a peek inside the fishbowl

27 Feb, 2013

Shopping, value, and the things we buy

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Shopping Embargo|Yaktivism

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 IWhat 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?

More tomorrow.

5 Responses to "Shopping, value, and the things we buy"

1 | Sarah McCormack

February 28th, 2013 at 7:38 am


this is a great post on a topic we don’t discuss enough! people are spending way too much money (that they don’t have) on stuff!

We spend a great deal of money (but we have no debt) on holidays, most of my income actually. i once asked my son(at age 7) what he thought about that, and he said, “Mom, our memories will never go out of style”. wow, right?

I always think, when I look back on my life.. what will i remember? and it won’t be my STUFF. but the holidays we take come with a lot of amazing memories. and that, for me, is VALUE for money!

2 | It’s about soap, but not really >> a peek inside the fishbowl

February 28th, 2013 at 9:34 am


[…] I wrote about shopping and value, perceived or otherwise. Today I wanted to share a recent purchase I made DESPITE the Shopping […]

3 | Kaitlin

February 28th, 2013 at 9:51 am


I feel the same way about sugar as I do about spending habits. I’m going to do it, but I feel infinitely better if I do it infrequently and the result is spec-tacular. Just as I’d rather shell out $5 for Truffle Treasures’ peanut butter cups than $1 for crappy chocolate, I’d also much rather limit how often I eat sweets and get a higher level of enjoyment. Does that make sense?

4 | Pamela

February 28th, 2013 at 9:54 am


That totally makes sense Kaitlin, or maybe I just say that because it’s how I roll too.

Andrea, I did the same thing with winter coats this year- went all out and bought two coats that I LOVE and that work well and are classic, and I expect I’ll get years of use from them. It was hard to spend so much money, but I bet it will be more cost effective in the long-run. And, one of the coats is made with 50% recycled polyester, which I love.

5 | andrea

February 28th, 2013 at 9:55 am


Kaitlin: that’s my philosophy too. I’d rather spend more money on a great-tasting treat and not eat it as frequently!

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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