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Do You Spave -- Spend in Order to Save?

Ylan Mui

My husband warily eyed the big brown J.Crew box that recently came in the mail. But I told him not to worry: I was spaving!

Spaving = spending in order to save. I had been shopping online (shh, don't tell my boss!) and had to order $150 worth of clothes to avoid the onerous shipping fee. So I bought more than I wanted and simply returned the rest at my leisure. I had to spend in order to save.

The same thing happened at the grocery store. Cinnamon Toast Crunch, my husband's favorite cereal, was going for three for $6. So I stocked up to get the cheaper price per box of CTC.

One of my friends dubbed this phenomenon spaving: You're saving money in the long run, but you may have to lay out more cash in the short-term. Retailers love this idea because it encourages shoppers to purchase more products. Whenever they discount a product, they take a hit to their profits but hope they can make up the difference by selling more items. Requiring shoppers to buy multiple products to get the lower price helps guarantee them volume.

"What retailers try to do is to drive sales, and one of the ways you drive sales is by multiple sales," said Dan Butler, vice president of merchandising and operations for the National Retail Federation, a trade group. "You can make more profit just by driving sheer numbers."

Just look at Aeropostale, which has consistently outperformed competitors during this downturn -- same-store sales were up 20 percent last month -- because it has a reputation for value. Its promotion right now? Graphic T-shirts that are two for $20 and camis that are buy one get one free.

But there are pitfalls to be wary of when spaving. Many shoppers simply can't pass up what they see as a "deal." If you don't really need or want two graphic T-shirts, it may be cheaper to just buy one at $17.50. If I never returned the extra merchandise I ordered from J.Crew, would free shipping still feel like a deal?

There may also be danger for retailers. The New York Times published an interesting item last month that showed consumers may be willing to pay more for solo products --bundling them together at discounted prices cheapens them in shoppers' eyes.

What do you think? Tell me about your spaving adventures!

By Ylan Mui  |  May 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Bargains , Ylan Q. Mui  
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You may have fallen for the 3 for $6 gambit unnecessarily. Usually you can buy the single item for the $2 sale price.

The 10 for $10 recent sale on candy bars at my grocery and the like is trickery to get you to buy more than you would if the sale were $1 ea. "Buy two, get one free" is a different case.

Posted by: shdc | May 13, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

True, shdc, but for an item you use a lot, like the cereal, if the price is good, it may be worth buying more. When I see milk for 1.99/gal as it was a few weeks ago at Shoppers, I buy as much as I can use before it goes bad, because we use a lot of milk.

Yes, I spave sometimes at the grocery store. Yesterday I bought beef on sale for $2/lb, only it was packaged supposedly in packages of 5 lbs or more (actually I found a package of just under 4lbs at that price). So last night I had to portion that out and freeze it in useable units AND I have to plan meals around that in the next few weeks while it is still in good condition. Also, there was a $10 off of a $50 purchase at Shoppers (in the flyer that came in the mail). I bought laundry deterg that I didn't strictly need yet, but it got me over the $50 minimum, and I will need it in a month or so.

But the J.Crew thing--I don't do that any more. The first danger--it can be hard to find time to return things. Also, you have to pay for the return shipping (I suppose with J.Crew you can just return to a store, but then what do you do--buy more clothes). I find that the best way to save on shipping is to not buy things that have to be shipped! Seriously, it is way too easy to overbuy by mail.

Posted by: janedoe5 | May 13, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

I think you have to approach these carefully. Savings on something that goes to waste or that you don't really need is not savings.

I don't have the greatest track record on getting things I've purchased in bulk, divided and frozen out of the freezer and onto the table. A lot of times those things end up at the back of the shelf until they're so old I toss them.

I'd never thought about ordering for free shipping and returning. I might have to try that.

Posted by: RedBird27 | May 13, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, I do. But you have to be careful. Marketers know way more about spending behavior and triggers than we do, so it's very, very easy to let that feeling of "saving" lull you into spending more. Kind of like coupons and other sales -- they're great when they cut the cost of stuff you'd buy anyway, not so hot when they entice you to buy stuff you don't need.

I will absolutely buy larger packages, or multiples, when it's something I would buy anyway and will definitely use. I will only buy groceries on-line when I have a coupon for free delivery, and then will add in enough staples I need anyway to make sure I get to the $150 minimum. But I won't buy stuff I don't plan to keep and return it later; I know myself well enough to know I'm too dang lazy to want to deal with the returns.

But then there are the days when the deals lead to a splurge. Yesterday, strawberries were 2 quarts for $4 at Safeway. I wanted fruit, hadn't meant to buy two, and really didn't have to (2 for $4 really does mean $2 each). But I went ahead and bought two anyway, because it seemed like an excellent excuse to make pie (which I also justified because it allowed me to use up a bunch of leftover graham crackers from my daughter's bday party). That splurge cost all of @ $5.50 all told, and generated many smiles around the table last night (and, alas, not nearly as many leftovers as I was hoping for). Seemed like a reasonable tradeoff to me. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | May 13, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Hi Ylan,
How much do you spend to send the unwanted items back to J. Crew?
R. Schneider
Frostburg MD

Posted by: cfo2008 | May 15, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

You're mixing up two different ideas. One is buying enough to trigger some advantage, which falls under your friend's new word. The other is the time-honored "buying bulk, stocking up" which has been around for generations and does not fall under your friend's new word.

The same rules apply as before the new word was invented: if you use it and you have space for it, get it. If not, don't.

RedBird27: try taping a piece of paper to your freezer, to write down what you put into it. If you can label what you put it (write it on masking tape, put tape on package), better yet. If you can cross the thing off when you take it out, even better. Every now and then, eat down your freezer then do an inventory.

Posted by: fitday19550 | May 16, 2009 8:37 PM | Report abuse

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