27 Feb, 2013
Shopping, value, and the things we buy
So we are still refraining from BUYING STUFF around here. The Embargo ends in a few days. I often have people ask me if I’m happy that it’s coming to an end. This is tough to answer. We’ve been participating in an annual Embargo since 2006, which has added up to many many months of questioning each and every purchase, and feeling guilty every time I buy something that isn’t a clearly-defined as a NEED (work clothes, for example). A shopping diet is very much like a food-related diet: a constant stream of self-interrogation whenever something comes to your attention. Should I? Shouldn’t I? What does it mean if I do? Frankly, it’s exhausting.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the idea of cost and VALUE. I don’t think we have a firm grasp of the value of stuff at all. And it’s all very confusing. There are well-made products that are more expensive as a result, and cheap products with a high markup… and everything in between.
My daughter and I were at the drug store the other day and we noticed that Valentine’s Day chocolates were drastically reduced. A small box of chocolate (regular price $4) only cost 50 cents. So what are those chocolates actually worth?
I bought a very expensive pair of winter boots back in December 2008. I don’t recall the exact cost but I think they clocked in around $400 and it was the most money I’ve ever spent on footwear. They have been GREAT; sturdy, warm, boots… made by a Canadian company no less. I have worn them every day, every winter, since I bought them. They were totally worth the money I paid for them.
One of the side effects of the Embargo is that every item I pick up in a store – all year long – now undergoes intense scrutiny: Is this a need or a want? Is it well made? Where was it made? Is it over-packaged? Can I use it for multiple purposes? etc. If I see a pair of boots, or a dress, or a sweater, I automatically assign a “reasonable” cost to it before I check the price tag. If I’m close, I am more likely to buy it. I don’t mind paying a fair price for something, I really don’t. But there’s that value question again. How we assign value to consumer items depends upon a whole bunch of things. We assign a value based on our knowledge of similiar products and our personal experiences and preferences. Would I pay $5.00 for a peanut butter cup from Truffle Treasures? Yes, because that is SOME GOOD CHOCOLATE, made locally, and those 50-cent drugstore chocolates tasted waxy and left a weird aftertaste. Would I pay $1.00 for a package of pencil crayons from the dollar store? No, because the leads are always cracked and they’re impossible to sharpen.
So how much would I, should I, spend on a cake of soap?