I prefer gourmet electricity

A couple of months ago an acquaintance suggested that I might want to meet his friend Cheap Pete. Or maybe he was called Jack Frugal. I can’t remember.

“Why?” I’d replied. Which was rhetorical.

Who’d want to meet Scrooge. In my mind the words cheap and frugal domino onto tendencies to treat others badly. Jack Frugal would be miserly, selfish, soul-less and just plain nasty.

Some of you might be thinking, what about economical, careful, cautious, conservative, thoughtful, simple and unwasteful? Wouldn’t the world be a far saner place if frugal was the norm. Wouldn’t we have safer polar bears, happier fish, saner lives? I have to concede, it’s heartening that the recession has revived the old wartime saying Make Do and Mend.

And so to slip past my aversion for this week’s assignment, I didn’t bother dwelling on why bargain-hunting and discount-chasing leave me cold. Instead I asked myself to consider what sort of economy might fire up my enthusiasm. And it worked!

There are two kinds of shopping, I reflected.

The experiential and the tactical.

The first is the sort that happens when you’re out for a stroll and happen across an interesting shop or are hunting for inspiration to find the perfect gift. The pleasure and benefit stem from browsing, from the actual act of shopping itself. And while it may be wise to be conscious of cost while indulging in this sort of consumerism, I’d rather skip it altogether than go about it with an eye to finding the very best deals. That’s not the point. Sure, there’s no need to buy the first Eiffel Tower snow globe when you can buy one for half the price a day into your weekend trip to Paris. But to spend the weekend constantly monitoring snow globe price points? To make a special excursion to the wrong part of town just to get the best deal? Non, merci.

The other type of shopping is what I describe as tactical. This type comes in two flavours.  The first is concerned with necessities and the other with luxury.

In the necessity camp there’s food and electricity, for example. I’m not interested in shopping around for basic groceries (though again I appreciate I’m wealthy enough to have this attitude), but I’d love to pay less on utility bills. There’s no such thing as gourmet electricity, so why is it that some providers charge so much more? This has been a recent hot topic here in the UK and sites like uSwitch encourage us to move to alternative providers if the one we have is acting all gourmet with us. Even if the savings prove modest, the principle of the matter in this example appeals to some part of me that’s OK with the label “thrift”.

As for luxury — here’s where I had my brainwave this week. While not a brand worshipper when it comes to clothes, shoes or bags (thank goodness, since this can lead to some seriously shocking shopping), there are items that I buy where I am very attached to a specific product. Take my shampoo. Philip Kingsley is not the world’s most affordable, but my hair really likes it and my scalp is allergic to the average shampoo on the high street so I have long been prepared to go for gourmet shampoo. Typically I buy my shampoo while I’m at my hairdresser, but this week I discovered I can buy it in bulk and for a lot less at this comparison site. I was so delighted that I’ve committed to the idea that whenever I’m about to run out of some luxury item that I’m going to buy regardless of whether I “should”, I’ll check to see if I can get it online faster, easier and cheaper. I don’t know why I never thought of this before. Probably because my aversion to discount-hunting ran illogically deep.

Finally, I considered the area where most of my disposable cash goes each year … travel. I have to be honest I’ve never been wowed by any of the flight comparison websites, though they can be helpful — they’re just as often deeply frustrating. In any case, I don’t need to teach myself to check a few sources for flights, this I do already. I’m still flying home for  Christmas with Aer Lingus (for which the best fares are always on their own website) rather than saving cash by choosing to risk my sanity with Ryanair.

But hotels is a spend category where I feel like I never know where to start and where I would like to find brilliant bargains. So I asked my friends — many of whom travel a lot and some of whom actually work in the travel industry.

This was the big “a-ha” for me this week, that I could save myself money and time and shopper frustration, if I knew in advance the best places to buy certain types of luxuries.

While you might be wondering about my new insights into shopping for hotel, I need to be a bit more economical with words and my Sunday morning time — so these and other tips are coming soon in a new page of comparison shopping recommendations. Patience, another fine human quality.

Stay tuned for my next assignment out tomorrow. Happy Sunday.

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