The other day I found myself racing to a local drugstore for a deal I just could not pass up. After working an eight hour day I shuffled through three lanes of traffic, over untold amounts of construction debris, raced from one red-light to the next, all to get to what appeared to be the sale of a lifetime: 20-cent cans of tomato sauce.
In my mind I went through the cash register scenario over and over, making sure that I had not misinterpreted the sale, mentally checking that all of my ducks (or rather coupons) were in a row. I could see my future year made up of dinner recipes that these discounted cans of tomato sauces were to become the main ingredient for: spaghetti and meatballs, sloppy joes, eggplant parmigiana, homemade pizza.
I pulled up to the store and quick-walked down the aisle of food. Grabbing five tomato-sauce cans, then one more for good measure, I claimed my spot in the back of a line of 8 people. I found that if I leaned back a little, I could juggle the cans with my torso for support as I slowly made my way to the front of the line. The sale went through fine. After an hour—to get to the store, make my way to the cash register, pay $1.20, and drive home in rush hour traffic—I now was able to add 6 more cans of tomato sauce to my all ready overflowing stash of 20 at home.
That’s right; in my supply closet, stocked for the dining pleasure of just two people, there are now 26 cans of tomato sauce. A sufficient stockpile for the next year for two people would probably have been 5-6 cans of tomato sauce. But 26 cans? That’s something different all together—that’s over-consumption.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but Americans with credit cards, no money and the propensity to spend, or Americans with limitless money and no cares, are not the only category of consumers capable of over consuming in the United States.
Frugalites also fall into the over-consumption trap, mainly because with the discounts we consistently achieve, the question we face in the store or at home while preparing our lists is oftentimes not of necessity or luxury, but simply why not?
There are several answers to this question of ‘why not’, besides the obvious environmental argument for limiting our consumption of resources and the amount of waste we produce. After awhile, each can of tomato sauce that I bought, no matter how severe the discount, ceased to add any extra benefit to me. This is essentially the law of diminishing returns, which in this situation explains that beyond a certain point, me continuing to put my time and energy into obtaining more of the same product becomes less and less beneficial. One can of tomato sauce to be used for spaghetti and meatballs is great, and five cans to be used for this same meal throughout the year equals a responsible stockpile; however, having to make spaghetti and meatballs four days a week in order to use up all of these cans before their expiration dates yields me much less happiness (and probably will make me never want to eat spaghetti and meatballs again).
What other ill effects has buying these extra cans brought me? I now have less closet space to devote to stocking up on other essential items. I lost several hours of my most precious resource—time—to purchase food that I will probably end up donating because I will be unable to use, and I now have several dollars less that I could have devoted to other necessities.
Looking at this problem through a different lens now makes me realize that I paid far more than 20-cents a can for that tomato sauce.
If you feel as though you are falling into this trap, perhaps you should take stock of your supply closet, and remind yourself that you have enough of X product to feed your community for a week should a hurricane hit and it takes FEMA that long to get to you.
And if you feel that urge to stockpile at the next big sale coming up, instead choose to stock up on time, money, and mental energy. These are your most precious resources.