Deal Or No Deal

I don’t do ‘deals’. In fact, I actively avoid them. Two for ones, three for twos, meal deals, anything involving a coupon – please remove them from my sight.

But on a daily basis these things are thrust in front of every purchase I make and I have to actively opt out, to the disbelief of many a sales assistant. Let’s take Boots or Sainsbury’s – I can’t ever get to the tillpoint without being asked to go back to pick up the extra item for my unexpected three-for-two deal. What if I don’t want or need a third thing? What if I don’t want a packet of crisps with my sandwich and drink? On these occasions I enjoy standing my ground and just letting the sales assistant look really shocked as I insist on just two of the three items. In fact, I always feel like donating the third thing to them. I pity them, because they are The Type of Person Who Can’t Say No to a Deal.

I am not this type of person. I know, that for the majority of so-called deals, there is a catch. If it’s a Groupon deal (god, how I loathe them), then you have to drive to somewhere in Northampton for a lesson in sushi-making at 5.30am just to get ‘the discount’. If it’s a two-for-one meal, they’ll add a supplementary charge on to the drinks, and magically your bill will be the same as if it was for two people. If it’s a theatre ticket, then the theatre will have already increased the original price of the seats that are suddenly promoted as discounted. If it’s an airport version of your favourite mascara in a three pack, they will have less mascara in them and run out three times as quickly. Fact.

I think my three years in retail buying probably removed the mist from my eyes. We were always putting things on special offer that we had to sell at a fake higher price for a month before the special sale kicked in (this was the legal requirement). Then the product would be marked down to the promotional price – which was in fact the original ‘real’ price, still with a 150% mark-up for the store.

Then there was the product that looked the same as the original brand product but was a de-specced version. It cost the manufacturer less to make, it cost us less to buy, we could offer it at a ‘bargain’ price, but in fact, it was a sub-standard product. Hello John Lewis towel sale (awful quality). I let myself down by buying some JL towels last Christmas and spent the next month brushing little bits of cotton off me as they slowly fell apart in my hands.

I believe this is what happens to airport products – the perfumes, mascaras, blushers and eyeshadows are just not quite the same as the ones you can buy elsewhere, not to mention the books. Anything you buy in bulk – in a three-pack or multi-pack – you’re just not getting the same product. Better to to buy it in normal Boots, really – and run the gauntlet of the three-for-two run at the till.

For me, the only acceptable deal is the one that’s there on the thing you already want to buy. You want the pair of boots in Office, and with delight, discover that they’re on offer. You don’t buy them BECAUSE they’re on offer, this is your choice, not the discounter’s choice. You fancy a pizza? Brilliant because you can’t go to Pizza Express without a two-for-one voucher. It’s a thing. I’ve tried it without one and you can hear the sharp intake of breath resounding around greater London. No voucher??!! Be gone, vile spirit.

Friends have tried to get me to go to a restaurant on a Monday night (who goes out on Monday??!!) because that’s the night it has a Top Table deal. Of course it has – no one else wants to dine that night. No – I’d rather go on Thursday, thanks, and pay full price, than sit there with the smugsville ‘look how much discount we got’ crew. Ugh.

What is really irritating about all of this is that people truly believe they have got a good deal on something. It doesn’t matter that they’ve just spent £25 to get to that hotel in Northampton to do the sushi-making, they got a DEAL. The best thing that Groupon could offer is a lesson in how commerce works, with maybe a lesson in marketing on the side.

Upgrades. For me, these are in the same camp as deals. People are obsessed with getting them and when they do, they bring the Big Smug Guns out. Even if it’s just a seat in front of the curtains on EasyJet, there’s always someone gunning for an upgrade. I’ve been on holidays where I’ve been surrounded by braying couples bragging about how they’d managed to ‘hoodwink’ the staff into giving them a balcony sea view room all for the price of a broom cupboard. As someone who spends as little time as possible in their hotel room on holiday, I just don’t get it. I did rejoice when I got an upgrade to a sea-front room in a Thai hotel once, and in Cliveden hotel, but the point was they were just given to me. I’d booked rooms already and I didn’t have to ‘hoodwink’ anyone. That was the joy.

I once went on a four-day break with someone to Ibiza, who spent the whole time trying to get things ‘for free’. We couldn’t do anything without her trying to get in some VIP area for free, drinks for free, free, free, FREE. In the end, I just wanted to pay for everything just so we could move on. What is this obsession with free stuff? I love saying no to the guy trying to shove some breakfast bar in my face at Paddington station. But it’s FREE, he says, in disbelief. Little does he know that makes me want to stuff the breakfast bar in his mouth.

People are aghast about paywalls too. I’ll read the free Metro and Evening Standard but I want to pay for my Times newspaper. It has, in my mind, quality journalism in it. I don’t care who ultimately owns it – if we all chose products based on whether or not the CEO was a nice guy we’d be left buying nothing. I will pay for stuff I want to read, even if it is online.

Now I know that people will be thinking, it’s ok for her, she’s not existing on a shoestring budget. Well no, I’m not now. But I used to be, and think that might be the source of my problem with deals and free things. My teenage years were filled with scratching around for money – a fiver to get some petrol in the car, a bus fare, some coins for the laundrette. I never managed to live within my means then and I don’t now. I’m pathologically averse to denying myself things and I wonder if I feel a sense of entitlement to full-priced things. I go into a clothes shop where there is a huge sale on and march straight to the back of the shop where the new stuff is. For one thing, there is never anything but tat in the sale section. Fact.

For me, one of the most unattractive qualities in a person is stinginess, and especially in a man. I used to date someone I called ‘Shrapnel Man’ because he turned up to the pub with a few coins in his pocket, expecting me to buy the drinks (it turned out later that he didn’t want to break into the notes in his wallet). One guy didn’t want to use his card at a bar in case it got hacked. I got the drinks in, using my card. No hacking.

A couple of people I know have perfected the art of letting me walk into the pub first so that I order. I love watching to see what they do if I have to hang back for any reason. I’ve invented fake phone calls so that I have to stay outside for a minute. Will they wait or go to the bar? Most of the time I just stride forward, happy in my ability to just go to the fucking bar and buy the fucking round (sorry).

I’ll happily go into debt just to have the satisfaction of that moment.

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Fifty-five-year-old woman flying solo since 2010. Freelance writer, editor, hiker, traveller, yoga teacher. Alcohol-, child-, and hair-dye-free.

10 thoughts on “Deal Or No Deal”

  1. I am with you 100% on this, I can’t stand coupons and always turn down the ‘you can get another one of those love’ offers at the till. It is the offer of a giant bar of chocolate everytime I buy a birthday card from WHSmith that really gets me as well.


    1. Oh yes! I’ve missed out the WHS thing. My favourite is when I buy the Times and a bottle of water and they offer me a free Telegraph with the water. No thanks.


  2. Great post! I have family who are obsessed with getting stuff for free and it really annoys me. The one time I happened to be at the airport the same time as a relative, I was dragged into the vip lounge for free drinks and nibbles. I wanted to stay in the hoi-polloi area because I was being chatted up behind the mega-cutie behind the coffee counter but did not have the guts to say no.


  3. Good piece – read it originally when you first posted.

    Black Friday got me thinking though. I do love a bargain, an offer or a voucher – but I do try my best to keep it to stuff I’d already buy. Supermarkets desperate to keep your business really help with this. I generally ignore the Money Tips emails etc because I think I’ll end up spending money on stuff I don’t need / want. Black Friday is a great example – “Quick! Buy This Stuff You Didn’t Even Want Because It’s Cheap”, but it still costs money. The challenge for me is to find the items you really do want or need, if they’re reduced then great, but it’s a dangerous day to look as I know I’ll just be tempted to buy buy buy.


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