What You’re Actually Paying For

I was dismayed to find out that my very expensive shampoo and conditioner contain the very ingredients I try most to avoid – mineral oil, silicones and sulfates. They were products that were recommended on blogs as panaceas for the hair and I blindly complied, thinking this many people can’t be wrong. (Note: no one cares as much about your hair as you. Or at least no one cares as much about my hair as me.)

So these bottles are family-size and only half used. I think I’ll just leave them out in the free section of my apartment building for others who are interested. Ten years ago, I would have continued to use them to the last drop in some misguided attempt to “get my money’s worth.”

My sister taught me something useful a long time ago. I had bought some snack that I did not enjoy eating and, like a good Asian child, I was continuing to eat it until it was empty. But she said, that was not the only -or optimal- way to think about the price. What I was paying for with the snack, was not the food, but the choice to eat the food. I had already obtained the full value of my purchase by having the snack in my hands. What I chose to do with it was up to me.

What an interesting thought! And it really makes sense. Yes, you’re getting the full caloric value of the snack but you’re putting this 75 cent snack’s value ahead of the value of your own body. If you found out you were allergic to a snack, you wouldn’t keep eating it out of some misguided attempt to get more value. It shouldn’t be different if it just doesn’t impart any value for you or you just don’t like it. There similarly isn’t much more value from coating my hair with chemicals I don’t want and using a product that doesn’t impart the expected benefits to my hair nicer, just so I can say I got my money’s worth.

I think it goes to our Puritan ideals. We should punish ourselves for making the mistake of buying something incorrectly. But maybe we don’t have to beat ourselves up. Maybe we can note the problems we made, and vow not to make them again as we go to the store immediately to buy a replacement.

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