Do you remember the Malt-O-Meal commercials with the man who crouched down in the cereal aisle and said “Walk this way!” when he showed you the cheaper brand in bags instead of boxes?
Thanks to the squatting man, I became devoted to bargain shopping in childhood. I could get four times as many Marshmallow Mateys as Lucky Charms, and the marshmallows tasted just as good when I fished them out of the cereal and sorted them by color for proper anal-retentive consumption. Also, it turned out that pretty much every product had a knockoff version that my mom was more likely to give in and buy, leading to my lingering taste for Dr. Thunder.
I mean, some foods clearly have superior and inferior varieties. I’ve eaten enough bargain ice cream to be familiar with that unsettling yellowish foam that won’t rinse out of my bowl. But with other products, it’s hard to imagine where they could go wrong.
Now that I buy my own groceries, I typically stand at the freezer case trying to guess what could possibly make the Ultra Premium broccoli worth an extra three dollars. Since the nutrition facts don’t mention sparkly unicorn magic flying dust, I usually grab the 99-cent store brand.
However, it turns out that not all vegetables are created equal.
For years I accepted these disappointments as a fact of life—perhaps part of the disillusionment that accompanies adulthood.
Eventually it occurred to me that some of the extra price tag pays for stuff like ingredients and flavor—and also that I have an actual job and can buy actual Oreos.
I’m still swayed by low prices, though, especially on products I don’t intend to ingest. It’s hard to spend $3.50 on Hand Soap With TV Ads when you can get the Compare-And-Save kind for eighty-seven cents, for example. Plus I’m susceptible to belief in advertising claims—the package uses the same colors as Dial, so they must be the same, right?
That’s how I ended up with a family-size bottle of hand soap in new, improved Poocumber Melon scent. My roommate was a good enough sport to help me fight through the whole bottle—we were getting our 87 cents worth, by golly—before replacing it with something that didn’t make our hands smell like we’d been searching for a missing retainer in last Thursday’s Wienerschnitzel dumpster.