A pervasive joke about the shopping tendencies of men and women alleges that a man will pay $2 for a $1 item he wants, while a woman will pay $1 for a $2 item she doesn’t want.
The quip has a ring of truth, but purchasing differences cannot be attributed solely to the sex of the shopper. I believe we differ from members of either sex in our approach to spending money because we all have different values: People tend to spend money on things they enjoy or think important, whether it’s eating in restaurants or increasing a savings account, traveling abroad or collecting memorabilia, perfume or potato chips.
I learned this lesson while living with Joel. Hoping prices will plummet, he rarely fills a gas tank more than half full. In contrast, I fill it to the brim because doing so means fewer trips to the pump. He fidgets and suffers from facial tics when I linger over racks of bargain shoes. I sigh and put on my martyr mask while he takes dozens of experimental swings with 20 different 9-irons.
I have to remind him to change the furnace filter every month; he resists as though the things are rare jewels, once suggesting that we run water through the old filter and re-use it. If I see something I need, like and think appropriately priced — a toothbrush, microwave, watermelon or car — I think we should buy it. Joel stalls, saying we might find another more to our liking or less expensive. Then I sulk and he is irritated by my reluctance to comparison shop throughout eternity.
Dad habitually made Mom unhappy by dragging home cut-rate, squishy bananas, wilted lettuce and other expired items from a store’s sales cart, expecting his appalled wife to find a use for them. Meanwhile, Mom bought produce that appealed to her, no matter how expensive, causing consternation for her husband: “You paid how much for that kumquat?”
My first sew-a-new-dress and get-my-hair-done date was with Conrad Hopkins, a kind boy who didn’t seem to mind when I mistook his feet for the dance floor. We double-dated with my brother, Bob, and Dottie Butler.
After the dance, we drove to Provo to eat at a steakhouse. Startled by the prices on the menu, I ordered the least expensive entree, a hamburger, as did Conrad and Dottie. Bob looked at his friends with surprise and at me like I was a cockroach; he then ordered a three-course filet mignon meal and talked blithely about basketball and the treacherous nature of tractors while we watched him eat — for a long time. At home, he lectured me: “You need to learn how to enjoy yourself once in a while, Janet.” Two days later, he asked if he could borrow $10 to buy gas for his car.
Recently, as we waited for a meeting to begin, a friend complimented me on a new scarf I was wearing; I thanked her and added that it was on sale for a mere $10. She exclaimed appreciatively, then said, ”I love the way women share the details of their purchases. Have you ever noticed men won’t do that? Watch this.”
Turning to a man who’d made the mistake of wandering toward us, she said, “Hey, I like your shirt.”
“Thanks,” he responded — and wandered on by.
But enough. It’s time for Joel and me to buy groceries. I predict that later, when we put the purchases away, he’ll ask — as he does every week about something I selected — “Why’d you buy three of these? We already have two.”
But this time, I won’t repeat my weekly explanation: it’s a staple item with a long shelf life that was on sale. Instead, I’ll reply, “Because I valued it.”