Sometimes free money = unnecessary spending

by Karen on August 15, 2008

I have a Victoria’s Secret Angels card that I opened in college. I’m proud to say I’ve never carried a balance on it. The truth is, I like their stuff, even if it is overpriced, and by maintaining an open account I can often score some great deals.

They periodically send out coupons. I put them aside until I honestly need something, then I bring my coupon in during the semi-annual sales. The result can be $10 off the clearance price on an item that was marked down from $40 to $19.99. The catch is you often have to use your card to get the deal, but that’s no big deal to me if I’m only spending $9.99 for a nice bra. I’m happy to charge it and pay it off immediately before the interest kicks in. It’s very rare that I use the card, I never use it to pay full price or for anything that I don’t need, and I always pay the balance right away.

However, my relationship with my Angels card and the coupons associated with it is love/hate. This month, they sent me a “birthday reward” for $10 off anything in the store. Sort of weird because my birthday isn’t until October, but whatever.

I read the coupon. The only limitation was that I couldn’t use it with another discount. From what I could tell, it was $10 off anything with no provision that the item had to cost more than $10. I didn’t need anything, but I figured if it was free, I might as well pick up some scented lotion.

I went there tonight, picked out a bottle of lotion for $9, and brought it to the cash register. “I’m sorry,” the nice cashier told me, “but in order to use this coupon, you have to charge the remaining total on your Angels card. If you’re not charging anything, you can’t use the coupon.”

If you’ve read my About Me page, then you know that I worked in retail as recently as 2 months ago. I wasn’t about to make this woman’s life more difficult tonight by arguing with her about a coupon that I was using to buy something frivolous. She was just doing her job, and there was probably nothing she could do about it anyway. I thanked her and went to look around the store to see if I could find something I needed for $10.

I settled on a tube of mascara (an item that I’ll probably need in the next couple weeks to be fair). I normally pay $4.50 for mascara every 4-6 months. The tube I bought tonight was marked $12, but with the coupon I paid $2. It’s important to remember, though, I didn’t really save $10. I really only saved $2.50 because there’s no way I’d ever pay $12 for a tube of mascara. But $2.50 is $2.50, I guess.

When I left the store, I felt resentful and a little mad at myself for giving in. When I was in college, that $10 coupon would have led me to spend $30. Even then I paid it off by the end of the month, but still … it’s not really a coupon if you’re spending more than you’re saving.

I went into a store tonight planning to spend $0 and walked out with a $2 charge on a credit card I never use.

I still have a lot to learn, but I learned a valuable lesson tonight. From now on I’ll skip the coupons if there’s nothing I need. Free money is rarely ever really free money.

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A fabulous, frugal (free!) date « Living Well on Less
October 24, 2008 at 11:23 pm

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