As I’ve watched the buying public in action over the years, I find myself overwhelmed with the variety of ways people flagrantly blow their money. I’m a reformer at heart, and can’t resist passing on a few tidbits of advice concerning several abuses I regularly witness. So, for whoever the shoe fits, I invite you to take the following to heart.
When you fill your car with gasoline, does the lesser-priced regular grade or the higher-priced premium grade end up in your tank? As both are now unleaded, pollution is no longer a factor. Base your decision not on assurances by the service station manager promoting the more expensive fuel, but on performance you can actually experience. The fundamental difference between the two grades is octane number¾87 for the regular versus 91 for the premium. The distinction is in the burning speed of the fuels, where the lower the rating, the faster the burn. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when auto engines carried higher compression ratios, slower burning helped prevent engine “knock.” Because of the lower compression ratios of today’s cars, most function satisfactorily on the 87-octane fuel. The test is simple to conduct. With the lower octane gas in your tank, accelerate up a slight grade in drive gear. If you experience no unrelenting “pinging” of the engine, then save yourself the cost of the more expensive fuel.
What you buy and where you buy becomes habit. Whether your choice of lipstick is the $20 Chanel selection from Macy’s, the $5.46 Max Factor brand from Rite Aid Drug, or the 94¢ Wet ‘n Wild tube from Target, recognize the essential ingredients are the same. The difference is packaging, promotion, and mystique, which is what the cosmetics business is all about. Similarly, you may often choose between a recognized brand name and a generic or little-known comparable product. If your preference in mouthwash is mint-flavored Scope, the 24-ounce bottle can be purchased at one well-known chain for $3.99. On the shelf two feet to the right is a 24-ounce bottle of mint-flavored Value Wise at $1.99. Thanks to federal law, labels list the ingredients. Are you surprised to learn that the contents of the two bottles are identical? As to flavor, there’s no detectable difference. The likelihood is both are manufactured and bottled together in the same plant and from the same spigot. Whether it’s so in this particular case is less important than that the marketplace is rife with this practice, maintaining huge markups solely on media-promoted brand loyalty. Perhaps customers who refuse to acknowledge the bamboozle are fair game.
What brand of watch do you wear? Whether a top-of-the-line Rolex, a fashionable Cartier, a respectable Bulova, or an economy Timex, recognize that all are battery-operated, with a dependable quartz movement, and none fail to keep excellent time. The day of the mechanical Swiss movement is a thing of the past. The current models all do a better job than the “precision” pocket watch your Uncle Elmo used as a railroad engineer. The only justification for a high-priced model is self-image and, let’s face it, the illusion of prosperity. The value of these qualities is debatable. My three wristwatches give you an idea of my personal priorities. One, a $265 Brooks Brothers imitation of a Cartier, a gift from my wife, is worn when we go out together on special occasions. The second, an old Spiro Agnew wind-up, sold in 1973 for $29.95 by the Dirty Time Company, usually gets a laugh at parties. My daily workhorse is a $38.75 Timex with a sweep second hand and an easily readable face. When it wears out I will replace it with another of the same, unless I wear out before it does.
While we’re on the subject of small mechanical devices that serve a need, consider the hyperbole employed by one firm to convince us of the importance of a $600 ballpoint pen. The arguments include an appreciation of beauty and workmanship, the profound emotional experience you receive utilizing a fine writing implement, and the implication you’ll be admired by clients and associates for your taste and culture. A number of competing firms aggressively promote substantially identical versions, with radio and television ads regularly employed. There are two fascinating aspects of this campaign. The first is the hired pitchmen manage to keep a straight face while reading their lines. The other is that anyone not certifiably demented actually believes a word of it. Nonetheless, for whatever reason, the pens find a market. My condolences to whoever this may have targeted.
That’s all for today, but I’ll keep watching what goes on out there, and when I’m sufficiently appalled with the habits I witness, I promise another tongue-lashing.