The Lie of the Sale is No Small Potatoes

When I was seven I loved Jackie Chan. I watched the show avidly, loving the idea of powers bestowed by an animal, the elaborate fight scenes and dramatic storylines.


When I was eight, I was so over Jackie Chan. My dad found some sneakers at Payless that were half off. They had a Jackie Chan emblem on the side and, despite me telling him I would never wear them, he bought them because they were a great deal. True to my word, I never wore them.

The lie of the sale is that we are saving money. But if you buy something you don’t need, in the end, you are losing that money. Yes, it’s very obvious, and yet we’re still deceived all the time.


If you buy a $350 jacket for $150, it’s easy to focus on the $200 you saved instead of the $150 you spent. It’s good to get into the habit of asking:

Do I already have something that can serve the same function?

I have so many jackets, but when I see a new one I am always so tempted to buy it. After all, there are so many different ranges of temperature, jackets for rain, jackets for snow. But do I have something that will function well? If it is for a one-time event, like a ski-trip but I live in Florida, is it possible to rent the item, or even borrow from a friend?

If the item was full price, would you still want to buy it?

If not, then it might not be something you need anyway.

Think about getting rid of the item down the line

Eventually, we declutter, get rid of things we never use, and realize all the tchotchkes we thought were awesome are now stashed in the back of our closets. We’re remiss to get rid of them, but don’t have enough space to put them out in the open either. Items that we think will be “easy come, easy go,” tend not to be “easy go.” We get attached, thinking about the money we spent and the original dreams we had for the item that could still if we just got our act together, come to be.

Did I find the item intentionally, or as a side venture?

So you head out to buy a pressure cooker because they’re apparently all the rage right now and you have a coupon and the store is having a sale and you’re like, sweet, it’s pressure cooker time. While you are there, you see a cute outfit that would be great for your baby nephew, a set of tupperware because they are on sale and yours aren’t sorted and kind of driving you crazy anyway.

Think really hard about these extra items. Stores and advertisements convince you that you need this item, right now. It’s convenient to buy it at this moment, but you didn’t actually arrive at the store with that item in mind, so how badly do you need it? What are other things you have at home that could work?

It adds up over time

It’s little things you don’t need that add up over time. Magazine subscriptions that you mean to read but never get around to, cookware that seems pretty useful, but only for one type of food. (Why did I buy that garlic crusher? Why?)

It all seems like small potatoes. But let’s do the math.  A bag of potatoes is about $3. Say you bought a small bag of potatoes (which represents the cute little gadget you’d love to add to your collection) every week, for the low price of $3.

It’s not small potatoes!

If you spend $3 on an unnecessary product or service once a week, over the course of 10 years you will end up spending $1,563.43. If you were to instead choose to invest the $3 every week rather than spend it, you could earn $691.62 in interest. This would bring the real price-tag of what you are spending your money on to $2,255.05. That’s just $3 a week, if it were every day, say, for a morning latte, it would add up to $15,785 over that time.

The little bits of saving add up over time, but so do the little bits of spending.

The breakthrough for me was taking some time to appreciate everything I did have. When I had that urge for “just one more thing” to think about the things I did have, and the purpose they served. To that end, I’ve implemented a ban for myself– no more clothing. I could easily clothe myself in a different outfit for a month. That’s enough. That’s more than enough. If something I love rips, I’ll fix it. I’m starting with a three-month ban. I am hoping to turn it into a year.

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