RIVER VALLEY DISTRICT: Getting the Most for your $$$'s

By Pat Gerhardt
River Valley District Home & Family Agent

It seems like every time I buy groceries, I spend a little more than the time before and come home with a little less. Although it's most obvious when buying groceries (probably because I buy those so frequently) it's true for many other consumer goods also. In this day and age when consumers want to get the very most out of every dollar, it makes sense to "shop smart."

Unit pricing (which is available on many grocery items and states the cost per serving) is very helpful. When unit pricing isn't available, though, determining the best buy is a little more difficult. At first glance it would seem a $25 coffee maker would be a better buy than one that costs $40. However, the savvy shopper would want to divide the purchase price by the number of times the item would be used and also consider the features and conveniences of each product. If the coffee maker is going to be used frequently and has "frills" that make life easier, it might be worth the extra dollars. However, if you're purchasing the coffee maker to use only when company stops by, the less expensive pot might do.

Obviously, the more an item is used or worn, the lower the cost per use. For a $500 winter coat you wear 100-150 times per year over five years, the cost is $.67 to $1.00 each time it's worn. If you buy a trendy top for $20 and wear it only three times, the cost per wear is $6.67. This makes the $20 trendy top six times more expensive than the $500 coat!

Items that are used daily do well in cost-per-use analyses. Mattresses, coffee makers, and computer monitors are examples. If you buy a bigger, better computer monitor that costs $100 more and use it daily for four years, your additional cost per day is 7 cents. However, infrequently used items can get expensive.

Figuring cost per use is also a good idea when evaluating entertainment options. How much will that new larger-than-life television set get used? Consider the total cost of using the t.v. Will you need (want?) access to more channels? Will it entice family members to passively watch it rather than pursuing healthier physical activities? What will be its influence on family communication? What will be its influence on family meals? While today's consumer wants to get the most from each dollar, there are many other factors to consider than just price.

However, "cost per use" isn't always a factor to consider. Occasionally, it's okay to splurge. Examples might be special clothing for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise, a wedding gown, a special gift for a special occasion, etc. The key words, though, are "occasionally" and "special." Even special times need to be planned and budgeted for so that there are no surprises down the road.