When Price Becomes the Only Factor

by Kelly · 17 comments

in Money & Spending

There are a lot of things that are important to me: eating local, natural, healthy, organic food, is fairly high on my list. In the best of times I order my vegetables and cheese online from a local farmers’ cooperative, or buy them at my village’s farmers’ market. I buy a variety of food at the grocery store and try to balance a healthy diet with cravings for junk food and need for efficient preparation. Another thing that is high on my list is buying quality toys for my children. While they do have their fair share of small plastic pieces, I try to restrict it to Playmobile figures, which while plastic are wonderful for both their design and inciting children to use their imagination while playing.

But these aren’t the best of times, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Now, instead of choosing a product based on a multitude of factors- where it came from, the process through which it was grown or manufactured, how much chocolate it contains- there is really just one deciding factor left.


And it’s not just for food stuffs either. While I’ve never been a big brand name shopper, unless it was at a thrift store, brand names are certainly out of the question at the moment. I am most likely to look at the quality and price.

After all a pair of bargain pants aren’t a bargain if you have to replace them in three months. Nor is food a bargain if it gives you a tummy ache and even your cats turn their nose up at it. Quality is important, but it’s no longer the final, deciding characteristic in my purchasing decisions.

As things get tighter and tighter, I’m afraid that at the moment, it always comes down to how much something costs.

And you? Is the price the deciding factor for you? Or do you consider other things like quality, usefulness or style to be equally or more important?


1 Emily October 20, 2008

Kelly, you must be clairvoyant. I was just discussing that same fact with my husband concerning last month’s Angelfood box. In it were some breaded chicken patties that I just, no matter how I disguised it, could not choke down – just too fatty, and I’m still a bit of a meat snob, despite being POOR. $30 is an amazing deal on a box of food, but not so good when you start having to throw things away.

With the economy being as it is right now, I can’t imagine people still being label-driven. They probably still are, and we’re just too poor to see it.

Rice & beans, anyone? 🙂

Emily´s last blog post..I Totally Heart Craigslist!

2 Dana @ Letters to Elijah October 20, 2008

Yes, price can be the deciding factor for me. I also look at, however, how long do I need this item to last. As an example… my clothes need to last much longer then my kids. My kids grow out of their clothes so fast that it’s okay to only consider price. If I buy a pair of jeans I want them to last a few years.

It’s about balance. Sometimes you do get what you pay for.. shoppers must be smart today!

3 Dana @ Letters to Elijah October 20, 2008

Oh.. Emily.. no beans for me! I’d rather eat a box of cheerios on sale! 🙂

4 Vintage Mommy October 20, 2008

Carrie & Danielle have proclaimed that “cheap is the new expensive” and I have certainly had that experience – buying something b/c it was cheap and then either discovering the quality was terrible, or that I didn’t really like it, despite the “bargain”.

It’s a hard question, b/c sometime we just don’t have the resources to go for top quality.

Speaking of Cheerios, that’s one name brand I do buy. My husband, who is the unfussiest of eaters does not care for the cheaper brands like Trader Joe’s. I feel it’s the least I can do for him!

Vintage Mommy´s last blog post..Another Lap, Another Milestone

5 Grace October 20, 2008

It is a difficult balance. We’re definitely going with cheaper alternatives to some things–more than we used to. I am hoping we can just buy less and still buy quality, though, rather than buying cheaper.

Grace´s last blog post..Why yes, this is a solicitation

6 Grey October 20, 2008

I think this is, honestly, one of the evil cycles of being poor. You feel you can't afford to buy a moderate brand of jeans, so you go with the Wal-mart pair that doesn't force you to cut back on your groceries. But then in four weeks, they're sporting a hole. So you have to go back and buy another pair.

Lately, my food choices have been very dull and unexciting. How many new ways can you combine pasta, beans, rice, carrots and pototoes, after all? I've pretty much learned to live with generic food choices (unless they make me sick, but the majority don't), even if they don't taste "just like the brand name". You grow accustomed to the taste (and even begin to prefer it). I mean, it's silly, but I'm pretty used to drinking powdered milk now. Inwardly I cringe, because it's a) not that healthy, and b) I want my sweet organic milk, but this is what we have to do right now.

I think part of frugal living is learning to be a little bit uncomfortable. And I think there's something to be learned from that, too. We live in the most affluent country in the world – perhaps we wouldn't be in our current situation if our country, as a whole, had learned to be satisfied with less.

<abbr>Grey´s last blog post..Potatoes and Polls</abbr>

7 Frank October 20, 2008

I guess the moral to your post is, don’t let price get in the way of common sense. I see bargains around me that I would never take advantage of….. If I see a $5 shirt that is ugly, that fact that it’s only $5 does not change the fact that it’s ugly……..

Frank´s last blog post..Frugal Ways to Reduce Your Wireless Telephone and Cable Television Expenses

8 Kelly October 20, 2008

(Kelly’s note: Shevy posted this comment, and I accidentally spammed her! Whoops! While I’m trying to figure out how to get her off the spammed list, I’ve retrieved her comment from elsewhere and posted it… again. Shevy please let me know if any of your other comments don’t get through. And sorry!)

For me the ultimate criteria for food is whether or not it’s kosher. It doesn’t matter if it only costs ten cents. If it’s not kosher, I can’t eat it. And, unfortunately, a lot of kosher foods (cheese, meat, bread) are very expensive (like $5.99/lb for ground meat) and don’t go on sale.

So, we eat as cheaply as we can through the week and only have meat for Shabbat and holidays. But that means that we also eat things that aren’t particularly healthy, like ramen noodle soup or mac and cheese during the week because they’re (relatively) cheap (although they cost more than the non-kosher versions).

My priorities during the week:

Although I can be tempted by taste. I’d rather have one or 2 pieces of Godiva chocolate than 6 Oh Henry bars. But if I make that choice more than once every several months I’m in trouble.

9 Joe October 20, 2008

Price is definitely a factor for my spending. But if I can buy some unhealthy food for $1, or some healthy version of the same food for $1.50, I will choose the healthier one. Health is always more important than food.

Also, don’t worry about your English, it is MUCH better than my French.

Joe´s last blog post..Calculator Contest – Win a Free Calculator-Calendar-Alarm Clock

10 Sarah H. October 21, 2008

Great food for thought here. I admit I look at price, but always with a condition…will spending a little more up front save me more money in the long run because perhaps the more expensive item will last longer? It’s not always easy to determine, but I try. I agree that during times like these, it’s more tempting to just buy cheaper no matter what, but we should always be careful not to think that the best ‘deal’ automatically has the lowest price tag.

Sarah H.´s last blog post..Reflecting on the potential downsides of organizing

11 The Other Laura October 21, 2008

While I definitely plan meals around what’s on sale, while really trying to eat more locally (easier here in Texas than in some places) price is an important factor.

The Other Laura´s last blog post..Vote

12 Courtney October 22, 2008

I feel this exact same way, especially when it comes to organic food. I really try to buy as much organic food as possible for my baby (my husband and I can eat all sorts of junk, but the baby gets all the good stuff!). However, most of the organic food I buy (or want to buy) is ridiculously expensive, so a lot of the time I have to make choices, and usually non-organic wins out.

Courtney´s last blog post..My only job is to keep myself and my child alive…hope I don’t screw it up

13 Shevy October 23, 2008

I’m sitting here killing myself laughing at the idea my comment about *kosher* food could be *SPAM* (which, for anyone who lives where it isn’t available, is processed pork)!

Let’s see if this goes through….

14 Kelly October 23, 2008


I know, that was pretty funny!

15 Mama K October 27, 2008

Nice post.

I have been feeling a little overwhelmed as late because I have been trying to find a ballence between all the factors in my head.

Still, many healthy foods are also pretty cheap… organic rice and beans is cheaper than conventional meats. And a piece of in-season fruit is usually cheaper than packaged stuff.

<abbr>Mama K´s last blog post..glazed donuts for breakfast?</abbr>

16 Suburban Wife October 27, 2008

For me, price is a larger determinant these days than it used to be but I'm not anywhere near having it be the number one factor.

In regard to food, I think eating cheap junk food is an incredibly short-sighted decision. You might not feel the repercussions for years to come, and if you're lucky, eating poorly might never catch up with you. But it's a gamble. And if you lose, the cost in terms of health and healthcare costs can be huge.

I firmly believe that quality is almost always the frugal choice, in the long run. So cutting back is a question of cutting back on quantity, not quality. To my mind, if I'm considering a purchase but don't feel I can afford or justify the purchase right now, instead of looking for cheaper, lower-quality options, I am more likely to choose to delay the purchase instead.

I agree with Grey that cheap products perpetuate the evil cycle of being poor. Cheap food, likewise, perpetuates an evil cycle ill health and poverty. If, as a nation, we moved a little more toward the idea of owning less and owning it longer, we'd all be better off. But it's incredibly difficult to get people to think in terms of "the long run."

<abbr>Suburban Wife´s last blog post..$$: The Day’s Expenses plus Swim Meet Tips</abbr>

17 Alline Anderson November 1, 2008

Kelly, Gray, Suburban Wife, and all – It’s nice to read your thoughtful posts. Giving up Cheerios and Dr. Pepper was HARD (I occasionally have both, and enjoy ’em!). But that’s beside the point. Price has always been important to me, but so is eating well. And the more I learn about the US food system, the more I feel empowered by paying “more” for organic, fair trade food. Sure that packaged stuff from Kraft (or Wolfgang Puck, or Stauffers) is convenient, but are you really getting value for your money? You’re paying for advertising, packaging, the CEO’s golden parachute…not for food. That is the cheapest part of the product. Who would you rather support – small organic farmers or corporations? I don’t know about you, but I hate being manipulated. Just for fun, check out a documentary called King Corn ( http://tinyurl.com/5l8o6t). Two guys rent an acre of Iowa corn field and follow their crop. Along the way we learn about corn-fed beef (cattle were never meant to eat corn, but it is cheap, and fattens them up nicely), how the only profit the farmers make after purchasing GMO seed and pesticides is from government subsidies, how corn syrup is in EVERYTHING, and how it is not particularly healthy. Sigh. I love a good steak, I love Stauffer’s Mac & cheese, I even like McDonald’s secret sauce (so much for my green cred!). But I now try to eat only sustainably raised grass-fed beef. I make my own mac n cheese (pretty darned good!). And my secret sauce? Someday McDonald’s will be knocking on MY door asking for the recipe. We try to save money my eating “lower on the food chain” and using meat and dairy as extras, not the main event. Lots of gray areas in living!

Alline Anderson´s last blog post..Boo!

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