If you think a super-sized container of peanut butter is always a better deal than a tiny version, think again. Bigger is not always cheaper. And don't count on getting a bargain on designer goods at an outlet or off-price chain. Here are five common but mistaken assumptions about bargains — plus tips for avoiding getting fooled into paying too much.
Myth: Bigger packages and larger quantities are more economical than buying small.
Often, yes. But Tod Marks, a senior project editor at Consumer Reports, says smaller sizes are actually cheaper about one-fourth of the time. He recommends checking the unit prices — cost per ounce or other element of the package — to find the best deal.
Takeaway: Don't assume.
Myth: Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the best day of the year to buy clothes, housewares, electronics and gifts.
Sure, the promotions on that ballyhooed day are quite alluring, particularly on TVs and other electronics. But are the bargains so amazing that you should wake up at the crack of dawn and join the crowds? Definitely not. Many of the biggest deals, particularly on TVs and computers, are very limited: Your chances of grabbing one of the 25 heavily advertised flat-panel TVs your store is selling at 50 percent off are slim.
Jodi Furman, who blogs about saving without sacrificing at www.LiveFabuLess.com, says Black Friday is more of an emotional event people get caught up in than it is an opportunity for special savings.
"You can find better deals during regular sales events," Furman says.
Takeaway: Go online, whether by computer or one of many dedicated smart phone apps, and compare, compare, compare.
Myth: Outlets sell mainly extras from their own regular-price stores.
Actually, outlets vary by merchant. Some stock their outlets mostly with items direct from their own regular stores. But many others buy specifically for the outlet division or, like Brooks Brothers and Gap, have goods made specifically for the second-tier stores.
At Nordstrom Rack, for example, about 80 percent of the stock is purchased specifically for sale there and just 20 percent has been transferred from full-price Nordstrom department stores. But Colin Johnson, a Nordstrom spokesman, notes that much of the Nordstrom Rack stock is excess inventory from the same vendors whose goods Nordstrom stores routinely carry.
Takeaway: Check the label to determine whether the item was made for the outlet, says Marks. Or ask a salesperson.
Myth: A weekly outing — with a list in hand — to Walmart, Target or another big-box discounter is the best way to save on groceries.
Yes, shopping at Target or Walmart for a typical basket of 45 items will save you 15 to 25 percent, says Bob Buchanan, a retail consultant in St. Louis, Mo. But shoppers would do even better by scouring for deals at local grocery stores as well.
Takeaway: Furman recommends constantly comparing prices at discounters with grocers and other stores.
Myth: Food costs more at drugstores.
In reality, compared with grocery chains, many drugstores sell basics like milk, eggs, cleaning and paper goods for less.
Takeaway: Drugstores are becoming increasingly like mass retailers so consider them when you're buying staples.