Tuesday, December 29

To save, you must spend?

Standing in line at the grocery store the other day, I see the current issue of Real Simple. In large, proud type is a feature story's title: How to Save $5,000 This Year!

In much smaller print, down by the bar code, the price is listed as $4.99.

Hey, sure $5 sounds steep for a magazine. But it's a drop in the bucket when you consider the $5,000 savings that it will oh-so certainly bring. I mean, that's like 10,000 percent of the purchase price! How could you lose?

I didn't get a chance to actually skim Real Simple, so I can't tell you how helpful the tips were. I just know that, if I were writing it, Step 1 would be: Stop buying $5 magazines.

And, yes, I know that plenty of people get discounted subscriptions through outlets like Magazine.com. Still, I find it somewhat appalling just how much modern culture has co-opted frugality to the point of near-bastardization.

I'm not just talking about the current complaint, "I was frugal before frugal was cool." I'm referencing the fact that stores have managed to inject consumerism into frugality.

Sure, a certain amount of consumerism is necessary for frugality. You can't take advantage of a sale without acting as a consumer. I understand the relationship. But at this point, it seems that everywhere you go, facts are being contorted to look frugal.

I've been to the movies a couple of times in the last month (using passes), and one of the big new pushes is that you can pay "only" $4 for a $5 ticket to the concession stand. One per admission. Oh, and you have to buy it at the ticket window.

In other words, you make the hasty choice to save $1 without being able to look at the items offered. Then you get to the concessions stand and order what will almost certainly be more than $5 of food. Meanwhile, you feel like quite the smartypants for saving money.

There's also an offer wherein you get a medium popcorn when you buy two Icee drinks. Sounds like a great deal, until you realize that two Icees are $10.50. ($11 if you get the large, which is refillable.)

Did I mention this falls under AMC's category "Value Pricing"?

But we expect high costs at the movie theater. What about all these stores preying on people's worry about money? I don't mean to say that consumers are pure victims. They should know when they're being had.

Still, it's annoying to hear about the myriad ways you can "save" money by spending. One of Kohl's big promotions -- $10 in Kohl's cash, for every $50 you spend -- had a tagline that made me sick to my stomach: It's like getting paid to shop! And a perennial favorite for lots of stores is "The more you spend, the more you save!"

How about all those restaurant gift card offers? Get a $25 gift card, get $5 for yourself. Sounds great, until you get one and notice that the $5 gift certificate is good only in January and, in some cases, February. The store wins either way: You come in and spend more because you are getting $5 off, or you forget to use it.

Finally, we come back to magazines. All those pricey pages that promise to help you save money. All you have to do is spend it first.

It reminds me of a snippet from the Wall-Mart episode on South Park:

Cartman: Dude, check it out! Time Cop on DVD. Three copies for eighteen bucks!
Kyle:Why the hell would you want three copies of the same movie?
Cartman:Because one copy is nine ninety-eight! But this way you save like twenty bucks!
Kyle:You only need one copy, artard!
Cartman:Okay, fine, dumbass, YOU go ahead and buy one copy for nine ninety-eight!
Kyle:Okay, fine, I will! [grabs a copy] Huh, wait a minute! I don't even want ONE copy of Time Cop! [puts it back]
Cartman:Dude, you can't shop for crap.


Anonymous Jackie said...

Ok I'm cracking up at the South Park snippet. A lot of people confuse "saving money" with "spending less", probably due to all that marketing.

December 29, 2009 at 3:06 PM


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