When you’re forking out a lot for a one-off purchase it’s common sense to get a second quote. Maybe you’re about to have some new wardrobes installed. The first carpenter quotes you $2,000 for the job. The next says they’ll build the wardrobes for $1,800. You feel pretty pleased with your $200 saving.
When it comes to everyday items, it’s far less likely we’ll be bothered whipping out the calculator or opening up a spreadsheet. But using the same approach may be one of the simplest ways to save money without sacrificing your lifestyle.
Most things we purchase in our weekly shop end up in our trolley without a great deal of thought. Toothpaste is one such example. Chances are, you’ve been buying the same toothpaste for a great deal of your adult life – and maybe you used the same brand as a kid, too.
Proctor and Gamble does not sell Crest toothpaste by taking out one newspaper ad or running one television commercial. They sell and resell it every day by keeping the product fresh in the consumers’ mind. (Edwin J. Feulner, president of conservative US ‘think-tank’ the Heritage Foundation, on a 1985 trip to Australia, quoted in The Land of Plenty by Mark Davis)
How does daily exposure affect us?
Products that we use on a daily basis have a huge advantage in that they are constantly advertising to us, increasing their ‘brand recognition’. I’ve chosen toothpaste as an example – and I suspect Feulner chose it too – because it’s something we use – indeed, are encouraged by health professionals as well as the manufacturers to use – not just once, but several times a day. That’s two or three opportunities to see the toothpaste name and logo and distinctive corporate colours every day, so by the time your toothpaste runs out, the colours and label will be well imprinted into your mind.
And it’s not just that we go to the supermarket and unthinkingly pick up the package that, to our minds, represents ‘toothpaste’ because it’s the one we see all the time. It’s a little more complex than that. We actually reject other options.
For any product that is used regularly, it’s easy to get used to that specific flavour, consistency, texture, and aroma, and to develop a resistance to substitution.
My husband and I used to have preferences for different toothpaste brands. We’d grown up with certain brands, and continued using them. To me, toothpaste = Colgate and Colgate = toothpaste.
This kind of equation of a specific brand with an entire category of product is seen in our language too, in the form of genericised trademarks.
On the road
One of the joys of traveling is the ability to try new things. At the same time, you often lack access to the things you’re familiar with. This can be tricky – in Hungary in particular, I found the supermarkets a rather baffling place, with many products I’d never seen before, and very few I was familiar with – but it can also be a blessing. By being unable to simply buy the ‘same old’ brands, travel can force us to experiment with new products.
Since we’ve been traveling with handluggage only, we didn’t have room to stock up on our favourite brands before leaving home. Instead, we pick up whatever we need along the road, with price and size (under 100mL so we can bring them on board as cabin baggage) our primary considerations.
Sometimes it takes a couple of days for me to get used to a new brand of toothpaste – I hated the one we’re currently using in Japan when I first tried it, but now I’ve become accustomed to it.
But I wonder how many people make this sort of a switch without prompting?
Certainly, friends and family I have tried to persuade to move away from Colgate’s more expensive, often foreign-produced toothpaste to try locally-made, cheaper alternatives have resisted this change on the basis that they like what they are used to.
But what does this comfort really cost?
A tube of toothpaste can cost anything between $1 to $9 at a regular supermarket. Say you’re purchasing an average one of around $5 cost. Just swapping to the $2 tube – not even the cheapest available – could save you $36 a year.
Still sound like peanuts?
Consider this – most people will stay in a home they’ve purchased for around 14 years. Worked out as a yearly average, that $200 saving on your wardrobes is equivalent to a saving of about $14 per year. Over the same time period, switching to a cheaper toothpaste will have saved you well over double that figure – around $504 total.
And what if you’re currently buying the $9 a tube toothpaste? Switching to the cheapest toothpaste could save you $8 a month, or $96 a year – within just two years you would have saved almost as much as the wardrobe saving, and over 14 years, you’d have saved a whopping $1,344!
Imagine if you did this with every item in your trolley.
Small, relatively low-cost, disposable or ingestible items for personal consumption lend themselves to this sort of attachment based on familiarity and frequency of exposure. Soft drinks. Foods. Chewing gum. Items to do with personal hygiene. They’re things we buy automatically and loyally.
Why risk trying something new when it seemingly doesn’t cost much more to buy the brand you’re comfortable and familiar with?
But my teeth are important!
Yes, they are. But expensive toothpaste does not necessarily equal good dental health. The Moneyless Manifesto even lists some free, natural alternatives.
Try this honest toothpaste ad to rethink whether the most expensive brand is necessary
So long as the active ingredients are present in the same quantities, the rest of what you are paying for is branding and advertising.
There are a couple of lessons here
If you’re an investor, look for the makers of these sorts of products, the ones to which people develop a resistance to substitution.
But more broadly applicable to all of us, evaluate every purchase you are making, especially those which are regular purchases. Remember that you are likely to be a lifetime investor in tissues, in toothpaste, in toilet paper etc. Think of what you are buying not as a once-off purchase unworthy of prolonged thought, but as what it is more likely to be – a regular occurrence that could save – or cost – you thousands.
The best bit is, it takes only a few seconds to check the unit pricing and ingredients lists of your regular purchases – much less time than it takes to ring around or search online for various quotes. But it could save you loads!
In the mood for saving now? Perhaps you can get a better deal on a toothbrush than this ludicrous example!
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Today’s featured image is the toothpaste I’ve gotten used to in Japan… I have to say, I prefer the children’s toothpaste which comes in strawberry and fresh apple flavours. I’ve never been the biggest fan of mint!
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