Archive for June, 2010

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Reusable vs. Disposable Nappies II

June 16, 2010

Way back in December 08 I outlined what I thought were the pros and cons of purchasing reusable nappies. What we’ve found since then is that they have been an effective way to save cash on the wee man’s toiletry needs, and have not been at all onerous.

The main thing is that we haven’t bought into any salespeak on what we need and don’t need to make then safe and hygienic. We did not, for example, use teatree oil to sterilise the inners (FYI, the nappy is made of three parts, a waterproof over, an ‘insert that’s the actual nappy bit, and a ‘liner’ that catches solids making for easy disposal down the toilet).

What we did do is apply common sense, for instance making sure we washed them very regularly, got them into the sunlight whenever possible, and were careful about things like using barrier creams that could ruin the inners. Also, we bought fixings for washing from Moore Wilsons in bulk – baking soda (a bleaching agent, about a tablespoon per wash), and vinegar (a steriliser, about 1/3 cup per wash). I think we can state that this was not detrimental, a claim borne out by not having any ‘incidents’ of ‘gastro’ while many friends using disposables did. Had our method been unhygienic you’d assume we’d have at least one.

So, the process. The main thing was that we’ve found that we can and should change the wee man whenever we wanted or needed to. Usually the loads in the machine are under the minimum fill level, so 5 nappies or 15, it makes no difference to the amount of warm (for days with no solids) or hot water we used. We also were sparing with the detergent, mostly because of our natural frugality. However, I’ve heard from people who will sometimes leave that nappy on “for just a little longer” to save having to pay for another, but none of that for us.

So, costs! The total amount spent on nappies, including disposables (we found the reusables didn’t work so well in the nights, usually resulted in bad rashes, and couldn’t really be used with barrier creams, so switched to Huggies), was Huggies $420, Real Nappies $440. This was between December 2008 and December 2009.

The total cost of all detergents, sterilisers, and bleaching agents was in 2008 (for the entire year) approximately $60. For 2009, $68. So an insignificant change there.

And power. This one was a little tricky. We had a great deal of trouble with our provider – Contact, a completely useless company- and switched to Meridian in early 2009. This meant that I was unable to work out the monthly costs accurately (it’s a long and boring story, ending with “Contact are completely useless”). However, the total cost for 2008 was $1020 – apartment living means very cheap electricity bills, while for 2009 we increased that a whopping $1340. But, the extremely cold winter last year might have contributed.

The short is that a 30% increase in power is not inconsequential.

All this was balanced against the savings from not using disposables. Ignoring the cost to landfills, and cost of manufacture the nappies, actually putting a nappy on a bottom cost you around $0.34 on average. Nappies tend to be a loss-leader in supermarkets, so they’ll range from $8-9 on sale, to the ‘usual’ price of $15. Assuming your wee tacker has a normal consumption rate you can expect to change between 8 and 10 times a day. If you’re changing less than this, you might need to wonder why your child is getting a rash… This gives an approximate weekly cost of $0.34 x 8 changes x 7 days = $18 per week, or approximately $970 a year.

Problematically this is only just more than the amount we spend on the nappies, the consumables, and power in that year… But the good news!! The wee man is 6 months along and still wearing the last size reusables!

The outcome is best summed up that the savings are not huge. Were we to have another the $430 outlay would be saved, but the electricity would still need to be consumed…

In the end the choice on this is probably a lifestyle one. If you’re happy to use reusables you’ll make a slight saving and have a less stinky baby (the difference is very, very noticeable), but if you aren’t you can go on filling landfills with poo for around the same cost.

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Urgency and arm-twisting

June 15, 2010

In my last post, I talked about how one-day-deal websites exploit your sense of urgency to make you spend money you otherwise wouldn’t.

I became particularly aware of this after reading Robert Cialdini’s Influence.

Cialdini is an American psychologist. His book Influence is all about techniques of persuasion and in particular, how these are used in politics, marketing and sales. Cialdini’s aim in writing the book is ostensibly to enable people to detect when these techniques are being used and thus to protect themselves. But you can’t help noticing from online reviews that marketers and sales people pretty much use his book as a manual.

As Gio would say, I love this book so much I want to marry it. I’m planning to write more about Influence, but for now I want to stick with the urgency thing. Urgency is covered in Influence in the chapter on scarcity:

… Something that on its own merits held little appeal for me had become decidedly more attractive merely because it was rapidly becoming less available.

… people frequently find thimselves doing what they wouldn’t much care to do simply because the time to do so is running out. The adept merchandisers makes this tendency pay off by arranging and publicising customer deadlines that generate interest where none may have existed before.

Those one day sites don’t have to have a 24 hour window. They could be two day sites, or one week sites, or shock! they could have no time limit at all, and just be a remainder warehouse with a catalogue. There’s a reason they have the arbitrary, needless limit of one day only — it’s because they sell more that way than if they just listed their stock and waited for you to come to them. Hence my belief that in keeping tabs on such sites, you’re asking to be sucked in to spend money you don’t mean to.

Cialdini doesn’t mention this, but of course if you’ve only got a few hours, you’re not exactly going to be able to do due diligence as well as if you had a few days. Nor are you going to be able to cool off and reassess the way that you could if you went home from a shop and thought about it.

This stuff is everywhere, of course. We’re still looking for a house (yeah, it’ll be six months soon) and I have been struck by how real estate agents try to create a sense of urgency in you. I have come to detest this as particularly manipulative.

Oh, there’s been a lot of interest. I’m expecting this one to go quickly.  I can let you have a look now — it might not last until the open home. When can I expect your offer — this afternoon? Or shall we say 10 am tomorrow?

There are plenty of houses, pal. If we miss this one, I expect there will be another one soon enough.

On a completely other note, Lisa commented on an old post just now. Cheap chickpeas! Go to it.

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Pressure cookers and pressure deals

June 6, 2010

Our new pressure cooker is giving me a lot of jollies on the frugal front.

Pressure cookers save power. Maybe only a few cents, but it adds up, you know?

And pressure cookers save a lot of time. Since the cheapest tasty protein is mostly legumes and tough meat, it makes a big difference to a busy person if you can get them cooked more than twice as fast. For example I’ve found so far that 35 minutes — five minutes to come to pressure, 20 minutes at pressure, 10 minutes to release pressure — is enough to render beef shin totally tender, and 25 is enough for dried beans (albeit with a soak first). Those are both things that previously I would only have had time for on the weekend, but which are now feasible on a week night. I also foresee a lot of soups made from odds and ends.

And this pressure cooker was cheap. About $30 I think, on one of those websites that have deals for just 24 hours. Kathy PM’ed me and said “do you want a pressure cooker for $30?” and I was all “I am hella keen on pressure cookers” and she was like “that’s good cause I got us one.”

Yet this bothers me.

Those sites are a nasty play on our psychology. We are hard-wired to take up opportunities that look as though they are about to vanish. That is the basis of all “limited time only” deals — to give an extra tweak to an offer that will make you more likely to buy. The “one day only” sites are particularly bad because they encourage you to check every day, or even to sign up to be alerted every day. And sometimes you get something great, so there’s also intermittent positive reinforcement, which is the most powerful kind for forming habits.

In my experience, usually those great deals can be had elsewhere without the pressure if you are prepared to look around. And sometimes if you check the specs of what’s on offer, you realise that the deal isn’t even that great. The price looks cheap for the product, but the product itself is inferior. Over time, this has to be a recipe for spending money you didn’t mean to spend on stuff that isn’t the best stuff you could have for that money. Those sites may have bargains, but spending lots on crap, no matter how cheap, is not frugal.

In this case I feel we definitely won, but we’ve got to stop checking those sites. Pretend I wrote a really good moral using the metaphor of pressure and contrasting good and bad here.