Big and cheap: Where’s the off switch?

from Tobyotter on Flickr

I went to Buffalo, NY, with my mother-in-law today; we had a lovely time! I haven’t been there in a while, so she was sort of showing me around all the outlet stores.

Whilst there, I noticed a couple of things.

1. I saw a lot of overweight people. This is America’s stereotype, of course, and it probably didn’t help that we were shopping in stores in which processed food was cheap and sold in bulk, but I was taken aback. I looked into it and apparently 30 PER CENT of the American population is overweight. That is a lot of people. (To be fair to our American friends, one of the heaviest couples we saw had an Ontario license plate.)

With all the education we have about nutrition and healthy portion sizes, you would think obesity would be on a downturn. A part of me wonders if consumers want extra-large portions because it proves they’re getting their money’s worth, which leads me to my next observation.

2. Merchandise is extremely cheap and that’s how we like it. In Buffalo, there are outlets upon bargain stores upon liquidation centres that sell cheap stuff. I get how economies of scale make things less expensive in the States, but a lot of the products we came across was essentially being given away. On a Kohl’s receipt, for example, the total came to $63.00 and below the total, it said we saved $96.00. So we got $159 worth of stuff for less than half of the price.

Businesses aren’t charities. They still make a profit when they put merchandise on sale, which obviously means the actual cost of their products is less than half of what they paid for it. (This logic, by the way, used to keep me from eating the meat in a $2 frozen TV dinner, because really, what kind of meat is being used if $2 covers the meal, its packaging and profit). It’s just bad news.

Once my mind starts down the money road, it’s hard not to think of the individual who made whatever it is that I’m buying. If, say, a shirt was originally $50, but I got it for $10, and the company still has to make its cut from the sale (let’s say $3), how much was the producer paid to make this shirt?

We want things cheap. We do. No one can deny it. It feels good to get a deal. I’ll admit the adrenaline rush at seeing the Kohl’s bill. I felt so smart and resourceful.

Then I start thinking about global poverty. Talk about a buzz kill.

You really have to turn  your brain off to enjoy anything these days.


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