Emotional Currency

Your relationship to money

Watch Out For Those Bargains

Sometimes a bargain isn't really a bargain.

The workshop I am leading is being held in a charming Arts and Crafts bungalow built in the 1920s out of California Redwood. For most of its existence this building was a single-family home, and it still feels like a home. I can picture the woman who lived in the house sitting by the stone fireplace doing her mending.

Before the workshop actually gets going, Alice, one of the participants, develops an allergic reaction. She goes off to buy some antihistamine tablets at a nearby corner store. Returning, she holds up the box of 24 pills and tells us that she got a deal, the shopkeeper having given her a dollar off the marked price.

Later in the day Alice shares the fuller story of that shopping trip. She had walked to the little convenience store and the owner had greeted her warmly. She asked him for something for allergies and he offered her the choice of a package of two tablets for $1.00 or a package of 24 tablets for $5.99, which he immediately discounted to $4.99. She chose the larger, bargain package, but now saw the folly of doing so as she realized she only needed one pill, would probably never use the rest of the box, and the package would likely end up as clutter in her medicine cabinet.

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As she described her purchase choice, Alice admitted that she had been incapable of paying $1.00 for 2 pills when she could get 24 for $4.99. Also influencing the decision was how nice the shopkeeper had been to her. And that his store reminded her of stores in the neighborhood where her daughter lives in London. This connection made her want to support his business, even in this small way. 

Like Alice, our buying choices are influenced by many layers. We are bombarded by purchasing choices daily. Just going to the grocery store presents a land mine of decision-points. Most decisions are made instantaneously (or have been planned ahead of time) and never thought of again. But some, regardless of the amounts of money involved, stick in our mind and stir up our emotions. We can doubt or find fault in our choice regardless of the cost of the item. We can have buyer’s remorse over anything.

I personally have recently regretted the purchase of a jar of skin cream, a bag of cat food, a car, a jar of mayonnaise, and a sweater. The way I know to make peace with these purchases is to unpack them, as Alice did, to see what has driven me to buy things I later regretted. Not only does this process bring me new understandings about myself, it helps inform the next purchasing decision. And like Alice, I’ve learned new ways to watch out for bargains.

 

Kate Levinson, Ph.D., is a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Oakland, California. She is the author of Emotional Currency: A Woman's Guide to Building a Healt more...

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