The Cost of Saving Money


This morning I had an interesting experience. I want to get a new bike from REI using rebate money I earned from me REI Visa card. REI also does a thing where you get 20% off one full priced item during "rebate season." I stopped at REI on the way to the airport to look at the bike and give it a test drive. I liked it. But I wasn't really ready to buy yet. But the thought of the 20% discount ending on Saturday was pushing me to buy today. Then I found out that the 20% discount doesn't apply to bikes (except the house brand). Suddenly the pressure to buy was gone. The odd thing is that I was relieved to find out that I was not going to save hundreds of dollars.

This illustrates something I too often fail to realize: discounts, coupons, rebates, and points--indeed the entire apparatus of loyalty in modern retail--are a source of untold stress and inconvenience. We'll do almost anything to save a little money without counting the cost of that reward. We all know people who have elaborate systems for keeping track of coupons, discounts, and point programs. I have a few such programs that I succumb to: frequent flyer miles and REI rebates. Anyone who has ever used frequent flyer miles can testify to the inconvenience and frustration they cause. And yet we let these programs drive our behavior in unnatural ways.

Would we all be happier if we just spent a little more money and gave up coupons and discounts? To that end, would we all be happier if we just had fewer things? Probably. I'm not sure where this goes personally, but the experience was so defining that I'll be thinking about it for a good while.