, look at your list to see where that item is. If it’s at or near the top of your list in terms of priority, and you have the cash on hand, buy.

If not, walk away.

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