Do you know how much a half gallon of orange juice costs? Think carefully. What was once a 64-ounce container of juice is now 59 ounces. A pint of Hagen Daz is just 14 ounces (Ben & Jerry’s still has a 16 ounce “pint.”) How do you compare?
Take another example, hotel rooms. I found a great place to stay in Sonoma for under $200 a night in February. This summer there was nothing under $300 at the same place. I recently purchased artwork for my office. I had no idea how much to offer, except that it had to be lower than the asking price! Plane flights, cars…ditto. Clearly, some prices do vary based on seasonal factors. Yet, is there such a thing as the “real” or best price for anything?
I find this situation – the fluidity of prices and the lack of clarity as to what I “should” expect to pay – personally quite frustrating. How do we establish real value and how do we know whether a given commodity is “worth it?” This two part series will look at prices from a couple of different perspectives.
How our reactions shed light on our relationship with money
First we’ll examine how our reactions to uncertain prices might shed light on our relationship with money. Making a purchase can stimulate all kinds of emotions, from elation at finally getting something we’ve worked a long time to acquire, to regret for spending so much only to find that we didn’t want whatever it is as much as we thought we did. Noticing these emotions helps us gain insight into why we make some of the choices we do.
In part two we’ll look at the price of retirement. Unfortunately, the question, “How much does it cost?” can be a challenge to answer.
We want to use our money in ways that not only support us, but also bring us some measure of happiness. When we tie the use of money to an emotion like happiness, things become complicated. Money is no longer just a medium of exchange, but takes on different meanings for us.
The reality is that prices are constantly changing and our feelings about them can change, too. Think about how you felt the last time you found out your car needed repairs costing over a thousand dollars. Or how you felt getting a big tax refund. Or what about wanting something – a lot – only to find it is way more expensive than you think you can afford?
Years ago I had an interesting experience buying lettuce. I would be standing in the produce aisle deliberating over whether to buy organic or regular romaine. The organic was only one dollar more, and yet a loud, insistent voice in my head kept saying, “Buy the regular one and save a buck!”
This became an opportunity for me to observe my reactions and to be curious. Every time I walked out of the store with the cheaper lettuce, my emotions made the decision. It was completely unconscious. This happened at a time in my life when money was particularly scarce. In later asking myself why this occurrence seemed to trigger my emotions, I discovered that I had a belief there would never be enough money.
Triggering the fear of “not enough”
This fear of not having enough can manifest in a variety of ways. You may have difficulty spending on yourself or your family. You may be overly inclined to buy things on sale just because they appear to be a good deal, whether you actually need them or not.
Being aware of instances like this when they happen can illuminate our relationship with money. If you find yourself agitated about the cost of a particular thing, notice the feelings, try to identify them, and then ask what’s behind that? Are you reacting to current conditions, or to a belief from years ago?
You may not “get it” right away, but if you are persistent, your self-inquiry will eventually pay off. It can take a series of episodes for a pattern to emerge. Perhaps you will remember a story from your childhood that exemplifies the underlying factors, and you will be able to connect the dots.
Gaining insight into your relationship with money is most valuable in allowing you to make more conscious choices with it. We all have situations in which we go on autopilot with money. If you know more about yourself and your triggers, you will then actually be free to make a choice.
In Part II, we ask, “How much does it cost to retire?” The question whether you will have enough money to retire is not something that we can give a “yes” or “no” answer to. Stay tuned…