The Value Trap

Have you ever found yourself justifying a purchase because the value is too good to ignore?  You should know –


I’ll give you an example of the value trap and how it negatively impacts your Whealth.  You’ve probably heard of a company that offers subs that are 12 inches long and sold for $5.  I remember a time where it finally hit me whilst in the midst of an argument with one of their sandwich “artisans”* that I was about to be caught in the value trap.

I was doing some consultant work at a plant just outside of Tulsa Oklahoma.  After a long day in the factory, I just wanted to head back to the hotel room and crash.  There was no way I was going to go out for dinner so I just hit up the local sub shop on my way home. I checked out the menu and thought to myself “Ok John, portion control is the key, just get a 6 inch tuna sub and you’ll be fine.”  When it was my turn to place my order, I had the following conversation:

John: “I’ll take a 6 inch Tuna on wheat with cheese, toasted.”

Artisan Sandwich maker:  “Oh, it’s a $5 foot long sub, so I’ll make it a 12 inch.”

John: “How much is the 6in. compared to the 12in?”

ASM:  “The 6in. sub is $4.50.”

I had to pause here for a moment and think about it… the trap had been set.

John: “No thanks, I’ll just take the 6in. sub.”

ASM:  Looking at me incredulously “but the 12in. sub is only $.50 more…”

John: “Yes I know, but I only want the 6in., I’m not going to eat the other 6 inches.”

ASM: “But you can eat it later…”

John: “I don’t want the extra calories and I don’t want to waste it.”

ASM: Continues to give me a funny stare “Ok..”

Now I know it was only 50 cents, but this sort of value grab happens all the time.  Certainly there are times where this makes plenty of sense to do, where you could take it home and have it the next day but staying in the hotel, it really didn’t make sense to me.  Despite my situation based on her reaction, it was clear that most people would grab the other 6 inches and let’s be honest here, they would probably just go ahead and eat the whole thing.  What would you do?

This is another double whammy negative impact on your Whealth.  You’ve got the cost of the larger sandwich, the 500+ calories that pretty much no one in the modern world needs to consume, and you’re setting yourself up for failure.  Just by having it front of you, you’re more likely to eat it all at once unless you’ve got some above average will power and will actually put it back in the fridge for another meal.

The same thing happens in with “buy one get one half off” and similar deals.  How often do you take advantage of one of these deals only to find that you never use the excess?  It’s like we’re hardwired to get that value and marketers clearly are aware of this.  It happens with

  • Fast food / soda sizes – just 50c more for another 16oz!! (of crap you don’t need in your body)
  • Any size coffee for 99c! (Do you really need the heart palpitations that come with a large, sugared up coffee?)
  • The grocery store and their 10 for $10 deals, which by the way, you only need to buy 1 to get the deal.
  • Insurance – for just $5 more a month, you can get another $50k of coverage! (that statistically you’ll never need or use)
  • Tools that come with “free” stuff (that your basement is now filled with and you’ve never actually used, am I right??)
  • Non cash-back rewards cards and store “bucks” that require you to spend more money to redeem.  Kohl’s bucks is a great example where you get $10 for every $100 you spend in future store credit for a week or two; they incentivize you to buy crap you don’t need.

It adds up.  And it’s super prevalent in the food industry so it adds up if you do consume things that you really don’t need to both in dollars spent and inches on the waist.  Avoid the value trap, it’s a one dimensional approach and it’s rarely worth it.  The old adage of you don’t own your things, your things own you is in my experience, true.  Your items cause you to feel and think about them and the fact that you never use them.  They drive negative feelings that aren’t worth the trouble of having them.

So keep an eye out for the value trap and  do your best to avoid it.  Remember that true value comes in the form of planned use.  If you find yourself justifying how you might use something, you probably don’t need it and you shouldn’t buy it.  In a month you’ll likely never have put a second thought into it and you’ll have kept your home, your belly, and your mind free of waste clutter.

*Seriously, there should be a law preventing someone from calling a $7/hr high school sandwich maker an artisan.  Who thought this was a good idea?!

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