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Thursday, August 13, 2015

How do you assess what is a "deal" and what is not?

While in a second-hand shop in Poulsbo, I was thinking about this. What is a deal? Some of the criteria that came to mind were the following.

What's the margin between our income and our necessary expenditures.

What feels like a deal to me may sound like an extravagance to you, and vice versa, simply based on income and one's cost of living. If one's income is so pinched that there's nothing left after paying bills on the necessities of life, then spending even $5 on a non-essential will feel too extravagant. It's not a deal if buying it means you can't pay one of your bills.

Is this a "need" or is this a "want"? What would I be willing to pay for a similar item? And can I resell it for what I paid for it?

A needed item takes financial priority over a want. And depending on how desperate that need is, I could find myself willing to pay more than usual, and might still think it's a deal.

This, in itself, can be variable. If all my undies are tattered beyond repair, I'm going to be far more willing to spend money on that first pair of new undies, than on the sixth pair. (In fact, make that the first two pairs, so I can actually wash them.) The sixth pair can sort of fall into the "wants" category, rather than "need", as I know from experience that I can get by on just a few good pairs, doing laundry regularly. 

But I do think about it while shopping, "is this such a great deal? What am I willing to spend on similar items?" For the undies, I compared the price of pretty undies, to that of nice trouser socks, a few dollars, but not $10 or $11 each pair (the regular retail price on my favorite Maidenform undies). I have been replenishing my undie collection this spring and summer, one pair at a time, using Kohl's and Penney's $10 off coupons. I can get a pair for just a couple of dollars, with coupons. Same for nice quality trouser socks. 

I might not consider whether or not I could resell the undies or socks, but other clothing items, yes, I most definitely would consider resale value. Like that pj top I got at the thrift shop a couple of weeks ago. I spent 99 cents for it. And, yes, I could sell it at a garage sale for 99 cents. My daughters use the same criteria, when shopping for clothing. One daughter bought a cute, black knit tunic, to wear over leggings this fall. When she was considering her purchase of 99 cents, she said to me, "I could list this on facebook at school for more than this price and recoup my money".

For a decor piece for the house, I realize that decor falls under the "want" heading, nice to have, but I'm going to hold out for a really great deal before buying. I'm not as willing to part with my money for a "want".

I mostly shop at second-hand shops for decor pieces. I can find better quality, at a fraction of the price of a newly-crafted piece, by shopping second-hand. 

I have price points in my head, as for what I think is a deal on wall decor and knick-knacks. Basically $8 to $12 for a piece of wall art, if it's exactly how I want to use it (no new paint job, no new pane of glass, etc -- ready to hang). If I have to do anything to bring it up to my requirements for use, repairs or paint jobs, then that piece either needs to have collector's value, or needs to be close to free, $1 to $2. I have paid more, in the past, but at this point, we're not "needing" to cover as many walls as a few years ago. I can wait for that stellar deal to show up. 

Knick-knacks are harder to pinpoint my price on. I look for things that have resale value, are collectibles, but still in the "cheap" or "budget" categories. But I try to keep to the price that the exact same item might sell for on ebay. For the most part, any collectibles I buy, I find for under $10.

Knowing what items might sell for on ebay is key to getting a great deal, I've found. And it's so easy to check ebay for comparables, if you're willing to spend a few minutes looking things up. You no longer need to be a collector or dealer to know a good deal when you find it.

In Poulsbo, we browsed several second-hand shops. The one with the best prices, overall, was not on the main drag, but one street over. Even though they didn't all carry the exact same items, I knew the ebay prices for several key items that are always on my watch list, and could compare prices on similar items, between the stores. This made the main-street shops interesting to look through, but not at all tempting for purchases. I also discovered that Poulsbo shops had better prices, overall, than my favorite local vintage district, by doing a few of those price comparisons.

In practice

I had another one of those $10 off coupons to Kohl's this week. I had a few "needs" on my list, but couldn't find exactly what I was looking for. (No undies in my size, style, color and fabric this time, and no nice trouser socks for winter, yet.) 

So, not wanting this coupon to be wasted, I began searching the store for "wants". I was only interested in using this coupon if I found a stellar deal on something off my "wants" list. We're okay with the margin between our income and expenditures, right now. We're putting money into various saving's funds every month, so a "wants" purchase of a couple of dollars is within our budget.

After browsing the housewares, bath and bedding departments quite thoroughly, I headed over to the home decor aisles. Of course, I stopped at the clearance section first. I found a nice wall-mounted shelf that I liked, a wall-hung coat rack that was also nice, and then this -- a decorative mirror, with small shelf and a couple of small hooks (not for coats, but scarves and mittens would work).

This decor piece was originally $69.99. That's not even in my ballpark range of what I would spend on my wildest day, for this type of item. It's not an antique (or even vintage). It has no "collector's value". And it's not even solid wood (so it can only be refinished by painting). It's lovely, though, and just my style for the short wall, at the end of the hall, near the garage door. But not for $69.99.

It had been marked down numerous times, and now was priced at 80% off, for $13.99. Okay, that sounds better, and almost within my range for wall art/decor. But on an ordinary day, under ordinary circumstances, no I would not pay $13.99 for this. Not because it's not worth that price to somebody, but for me, I am able and willing to keep looking around. It's just a tad out of my range (by about $2) for a "want" of this sort. And that is key -- that I have time on my side for finding a piece for this particular spot in the house, so I am able and willing to keep looking.

However. . .
Remember that $10 off coupon? After the coupon was applied, my cost for this decor piece was $3.99. Forget that it was almost 95% off of the original price. But $3.99 fits in the margin between our income and our current necessary expenditures. 

I would actually pay a few dollars more for a similar item, up to about $12. I couldn't find anything comparable on ebay for this price. Shipping alone would eat up that $3.99. I did find one mirror that I felt was comparable in style and quality on ebay, and it was selling for about $30.00, plus shipping.

I could definitely resell it at a garage sale for at least what I paid for it. (Garage sales are overpriced, IMO, in our area. But people are willing to pay those higher prices.)

And while it's a want and not a need, it does fill a gap in decor for this particular wall. I had been thinking this wall could use a mirror, to reflect light in a dark passage, and as a last-minute "do I look okay" check.

I'm not likely to find anything comparable to this item, for less than this, at a garage sale, flea market, thrift shop or off craigslist. Anything I could find in a "free" pile would likely need paint and or repairs (costing a couple of dollars and my time). 

So, when I spied this mirror, it only took me seconds to figure that this, indeed, was a great deal.

How do you determine if something is a great deal or not?


  1. That mirror shelf is so pretty! Great buy! You have inspired me to take my Kohl's coupon and look for undies, lol.

    As for determining great deal or not, I guess that varies for me as well. For a want, like you, I would shop around for best possible deal. For a need, I am usually willing to pay a fair "average" price if needed. An example would be peanut butter. I will pay full regular price at Aldi for their "natural" PB because I know it still beats most any other price I can find, barring an unexpected clearance sale somewhere (hasn't happened, but theoretically could) AND it still makes a very frugal lunch for my children, less than most other lunches (I am allergic so don't eat it.). However, this week, they ran it for .20 less than usual, so I know that is a great deal for this quality of PB.

    1. Hi Cat,
      And how much peanut butter did you or will you buy to stock up this time?

      As for the undies -- even though Kohl's didn't have my size/style/color this time, I got Penney's $10 coupon in the mail yesterday! So I'll check there next. I do have several nice pairs now, which is a nice change from the mended ones that I blogged about months ago! Oh, and on the undies with a coupon -- if I had really wanted, I could have used the coupon online and got the size/style/color that I wanted, but I was too impatient. You can do the ship to store option with Kohl's using the coupon, and not pay shipping charges -- just an FYI.

  2. I would definitely consider purchasing a home decor item second hand over one made in China for sale at Walmart. I love dishes and the new ones at Walmart are so, so pretty, but then I look at see that they are made in China and I don't want to support that and after all it is just a want. I definitely don't need more dishes. lol

    I am embarrassed to admit this, but I spent $20 on a pair of undies because I want and need good quality in that department. Sssssh..don't tell will be our little secret. ;)

    What a GREAT deal you got on that mirror! I love it. I would jump on a deal like that. Great job.

    Some yard sales here are overpriced too. In my head I am thinking, "Yea, you'll be taking this stuff back inside at the end of the day." lol

    I'm like Cat, I think it varies with me as well on getting a great deal. And I am at that stage in life when my daughter is grown now and not changing sizes every six months. So the deals I used to find at yard sales, I don't need as much as I did when she was much younger. For example, I didn't buy her any new clothes or even second hand clothes for back to school as everything still fits her from last year, which is great and saved me money. Now I will probably buy her something new when I get my first check just because I want to and she would like that. I don't need any furnishings for the house anymore unless I just want to change something up or see something I really like, so those would fall under the wants category. I think I have whittled down my expectations in my mind, so that I do not need very many things to make it in life. The older I get the more I realize most things I think I need are actually wants. Except for underwear, it usually needs replacing sooner rather than later. lol

    1. Hi Belinda,
      good point on sometimes needing to spend more on a necessity, in order to get the quality that you need and want. For me, some of my clothing falls into that category. Although my daughters find jeans that fit, look good and they like at the thrift shop for 99 cents, I've yet to find a pair there that meets my quality and fit expectations. Not that I feel I need those super expensive jeans, but I willingly spend more money on good fit for jeans at Penney's (I like Lee jeans). To me, there's nothing worse than jeans or other snug fitting pants that fit badly and are uncomfortable to wear.

      It's really great when your kids stop growing so fast, and they can actually wear out their clothes! I like to buy a new thing or two for my daughters, just because it's fun to do so, but they really do have enough clothes. My son earns enough and he's definitely old enough, that the only clothes I buy for him are as gifts for Christmas and his birthday. The rest is completely up to him at this point (it's nice when that finally happens, too!)

  3. Good job on such an amazing find...I go through a similar mental process as you do to decide whether or not to buy...need/want, value, cheaper I really want to list this as money spent? Although we have never lived on a budget (my goal was always to zero spend), lately I've been testing the waters to see if we could live under a theoretical fixed income budget which we will soon be living under in a year or two. So whatever I buy has become dearer to me in terms of the overall budget. This has made shopping almost no fun literally...I've cut our purchases down drastically. Every purchase has had the second and third "thinkover" lol I could cut a lot more I suppose if I wasn't so intuitive, always buying ahead of need. That's the reason I have so many crates of underwear, enough to last the rest of my life literally, many were purchased from Kmart for $1. I remember buying over 30 bras 20 years ago, and because it is not underwire, they are comfortable for doing manual work, so they came in handy the past 20 years. I'm finally down to the last. Of course I bought nicer bras along the way, but these are my all time favorites to wear to work and on off days. Panties...still got some purchased for 25 cents at Kmart. These days, I've been buying yarns and supplies for my soon to be full time craft endeavor. That's starting to add up, so just last night I told my husband that I should limit my purchases...yet I really don't have the selection I need to work with. So I guess I will have to make a decision about how much to spend on something that may have no functional or resale value other than to fulfill my desires (to someone else it may seem like craziness and a total waste of money). So far it's not been much, but as my commitment to rug making grows, so has my purchases.

    I've realized that money is not that important to me, but time is. As long as I have enough money to not worry about money, I don't care to have more. A deal to me has to fit this overall agenda, spending too much time to save money may not be a deal to me either. Having more stuff mo matter the price, may not be a deal either. I'm going through some life changes and along with that goes some old habits.


    1. I forgot to mention the recent bras I've purchased from Kmart this year. 99c some Olga and several sizes. Figured I may shrink as I grow older.


    2. I guess I could carry this further, the least time and money I spend on survival needs the happier I will be. I'm trying to whittle down the necessities to bare necessities, to free up more time and money.



    3. Hi YHF,
      Wow! Those are some deals on bras and underwear! Makes me look like a spendthrift -- ha ha!

      Time is important. I don't do as much running around to save on groceries as I once did. The Cash & Carry has been very helpful in that regard. I also don't do a lot of couponing, unless the coupons have a high dollar value -- all because of the time involved.

      It's a balance between time spent and money saved, *plus* enjoyment of the activity. Gardening takes a lot of time, but it gets me outdoors and into the sunshine, which is a good thing.

  4. I am lucky to be at a stage where I have everything I need, and most everything I want (within reason, I can still dream big). So while cost is certainly a factor, when I buy something I think mostly about do I really need it, do I have room for it, and will it last a long time.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Some of our wants and needs are big ticket items, like home repairs or car replacement, so more of our money is set aside to save for those items, and less is available for casual spending. In order to have enough saved by the time we really need one of those major items paid for, I do have to be careful on those little purchases.

      I think you make some good points about determining whether or not something is a good purchase -- need, storing and durability. I especially like the durability aspect, as I often don't want to have to be out shopping for the same item again, soon, or paying for multiple repairs.


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