Rip-off or not

13.04.2017

Not everything in life is perfect – it never was. Everything is getting more expensive, prices keep rising, consumers are getting more and more frustrated and we have to dig deeper into our pockets. We don't get all we want but actually that’s a good thing and we certainly don't always get a bad deal. We have to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages and draw the right conclusions.

Why we think that someone is always after our money

Life is not perfect. It never was and still isn’t. But we remember that less when we’re adding up the advantages we have been clever enough to gain and more when disadvantages ruin all our efforts.
We happily hunt for bargains, only to find ourselves forced to swallow bitter pills.
Unfortunately bitter pills annoy us much more than a bargain ever makes us happy.

Sometimes the bargain itself turns out to be a bitter pill – and that annoys us even more. For example, the travel bag we got as a bonus for taking out a newspaper subscription. In the end, the newspaper is boring and you throw the travel bag away because it makes you look as if you’re a prisoner on the run.

We think life is not perfect – nothing but bitter pills and no cure in sight.

Of course, it’s true that life is not perfect. And that’s a good thing because if it were perfect, we would have no more unfulfilled desires to set our sights on and also give us an incentive to change something for the better. Ideally not only for ourselves but for others as well.
It is, however, not true that it’s always the others who make a killing and that we end up empty-handed.

I’m no master, if at all I’m a master in the art of everyday living. I am also not an expert, but more of a “counter-expert”. That is to say, I sometimes can’t resist putting an argument forward to counter common assumptions.

For I believe that our perception plays tricks on us.

When rising prices annoy us: what, a bread roll doesn’t cost 12 pfennigs anymore?!
When rising prices annoy us: what, a bread roll doesn’t cost 12 pfennigs anymore?!

Two thoughts on this:

Perception one: everything is getting more expensive

This perception is widespread but it is still only a perceived truth and not necessarily the real truth.
Every time I buy a tasty sesame bread roll for 40 cents, I remember only paying 12 pfennigs for it as a child. That is a price increase of more than 600% and it bugs me: the bakers are ripping us off!

But how many expensive sesame rolls do I have to buy before the advantage I now have when buying a computer is literally eaten up. After all, a computer used to be twice as expensive and four times slower than it is today.

An even more effective way of compensating for the “roll rip-off” is to not actually buy something in the first place: simply order a camera on the Internet, use it during a short holiday and return it afterwards.

I myself have produced events where the choreographer didn’t go and hire the costumes but bought everything on the Internet and then returned it all afterwards – except for a few blouses which just reeked too much of sweat.

But there is always great indignation when a manufacturer refuses to take back a video projector because the lamp has already been used for 20 hours at a golden wedding anniversary. Some people hunt for bargains to compensate for their expensive bread rolls as if there was no tomorrow.

You find the best prices online

Agency staff always used to have “Who Supplies What” as a standard reference work. But it didn’t come for free, you had to pay a lot for it and it was already out of date when you got it. Today, you know after three clicks who supplies what and you use copy and paste to get three quotes to compare.
Rising prices – far from it, many things have not only become cheaper, they can now be done much more quickly.

What I am trying to say is:

We sometimes realise that we get more for the same money or actually pay less than we used to, but we soon forget it. Our good mood goes out of the window in the mornings when we stand at the bread counter to buy our bread rolls.

It is probably because we are all so sceptical and are much more aware of losses than of gains. There is even a special term for this – loss aversion.

Perception two: monopolists have it in for us

The only monopoly that does not have to fear the Federal Cartel Office is the state itself and its local authorities. Here I am very much a convinced democrat.

Anybody who has a car with plenty of horsepower wants to let it really go on a road which is so empty you would think it was Christmas Day – that’s only natural. But it’s on exactly such roads that the authorities put up traffic signs with black numbers in a red circle which you can’t read properly when you are flying past them.

Then comes the speed camera. Of course, the citizens’ action group who campaigned for the camera to be installed there after a few serious accidents sees things differently.

People who ignore the law to pursue their own idea of freedom may think they’re cool and clever as long as they don’t get caught.

However, anybody who gets caught has no reason to complain. Anybody who wants to can simply establish a political party which no longer puts up traffic signs and does away with taxes. But I don’t know if that would be a fun society to live in.

Full TV licence fee for half an episode of a series?

I admit there are still some quasi-monopolists who annoy me because we have to pay a flat rate for their services instead of paying for what we use: As somebody who is self-employed with a ridiculously small turnover, I have never understood why in Germany I am obliged to pay a Chamber of Industry and Commerce membership fee although I have never asked them for help nor read their magazine.

I also have to pay a full TV licence fee although I get my information from newspapers and I stream my films.

I would be perfectly willing to pay 70 cents for watching half an episode of some series and half-heartedly zapping through the channels twice a month. But of course that is not enough for the pension provisions of the broadcasters’ staff and the expensive broadcasting rights for sports fixtures.

No price difference at the petrol pump

Of course, motorists know another “monopoly”: the petrol stations. Since you are allowed to distil liquor for your own personal consumption but are unfortunately forbidden to have a hobby refinery to produce petrol, there is reason to suspect that oil companies fix prices. But there are no such price-fixing agreements – the Federal Cartel Office has investigated this claim extensively. Since the petrol stations have had to communicate their sharply fluctuating petrol prices minute by minute to comparison websites, price-conscious motorists can profit from this information and drive to the cheapest petrol station.

However, it turns out that hardly anybody actually does this, although prices sometimes differ by more than 15 cents.

Despite rising prices – we stay loyal to our favourite petrol station.
Despite rising prices – we stay loyal to our favourite petrol station.

Not every pill is bitter to swallow

But the reason cannot be that many people stay loyal to their brand of petrol: petrol is quite a trivial product that you can’t easily create a USP for. Or have you ever experienced a special feeling when you’ve just filled up with Esso fuel? I would guess that people’s reluctance to switch has more to do with the fact that our favourite petrol station stocks our favourite newspaper and the bread rolls whose rising prices get us annoyed again on the drive home.

I would say:
Not all bitter pills turn out to be sweet but most of them do us no harm. If we are honest, we notice that once we’ve swallowed the first one.

Hoping I have de-escalated your anger about rising prices,

Yours,
The outsider

P.S.: Please also read the specialist article entitled “Is heat meter-reading a rip-off?“