Amazon’s Prime Day (days, really) has been a capitalist tradition since 2015. This year, the mega-retailer will be offering discounts on thousands of products of all kinds to Amazon Prime members for two days, probably in the middle of July.

In spite of the many online guides about how to take advantage of Prime Day savings, there’s only one piece of advice you actually need if you want to save money: Don’t buy anything you weren’t planning to buy already, and if you do find a bargain on something you wanted anyway, make sure it’s actually a bargain.

Only buy things on Prime Day that you were planning to buy already

Leaving aside the thornier issue of whether you should buy anything from Amazon on any day, you should only buy what you are already planning to on Prime Day because Amazon wants you to do the opposite. The entire sales promotion is designed to encourage you to purchase things you don’t want or need, and to get you to sign up for an Amazon Prime membership.

The summer months are, traditionally, the worst time of the year for online retailers. Customer engagement and sales are low, and people are more likely to be outside doing summertime things instead of impulse buying on their laptops. Amazon’s summer sale is an attempt to drive those numbers upwards by creating a “ticking clock” and a fake sense of scarcity—that’s why “lightning deals” have limited time windows and limited supplies. They’re taking advantage of people’s fear of missing out on bargains that often aren’t bargains at all.

Amazon Prime Day bargains can be misleading

Credit: Stephen Johnson/Keepa

In the chart above (made with Keepa, an extension that compares Amazon prices over time) you can see the volatility of the price of Amazon’s 4th Gen Echo Dot during the few months before the last Prime Day in 2022. While the “Lightning Deal” price of $19.99 is low, Amazon can only say it’s “60% off” because the non-sale price was raised to $49.99 from the $27.99 price they were charging in the middle of June. So it’s really more like 28% off—not a bad deal, but not the “I must buy this even though I don’t want it” size bargain it seems like.

If you happen to be looking for 4th Gen Echo Dot in 2024, the base price is still $49.99, and it hasn’t gone on sale since November.

How to get the best deal on Amazon Prime Day

If you are going into this Amazon summer sale with open eyes and a steely heart, determined to resist attempts to make foolish purchases, below are steps you should take to maximize your chance of success and keep yourself from impulse-buying.

Use an Amazon Prime free trial

You won’t be able to take advantage of any Prime Day offers without signing up for a membership to Amazon Prime. The service costs $14.99 per month or $139 per year, but they offer a 30-day free trial for first time users, so you can sign up, get your Instant Pot, and then cancel it for nothing. (Just set an alarm so you don’t forget.)

Amazon offers a six-month Amazon Prime trial period for students, and it’s half price, $7.49 a month, after that. If you’re on EBT or Medicaid, Prime costs $6.99 through Amazon Access and offers all the benefits of a traditional Prime membership and a one-month free trial for new users.

Use Amazon’s wishlist to your advantage

You can use Amazon’s wish list feature as a way of maintaining buyer discipline—just go to Amazon’s list page, create a new list called “Things I was going to buy anyway,” and add the items you hope will go on sale. Tell yourself you’ll only buy these items, no matter how big the discount is on LED lightbulbs.

Take advantage of Amazon’s promotional offers

During Prime Days past, Amazon offered a variety of promotions to get free credits to buy Amazon products. Customers could earn credits by choosing slower shipping, attending certain movies, using different Amazon services, and jumping through other hoops. Research and take advantage of these deals to shave even more off Amazon Prime Day prices. These can sometimes be a pain, but if you want to shave off a few bucks, it might be worth it to you.

Amazon hasn’t announced any special promotions for Summer Prime Day 2024, but when they do, we’ll let you know.

Set your own prices

Retail comparison tools can be used to make sure your Amazon bargain is actually a bargain. For example, CamelCamelCamel provides price histories of every item on Amazon and will send you an email when your selected products fall to a specific price. You can import your “Things I was going to buy anyway” wishlist into CamelCamelCamel, then set the maximum price you’ll pay for your goods. That’ll give you the freedom to ignore Amazon entirely during Prime Day unless you get the “buy” signal in your inbox.

Compare against other retailers

Even if the thing you were planning to buy already shows up as a sale item on Amazon at a price you like, don’t rush to click “buy.” It still might not be the best deal possible. Because of the popularity of Prime Day, other retailers (Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and more) have been offering their own sales promotions to compete with Amazon Prime Day, so check the prices at those retailers before pulling the trigger.

You might want to wait until the fall

If you can handle waiting, you might get a better deal in a few months. As much as Prime Day is hyped, the biggest retail savings and markdowns are almost always during the Christmas shopping season. Black Friday savings are, overall, likely to be bigger than Prime Day savings, unless you’re buying things like school supplies and outdoor furniture that usually aren’t put on sale in November.