‘Need a way to buy salvage cars online? get a free automobile when you buy a new house from us.’ So read the realtor’s advertisement. But when a Better Business Bureau agent called and said he was not interested in the auto, the salesman offered him the house at a reduction of $7,100. So was the auto free? No, its cost was added to the price of the new house. He who bought a new house thinking he was getting a bargain because of a “free” auto was merely being deceived.
A “bargain” is something the value of which to the purchaser considerably exceeds its cost. Housewives are great bargain hunters and rightly so, since they have the obligation of stretching their husband’s income as far as possible. But in shopping for bargains the ancient adage applies, “Let the buyer beware.” And that for two reasons. Not only is there the risk of one’s being taken advantage of, but unless one is careful one’s own desire to get a bargain or “something for nothing” can cause one to make unwise purchases.
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Typical Deceptive Practices
Attracting buyers by offering something “free” while actually padding the price is a widespread practice. It is frequently done by furniture stores. Thus one store offered a free sewing machine with a “modern nylon-foam sofa bed” for $130, but months later advertised the sofa bed alone for $38.
Another trap that bargain hunters need to be wary of is the offer of articles at “wholesale” prices. Such should, of course, mean a considerable saving, for they eliminate the profit of the retailer. But advertising “wholesale” prices is frequently merely a ruse, trick or gimmick to lure buyers into the store. So it would be wise to shop around and become knowledgeable as to prices and values, lest the claimed “wholesale” price be actually higher than the usual retail price.
“Fictitious ticketing” is another device used to deceive customers into thinking they are getting bargains when they are not. Certain reputable manufacturers stamp on their packaging material the suggested retail price. But others will stamp on prices far above the actual value so that the salesman has a good talking point: ‘You see, the regular price of this watch is $50, but we are letting you have it for $25.’ Actually it may be worth only $20.
Then again, the description may be deceptive. A jeweler once advertised a “perfect” one-carat solitaire diamond for $500. This truly would have been a bargain. But investigation showed that the diamond, far from being perfect, was full of flaws. A governmental agency was notified and the jeweler was ordered to desist from advertising such diamonds as being perfect. Prudence would indicate that when buying such things as a diamond or a watch one should have some basis for trusting the seller.
One should also exercise great care when signing to pay for an article. Be sure that the contract actually states all the terms of the agreement. Often a salesman will make promises or state conditions that are not included in the contract. All such statements are of questionable value, and when a man buys on the basis of such statements he may well find that the bargain he thought he was getting was no bargain. Carefully read all the fine print so that you fully understand what you are letting yourself in for. Remember, a signature is legally binding, a salesman’s promise is not!
Understandably, human nature being what it is, there is always the temptation for the seller to praise his article more than it merits. Or he may be deliberately seeking to take advantage of the buyer, especially if the buyer does not seem to be worldly wise. Hence, as one purchasing journal put it, the wise buyer “separates the facts from the salesman’s guff.” Examples of businesses yielding to the temptation to overstate their case or misrepresent their products, and of government action against them, appear regularly in issues of Consumer Reports.
Not that all industries and businesses are honeycombed with dishonest practices. Many businessmen subscribe to the principle that “honesty is the best policy.” But ever so often it appears as if it were not the best policy! That is why Better Business Bureaus have so much work to do, why consumer magazines have such large circulations and why ‘consumer’s advocates’ have become popular institutions.
But It Could Be Your Fault
A policeman once commented that people who have been defrauded by some unscrupulous seller seldom report the matter to the police because the transaction exposed them as being gullible or even willing to be a party to a questionable deal. So if you would get a real bargain you need to watch not only the other fellow, the seller, but also yourself, the buyer. It is easy to be swayed by emotion when a salesman flatters one, or when he seems to offer an unheard-of bargain. Self-interest can easily blind one’s discernment or warp one’s judgment. It is natural for one to pride oneself on getting a bargain, calling to mind an ancient inspired proverb: “‘A bad bargain!’ says the buyer to the seller, but off he goes to brag about it.”
Obviously a “bargain” is not a real bargain if the lower price represents a sacrifice of quality. In New York a person can buy a half gallon of ice cream guaranteed to contain only natural products such as fruit, sugar, milk and cream, for $1.59. But he can also buy a half gallon that is not guaranteed but admits to containing artificial flavors, coloring and what not for $.79 a half gallon. Concern for one’s health would indicate which is, perhaps, the bargain.
The same principle applies to more costly purchases. In buying clothes you should note both the material as well as how the garment is made. You should normally expect to pay more for virgin wool than for wool and polyester, and more for the latter than for rayon or acetate. Note also the stitching, the way patterns are matched, how buttonholes are finished, the kind of zipper used as well as the quality of the buttons. Cheap clothing is no bargain.
In particular should you exercise care as to quality when buying furniture. Beware of sensational offers. Superficially a three-room set of furniture for a few hundred dollars is a bargain, but what if it begins to fall apart in six months? A better bargain may mean paying more to furnish only one room. Take time to examine the furniture and see how it is made.
When “Bargains” Are Real Bargains
There are such things as bargains. But it takes more than wanting a bargain to get one. Do not let your emotions make you gullible, naïve, credulous. Take time to learn a little about the merchandise you need. An advertised bargain may well be such if offered at the end of a season or because of being a floor sample or shop-worn or because a certain variety has been discontinued. When a reputable store advertises a sale, most likely it will be offering bargains. But then you need to get to the store early so as to get the best pick, and make sure that what you buy is something that pleases you and that you need.
When it comes to food you may often find that reduced price does not involve too great a reduction in quality. You may also find that, considering the saving of time as well as no wastage, frozen foods are bargains compared to fresh vegetables, except perhaps in peak seasons. You may be partial to a well-advertised brand of tuna or salmon because of its high quality, but it may also be higher in price. Some supermarkets have their own brands that you might find compare favorably and yet cost much less. If you can get brown eggs cheaper than white eggs, they too would be a bargain, provided they are equal in size.
Another matter to consider is that of enjoyment or pleasure derived from what you buy, be it food, clothing or some household furnishing. You should get pleasure from wearing a suit, a dress, a scarf, a shirt or a tie. If you get a great deal of pleasure from wearing a certain article of clothing, or of using a certain piece of furniture, then it will have been a bargain even if at the time you bought it it was not especially inexpensive. Remember, the price is soon forgotten but the satisfaction and pleasure remain. There was a young man who kept buying suits only when they were on sale and who was always admiring his friends’ suits more than his own. Why? Because he was more concerned with cost, while they were concerned with weave, patterns, color and quality. So his “bargains” were not such bargains after all.
Truly there are many factors to consider when buying if you would get “bargains” that are indeed bargains. You must be wary not only of the claims and tactics of the seller but also of your own weaknesses and your desire to get “something for nothing,” lest you make an injudicious purchase. Consider the matter of quality as well as the pleasure to be derived from your purchase.
It takes skill and hard work for most persons to earn their money. If they also exercise skill in spending it, then, as the saying goes, “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
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