Prix fixe is only for restaurants.
Our main rule of frugality is ‘don’t spend money that you don’t have to’. It’s a flexible, loose principle that has all the more power for its flexibility. One implication is that you may have to spend, but you might not have to spend much. In fact, there are many ways in which you, the previously humble customer, is actually in the more powerful position over the business. You’re the boss.
This won’t apply in every case, but you generally have a huge amount of say in what you pay for goods. Now, you can’t just stump up 50p for a house (although some near deserted areas are enticing people back with £1 houses, so maybe I can be bolder in my claims), but there are numerous ways that you are in control. At the most basic level, you can decide the thing is too pricey and walk away. If everyone thinks like you, one outcome is the company reducing the price to what the market will accept - Thomas Sowell is masterful in demonstrating the elasticity of prices. How can we use a more individual, actionable form of this insight?
The power of patience
In more practical terms, let’s say you definitely are buying A Thing. How might you change what you pay? You are definitely getting a fine new bourbon to try our Blackberry Old Fashioned, so you do a price comparison: after stretching your legs around town, you find Makers Mark for £32 in Marks and Spencers, £28 in Morrisons and Sainsburys, £27 in your local co-op and £23 on Amazon. Maybe a friend has Prime and so you don’t pay postage, so you’re happy to wait. You get your bourbon the next day and spent £9 less than you could have.
In fact, patience is generally a huge factor. Look at postage costs - order in advance and pay maybe £2.50 and wait 4 days. Leave it a couple of days and request 1st class for £4 more and 2 days fewer, or wait until the day before and scrabble to pay £13 for next day express delivery. By being organised and patient, you’ve saved £10.50 on whatever product you’re waiting for. You might be unimpressed, but apply this principle frequently and that becomes hundreds of pounds - even at the individual level, wouldn’t you have a better use for that £10.50 anyway?
You also have a good and considered knowledge of your needs and preferences, so when you decide you want...tea, toiletries, whatever, you might know that you will regularly need them. So you decided to buy some things in bulk. Very simply, as you already know, a double pack of toilet paper costs more per roll than a 24 pack. What about a 48 pack, with a subscription? That’s some of the cheapest you’ll find and you’ll also know you’re sorted for that for a long time. This is what we do - after a price-per-sheet comparison, we signed up for Who Gives A Crap’s subscription service. Zero waste toilet paper from a company that supports sanitation projects in poorer parts of the world and is cheaper than the supermarket? Very good karma. This is obvious stuff, but you might not have thought about it through the lens of ‘you can control the price’.
As a bonus, we have a time saving here as well from bulk buying. We now never have to spend twenty minutes heading to the shops to pick up those items; we’re covered for a long while and we get them delivered.
We can still go further though, because we know stores change prices. You only have to look at Pringle’s near weekly fluctuations from £1 to £1.70 or more to know a game is being played. Court cases have been fought over whether stores genuinely were selling things at a discount to normal prices or artificially changing prices to make you think you had a bargain. If you know what you like and what you normally pay for it, you can win again. I know £1 is genuinely cheap for Pringles, Alpro Soya Milk and Linda McCartney Sausages. When I see them at a low price, I buy multiples that will last me a good while - I’ll spend £8 on sausages that would otherwise cost me £18.80. They’ll likely last until the price is that low again. Patience is powerful and planning pays well.
A particular frustration that has caused disproportionate annoyance was a seriously first world problem/curse, where C & I would be keen to watch a particular film and would rent it on Amazon… only for it turn to turn up on Netflix days later. £4.99 gone. It’s happened so often that I am now entirely against renting off Amazon. We’ll decide to watch a film and choose from what’s there. If there’s nothing we fancy, we do something else. We’re flexible about that and patient and that gives us the power here. We don’t choose the time, but we do choose the price - i.e. £0 additional. The obvious follow up question is ‘What if there’s never what you want to watch on Netflix?’ If that was the situation, we’d cancel the service and maybe rent the odd film, if it cost less. We might even… read more books!
You have the power to walk
There’s unlikely to be a better example of choosing your own price than reading. My library is a haven of its own - I can read Private Eye there for free, if I want (I decided I much prefer to read my own copy, so keep a subscription) and get books for free. I could pay £19 or more for a permanent copy that I’d likely read no more than twice, or pay nothing at the various libraries around. If I need to order in, that’s 80p and some patience, or 0p and a cycle. If the local library doesn’t have it, the British Library (which is a slightly longer bike ride away) likely does.
Even without going into making things yourself, you still have huge control over what you pay, provided that you stay patient, focused and plan ahead. Why is this important? Because if you’re really trying to head down the frugal road, optimising prices very swiftly accumulates into big savings, and that’s where the fun begins.