Too good to be true? Learning the real value of deals and discounts

Too good to be true? Learning the real value of deals and discounts

We’ve all seen them in the supermarket and on the high street: colourful signs showing discounts and deals that leave you feeling like you can’t afford not to buy them.

Even the savviest shopper can struggle to know if a deal is a bargain or a trick. We’ve dived into the world of discounts and special offers to create the guidelines you need to make the most of what’s on offer, so you can learn when an offer really is too good to be true.

Is it a deal… or does it just look like one?

From bright advertisements used to promote deals, to end-isle discounts and special offers, many shops are designed to make us buy. It’s why you’ll often see fresh produce when you first walk into the supermarket, and the bakery pumps out ever-so-tantalising just-baked-bread smell.

Another tactic is using signage and placement that’s designed to make us feel we’re looking at an offer – even if we’re not.

This is a great lesson to teach your child and to remember yourself: is the bright label showing a discount, or is it actually listing the standard price? Taking a moment to read the pricing and even compare it against the prices in other shops using your phone will help you to recognise a real deal.

MySupermarket is a comparison site ideal for the weekly food shop, and PriceSpy is useful for home and leisure items and provides historical prices too.

Does it really pay to BOGOF?

BOGOF – meaning buy one, get one free – can provide shoppers with savvy savings by bulk buying everything from toothpaste to fresh vegetables.

But choosing the very best deals, particularly with BOGOF and others like 3 for 2, can be difficult to understand. You’d assume that getting something for free or at a discount is saving money, but that’s not always the case.

A few simple rules to follow are:

  • If you won’t use all the items in the deal before they go out of date, it’s not worth buying in bulk using an offer. For instance, toothpaste and toilet roll are non-perishable daily items that would benefit from bulk offer discounts.

  • If you were only intending to buy one expensive item, and the offer requires you to buy more to get the discount, think whether you’ll see the benefits of the saving. For instance, beer may have a discount after you’ve purchased several bottles, but you won’t feel the benefit if you rarely drink.

  • Fresh items are sometimes given BOGOF-style offers, such as set prices for three or four items in a range. Some supermarkets will offer these prices on things like classic Sunday dinner sides, or stir fry ingredients. If you weren’t planning to buy a ready-made sauce, for instance, it could end up being more expensive to change plans, so think carefully before you over purchase.

  • Multi-buy offers are also commonly applied to items such as lunchtime meal deals. In theory, the supermarket will offer a range of items under the deal for one set price – regardless of the individual item costs. It pays to look at what the really expensive items are under these deals, as you can sometimes save a small fortune, while other deals may leave you out of pocket.

It may be a smart idea to encourage your children to begin learning about these complex deals, too. Start by asking them if they think the items will get used if you purchase them, or if you’re going for the deal just because it seems good.

This will help them to start thinking practically, rather than falling into a discount trap when they come to buy things for themselves.

Don’t dismiss budget options

Most products will have several different “tiers”. Typically, these include ‘exclusive’ luxury-styled products, ‘branded’ products regarded as good quality, lower cost ‘own-brand’ products, and the cheapest ‘budget’ products.

Most people will have a level they’re happiest buying products at, and know they can save by dropping a tier.

However, sometimes branded or exclusive products can be on offer, encouraging people who usually stick to budget and own-brand products to buy up. If you’ve seen an offer for reduced price products, don’t automatically assume it’s cheaper than the own-brand or budget versions – they may still be more expensive.

If you’d like to teach your children a product is far more than its packaging, encourage them to consider these offers carefully. Exclusive and branded products may have more appealing packaging, but the products can be close to the own-brand and budget options.


Discounts, deals, and offers are great, but only if you’re certain about what you’re buying. Don’t fall for misleading signs and placements, and remember to read the label before you fill your trolley with offers.

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