Costco’s Math Smoke and Mirrors

203435b.jpg (300×300)

Time to come clean. I’m addicted to these.

It started innocently enough in Chengdu, China in 2003. Each week while grocery shopping I was intrigued with all the Chinese women who would gather around the giant pistachio bin and fill their plastic bags with the very best one or two hundred. After spectating for a few weeks, I joined in. This brought furtive glances and embarrassed smiles.

How was I supposed to know real men don’t pistachio shop? Upon returning Stateside (love using that term, makes me feel cosmopolitan), imagine my delight when I learned Costco had picked them out and packaged them for me.

I can be too frugal for my own good. Given that, it’s nice there are at least two products for which I’d spend almost anything—iPads and iPistachios.

This theory has been tested lately as Costco’s California pistachios have skyrocketed in price. $14.99 for 4lbs, who cares, toss em’ in. $15.99, $16.99, $19.99. Yikes, now they’re just taking advantage of a helpless addict. The price increases have probably had little to do with supply and demand. More likely, they’re a Schwarzenegger state budget screw up surtax.

When I glanced and grabbed last week, I did a double-take. What?! $14.99?! Sweet! The last time they were $14.99 the President had stolen the election. Then, a second later, “What the hell, that’s a 3 pounder!”

Here’s how I imagine it going down at Costco headquarters in Issaquah, WA. Executive Meeting. Agenda item: Pricing limits of California pistachios. A suit does a quick PowerPoint presentation showing a precipitous decline in sales of California pistachios at the $19.99 pricepoint. What to do? Discussion ensues. The consensus, instead of selling 4 pounds for $19.99, let’s sell 3 pounds for $14.99, and hope people don’t really notice the math smoke and mirrors. Brilliant. A collective sense of accomplishment descends and the meeting is adjourned.”

It might just work. No, it will work on whomever lacks numeracy. And on addicts like me.

Bonus picture. What a minimalist, who asked for nothing, received for Christmas.

Perfect Christmas

The Intrapersonal Conundrum

Recently I advocated accepting and adapting to people’s irritating behaviors rather than trying to change them. But what about our own irritating behaviors? How do we know when to accept them versus when to commit to trying to change them?

Of course, not everyone is introspective; as a result, some people lack self understanding. Ask them which of their behaviors most irritate the people they’re in relationships with and they draw a complete blank. I’m probably too reflective for my own good, regularly engaging in self-assessment. One limitation I’m keenly aware of is an aversion to personal networking. Closely related to that, I suck at self-promotion.

Among other ripple effects, this blog has a small readership and my professional successes exist mostly within my classrooms. A colleague of mine is the opposite, a brilliant networker and self-promoter. A mediocre teacher, she’s developed a national reputation as an expert in a very specific sub-category of education. She travels all the time and speaks to large groups for lots of money.

Am I envious? Not on a personal level, but maybe professionally. I would enjoy more consulting opportunities than the one or two a year I average. But not enough to change. I understand that there’s a perfect correlation between my lack of networking initiative and the number of consulting gigs I get.

Even though social and professional networking skills are more important than ever, I’m perfectly content not being a networker or self promoter. In fact, I don’t want to get better at networking or self promotion. I’m an educator, so I’m not anti-social, I just have no patience for the phoniness on which so much of it seems to rest. “Here’s my card.” “Who cares.”

Another limitation I’m keenly aware of is a deeply rooted counter-cultural propensity for saving. My dad grew up during the Depression, and it left an indelible mark on him, and so I blame his hyper-frugal modeling. But unlike my aversion to personal networking, this is a limitation I want to change.

Here’s one of millions of examples of my often irrational economic behavior. One day in Chengdu, China I argued at length with a Carrefour manager about socks I purchased. Despite being on sale, the socks were rung up at the regular price. Our language differences, the store’s employee hierarchy, and my stubbornness made for a combustible, and in hindsight, hilarious combination.

In this area of my life, I want to act more rationally, so I’m working on loosening up.

What explains my markedly different way of thinking about these two personal limitations?

I’m not sure.