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My Story: Comparison Shopping at Breakfast

By: Katherine W., Temple University

It was a morning that shouldn’t have been much different from others in my otherwise uneventful fourth grade year. But as I sat down to my bowl of cereal that day and put the spoon to my mouth, I realized that something wasn’t quite right about what I was eating. It had seemed like an average bowl of Rice Krispies, crackle, pop, and all. But as I took my first taste of cereal that morning, there was no doubt about it: there was something inexplicably different.

When I inquired to my mother as to what was wrong with this particular bowl of Krispies, she replied that they weren’t Rice Krispies at all. She pulled the box out of the pantry to reveal, instead, a different box with a rather conspicuous title: Crispy Rice.

Feeling confused and stabbed in the back, I didn’t really know what to say. As I sat and stewed in my feelings of betrayal, she explained to me that the offending Crispy Rice was a brand of cereal made by the grocery store itself rather than a bakery. She used a term I’d never heard before to describe it: “generic.” Just the sound of it was bland.

“Why would you buy that?” I inquired. I genuinely couldn’t imagine a decent reason.

“Because it’s cheaper. A lot cheaper.” And with that, she put the box away and continued on with idle morning preparations.

Her response probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Why sacrifice quality for a lower price? Marginally lower at best, I imagined. Oh well—one subpar breakfast out of 180 that year couldn’t strike too much of a blow.

The next week, I was with my mother at the grocery store when we entered the cereal and breakfast snack aisle. Still traumatized from earlier, I did my best to avoid looking at the boxes- but I couldn’t help but notice, amidst the other cereals, that there it was: a box of Crispy Rice I’d dismissed just a week earlier. Noting that it was right next to the Rice Krispies (to try and trick people, surely), I took a closer look at the two and decided to analyze the prices for myself. What I had thought would be a minuscule difference turned out to be surprisingly significant: an almost two-dollar gap existed between the two prices. I have to admit that I was a little surprised.

As we continued through the store, I decided to continue looking for these so-called generic brands and compare them to their name-brand counterparts. From paper towels to frozen dinners to loaves of bread, I noticed that there were countless opportunities within the store to save money on simple items just by buying the lesser known version. Maybe, I thought, taste doesn’t have to matter so much. After all, saving a lot of money after purchasing cheaper items had to be easier to swallow than any negative flavors to come from an offending bowl of Crispy Rice.

When I told my mother later about my consensus, she simply laughed as though I’d just emerged from under a rock to discover that prohibition had been overturned and women now had the right to vote. “Now you know,” she said.

Now I know. Now, when considering my expenses, I look for small ways to save money wherever I can in the hopes that those measures will add up to a larger savings in the future. Whether that’s shopping for groceries, toiletries, or other items ranging high and low on the scale of triviality, I remember that it’s okay to cut corners where appropriate. Sure, that North Face jacket might have a nice label. But is it worth having the tiny logo on the breast just for the extra fifty dollars? Should I really invest in a Fit Bit when I can buy an equally functional fitness watch for a marginally smaller amount?

The answer to those questions, and others, can depend on a variety of factors. And sometimes, it’s okay for it to be “yes.” The bottom line: by recognizing the difference between wanting something for its functionality and overall quality and wanting something for its aesthetic appeal, I think I’ve gained an appreciation for knowing when an item is good enough to spend the extra cash on. And to think it all began with a bowl of cereal.