When Price Per Unit Fails You

A few weeks ago, Sarah and I were dining at a nice restaurant. As we were ordering, the waiter told us a bit about their wine cellar and showed us a wine list while also making recommendations for good pairings with our food.

We looked at the list and eventually decided to order a bottle of wine. After all, a bottle of wine contains four to six glasses of wine and the price of the bottle we wanted was only about three times the cost of a glass.

Sure, it was overpriced wine, but it was a special occasion and the wine price wasn’t completely insane.

The problem was that when we actually got our meal and had a glass of wine with it, we each really only wanted one glass. I was perfectly content with one glass, but there was so much wine left that I had a second glass and a small third glass – far more than I actually wanted. Sarah felt the same exact way.

We would have experienced full enjoyment of the wine if we had each just ordered a glass of the wine. Not only that, we would have saved about 35% of the cost of the bottle.

Price per unit failed us here and that failure points to a key lesson about frugality: it’s not always just a matter of achieving the best price per unit. Instead, it’s about finding the best price per unit that you’ll actually use.

In other words, if you buy something that you end up not using, you’ve essentially thrown money away. A wise person will avoid doing that at all costs.

So, how do you avoid this trap? Here’s what I do.

For starters, if I’m buying a product for the first time, I get a small version of that item. Generally, I do not try to maximize the price per unit if this is my first time with the item.

If I find that I like the item and have actually used the item, I’ll look for the lowest cost-per-unit item next time.

If I ever find myself wasting or over-consuming a product, I make careful note of it. I do not like wasting things and I consider it a pretty big deal if I do. This usually serves as a reminder or a “shock” to buy smaller versions of the item in the future.

If I’m at a place where I have to consume what I buy before I leave, I (generally) buy small items. Quite often, this means that my deal is actually worse in terms of price per unit, but the overall price is lower. I’ve found, time and time again, that I’m usually quite content with using up the smaller amount and that larger portions would not really add to my enjoyment.

This is where we made a mistake with the wine – we purchased a big item and it exceeded our desire for consumption.

The key thing to remember is that price per unit isn’t always king. You’re better off building up to the larger purchases because if you find yourself wasting part of a larger purchase, it doesn’t take much for you to discover that the smaller purchase was not only a better bargain, it was less expensive, too.

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.

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