This probably isn’t the most novel observation in the world, but it would certainly seem that a great many people get “tricked” into spending more than they normally would by the lure of coupons and discounts (cue Captain Obvious). These “fake-ish” coupons and deals come from everywhere: newspaper clippings, TV and radio offers, Internet promotions, fliers, smartphone apps. We are inundated in the idea of saving money—from piggy bank iconography in our childhood to the very real need to save for retirement as we grow older. If there’s the word “save” and the dotted line around a box, it feels and looks like savings.

But are you really saving money if you’re spending it? That seems to be a paradox. The money you just spent is not actually still in your pocket, contrary to what many advertisers would have you believe (you might remember common advertisements slogans such as “spend more, save more!”). But beyond just a general distaste from deceptive advertising, what can we learn from those pesky “coupons and discounts” that actually burn holes in our pockets?

A 25% discount off your overall purchase may seem like a great deal and in many cases it can be. However, many people will take this 25% discount and use it as an incentive to buy more than they normally would. You can actually hear people in grocery stores—almost a moment of revelation—saying “Well, we have this coupon, we might as well buy more.” (Lord knows the thought has crossed my mind a few times).

These type of mental thinking and purchasing decision is exactly what the marketers who issued the coupon wanted to hear, and they have not been let down – the same applies for the typical “Buy 2 and Save” marketing method (99% of the time you don’t need to buy two items to get the sales price). You end up not saving money and in most cases, over-spending because of the illusory idea of saving. If you’ve over bought on groceries that have spoiled before, you know how it is.

This an an age-old predicament that has received new life from the Internet and even newer developments like social media and location based services. If you accidentally signed up to the wrong service, you’ll be hard pressed to escape from the barrage of messages advertisers and marketers want you to hear. Check-in now to receive a free dessert!  Order an entree and get a free drink! Old marketing spin, new distribution channel.

So what are we left with, a culture of “buy more, and save more? ” The good news is that when the noise is so much, it gets easier to ignore (yes, even with the marketing messages from newer technology). You can easily add handy new tools to your web browser to filter the noise out more (AdBlock etc), remind yourself to always turn off push notifications on that latest deal application you’ve just installed, and make little habit changes such as clipping coupons on items you’ll actual use.  My wife and I usually just cross check it with our shopping list, if its not on it and we don’t need it in the immediate future, we don’t bother with the coupon or discount.

You can also take the handy dandy cynicism attitude and approach everything and everyone as if they’re going to try to cheat you out of your hard-earn dollars, but I’ve learned from personal experience that this approach is tiring and makes everyone hate you. I’m just saying.

picture credits: got milk from bluewaikki, coupon pic from group0wn.