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Bargains and behavior

A recent post on Get Rich Slowly is ostensibly about how J.D. and his wife cleaned up his mom’s house and found that she was a packrat; but it’s really about how buying and hoarding “bargains” can be a trap. The house contained many unopened bulk packages of food that were long past their best-by date, newspapers from ten years ago, presents bought for five-year-old grandchildren who are now nine. As J.D. pointed out, a bargain isn’t a bargain if what you buy is wasted.

This post strikes home with me because my husband and I are working on the same issue. “My favorite chips are on sale!” I’ll say. “Let’s buy four!” We do, and instead of stockpiling them as I meant to, they’re gone within three weeks because I like those chips so much. “The bigger bag of ham is cheaper per ounce, let’s get that,” my husband says, but then half the bag goes bad before he eats it. We’re dealing with slightly different aspects of the same problem: we’re buying more than we normally would in the expectation that our future behavior will justify the purchase, but we don’t adjust our behavior accordingly. If there’s a tasty snack around, I’m inclined to eat it, not save it, even when I know I’ve had some recently. If my husband isn’t reminded that there’s food in the fridge, he tends to forget about it and eats other things that are more visible.

The key here is that it’s not our purchasing behavior that’s bad; it’s our behavior after the purchase that’s the problem. There are two solutions here: don’t buy the “bargains” when we know they won’t, in the end, be true bargains; or adjust our behavior to take full advantage of our purchases. I could put extra snacks in the rear of the pantry that’s harder to get to, to remind me that they’re meant to be rationed. My husband could freeze half his bags of lunchmeat, or I could remind him that he still has ham left. Behavior can be hard to change; whether or not a bargain at the store is worth it depends entirely on the person faced with the purchase. Is it worth it for you?

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