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The Author Speaks

Why a Low Price Isn’t Always a Good Deal

Ellen Ruppel Shell, a self-described cheapskate talks about her new book, 'Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.'

Q. How can we be smarter shoppers?

A. Well, my book isn’t a consumer’s guide, but I can tell you how writing it helped me. I completely changed the way I shop. I try to think first about what it is I want in a product, whether it’s a sweater or a chicken or a bicycle. What is it that I value? What do I want? Do I want this thing to last? Do I care? Am I thinking in terms of the environment when I buy this thing? Sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not. I’m not perfect.

I try to think about all those things before I look at the price. Then if I look at the price and it’s more than I want to spend, I rethink the purchase. Do I really need this thing? If I can’t buy something that’s of quality, maybe I should wait until I’ve saved enough to buy it.

Now, for example, when I buy eggs, I buy the free-range organic eggs. They are more expensive than the regular eggs, but only by a little, and for some people that would be a deal breaker. For me, I can afford it.

Q. What kinds of things should we be buying?

A. I would like people to challenge their assumptions about what gives them value in life. What gives them a kick? What do they really enjoy? And what do they think it is worth to them? People should also think about whether they’re being taken advantage of by this system. Are they getting what they want in terms of their benefits and pay? Are they feeding into the sweatshop mentality? If people were really informed about the personal consequences and the consequences for the world community because of these extremely low prices, they may think twice.

Krista Walton is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine.

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