When You Go Too Cheap

Several days ago, my mother related to me a horror story about a particular dinner she’d prepared for herself and my father. She had purchased some extremely cheap frozen chicken breasts from a local discount grocery store at a price she just couldn’t pass up, but when she brought them home and actually prepared them, in her words, they were “inedible.” She not only threw out the chicken breasts she’d prepared, she tossed out the frozen ones, too. They were “not fit for human consumption,” in her words.

Recently, my wife and I tried out a small package of a new brand of toilet paper (new to us, anyway). It was extremely inexpensive, so we figured that even if it wasn’t nearly as good as our typical toilet paper, it was still a significant savings. Not quite. I went from using five or six squares in the bathroom to using at least twenty, plus I was still left feeling unclean. Not a good deal – in fact, we’ve already switched back to our regular brand.

I’m the biggest advocate you’ll find for seeking out the best deal you possibly can on most of the things you buy. Comparison shopping is a powerful tool. Most of the time, buying generic is just as good as buying the name brand. The grocery store flyer truly is your friend, as is making a good shopping list.

That doesn’t change one simple fact: sometimes, when you buy the bottom dollar item, you suffer for it. Sometimes, you wind up with an item that’s simply unusable, like my mother’s experience with the chicken breasts. Other times, you wind up with an item that’s so poorly made that it ends up costing you way more per use than you might have ever believed, like my own experience with the toilet paper.

Obviously, you want to avoid these traps. When you wind up with such a suboptimal product, you’ve essentially undone the benefit of bargain buying – and quite often, it ends up costing you more money than simply buying the name brand. In fact, this is an argument that many people make against generics and bargain items – if it’s not of the quality you need for your use, then it’s wasted money.

What can you do if you go too cheap and wind up with a lemon on your hands?

Just sample new things. If you’re trying out a new brand, don’t buy it in bulk. Instead, buy a small package of the item and make sure that you like it before you purchase the bulk package. This saves you from a situation where you have 36 rolls of unusable toilet paper.

Call the manufacturer. Whether or not the item is a “generic” or it’s a name brand item, you can still find a customer service number and let them know that there were problems with the product. Even with generics, you’ll sometimes get coupons or vouchers that you can use to get free replacements (if it’s just a defect in that item) or, sometimes, on other items.

Find alternate uses. If you find that the item isn’t usable for the purpose you intended it for, seek out alternate uses for it. Save the toilet paper rolls for camping season, where toilet paper makes great tinder for a camp fire. Food is a bit trickier, but some food items can be used as compost, for example.

Keep track of the “bad” brands. Trying an item, discovering it’s bad, and moving on to another one isn’t enough. You should keep track of brands that you’ve discovered aren’t up to snuff and avoid them in the future. In other words, instead of knowing the brands you prefer, keep track of the brands you prefer to avoid.

Grocery bargain hunting can save you a lot of money, but sometimes you wind up with a lemon of a product. How you handle that lemon makes all the difference when it comes to long term success. Good luck!

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