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Just because something is on sale does not mean you should buy it. Elizabeth Kerr asks if you are 'spaving' - spending to save

Personal Finance
Just because something is on sale does not mean you should buy it. Elizabeth Kerr asks if you are 'spaving' - spending to save

By Elizabeth Kerr

This is how I imagine we evolved into the super-spenders that we recognise today.

It started way back when we ran around as lean and active hunter gathers sourcing our food from the wild.

There were no guns or fishing rods so it was always pretty hard and time consuming.

I imagine we had to chase a beast down and wrestle it to death with our brute strength and maybe a sharp rock. We were brave. When we returned to the village the people would oohh and aaahh at our prowess and we felt awesome!

Then one day whilst strolling along enjoying the serenity we saw a lone zebra drinking from the waterhole completely oblivious to our presence. A sneaky tip toe through the grass and wham… it was ours. Easiest dinner ever!

In our minds we thought – “whoa that was a bargain, it hardly cost me any energy at all, I feel awesome.” And that’s where I think it began, out love affair with sourcing a bargain and the birth of super-spending.

Cut to the present day and we are still like that caveman wandering the plains looking for our next feed. Only nowadays the plains have been replaced with shopping malls, the wild animal with products and our energy has been replaced with money. The primal pride we get from getting something on sale for a bargain is now rooted in our subconscious.

We feel like victorious winners, amazed at our ability to source such a fantastic deal. We take it home feeling awesome!


Today I’m going to write about spaving, the spending-saving phenomenon that is distorting our ability to think clearly when spending money. I’m also going to let you in on a few secrets about your subconscious and what you can do to rein in your ridiculous spending behaviour with some serious hard nosed questions you need to ask yourself before you spend another cent. Print this one out folks, you may need to refer to it a lot over this mad Christmas shopping season. 

These days the whole world is on sale. Anything that you could possibly want to purchase you can source at a discounted price if you just look around. You don’t need to look far, most retailers have sales from Thursday-Sunday and you can use websites like to find the store with the best discount. 

But just because something is on sale does not mean that you need to buy it. And what is on sale really mean anyways?

Seeing a price crossed out on a sticker and replaced with a lower price might do something in our brain which makes us weak at the knees and take it straight to the counter, but for all sense and purpose how do we know that lower price was not the price that the retailer had planned to sell that stock at all along? We don’t.

I repeat, just because something is on sale does not mean you should buy it.

I like to call the spending to save practice spaving. The middle squeeze love spaving. I’d go so far as to say they are addicted to it. Spending money whilst saving at the same time is the biggest oxymoron around, but to them it represents the joy of a good kill.

As a result the conversation and pride has now shifted away from the actual products purchased and instead we giggle like teenage girls at the savings we have made.  

“It was listed for $40 but Briscoes were having a big sale and I got it for just $14”. (duh, Briscoes are always having a sale – you have rocks in your head if you pay full price for anything in that shop). Typical response: “Whhooooaaaa that’s quite a steal. You did really well. I can’t believe that discount.You can’t make one for that,” the villagers say.   

Or lets pretend you get a great pair of shoes and your colleague notices – “nice shoes” they say. Instead of  “thanks my old shoes no longer protected my feet from the elements” the conversation switches to “Thanks – I got them really cheap…. just $12”. The other person, not wanting to miss an easy kill, is unconsciously compelled to log-on to see if they too can get the bargain kill.  The funny thing is they probably didn’t give shoes a second thought until they found out they could get it at such a good price. The result: You feel awesome.

The thrill of the chase

The thrill of the chase has become more important that the catch. Products that we don’t need to live happy successful lives are infiltrating our homes with no real purpose accept the bargain made us do it. Research boasts that having too much stuff in our house can lead to unhappiness and make you mentally unstable.

This is the total opposite of what we hoped would happen when we purchased the product in the first place.  

If you recognise yourself as a keen bargain hunter who loves a good discount-bragging then chances are you are sabotaging your future financial self as well!! There are two ways that this occurs.

Spaving takes valuable money out of your savings for your money machine, AND in the future what money your money machine spits out to you is unlikely to be able to keep up with your spaving addiction.

Advertisers will become much more astute and aggressive in convincing you to spend unless you catch on to the trap now and start practicing some personal responsibility for your future.

To actually do this requires some discipline. Retailers know how to make you feel awesome and spend your money on their products. Discounting is the most obvious but here are a few others that you might recognise whilst out Xmas shopping this month:

1. The comparative price effect. You might really like an expensive product so they put a similar cheaper one nearby for which you feel better about purchasing. For example: the TV that you will buy is situated right next to a similar one with all the same features but that one is priced hideously higher. This is done on purpose so that you feel a sense of pride in getting everything the more expensive TV has at a cheaper price. The result is you are tricked into feeling awesome.

2. They play music which makes you feel comfortable or relaxed (think supermarket) or if they’re after a younger crowd their shops are set up to sound like a dance party which makes you feel naughty and modern. Suddenly that dress that is missing the middle is exactly what you want to show daddy when you get home.   How else would they get you to buy that outfit at 1pm on a Sunday?

3. They decorate the counters with lots of over priced little goods to entice you to buy them as well. A teeny tiny cheese grater that’s destined for nothing but kitchen drawer junk slips into your bag because you are handing over your eftpos card anyway so you think “might as well”. Sucker! The reality is none of those products are non-negotiable to your lifestyle design and will have no impact on your daily safety or long term happiness. 

4. They subconsciously set you up for a purchase during the week by decorating your Facebook page with their logos, showing adverts between your favourite programs, putting their products into your favourite shows, and send you a mailer on a Thursday. (I got 12 yesterday!…can anyone beat that?) Come Saturday you will be primed and ready to purchase without a conscious thought being entered into. Its not that you needed those products at all; it’s that decades of science and aggressive marketing have culminated in you volunteering to buy them on your weekend.

So now that you know the bargain is not really a good deal at all, but just another tool the retailers use to get you to throw your money away, you can undo millions of years of subconscious ancestral addiction to bargains, and kick start you brain into thinking of creative ways to avoid spending unnecessarily. The most simple is to ask yourself “how can I do without this product?” As an example: let’s say you want to buy a steam mop. If you were to ask yourself that question the answer lies in a bucket, a sponge and some elbow grease. Those three things worked on floors for generations and there is no reason why your world should come to an end if you have to use them too.

Here are a few other useful questions to ask yourself the next time you’re faced with such a situation:

  1. Do I really need it?  Is there something else I have which serves the same purpose?
  2. Can I buy it with my own money?  If not, walk away !
  3. Is it a one season wonder - In 15 years time will I still be using it, or is this a purchase which will trap me in a never ending cycle of upgrading?
  4. If I hadn’t seen it on someone else or on TV would I still want it, or would I still want it if it was sold at The Warehouse and not this store?  

Chances are that it only the things on your non-negotiables list that will make it through all of these questions and into your shopping cart.

Don’t panic its not the end of shopping per se.

You would be forgiven for thinking that I never go shopping but that’s just not the case. I love taking home something which I believe is going to have a material impact on my lifestyle design over the long term. But never are these purchases made with consumer debt or taking away from my money machine goals. The result: I feel awesome!  

Guess what?!

I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that next week will be my last column for 2014.

But the good news is that the kind folks at have given me an email address. If you want to share with me your deepest darkest secrets thoughts and comments on my columns you are welcome to email me at Have I had an impact on your perspective thus far, what are your personal money or spending challenges, are there particular topics you want me to write about for you? I can’t promise to answer every email but I can promise to read them all. (Remember cyber-bullying is a crime, the same rules apply as if you were commenting below).

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

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yes oh to be disciplined and strong, for myself I am very much so, hardly buy anything for myself unless I really really need it....of course all planning goes out the window come Kids and Christmas and therein lies my downfall...but I wouldn't change anything to have a few extra zeros on my bank balance. I love Christmas.




When my wife says it was on special and she saved 40% (on something we don't need), I normally remind her she could have saved 100%


Bought items do fill the space available for them.  I live aboard.  Anything I might buy has to stay in its box and get put in my inconvenient to access storage container.  Space enforced frugality and simplicity.


Its hard to know what types of people read the website.

a) Some will be modest and prudent people.

b) Some will be property investors

c) Some will be financial market people

d) Some will be young and old people who are spenders

I'm in category a), with a tiny bit of b), c) and d) thrown in so you are preaching to the converted with me. But I find your writing style amusing.

How about something in the future on the Auckland Councils plans to intensify housing and how this may be bad for the environment? I myself have a large section where I grow fruit trees and have some large trees which I trim every year and cut the wood up for firewood. If my place became apartments, there would be no more birds nesting in my trees feeding on the silky oak or kowhai flowers, no sustainable heating in winter, no more lizards living in the patches of long grass, rainwater soaking into the ground etc........

To get a feel for what Auckland may become is to look at the beach suburbs of Sydney. 3-4 story apartment blocks. Cars parked along all roads. Mission Bay and Kohi are a bit like that now. The Mount is like that too. In Sydney a fairly wide range of people live near the beaches. In NZ not many young people or families live in these places. Is that desirable?

The councils projections of populating increases have been wrong and could become even more dramatically wrong. That could be another topic. A bit of a boring one though.



from the sell side


"I like to call it selling them shit they don't need at prices they can't resist," says Mr Leibovich, founder of Catch Group, of his bargain-based e-commerce offers to online shoppers.

Receiving around 250,000 visitors daily, is one of Australia's most visited shopping sites, and the group is one of Australia Post's largest customer for parcel delivery.


didn't mean to re-post

must be the human condition