The Last Bit in the Container

It happens over and over again in life. You’re using a tube of toothpaste and you’ve used enough so that it’s becoming difficult to squeeze out the remainder. You’re eating a bag of chips and all that’s left are a bunch of crumbs at the bottom. You turn over your shampoo bottle to get a little for your hair and find that it’s not coming out very fast at all.

The container’s almost empty. Is it worth the effort to get the last little bit out of there?

For me – and probably for a lot of you – I’ll go the extra step if that step is easy. I’ll turn nearly-empty shampoo bottles upside down. I’ll roll up the toothpaste tube to get a few more brushes out of it.

Does that really save money, though?

Let’s say that I pay $2 for a bottle of shampoo and I can get 40 uses out of it. The first 35 are easy, but I can only get the last 5 if I turn the bottle over – and the last one requires a lot of squeezing and shaking.

So, with no effort at all, I get 35 uses out of that shampoo bottle. If I stop right then, the shampoo is costing me 5.7 cents per use.

What if I’m willing to flip that bottle over to get four more uses out of it? That saves me 22.8 cents – a little less than a quarter. For me, that’s worth turning the bottle over.

That last use, though, is the tricky one. How much squeezing in the shower is worth saving six cents? For me, it’s honestly not very much. I might be able to get another wash out of that bottle if I stood there for thirty seconds trying to get that last little bit out of the bottle, but it’s honestly not worth it to me. I’ll chuck it and grab another bottle out of the closet.

The same routine pops up with a tube of toothpaste, except it’s a little different here.

When I reach a point where a squeeze doesn’t produce enough toothpaste to use, I’ll usually go down to the end of the tube and spend a minute or so rolling it up. I can usually get another ten or so brushes out of that tube if I do it.

Let’s say a tube of toothpaste costs $3 and provides a maximum of, say, 60 uses. This seems about right, since Sarah and I can get through a tube in about a month. The first 50 uses are easy, but the last ten requires me to spend a minute rolling up that tube. Is it worth it?

With no extra effort, I can get 50 uses out of the tube. That means my cost per use is $0.06.

For the last ten uses, I need to spend a minute rolling that tube up carefully to squeeze all of the extra into the end of the tube. This saves me $0.06 per use and I figure I’ll get another ten uses out of it. That means the one minute spent folding up the tube saves me $0.60. Is it worth it? I think so, since $0.60 per minute adds up to $36 per hour after taxes, a rate most of us would love to achieve.

What I’ve figured out is this: it’s usually not worth it to put in more than a few seconds of extra effort to just get one or two more uses out of something. The cost per use of the item is usually really low, so spending a minute trying to bang that last little bit of conditioner out of the bottle isn’t really cost effective.

At the same time, if it comes easy, do it. If you can just flip the shampoo bottle over in order to get a few more uses out of that bottle, do it. For maybe a second’s worth of effort, you’ll save a quarter or more.

This all comes back to something I’ve found to be one of the key principles of frugality: the low-effort stuff is the best stuff. In our daily routine, we all follow a path of least resistance, making stuff that requires notable effort into an unwelcome intrusion. The simpler something is, the more likely it is that we’ll do it and keep repeating it. Flipping the shampoo bottle over becomes a routine.

If it’s not simple, it needs to save some significant money for it to be worthwhile. Futzing around with an almost-empty shampoo bottle to get that last little bit out isn’t worth it because the savings is really tiny. Folding up the toothpaste tube is really dependent on your situation – is one minute worth sixty cents? Is one hour worth $36? I think it is, but your mileage may differ.

If you want a simple rule to follow, if it’s really easy and takes only a second or two, a little extra effort to get the last bit out is worth it; if it’s not that easy, it better save multiple uses or it’s not worth it.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Loading Disqus Comments ...