Here's a relevant article from the NY Times the other day: Failing Home Economics.
Jill Andresky Fraser, a financial journalist... found herself shopping for groceries on the Upper West Side, stymied by the price of a cauliflower ($5) in the first store she visited. A market a block or so away sold cauliflowers for $2.99 each, but a can of artichoke hearts (another item on her list) was $4.99. A third store offered a deal — three heads of cauliflower for $5 — which was a good thing, because it was getting late and the day was disintegrating into the narrative of a fourth-grader’s word problem. Ms. Fraser filled a cart with cauliflower and other groceries. When the cashier rung her up, however, it turned out that the artichoke hearts at this store were $6.99 a can, and Ms. Fraser had bought four.
“So on the one hand I had saved all this money on cauliflower,” Ms. Fraser said, “but probably my family was never going to eat that much cauliflower, and there was the problem of the $7 artichokes. In the end, I had spent more money than I had ever planned. This was a cosmic moment.”
Well, cosmic lesson #1 is that you don't have to do all your shopping in one store! Buy the cheap cauliflower and then go back to the store that had the cheap artichokes! This is NYC-- chances are that all the stores mentioned were within a couple blocks of each other, and if she's going to be that price conscious, she might as well be health conscious too and give herself some extra exercise.
I don't actually mean to sound that harsh-- I am hardly the one to cast stones here. I make these kinds of mistakes all the time too, and have written about them here quite often! But it's not just out of touch New Yorkers who have this problem:
Read the rest of the article for many more fascinating tales of financial irrationality! I'm sure you'll be reminded of a few mistakes of your own!
Kathy Peel, a Dallas-based family manager (that is, a life coach whose niche is training families to run their homes like businesses), said that incidences of feckless budgeting and bad math seem to be on the rise, at least judging from the reports of coaches trained in her system. Leslie McKee, a Peel-trained family manager in Pittsburgh, has noticed a pattern of “people signing up for discount stores that sell in bulk and over-purchasing ‘bargains’ that are so enormous they will not live long enough to use the item,” she said. “Then they call me and spend more money to help them organize it all into mini-malls inside their homes.”
At the high end, there are bulk buyers like Rick Angres, a screenwriter in Santa Monica, Calif., who visits two farmers’ markets each week, stocking up on lilies and orchids. “On the one hand I get a very good price,” he said. “On the other hand, I spend perhaps 10 times as much on flowers as is appropriate for a man of my means.”
Representing the opposite extreme, Ms. McKee said, is the client who is rewinding adding-machine tape so she can use the other side, or the woman whose laundry room is cluttered with dozens of empty laundry detergent bottles, awaiting their turn in the washer, where she leaves one each night — cap off and upside down — to drain out the last drop of liquid.
“What’s happening I think is we are letting all our gremlins out,” said Carol Prisant, American editor of The World of Interiors magazine. “Some people will obsess about drops of detergent and others will want to buy in massive quantities. This is the moment when we all sort of mildly crack up.”