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Deal or No Deal?

photo by flickr user lomo-cam

Due to it being my birthday month, I currently have coupons to every store from which I buy clothing, even places I shop at only sporadically. (It has become nearly impossible to shop at a store with any regularity and not feel compelled to open an account.) I want to examine the fascinating psychology of how some people react to thinking they have been offered a special deal that they must take advantage of now or never. Macy’s wants to give me twenty percent off ANYTHING, on any day I choose!

They want you to feel like you are wasting a chance to be savvy and shop at the right time. Let’s talk math here.

Let’s say I was to use the coupon and buy an 80 dollar shirt. Then I’d save 16 dollars on that shirt with the coupon. Imagining this, I then see the coupon as a potential 16 dollar bill that is going to disintegrate in a few weeks if I do not use it. But if there is nothing I need at the moment, then buying the shirt would set me back 64 dollars plus tax. The department stores sending the coupons are gambling that I am desperate to pay the 64 dollars in order to “save” the other 16. It makes no logical sense when I spell it out, but I think this is exactly the reasoning that leads me to carry the cards around until they expire, even if I need nothing at the time.

I believe that gambling can set off similar psychological cues in one’s mind. If I put $5 into a slot machine, it is pretty much immediately gone. But if I spend another $5, I may be able to get the initial one back. Even if the odds are low that I will win, it is an attempt to rationalize the cognitive dissonance of having spent money for no reason or reward.

We perceive money – our money – frozen and inaccessible unless we spend even more money to “rescue” it. Since we are immersed in advertising from birth, people are hard wired to “get a good deal” or “beat the system.” But unless you wanted or needed an item before seeing the coupon or members-only discount, buying it only goes to demonstrate that the house always wins.