You Didn’t Save Any Money

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I rarely listen to music anymore. I’m not sure if it’s just that I’m becoming an old man (I’m a ripe 27, for gosh-sakes! Can’t keep up with these young whippersnappers!), or that my brain couldn’t process any more Autotune coming through my ears without imploding.

Whatever the case, I listen to a lot of talk radio. And it’s funny, the commercials are definitely geared more toward upper middle class citizens (mortgage ReFi, life insurance, investments, that kinda thing), but all the commercials have the same message.

“How much money can we save you?”

Most of them are fine (heck, I was motivated to refinance my mortgage because of some of them), but some are just plain stupid.

One particularly annoying commercial talks about getting a degree or some crap at on online school. Their big pitch is about all the money you will save when going there (surprise).

But the part that KILLS me is their emphasis is on what you will do with “all that extra money!” They ask people what they’re going to do with an extra $500, or $1,000 that they just saved.

If you buy my thing, I will hand you this stack of cash. But not.

The only problem I might see in this situation is:


No real money was saved in these situations, so asking “where are you going to spend that extra money” is ridiculous. IF THEY GO TO YOUR SCHOOL, THEY CHOSE IT BECAUSE IT WAS CHEAPER. END OF STORY.

Unless you have saved up the amount you needed to go to some other (supposedly more expensive) online school, and at the last second, happened to find this school, there is no physical money saved at all.

When you choose a lower cost option, it’s because you want to pay what you can afford, and if the cheaper school is what you can afford, you don’t have extra money!

Imaginary Money

Now, I’m all about saving money. Heck, I have an entire section of my blog dedicated on how to save money.  But there is a huge difference between saving “Real Money”, and saving “Imaginary Money.”

Now, to explain imaginary money, I’ll have to take you through a conversation my wife and I have had many times, as she is the absolute best at creating Imaginary Money.

This is a dramatization. Do not try this at home.

Michelle: “Hey hunny, check out these flippin’ sweet copper pots at Williams-Sonoma! How sick would that be to have a set of these in our kitchen? I could make some wicked awesome feasts with those!”

Jake: “Wow, those are shiny! How in the world do they get that shiny?!”

Michelle: “Well, you’ll have to hand polish each of them for a few hours every month. But never mind that. Check out how much these babies cost!”

Jake: “Wow. They want an arm AND a leg, along with firstborn, the titles to my cars, my future estate and the shirt off my back.”

Michelle: “Don’t exaggerate. They’re only asking $5,000 for a 10-piece set.”

Jake: “….”

Michelle: “Don’t worry hunny, we’re not going to pay $5,000 for some pots and pans.”

Jake: “Phew!”

Michelle: “Because we can get them for only $2,999! That’s 40% OFF!”

Jake: “….”

Michelle: “Hunny, just think of it this way. Without doing anything, I just saved us $2,000. That’s $2,000 we can spend on whatever we want! Vacation, college fund, wine….anything. I just made us a ton of cash.”

Jake: “….”

(Note: This conversation may or may not be somewhat embellished)

Why “Saving Money” Can Be A Lie

The goal of any commercial is to sell you something. Now, that something may be helpful and worth your money, but most of the time tactics are used to get you to spend money you wouldn’t otherwise spend.

My wife (jokingly) likes to talk about how much money she can “save” us if she buys something. Commercials are much sneakier about it, and try to actually convince you that you are pocketing hundreds or thousands of dollars by purchasing their product.

The first thing they do is ask you questions; “Are you tired?”, “Do you wish your hair was thicker?”, “Are you hungry?”, “Are you breathing?” At some point, they’ll ask a question to which your answer will be “yes!”

Sometimes it’s as simple as “Do you want to save MORE money?” After they’ve convinced you to listen, they’ll talk about how you NEED this thing if you want to solve the problem they presented.

And like the dumb commercial I talked about, they’ll talk all about all the money you will save, and mounds of cash that you’ll end up with after you make the purchase. Which, if you ever took 1st grade math, IS COMPLETELY BACKWARDS!

Bottom line; if you don’t have the money earmarked for the item, you are not saving any actual money by buying something you don’t need for cheaper than it “normally” costs.

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    Jacob Wade

    Jacob Wade

    Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
    He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

    In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

    41 thoughts on “You Didn’t Save Any Money”

    1. Pretty sure you can make some awesome feasts with pots and pans from walmart for about $2999 cheaper than those copper bottom ones, just saying ;p hahaha

      On a serious note… I never will forget the advice you told me… I said something about how much money I’d save on a purchase (probably of something I didn’t need in the first place) in which you then told me ” think of how much you would save if you didn’t purchase it at all!” I most likely ignored you at that time and bought it anyway but I now think about that all the time. With stuff I see on sale I think wow what a good deal, but then I think do I even need this ( most of the time the answer is no) and then I tell myself I will save much more if I don’t purchase this item. A little advice goes a long way 😀

    2. Instead of buying copper pots, quit your full time job, and become a coppersmith apprentice… I’m sure that is a viable option. I mean think of all the pots and pans you could make!

      Commercials are the number 1 reason why I actually pay for XM. The only time I listen to the radio is in the car, so I figured I might as well make it pleasurable. That and I can listen to music I don’t normally find. I know I could stream pandora or some other service, but that would imply my cell phone coverage was good.

    3. I have to agree that unless you were planning on paying full price and THEN got something on sale, it’s not really saving money. If you’re just buying something because it’s on sale, you’re still spending money. I prefer to prepare for the whole amount, and then if I can get a deal it’s all the better!

      • Yes! I set savongs goals I like to call “savings buckets”, and save up for something based on the price I know I can get. Then, and only then, if I find a cheaper way to do it, I am ACTUALLY SAVING MONEY!

    4. “Bottom line; if you don’t have the money earmarked for the item, you are not saving any actual money by buying something you don’t need for cheaper than it “normally” costs.” PREACH it Jake! I could not agree more. When we used to have these discussions, my first response would be 40% off is great BUT we still have to freaking plunk down the other 60%! Speaking as an advertiser myself these types of commercials drive me nuts as they’re horrible and do think that the audience doesn’t have more than two functioning brain cells.

    5. This is the common mistake of the people. Just because they get a good deal doesn’t save them a money because they don’t actually have enough when the buy it with the original price. Sounds stupid, but this is absolutely true in most cases.

    6. I totally agree with your observations here – that is why I try to think/say/write “spending less” instead of “saving” when it comes to discounted purchases or even avoided purchases. It’s not saved unless it’s literally transferred to savings!

    7. Oh jeeze. This is totally how I am. Biggest “savings” a friend ever had… buying a house they couldn’t afford because their company paid closing costs after a move. They locked themselves in over their head with PMI and a place they couldn’t afford because they were so intent on the “savings” that they didn’t want to wait until they got to know the local housing market or had time to save up a significant downpayment.

      The big stuff totally matters.

    8. Now Jake, this made my day, I’m laughing out loud alone only because I’ve had someone say this to me before. Well we saved x amount so now we can do this with that money. BUT.. where are you getting the money you don’t have. They don’t get it though Jake, even though the concept is clear to most for others it’s not. SO we work just a bit harder to get them to understand. We laugh, but this type of mindset is really what gets people into trouble. Great Post! Happy Weekend.

    9. Loved this article… SO TRUE. Drives me insane to hear how much money people have SAVED when really they spent way more than they could even afford. Like those Kohl’s commercials… in the store now they actually circle with a red pen on your receipt the amount of money you saved. I guess it tends to lessen buyers remorse when they are focused on all their SAVINGS! Its easier to spend $100 on crap you don’t need because LOOK! I SAVED THREE HUNDRED! Its such a mess. And the added bonus of walking around the store and not being able to easily figure out how much something costs because they are all marked with the crazy high price and then the sale sign that says 37.5% OFF and you are supposed to do the math in your head. And everything is always on sale. And then you’ve got to try to watch as it rings up. Drives me crazy. Awesome article.

    10. Reminds me of a joke. Blonde woman wants to buy some windows.This stores is offering no payments for a year. The salesman sells her the most expensive ones because they will “pay for themselves” after a year. After a year, the woman receives a phone call and said payment is due. She says she doesn’t owe anything. Why not. “Duh! After a year you said they paid for themselves!!!” She hung up.

      Unless you want a certain career, and not content with a job, paying $$$ for futher education is a waste of time and money.
      If people are willing to devote 5 years to seriously saving, most people would be financially secure. Even people on minimum wage can easily do this.
      Instead, the young people want to have kids, get married and then buy a house….and wonder why they are financially strapped.
      There are so many ways to achieve this, and still have fun along the way.It boggles my mind why they simply won’t.

    11. Pingback: Personal Finance Links – January 2012 Goals Update
    12. Yes! Is there anyone who isn’t automatically disgusted by these commercials? My favorites are the ones where ‘before’ the subject looks all dejected and grey screened, and then ‘after’ they save a whole bunch of money they are happily running on a beach. How can anyone be convinced by that garbage!

    13. I get so mad when I hear/see these commercials. That is ridiculous, but yet it makes so many people feel like they are saving money. If I see a commercial like this on TV I change the channel. Dumb commercials have to got to be one of my number one pet peeves!!


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