Friday, June 01, 2007

A Nation of Consumers

I've discussed this before, but it hit me again today. I made the Costco run today. I love Costco, for many reasons, none of which I'll get into now. It's my task, always, as DH can't stand going in there--too crowded, too big, too much chaos. It's just the opposite for me, so I get to do it.

Here's what struck me today. I spent $146.00 there. I roughly add up what I'm buying as I go through the store to avoid sticker shock at the end, and I knew that's what I was spending. Slight gulp, but just slight. Now, here's the thing: if I spent that much at the regular grocery store, I would faint. Would certainly put some things back. But at Costco, no problem. So that reminded me of something I read in a personal finance book about how people (that is, folks in general) will drive out of their way to save $50 on a $100 item, but wouldn't even bother to go across the street to save $50 on a $10,000 item (say, a car). It's all about the same amount of money, but because it's smaller as a percentage, it doesn't worry us as much. Does that make sense? Sure, maybe. Maybe. I suppose if you've already decided to spend $10,000, another $50 isn't going to break the bank.

I'm guilty of it myself--I'll go back into the store if they've overcharged me by a dollar on a $20 purchase, but on a $200 purchase? Not so much.

But back to the issue of us being a nation of consumers. Think about it--we hear about consumer opinion polls, consumer research, the business section talks about 'the consumer', is that all we are? Don't we produce anything? Add value to the world? Do we only take?

This is a particularly important issue for hoarders to be aware of. One reason hoarders hold onto things is to 'save them'. This involves those items we keep but don't actually use because they are 'too good to use'. Huh, too good to use? What does that mean? If they're too good to use, why were they made? Why do we own them? What purpose do they serve if they are 'too good to use'? Isn't the purpose of things to be used? Think about a gas grill, say. This comes to mind because I recently purchased one. It was so shiny right out of the box--the grill surface was clean and bright, the side table areas spic & span. Well, after the first use it was covered in gunk. I'd marinated the food we were cooking and it dripped all over. Now, you couldn't tell if this thing was bought last week or last year. And that's good. That's what is supposed to happen. Things get used.

Another aspect of the consumer issue involves the 'great deal' or the 'sale'. Oh, why did I buy half a dozen bottles of hand soap? Because it was on sale! It was a great deal, so cheap! many sinks are there in my house? Three. So, how many bottles of hand soap could I possibly use at one time? Three. So, why do I need to keep a whole bunch of them around? I don't. I just don't. And the same goes for a zillion different items--office supplies, cereal, crackers, meat, canned goods, clothing, you name it. You only need what you will actually use. Nothing more, nothing less. Repeat after me, buy only what you actually NEED and will USE within a reasonable amount of time.

Now, I'm sure some of you are saying 'hey, she just went to Costco! Why's she lecturing us about this when her trunk is probably full to the brim of food?'. Here's the thing: I buy at Costco only what we will actually use within about a month. A bag of chicken breasts lasts us about that long. I bought sausages for the grill today; those will go in about the same amount of time (some are in the fridge, most in the deep freeze). I buy only what we'll actually use. And here's the thing: since every item at Costco is huge and pricey, I can't impulse buy. I just can't--it's too expensive. I have to consider carefully each purchase. And, to be frank, they don't have sales, so that avoids one tempation. And, they have only about 400 items, compared to the 4000 in a typical supermarket. That's about one tenth of the items, a mere fraction. So, literally fewer temptations. Yes, those packages can be huge (a true temptation for some types of hoarders). But luckily, that stock piling huge amounts of goods bug never hit me like that. One huge bag of toilet tissue is all I need to have around. When it's down to three or four rolls, well, that's when to buy another. So, for those of us for whom CHOICE is a bigger problem than QUANTITY, well, Costco might not be a bad option.

What do you think?


Wabash Cannonball said...

Hmmm. I don't know about that. I have a big problem with Costco because they know my inner diva psyche and are constantly putting out new and glamorous items, like portobello mushrooms or a fifty-ton gallon of organic spinach. And I didn't go in to buy it, but I see it and I know it's waaaay cheaper. So I buy it, and then two weeks later I am very sorry.

And I never leave without spending $150 dollars. So I never go anymore.

I think I should buy you an article to Adbusters. Have you read Adbusters? If, perhaps, you think of the store owners as BIG CORPORATE SWINE when shopping, you will feel mad rather than wanting to buy? Maybe a stint on a commune where you don't even BUY toilet paper because it's made by the MAN?

Then you could post about the softest leaves - rhodedendron or ivy?

Anonymous said...

I have paged through AdBusters. Man, do they have an agenda or what? That's some serious 'stick it to the man'ing!