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You're buying an item, not a price tag.

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Vincent Kessler/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Discount signs are displayed in a clothing store window in Strasbourg during the first day of summer sales in France last month. If an item isn't useful to you, it's not a deal — no matter how low its price is, Hamm says.

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Not too long ago, a person I know showed me a very nice bag they had purchased. It was actually a really nice bag – sized almost perfectly for carrying about six board games and structured with aluminum bars to help keep its shape, yet also folding down wonderfully for storage.

This person was very proud of the deal they had received for this bag – in fact, the deal was so good that my friend had purchased two of the bags.

When I asked this person more about the purchase, particularly what they planned to do with the bag, the friend just stammered a bit and then, seemingly on the spur of the moment, offered to give me one of them.

While I did appreciate this, the abrupt offer seemed odd, so I dropped the subject.

After replaying the conversation a few times, though, I came to a pretty simple conclusion: the person had simply bought the bags because they seemed like a killer deal, not because they had any particular use for the bag.

The person seemed proud of the deal, not the item itself.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll be one of the first people you know to be proud of finding a good deal on an item. The difference is that I simply won’t spend money on an item unless I’m very sure of its use.

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If an item doesn’t have a use for you, it’s not a “deal,” no matter how low the price is.

It doesn’t even matter if the item is free. Remember, even free items have costs – you have to store them, which requires space, and you have to take the time to move them around. Those are costs of everything you acquire.

If you want to achieve financial success, there’s a much better approach to acquiring things. Don’t acquire anything unless you have already identified a specific need in your life and that item fulfills that need.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous to some extent. There are times when I’m going out and about where I check my budget and simply give myself permission to spend some money freely. Even then, I’m thinking about the purchases in terms of what will actually add value to my life and generally don’t spend my money on things that won’t add value.

In other words, I almost always figure out what I’m going to buy before I go to a retailer – and I stick with that list.

A deal isn’t a deal if you’re getting something that isn’t useful to you in any way. When that happens, you’re giving away your hard-earned cash for something that has no value to you, and that’s a financial mistake.

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