Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How Much Are the Little Things Worth?

One of the little things that occasionally fascinates me is how merchants decide what to charge for little things that aren't on the menu. This morning, at the deli where I buy my coffee, a woman asked to buy a little tub of butter. (Not peanut butter.) She had to explain a couple of times that no, she did not want a bagel with the butter, she just wanted butter, by itself, and how much would that cost, like 50 cents or something? When she got to the cash register and had to again explain that she just was buying that little tub of butter, the cashiers had a little consultation about how much to charge her, and quickly decided on 20 cents. As was revealed in the peanut butter post linked above, this deli charges 10 cents to put butter on a bagel. So I guess they decided that the little plastic container is worth charging an extra 10 cents for.

I can think of similar situations-- the time I paid $1.00 to use a bathroom, for instance. And also a couple of visits to a neighborhood cobbler shop: once I went in with a bag that needed to have a torn part sewn. I think he charged me $2 for that. Then another time I wanted an extra hole punched in a belt, and he did that for free. It wasn't like I was a regular customer or anything, he was just a nice man. And I'll always remember that, as the sad part of that story is that he was murdered during a robbery several months later.

Anyway, it's the kind of thing Malcolm Gladwell could have written about in Blink: how do you make a split-second decision on how much money something is worth?


Anonymous said...

Now that I've started some freelance sewing -- I'm often hit with on the spot price decisions. What I really want to do is think about it, compare to other prices I've charged, and then give a price -- but no, gotta throw something out there.

This weekend a client asked how much I'd charge for a bed skirt and then gasped at my price -- was it too high, or have I just been sewing too cheap? I knew I'd sent her a price in email several weeks ago and said that I'd honor that price. Guess what, the email price was the same, but I let her negotiate it downwards (and another price upwards).

I'm just not at a point where I can accurately estimate time and what I should be paid. So, this is still a learning curve and I need to improve the on-my-toes responses.

Anonymous said...

I went to a optical store yesterday because my glasses just kept slipping down my nose. Instead of just adjusting it and charge me for that service, the women asked me to take an eye exam ($29) before she did the adjustment. I guess the good part is that I did not have to get a new pair of glasses which will probably cost another $100 or so but really from my perspective she charged me freaking $29 for the adjustment!!

frugal zeitgeist said...

This is a tough one. I do pro bono web design work for one non-profit organization and usually chase off chargeable freelance work on purpose by stating exorbitant rates that correspond to how much I'm willing to be irritated in my free time. A friend who was doing some freelance work recently got in over his head and asked for my help, so I worked out a fixed-rate deal for 20% of what he was making for up to ten hours of work. I charged less than I'd like, but my friend underbid in the first place and I didn't want to rip him off. The work was also for a non-profit (and I know and like the guy who runs it), and my friend really needed the bailout; he was grateful that I was willing to take it at any price.

Mostly, however, I think people pull split-second decisions like these out of their backsides.

Anonymous said...

Just thought of something. I haven't read Blink yet (did read Tipping Point) but I get the gist of it. Anyway, I wonder how it applies to the reverse of your post: how we decide if something's worth buying, or not. Impulse shopping, I'm thinking about.

Anonymous said...

I do it all the time Madame X! I need to have a relationship with money as Suze Orman stated...sometimes I feel we pay too much on things in life. Yesterday this guy in dunkin donuts asked why they were giving away free coffee. This girl and I looked at each other and said "As NYers, why ask...take and go!"

Anonymous said...

I just use a flat hourly rate of $100 and multiply or divide by the amount of time its going to take.
of course, then i usually toss in a generous discount!