Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Obsolescence or overcharging?

One barrier to being frugal is the tendency of either manufacturers or stores to decide something is too good and replace it with something more expensive/less durable.

As recently as 7 or 8 years ago, you could get a really sturdy square white freezer container, sold in packages of about 10 for $4 or $5, I believe. They held almost exactly one pound of meat and stacked well in the freezer with little wasted space. About that time, they came out with the "disposable" containers (I don't know about you, but they're way too expensive to be disposable to me). They're brittle plastic, so they don't hold up as well, and "interchangeable" is apparently not a word in the manufacturers vocabularies. I have 2 containers from the same manufacturer that are so close in size that the only way to tell if you have the right one is to try it on the container (and then wash it when it turns out to be the wrong one). This means unless you buy a lot of the exact same thing on the exact same day, if you lose a lid, the container is more or less useless, forcing you to buy a new one. Sadly, my local stores stopped carrying the much better (and cheaper) square freezer containers, I assume because there was more profit in the cheap disposables that had to be replaced constantly.

I actually started thinking about this subject after a visit to our local department store. One of the items on my list was an ordinary bottle opener (ours vanished), the kind with one end for opening bottles, and the other for poking nice big holes in those large cans of tomato juice to pour, something that's usually only $1 or $2. To my shock, they didn't have one. They had something similar, at $7, but the part that is supposed to poke the hole in the can would make one so tiny that you'd spend 10 minutes pouring a glass of tomato juice. At that price and for that kind of result, I'd rather take the entire lid off with a can opener and buy a pitcher (probably more cheaply) to put it in. Which is going to be messier and more annoying than simply poking holes on opposing edges to pour.

Even more annoying, when I asked a store clerk about it, I got the "Oh, you mean the OLD-FASHIONED kind." I'm dumbfounded at the implication that there's something wrong with wanting the cheaper, better-performing, more durable item...because it wasn't designed last week? I'm not exactly adverse to new things, but I do expect them to be an improvement for me, and not just a way to make more money (and probably buy multiple items at different stores trying to find a replacement that doesn't make me tear my hair out).

The idea of this kind of obsolescence may appeal to stores, but what it often does is send people other places to find the goods they really want. Something to think of...

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