Friday, November 9, 2012

Reckless extravagance

As you may remember, in my October 16 post I speculated about what Brian and I might decide to do with our extra money once we have our mortgage paid off. One of my suggestions was that we might start to "buy the good orange juice, the stuff that's not from concentrate, even when it's not on sale." When I mentioned this idea to Brian, however, he was unenthusiastic. His position was that, no matter how much money we had, the good OJ still wouldn't be worth paying full price for, since he's the primary drinker of OJ in our household and he doesn't like it all that much better than the frozen stuff. At first this response made me nervous: was he going to consider all "unnecessary" expenses unjustified? But he assured me that his problem wasn't with the idea of spending more, just with spending more on orange juice. So that got me wondering: what's an example of something that we both would be willing to pay more for?

This week provided me with a perfect example. A little background: Brian and I have, for many years, been loyal users of Swheat Scoop cat litter. I even wrote an article in its praise on Associated Content. But a few months ago, we brought home a bag of Swheat Scoop and found that, for some reason, it just wasn't clumping the way it used to. No matter how carefully we scooped, the clumps would inevitably break apart and ammonia-soaked fragments would slip through the scoop and back into the box. As a result, the box developed a strong odor in weeks instead of months—sometimes in as little as one week—and the litter had to be completely replaced. At first we thought the problem was the unusually humid weather; then we wondered if maybe that one bag of litter was just a dud. But when the next bag we bought was no better, we concluded that the manufacturers of Swheat Scoop must have changed their formula somehow (possibly so that they could sell the original product as a new "multi-cat formula"). So we decided to take advantage of a rebate offer on World's Best Cat Litter and see if that was any better.

Well, it was—decidedly better. The clumps were so much firmer that scooping the cat box, which had become a major proceeding, was suddenly the work of a minute or two. On top of that, the new litter didn't track quite as much. The only drawback was that while Swheat Scoop cost about 67 cents per pound at PetSmart, World's Best was $1.12 per pound. Of course, it may work out to be cheaper in the long run, since we won't have to change out the litter nearly as often as with the new, wussier Swheat Scoop. But I wondered whether, before making up our minds to switch to World's Best, we should try the multi-cat version of Swheat Scoop, which cost only 72 cents a pound, and see whether it was adequate. Well, just imagine my surprise to hear my husband, who's an even tighter wad than I am, respond, "No, I really like this litter now." Yep—after using World's Best for just a few days, he wasn't willing to go back to Swheat Scoop—even the multi-cat version, which is most likely identical to the old Swheat Scoop that we found perfectly acceptable for years. Not even at a difference of 40 cents a pound.

At the time, I was quite tickled to see my prudent husband throwing caution to the wind in this way. But of course, his burst of reckless extravagance needs to be kept in perspective. Back when we were using the original Swheat Scoop, we went through maybe three 40-pound bags of it per year. So if we used the same amount of the new multi-cat Swheat Scoop, we'd be paying about 92 dollars a year (with tax) for cat litter. Substituting World's Best (assuming we use it up at roughly the same rate) bumps up the total cost to 144 dollars a year. So that's an extra 52 bucks per year, or a dollar per week. Whooo, we're going crazy out here! Spending money like it's going out of style!

So there you have it: an example of a product that we're willing to pay more for simply because it's better. And now I'm off to the farmers' market in pursuit of a second example: orchard-fresh apples. (At $6 a basket, or about $2 a pound, these are definitely pricier than the bagged apples at the supermarket—but the supermarket doesn't have Winesaps and Macouns. We may have to settle for Empire apples from the Empire State during the long winter months, but so long as the real jewels of fall are available, we're not going to pass them up.)

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