Thursday, October 20, 2005

When's a deal not a deal?

Around the end of last year and the beginning of this one, I found myself in the uncommon – for me – situation of having a girlfriend. At the same time I found myself in the very common – for me – situation of having a crappy job. So, of course, I could hardly afford to take my special lady out, even though I wanted to. I found a viable solution to my dilemma when I bought – at a discount – an entertainment book. The entertainment book, for those unfamiliar, is a coupon book filled with coupons for various local restaurants, stores, and the like. The Entertainment Book is fantastic for dating. There are a vast number of buy one get one free deals from nice restaurants. It helped me take out my girl when I otherwise could not. Of course, my luck being what it is, this girl dumped me by the end of January. One of the reasons sighted in the break-up was my being cheap.

So, I’ve been pretty much stuck with this Entertainment Book for the better part of a year. I’ve hardly used it in this time. It’s spent most of the past year laying impotent on the back sit of my car. People have called me out on this, asking me why I don’t use it more. The truth is the book is no longer worth it for me to use. Its deals have effectively stopped being deals.

Once again, I can practically hear objections coming back at me. “How do deals stop being deals?” “You’re saving money, aren’t you?” Well, I wouldn’t really be saving money. If I used the book as much as people suggest, I would actually be losing money.

Deals can stop being deals. Deals can cost you more money than you save. These are true statements. You can go broke taking advantage only of deals. Remember, no matter what, it is always cheaper not to spend any money than to buy something. Even if you are getting a fantastic ‘deal’, it will cost you money. Not spending anything at all will cost you nothing.

Deals are only deals if they are on things you would buy anyway or you really want but can’t get unless it is at a reduced price. Otherwise, deals are ciphers. They force you to part with your money – even if it is only a little bit at a time. Imagine someone is trying to sell you a pair of pants for ten dollars. You don’t want the pants. They’re absolutely hideous, a completely unnatural shade of a green, out of fashion cut, and they make your ass look just awful. There is not a chance in hell you will wear these pants, let alone pay ten dollars for them. Then, the salesman slashes the price to five dollars. “Come on,” he says, lupine grin spreading across his face, “Fifty percent off. That’s a great deal.” Oh, no. He’s appealing to your cheapness. It IS a great deal. Fifty percent off, you can’t beat that. You buy the pants. Congratulations, you just pissed five dollars away. Go ahead and brag to your friends what a great deal you got. You may even be able to convince some of them, but the truth of the matter is that you lost five dollars – five dollars you can never get back – and your ass looks horrible.

It is always a better deal to keep your money in your wallet. If you don’t need or really, really want the item the deal is offered on, don’t buy it. Save the money for a better use, maybe for a true deal. True deals do exist, although they’re relative. A true deal to me may be a false deal to you. Remember it is only a deal if it is on something you would have bought anyway. If you really need a pair of hideous green pants – say, for work – then getting them fifty percent off is great. But if you buy something just because it is on sale, then you have lost.

This brings me back to the Entertainment Book. It was a deal for me when I was dating because I would have been taking my girlfriend out regardless. At least, I really wanted to take her out. But now that I’m single – not to mention bitter and lonely – the book doesn’t really offer as much to me. I still use it on small stuff – oil changes or splurging of pizza or chalupas – but I’m not using to go to nice restaurants. I’m not using it a lot. I have already gotten the value out of the book. I have no desire to go to nice restaurants – at least no pressing desire. If I were to use it just to use it, I would end up losing money. Right now, this starving artist can scarce afford to lose money just because I think I’m saving.