Buying On Sale: Are You Really Saving Money?

buyingonsale-areyoureallysavingmoney.jpgIt seems that everybody loves a good sale, but the real question is when you buy stuff on sale are you really saving money? Well, sure, you are saving money off the regular price of that particular product at that particular store, but is that even meaningful? In many cases, I honestly don’t think it is! Of course, buying something on sale is always better than buying it at the regular price, but with sales being so commonplace you should think long and hard before buying something at the full price.

Sales Are Just A Marketing Tactic

Every store wants to sell as many products as they can at as high of a price as possible. The stores are in business to make money, not to save you money, and they will do everything in their power to get as much money out of you as they can. That includes sales! Before you rush out to buy something on sale, remember to think the purchase through. Just because it is on sale doesn’t mean that it won’t go on sale again or that it isn’t already cheaper at another store. Whenever you’re buying a mass produced or common product you should always comparison shop to make sure the sale price is actually a good price and not just flashy marketing. Here are a few things you can do so you aren’t suckered in by a bad sale:

  • Search for the product by name or model number online and compare prices.
  • Check your local flyers to see if anyone is selling the same or similar thing at a cheaper price.
  • Call around to a few stores to see what their regular and sale prices are for that product.
  • Get to know the prices and sales at your favourite stores so you can quickly spot a good deal.

The Regular Price Isn’t Always That Regular

There are laws in Canada that prevent retailers from inflating their regular prices just so they can advertise huge discounts to consumers making you think that you are getting an amazing deal when the store never intended to sell their products at the regular price anyway. Stores have two choices when complying with these laws:

  1. A substantial volume of total product sold has to have been sold at the regular price (50% or more).
  2. The product being sold has to be for sale at the regular price for a substantial period of time (at least half the time).

In my opinion, the second point provides the biggest loophole because larger stores and chains can easily rotate products that are on sale to ensure they are moving inventory while many other products sit at inflated regular prices and almost never sell. If they do sell products at that high price then it is just a bonus, but the vast majority of their inventory is actually sold at sale prices, which are really more like regular prices than sale prices.

Canadian Tire Example

My favourite example of this is Canadian Tire. If you flip through a Canadian Tire flyer, you will see countless products for sale at more than 50% off and many as much as 80% off. Don’t get me wrong, I love Canadian Tire and shop there frequently, but how can you always sell stuff at 80% off and still make money? It must be because the regular prices are inflated beyond belief! If you were to look at Canadian Tire’s sales numbers I’m sure you would find that much more than 75% of their products are sold at the so-called sale price. They have their products on a finely tuned schedule to go on sale and appear in their flyers every few weeks or according to seasonal buying times so that they comply with the laws but can still advertise unrealistic discounts.

This isn’t true for every product that they sell, especially big brand names, because they do have to be somewhat competitive on common brands that are the most easily compared and sold at other retailers. You will also notice that these products go on sale with a much smaller discount than the products that they control and brand themselves. So let this be a warning to you. If you buy something at Canadian Tire for the regular price, then you are almost certainly having the wool pulled over your eyes and paying a huge mark up they don’t even intend most people to pay. They just want to make their sales look good and attract more people into their stores with flashy numbers!

Control Your Impulses

When evaluating a sale, controlling your impulses is necessary to ensure you are actually saving money on the purchase. The next time you’re tempted by a sale ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I really need this? Will this product be useful to me a year from now?
    • Try waiting a few days before you make the purchase to see if you still want it.
  • Is this really a good price?
    • If this is the first time you’ve seen a price for this product then you should put the brakes on immediately!
  • What is the quality of this product like?
    • Read reviews online before you buy to make sure that you are getting good value for your money.
  • Is this product on sale for a reason?
    • Poor selling products are often put on sale and they usually don’t sell well for a reason.
    • Make sure you aren’t buying a poorly made, ugly, or somehow inferiour product.

Value Over Price

I’ve hinted at this several times already, but I want to bring it home that the most important thing when making a purchase is value, not price. When buying anything you should first make a short list of suitable products that meet your needs based on their usefulness and quality as long as they are in your general price range. Then once you know what you need, you can go about getting those products at the cheapest possible price. Having more than one product that meets your criteria makes it easier to find a good price, but narrowing it down to just one and then waiting for the right price can work too. This also isn’t to say that you can’t be attracted to a product you hadn’t previously considered by a sale, you should just put in the effort to verify that it does provide good value and it is actually something that you need long term.


Do you have any strategies you use when shopping for stuff on sale? How do you make sure that the sale price actually represents good value for your money?


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youngandthrifty's picture

I'm SOOO bad at trying to control myself when I see a 70% off or 80% off. I actually was just flipping through the Canadian Tire flyer earlier thinking I should go get that Kitchen Aid knife set because it is 70% off and it said "no rainchecks".

LOL thank you for stopping me. You saved me $100! :)

November 18, 2010 @ 3:45 am
SavingMentor's picture

I wasn't expecting to save anyone money that quickly! Glad to help :)

The knife set may actually be a good deal, who knows. When the discounts get up to 80 and 85% off, then the price is usually at least competitive and often better than you can get at other stores. You might end up with something of higher quality if you were to buy it at Costco or research knives a bit before buying.

Of course, us home cooks aren't really chefs anyway so we don't need a perfectly balanced german forged blade anyway ;)

November 18, 2010 @ 9:24 am
Melanie S
Melanie S's picture

I'm never in a panic to buy anything advertised on sale at Canadian Tire because I know it will go on sale again in 6 weeks or so. If I still want it by the next sale, I'll buy it then. And I'd never pay full-price for a big ticket item there, for the reasons you mentioned.

March 11, 2011 @ 9:57 pm
SavingMentor's picture

At least that's one good thing you can say about Canadian Tire sales ... they are predictable! Thanks for commenting.

March 12, 2011 @ 10:41 pm
D. DeWolfe
D. DeWolfe's picture

This is an old post but I wanted to thank you for sharing it. Of particular interest was your Canadian Tire example. You have confirmed my suspicions: I purchased a carpet washer from them at a "clearance" price of $180 ("regular" price $400). After getting it home I discovered the manufacturers Canadian website lists the same model at $275! Now this product is excellent and I did pay less than the MSRP, but the savings was 35% as opposed to 55%. Currently the store is selling it on sale at $200. So much for clearance.

Likewise, a set of cordless phones retailing for $70 at Canadian Tire but selling for $45 on sale sounds great until you realize most other places sell the same model for $50, so while you save some money you don't really save much.

August 30, 2016 @ 1:28 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Yup, it's kind of disgusting ... but sadly I still like shopping at Canadian Tire on the rare occasions that I go :(

September 05, 2016 @ 1:07 pm

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