The Price We Pay

      In a time when everyone is looking at the bottom line and searching for maximum dollar value, prices are being scrutinized closer than ever. Therefore, as a public service, I offer the following bits of free advice.

     Read car advertisements carefully. You might consider buying that Jaguar XJ “starting at $73,700,” but if you find a dealer who offers that model at $72,500, the car might not start. Notice how many of the automobile ads for gleaming silver beauties carry an inviting price of, say, $19,999 in 32 font with an asterisk after the final digit. Down in the small print the eye-opener appears: “*MSRP. Model as shown: $28,799.” In the dealer’s lair the truth is revealed: options include such items as carpeting, rear seats, radio, and transmission. There in the showroom the dejected consumer discovers that instead of Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price the acronym means Must Sell Reprehensible Products.

     The purveyors of fine art and expensive jewelry prefer to lure prospective buyers with the tantalizing “Price upon request.” If Hugo Guessit is reluctant to quote six-figure prices, why should anyone be eager to play that game? Better to respond with an apropos sign of disinterest like “Credit card balance upon court order.”

     The outlet stores shrewdly avoid citing specific prices, choosing instead to pitch “real deals of 30-70% off” under enticing photographs of brand name appliances and electronic gadgets. Again, watch the small print for “one-of-a-kind, used, reconditioned, scratched and dented merchandise.” Once at the store bargains can be found, but how much value is in a $300 flat screen TV that has been flattened by clumsy movers or a $170 stove with a baking temperature knob that operates only between 450°–500°? Do not fall for the unadvertised special: the side-by-side refrigerator for $150 that comes in two cartons.

     Use caution with advertisements that shout value but whisper price. That home security system that purports to be an $850 value will cost $1400 over the three-year period of the agreement. It is wise to inquire about the extent of the protection because there is little comfort in knowing that the digital keypad included has a police emergency button if we later learn it is only connected to a deputy’s walkie talkie in Mayberry.

     “Get $125 when you open a qualifying checking account” sounds attractive until one notes the $10-$15 monthly service charge that will gobble up that premium in less than a year.

     The best way to determine the sincerity of merchandisers now is to play the money game on our terms, not theirs. So the next time a dealer offers “two for the price of one” simply say, “I just want one for the price of none.” This quip works especially well in home improvement departments for there is no quicker way to be shown the door.    



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