Save Money By Avoiding This Trap

Retailers play many pricing and math games with consumers to get them to spend more.  One example is a Buy one Get one 50% instead of just 25% off.   Today, I want to talk about a particular game they play.  I have received several comments in the last week that have made me decide to address this issue.

You probably have noticed that retailers seldom list prices on single items in their sales circulars.  You are more likely to find in a sales circular canned soup on sale 4/$5 than stated as $1.25 each can.  Another popular way this happens is with 10/$10 items or 5/$5 items.  Well, here’s what the retailer doesn’t want you to know: you don’t have to buy all ten items to get them for $1 each, unless otherwise noted in the sales circular or tag at the store.  This last qualifier is very important because a retailer is required to let you know the full terms of their offers.  Failing to mention that you must buy a certain number of items to enjoy a discounted price is considered false advertising.  It is also a practice frowned upon by the Federal Trade Commission and the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

In conclusion, unless the shelf tag or sales circular states that you must buy a certain amount to take advantage of the sales price, you don’t have to buy the advertised quantity to get that price.  This is a very confusing practice retailers engage in and one they seem to want to continue to perpetuate.  I have noticed in coupon inserts in my area that a local grocery store would advertise “X item on sale 2/$5, use your $1/1 coupon and get 2/$4.”  When really what it should say is “buy one for $2.50, use your $1/1 coupon and pay $1.50 for one”.  If you had two coupons you would get 2/$3.  But now YOU know that you don’t have to buy the advertised quantity and can still save money by buying just what you need.  Have any other questions?  Please leave me a comment and I will be happy to help.

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  • I find, that psychologically, I think that I should get 5 of whatever it is if it is a 5 for $5 sale, etc. I have to stop and think do I really need 5? If I have 5 coupons to match up, then 5 is great, but if I only have 4 coupons, then I should just get 4. Or frequently a coupon is for 2 items, so that you should buy 2, 4, or 6 even using coupons to get the best deal. The stores are always trying to outwit the customer and we have to stop and think one step ahead of them in order to get the best deals. Thanks for clarifying, a lot of people do really think you need to buy 10.

  • Megan

    I’m glad you wrote about this! They really are counting on us to fall for these advertising tricks, but if we’re wise we can continue to save money. Thanks for helping us all to stretch our pennies!

  • I’ve also notice a newer trend lately of setting limits on the number of items you can buy on sale items when the price isn’t even that great! I recently saw whole chickens on sale for $.89/lb. This is better than full price, but certainly not the cheapest in our area. There was a limit of 3 chickens per person. 🙂

  • The other thing about the example you posted is that they say you when you use one coupon. Well, if you did want to buy two, you could use two coupons, not just one.

  • FRAN

    Another thing to look at is if the ad doesn’t state “must buy ?” and the price rings up the original price, you might get that item for free. Most of the grocery stores in N.J. give you the item free if it scans wrong. I got Fiber One Cereal free, it was something like 4/$10.00, but rang up more. They tried to tell me that wasn’t one of the sale items-yes it was-it was in the ad, so I got 1 free and the difference back on the others. This goes for 10/$10.00. If it doesn’t say “must buy ?”, you need to stop at customer service before you leave and get it taken care of. I recently got a 20 ct. box of mini crabcakes free because it rang up at the wrong price. You have to know your prices and then you have to eagle eye the prices as they are rung up. HTH.

  • Laura

    Meijer is famous for absolutely confusing people. We think we have to buy 10 items for $10 and plus we get that 11th item free. I’ve seen people scrounging to find several add’l items to make up the 10 items and then they get the 11th item free. Here’s food for thought on this special sale: Your essentially getting 11 items for $10, or $0.91 each item (10 items + 11th item free for $10 = averages $0.91 each). Is it really worth adding on an extra $6 or $7 just to get that 11th item free which only hase a value of 91 CENTS??? Hmmmm…..I don’t think so but, sadly, people don’t listen when I try to tell them that they don’t have to buy 10 or 11 items to get them for $1.00 each. 🙁

  • Thanks for the reminder….great advice! I love your site!

    p.s. your welcome!

  • Kelly

    I love to laugh about the stuff they run on those 10 for $10 promotions. Not everyone knows what Mercedes points out. I wonder if people really get in the checkout line with 10 bottles of Tabasco, 10 cans of spray starch, 10 pastry brushes, and so forth?

  • Kathy

    I’ve been paying attention to the “10 for $10” offers. Not always a deal, for sure. Also, Walgreens is famous for charging full price for single items when 2 are on sale. You MUST buy the number on sale to get the sale price.

  • Thanks for all the great tips!! I enjoy reading your blog and it’s has saved my family so much money already!!!

  • Great article.

    Sometimes I forget my calculator (~gasp~ I know!) and I stand in the aisle thinking, math is not this hard. I swear they pick the oddest combination of numbers on purpose (like 3/$11).

  • paige

    Darla I feel ya, I am great at math but why do they make us work for it. lol

  • Sharon Fears

    Thanks for the info. Wow the games people play. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Paige, I’m glad I’m not alone in this. LOL

  • Jill

    I didn’t realize that people actually thought you had to buy 10 to get them for a dollar each. It’s good that you are informing others that they can buy whatever they need and not the arbitrary number that the supermarket tells them.

    The limit thing always cracks me up. I guess they are trying to make people think that it is a great price and that they might sell out….

  • Pam

    Just a little added thought–if the offer is buy one, get one free, you can usually use two coupons–one for each item. Only once was I challenged, the clerk asked the manager, and I was good to go!

  • Pam, I’ve had problems at Walgreens with that.

    Can anyone tell me some words to say to let them let me use it? The manager wouldn’t allow it to go through either since I was already getting one free on the BOGO.

  • I’ve been trying to teach my 67 year old bachelor Dad how to grocery shop smart and use coupons. Teaching this old dog a new trick has not been easy and this was one lesson he learned too late. He bought 10 of some crazy items to “save money”. He ended up giving away and throwing away a lot of food because of it. Thanks for posting this.

  • Joy

    I actually have been bitten by the reverse of this. I’ll never forget going into “Bed, Bath, & Beyond” to buy lotion and only getting 2 of the lotions that were on sale for 3 for $9 or whatever the deal was. I thought it was the same deal as at the grocery — they were basically $3 each (or whatever it was). When they rang up at full price, I was totally shocked. When I asked they informed me that you do have to buy all 3 to get the sale price. I put them back since I didn’t need that many!

  • Haila

    Hi there. Great tip. However, I’ve found out that my regular supermarket (Cub, up here in MN) tends to require you to buy the requisite number to get the deal. If it says 2/$5, you have to buy 2, or you’ll pay more per unit if you buy just 1. However, that’s not true for their 10/$10 sales for some reason – those are labeled “mix and match” and you only have to buy 1.

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  • Something that I have come to realize is that 10 for $10 isn’t always a good deal. If we’re talking about Rice a Roni, that’s $1 for 2.5 (and sometimes 2) servings of rice. I would have to make 3 boxes ($3) just for the side dish for my family of 7. For me, it’s much less money to buy 50 lbs of rice at a time from Sam’s Club, and make my own seasoned rice dishes, than it is for me to buy Rice a Roni.

    And I really dislike the buy one get one free ads that don’t tell you what the regular price is at all. It just says buy one get one free–but how much is the first one? Often, these are not good deals. That same store may have a better sale later on the same item (I see this with meat a lot) foe less money.

  • Katherine

    Thanks for the post. However, I’ve found that when the Kroger stores put 10/$10 on their ads, Wal-Mart won’t price match unless you buy ten of that item. So maybe they also do it to keep your business?

    • Really Katherine? That has never happened to me and it really shouldn’t work out that way. you need to point to the cashier that there’s no minimum purchase requirement.


  • Thanks for posting this! No one ever believes me when I tell them this! I learned after I got suckered in on 10 for $10 tuna. D’oh!

  • Pam

    Darla, the funny thing is I was at Walgreens when the manager said “Go Ahead.” I guess it depends which Walgreens you go to. Sometimes I sweetly say, “I’ve done it here before with no problem.” I think the key is not to get nasty. I have also had success at Pick and Save.

    The other day I was at WalMart. Gillette Fusion razors were on clearance, $2 (had been $4 something). I had $4 coupons, they accepted them and applied the remaining $2 to my other items. That was great!

  • LOL! Apparently nasty OR clueless doesn’t roll well. Thanks for the tip.