Last Thursday, while barbecuing sausages at home, we realized we were out of hotdog buns.
But with the sausages halfway cooked, there was no turning back and I was soon dispatched, armed with a $5 bill, to the corner store.
“Bring back the change,” someone yelled after me as I walked out the door.
I mumbled something unintelligible, hopped in the car and headed out the road for a quick (and potentially lucrative) jaunt up the shore to the local mom-and-pop.
Upon arrival came the usual cost analysis. The store had four-packs and eight-packs of hotdog rolls.
Not needing eight buns (there were only three of us home for lunch), but used to paying proportionately more for less, I immediately ran the math on which pack was the better deal.
Of course, comparing cost-benefit ratios is an all-too-typical exercise at the grocery store.
People are far too aware of being nickel and dimed and there is generally a fully realized trade-off at the cash for paying more for less, or proportionally less (but still, in reality, more) for more.
When walking up the grocery aisle or picking what item makes it into the cart, there is a very real instinct for measuring what we need against what we’re getting and what we’re paying.
Which is why, upon reaching the hotdog bun rack at the corner store, I was so surprised. Against all odds, the half-pack of buns was exactly half the price of the full one.
It was so refreshing to be able to make a choice based purely on preference rather than balancing several competing objectives (bang for buck, how much we really needed, wastage).
In this one instance, there weren’t two different prices for what was essentially the same thing on different terms.
How refreshing. (And how sad that it was so).
But prices that respect consumers seem so few and far between, with customers constantly forced to choose between paying a premium for the one item they need and the more moderately priced 12-pack they’ll never get through.
And that’s not to mention the hundreds of other surcharges, pop-up fees and hidden costs for services like air travel, banking and eating out, where a side of guacamole could cost an extra $2.50 and a refill may or may not be free.
There are countless examples of shortchanging at the cash register. Going to the movies means concessions stands that charge upwards of three or four dollars for a fountain drink.
Buying a 750-millilitre bottle of pop at the vending machine can cost $2.25. Yet a two-litre bottle often goes for a dollar at the corner store.
Meanwhile, companies from Old Spice to Kellogg’s have been highlighted in the media for trying to reduce sticker shock by quietly downsizing the size of their products while keeping prices the same.
No wonder people feel taken advantage of.
This is all to say it felt wonderful to walk into a store and pick up what I wanted without having to worry about overpaying for less. There was a standard price for a set amount and no cost manoeuvring to get me to buy more. It was great to see.
Maybe the store owners set their prices with their customers in mind. Maybe not.
But I sure appreciated even the thought of being respected rather than manipulated.
So I drove home happy and with my pack of hotdog buns in tow. Oh, and I did give back the change. No one likes being nickel and dimed.
Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is studying journalism at Carleton University. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.