Fiona McCade: Bargain battles make Faustian pact

How much is that bargain worth if it sits unworn in the wardrobe? Picture: Getty

How much is that bargain worth if it sits unworn in the wardrobe? Picture: Getty

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WHEN is a deal not a steal? When it doesn’t fit, doesn’t suit you and there’ll be another one along in a minute, writes Fiona McCade.

When is a bargain not a bargain? When you get trodden underfoot to get it, then it turns out you didn’t really want it anyway.

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We’ve had so many opportunities to buy cheap stuff recently, I’m struggling to remember the last time I saw something advertised at full price.

We had Black Friday, then Cyber Monday, then Boxing Day, and now the January sales are kicking in. We’re addicted to the possibility of a bargain, to the thought that we’re getting one over on the big retailers, but they always get the last laugh.

On Black Friday, at the end of November, the consumer watchdog Which? reported that some shops were playing that old trick of saying certain goods were “reduced” when in fact they had recently been on sale at artificially inflated prices with those high prices being slashed to make it look as though the customer was getting a bargain.

If truth be told, we rarely are.

Yet we still go out looking. I know, because my cupboards are packed with discounted stuff that I brought home in the full triumphant flush of conspicuous consumption.

I’m quite capable of believing that if an item is being sold for less than 50 per cent off, it’s not worth having, rather than taking a moment to ask myself a question of real value: is this thing worth having at all?

In the past, if I saw a piece of clothing that was half-decent (and sometimes not even half) and the sticker showed a good enough reduction, I would buy it, even if it was patently obvious that I shouldn’t.

Wrong colour for me? No worries, I would dye it. Too large? I’d get it taken in. Damaged? Easy peasy, I’d repair it (but not before I’d asked for another 10 per cent off). Too small? Never mind, I would simply diet to get into it – adding a beneficial exercise in self-control to the original cheap deal. Why, I couldn’t lose!

It never occurred to me that the self-control I needed was to hold myself back from buying whatever it was in the first place.

I remember one purchase in particular, because the fact that I ever owned it sums up everything that goes wrong with the human brain when faced with the possibility of a bargain.

It was a grey dress; the sort of unforgiving grey that makes anyone of my pale, Celtic complexion look as though they’re in the latter stages of mummification.

The style was like a long, sleeveless t-shirt, which inexplicably exploded around the bottom hem into a mass of flamenco-like flounces – a combination which I have never seen before or since, perhaps because it is beyond any normal definition of hideous.

It was too long for me. It was too baggy for me. It was the ugliest thing anybody has ever bought – but it had once been expensive, and suddenly it was cheap. So I bought it. It took me years to admit to myself that I should never have given it a second glance, even if the shop had offered me actual, hard cash, perhaps even some jewels, to take it away and dump it. Or better still, burn it, in case it accidentally fell into the hands of some innocent tramp.

At the time, I told myself all the usual lies: I would dye it, alter it, etc, etc, but in the end, all I did was cut the flounces off the bottom, leaving me with a thigh-length tube of material that gave me all the allure of a nauseated zombie.

It was a total waste of money and in my heart of hearts, I knew it. So, did I ever make another mistake like that? Of course I did.

If my Fairy Godmother would only appear and magically give me back all the cash I have frittered away on so-called bargains over the years, I bet I’d be rich enough to buy some really nice clothes. And quite probably a delightful little château on the Côte d’Azur.

These days I’m old enough, wise enough and poor enough to have learned that sales are dangerous and best avoided. Especially when you hear about how violent it can get on the mean High Streets of Britain.

Just a few days ago, a worker at Next in Leeds tweeted: “People starting a fight over clothes in the sale.” This is Next we’re talking about, not bleedin’ Prada. How much did those purchase-obsessed pugilists think they were saving, to make it worth scrapping over? How good can a bargain be, to make you lose all concept of dignity in pursuit of it?

But that’s the siren song of the sales, isn’t it? It can so easily turn ordinary, otherwise respectable people into slavering, reduction-hungry discount demons. Been there, done that, ripped the half-price t-shirt out of the wheelchair-bound child’s hands.

We’re so blinded by the dazzle of the clearance section that we forget that there’ll be another sale along in a minute – or at the very latest, next season.

In fact, when you think about it, the post-Christmas period is probably the worst time to be going crazy with our credit cards, however great the temptation may be. We’ve already spent too much, so we should really be watching the pennies; we’ve been pigging out, so whatever clothes we buy won’t fit us properly (cue the perennial “It’ll look great on me after I’ve dieted” lie); and we’re all hyped up on E-numbers, complex carbs and Mon Chéri liqueur chocolates.

No wonder fights break out – we’re a danger to ourselves. If they had any public spirit, the shops would save their best offers for February, when we’ve had time to detox and save up a bit.

But that’s not going to happen, so all I can do is counsel moderation and regular visits to charity shops. They’re open all year round, you know.

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