I dream of securing a good buy: a brilliant outfit, a stunning piece of furniture, a vital pack of gardening equipment, at a giveaway price. The reality is that I am the woman who recently resorted to buying a pair of mid-life crisis shoes from Lime on Hide Hill. Not because I needed them, but because they were half price, ‘for one day only’ – and I was determined to score a price-drop success for once in my life. Yep, when it comes to bargains, I am a failure.
A boot sale I can handle. But only at half price!
I go to the sales and end up with something from the ‘New Season’ rail. I sign up for notifications for the cheapest advance tickets from East Coast Mainline and, by the time I log on, they’ve all gone. I follow the links on the email offering me 50% off the 11-year-old’s favourite running shoes: her size is never in stock.
Like most women, I check out others’ clothes with a subtle glance. Sometimes I’m impressed enough to ask where they’ve been shopping for such a chic/quirky/stylish outfit. ‘What? This?’ comes the reply, ‘Oh, it’s charity shop.’ Which charity shop, where? Not the ones I go to. Even in the 70s when racks of 50p granddad shirts vied for your attention in Oxfam, I always ended up with the one with sweat stains under the arms.
One of my more ambitious attempts at being quirky.
People tell me I should go to car boot sales. I’ve been to one. I found the sheer amount of stuff – and bargain-hunters – overwhelming. And I can’t let The Husband out of sight at these events: he’s bound to take pity on yet another piece of Victoriana that needs a home. Also, boot sales don’t resolve the need to shop for food and domestic products.
A car boot sale is my idea of the end of the world.
And that’s a minefield in itself: you only have to skim the pages of consumer magazine, Which?, to realise that supermarkets are playing more tricks on us than an illusionist on amphetamines. Go shopping in a supermarket without a brilliant grasp of mental maths, or a calculator in hand, at your peril.
Whether it’s discounted items, multibuys, special offers, or BOGOFs (buy one get one free), there’s no such thing as a straightforward cost-cutting purchase. BOGOF almost invariably involves price inflation of the paid-for item to cover the cost of the ‘free’ one. Half-price items have usually had their prices bumped up for a fortnight before they are reduced – the ‘half price’ is simply the normal cost. Which? gives the example of blueberries in one high street supermarket: they “increased in price from £1.80 to £3.99 for 14 days before going on ‘offer’ for £1.99.”
We have been trained to trust that buying bigger quantities is most cost-effective. For example, ‘18 loo rolls for the price of 12.’ Got to be good, hasn’t it? But then it dawns: two bags of 12 loo rolls are cheaper than the 18-roll offer. Recently, in a local supermarket, I realised it cost less to buy two 500g bags of potatoes than the promoted 1kg bag. I noticed a man with a 1kg bag and, a bit nervously (I’ve been told to mind my own business in the past), I pointed out the saving. Turned out he’d only wanted a few potatoes – he was simply trying to save money by buying in bulk. I know it’s sad to stand and calculate how much each banana costs – but the smoke and mirrors of pricing an item by unit in one place and weight in another really rankles.
How much per sheet? How much per roll? How much per multi-pack? The supermarkets are going to shaft you one way or another.
So, caveat emptor, of course: buyer beware. But bamboozling with tricksy promotions and cavalier price-inflation isn’t fair or, I believe, morally justifiable. If you’re interested, Which? has a sign-up campaign, ‘Price it Right’. And, if anyone catches me going for a ‘bargain’, drag me away from the till, please.
A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on Thursday 2nd May 2013