The other day, I paid a $1 premium for a gallon of milk.
It’s not that I particularly like overpaying. I could have driven to Fred Meyer’s and gotten the gallon for 99 cents. Instead, I got it from Albertson’s for a much steeper $1.99. I actually paid more than twice the cheapest rate. Not something I’m proud of.
Given the circumstances of that day, though, the premium was worth it.
The closest Fred Meyer to us is just over 3 miles (and copious traffic lights) away. The streets I’d take would all have been heavy with traffic. It would have taken me an absolute minimum of 20 minutes to just get there. Comparatively, Albertson’s is just over a mile away, with just three lights in between.
Add to that supreme fatigue that day, as well as the depression that has been reasserting itself lately, and you have an understandable reason for overpaying. I was so worn down that even just going across the street to Grocery Outlet for 50-70 cents savings was simply not an option.
So the extra money was worth it, even though I usually try to avoid paying for an item when I know it’s cheaper elsewhere. But sometimes I have to.
You don’t even need to have health issues to appreciate the difficulty of all this. You’re tired, work was hell, the kids are screaming in the back, and you still have to get home and cook. Who wouldn’t be tempted to pay a little bit more — or even stop by McDonald’s?
So when is it acceptable?
The answer to this will vary from person to person. It depends on the value you place on your free time. Or time spent with your family. Or simply not in grocery stores.
I think one of the best ways to avoid this is to change the way we think about price differences. Rather than think of it as a 50 cent difference, which we often can rationalize through gas and time spent getting to multiple stores, think of it as a tax. A convenience tax, if you will.
After all, that’s essentially what it is. You ever actually look at prices as you go through a convenience store? They’re astronomical. Why? Because the store is banking on your unwillingness to seek out a better price. These stores profit from our desire for instant gratification.
So it’s not too much of a stretch to think about grocery store price differences in the same way. When you pay 50 cents more for a can of green beans, to avoid a second store, you’re paying for convenience. And if there are multiple instances of this convenience tax, it can quickly make you rethink your process.
Of course, this won’t deter everyone in every situation. And it shouldn’t. There is something to be said for valuing your free time and energy. You wouldn’t expect a sick person to visit several stores looking for the best price on Nyquil. It’s a special situation, where we decide to value our physical needs over our frugal ones.
In a less extreme example, we’ve all orderered delivery food from time to time. It may be to celebrate; more likely, it’s because we just can’t bring ourselves to cook. We don’t do it frequently, because in better times, we prioritize money over our desire for prepared food. But from time to time, it’s worthwhile to take it easy on ourselves.
So framing it as a convenience tax won’t always stop you from paying more for products. But it does give you a more realistic look at the situation. You can’t claim that your real concern is gas. At $2.30 a gallon, the stores would have to be pretty far apart to make that rationalization work. You can, though, decide just how much convenience you’re willing to pay for.
Convenience tax of 50 cents? You might or might not bother. It depends if you need it right away, whether you’ll be in the other store soon enough anyway, and how valuable your time and energy is to you. But as those “taxes” add up? To $2 or $3… or more? You may just start to rethink your shopping practices.