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How to Not Get Screwed at Sample Sales

The table in question.

On my way to work this morning, I passed a Knoll furniture warehouse sale. The line was short, there was about an hour to opening time and I was ahead of schedule—it was the perfect storm. As you might have already read, I'm working on turning my apartment into an actual place to live, so I figured this was God saying, "John, I'm putting the rest of my godly duties on hold so you can have some sick modern furniture at an affordable price." Thanks, God!

A friend who works around the corner from Knoll came and kept me company as we peered inside, making a mental a battle plan. We both spotted an end table with a base made of spokes and a glass top. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I saw it next to my favorite chair, with a cup of coffee and a few first-edition Harry Potter books perched on top. In my head, it was already mine and the longer we waited, the more my belief in the table grew.

The line moved and we rushed inside. To my dismay, the tables were not $150-$300 (as I had estimated in my mind), they were $570. I walked away, feeling semi-defeated, to see if there were any other options in the room. A few minutes later, I found myself in front of the table again. In theory, I could buy it. My card wouldn't be declined and I could maybe scrape by. With that, I checked my calendar to see how many paychecks were coming 'til rent was due and started making ridiculous attempts at justifying the purchase:

"You know what though, it's something I'll have forever."

"It's not like it's $1,000, it's actually very well priced for what it is, am I right? I'm right."

"I'll probably get some money from my grandma for my birthday, so technically I have more money than I think."

"How many times does a deal like this come along?"

"Maybe this could be an early Christmas present from my parents, I should probably interupt my dad at the hospital so we can bargain about this, not like he isn't busy saving lives."

And then I stopped and walked away from the situation. What was I thinking? I couldn't even really afford the imaginary price of $150. And if I did take the plunge, I'd be worried about money for the next three weeks and probably skimp on holiday gifts for my friends and family. This table had the potential to ruin Christmas for the entire world. Did I really want that on my hands?

You see, when you walk through those sample sale doors, you abandon all reason and succumb to mob-shopping mentality. You've waited in the cold, you've forgone going to the bathroom for fear of losing your spot in line and you just want something, anything—at a good price. Today, I walked away with no table, but with peace of mind and financial security (kind of) that's worth way more than $570.

Here are some tips if you find yourself in a similar situation:

  • Go with a friend who you trust style-wise and who earns a similar amount. They'll understand just what you can and can't afford and be honest if something is ridiculous to begin with. My friend was more responsible and although she wanted me to get table, she knew it was out of the question.
  • If you're having second thoughts about dropping a lot of money, chances are, you shouldn't drop any money on whatever you're having second thoughts about.
  • Call a parent for help. There's no more sound voice than your mother who just wishes you would've been an accountant and has no problem saying things like, "I mean, are you insane? What are you like, the King of England?"
  • Picture the item in the future—in 1 month, in 6 months or in a year. Is it really worth it?
  • Don't psych yourself up before you get inside or you know prices. You can go in with a plan, but if you eye something in the window, do not start picturing your life without it. When you do this, it's harder to let go if it's out of reach.
  • Consider your options. I figured that at some point there would be another end-table out there that I could buy. It may be at a sample sale, or on a flash sale site or at a store. With so many choices, you may find it easier to just say no.
  • Don't spend any money you "have coming" because you never know what's going to happen—you may not get paid back by your irresponsible buddy, your freelance check might not arrive, you may have a crazy cable bill because you watched Melancholia six times.... If it's not in the bank, you don't have it.

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