Monday, March 24, 2008

To Spend or Not to Spend

Here's a news flash in case you missed it elsewhere: Pesach costs...and costs...and costs. It is the most expensive yom tov we have. But sometimes we are making expenses for ourselves that don't have to be there.

This is the 31st time I am making Pesach in my own home. And when my Pesach things come down from the attic what I'm going to find in there are mostly the same things I bought the first year I made Pesach. True, I've added a few items over the years as my family has grown and as I've had the money, but basically everything I needed I bought the first year.

31 years ago I did not have an unlimited checkbook to go shopping with, and yet I needed everything. When it came to all the little things that make up the kitchen inventory I "cheaped" out. I went to the dime stores. I bought only sale items. I avoided the name brand trap where ever I could. And what has been the result?

Let me give you this example by way of answer. Let's say you bought a cheap set of steel mixing bowls. Let's say you used those bowls three times a week. That would be 156 uses in one year. Let's say that the bowls only lasted in good condition for 4 or 5 years. That would be 780 times you used the bowls. Now let's look at Pesach. Let's say you give the bowls a workout and use them 10 times pre and over Pesach. Let's even be generous and say you used them 15 times. How many Pesachs would you get from that cheap set of bowls? 52 years of Pesach. Now let's say that you bought an expensive name-brand set of steel bowls. Instead of $1.50 you are going to pay $30. The more expensive bowls might or might not last longer then the cheap bowls. Let's say they do last longer. Let's say they last 30 years in normal use, which would be about 312 years of Pesach use. Is it really necessary to spend so much more so that somewhere in the dim future your great great great great grandaughter can inherit your mixing bowls?

Where good quality and reliability is a must, there is where you should be putting your money. 31 years ago I spent $35 on sale for a food processor. Keep in mind that that was real money in those days. That food processor is still alive and well today and is the workhorse of my kitchen. Ditto for my mixer.

Sometimes we get caught in the amortization trap. We figure that we will be making Pesach for at least 35-45 years. So if we buy something now for $300 that is "only" about $6 to $8 per year of use. But it's not: it's $300 that you are spending right now. This is where you have to look at the item and make some hard decisions. Just how much is a particular item really worth to you if you have to put out all the money up front, right now, never mind how many years you will use it? Is paying X for a mixing bowl or a ladel or a tray equal to paying X for flatware or a becher or a food processor?

I made my decisions based on what was important to me. I have good china for Pesach and silver-plate flatware. I did spend more on some items. Those things I do hope to pass on to my children and their children. But my spatulas? My mixing spoons? The thermos for chol hamoed? Not likely.

And by the way, I'm thinking that it's more than time to dump that word cheap. Let's try frugal or thrifty instead. Maybe more people will become inclined to save money on Pesach shopping if they are known by the positive connotation of thrifty rather than by the negative one of cheap.


concernedjewgirl said...

I agree.
It does not concern me to be called cheap. In fact I pride myself on it. I love telling people where the 'hot' deals are.
As far as mixing bowls and spoons and others I plan on visiting the dollar store. Its the serving dishes where its hard to find cheap and nice.

ProfK said...

Some possibilities for the serving pieces at reduced prices. TJMaxx has a housewares department. They are always putting their china, crystal, ceramicware on clearance. Macy's is pretty overpriced except they have in the back of their giftware/china/crystal department a clearance room. Some really great prices available. There is a huge Mikasa discount outlet in NJ and they also have lots of clearance items. And there's always the Internet.

Just a thought. Party City carries a large variety of the fancy clear plastic embossed trays and bowls. Some are carved like crystal. They aren't awfully expensive but they look nice and could tide you over until the time comes when you can find what you are really looking for.

mother in israel said...

I agree with the examples you gave. However, when buying plastic, the years of storage do take their toll aside from the amount of use. I've had to replace some containers/bowls I bought early on.

Also, we do a lot of cooking for Pesach, so a junky can-opener or peeler is just not going to work. Hint:have two peelers, year-round, to take advantage of help. Nothing like seating a few kids at the table around a bowl of potatoes.

Another thing to consider when shopping for Pesach is how much storage space an item will take up, and weight, especially if you need to shlep stuff up the stairs (as we did as children) or up to a high cabinet (as we do now).

But instead of buying new larger pots, I just kasher my chametzdik ones each year. The shuls have hagalah stations set up.

Commenter Abbi said...

MII, you're showing your Israel again. ;-). Americans have tons of storage space in their basements and attics. The lucky few of us have machsanim; I just make do with wrapping everything in garbage bags and storing the stuff on top of the kitchen cabinets. Really lovely accent decor!

I agree with you about plastic stuff not storing very well (I don't think you could even find cheap steel mixing bowls in Israel if you tried).

Anonymous said...

If I am still making Pesach 45 years from now, someone please shoot me and put me out of my misery now. My husband is always telling my girls about how nice it is going to be when mommy no longer has to put in all the work and we will go to them for Pesach. You should see the look on their faces.

concernedjewgirl said...

Maybe it’s the inexperience in me but I cannot wait to have my parents for Pesach. This is the first year I'm making it and it'll be the first year g-d willing that they will come ( I HOPE THEY COME ). So, Shira hopefully your daughters will anticipate your arrival for Pesach as I do my parents, with excitement and enthusiasm. To finally be able to show them that they did good! I can't wait!
I feel that there is nothing better than everyone being together.

SaraK said...

I definitely agree that not everything has to be name brand or expensive, but some things do need to of good quality. As you mentioned, no one will be happy using a junky peeler or can opener. Those are my pet peeves! Containers to store leftovers should be of fairly good quality. Who wants the fridge/freezer to smell or have leaks making a mess from those cheap containers?

ProfK said...

I definitely agree that a can opener and potato peelers--plural--are not the place to cheap out. It's not just the peeler blade but also the handle. The cheaper peelers have rough edges and always result in blisters. No savings there.

Anonymous said...

I've had no trouble with storing plastic items bought years ago although the softer plastic items keep better than the rigid ones. A trick I got from a newspaper years ago works really well for all those stored things. Put a a packet of crushed charcoal in each box. You can get it at any florists and a lot of houseware shops. It keeps moisture out of the boxes and keeps mold from growingl.

mother in israel said...

But can you get charcoal with a Pesach hashgacha?????? :)

Anonymous said...

An interesting question MII, but does charcoal need any hashgocha to begin with? I don't think Profk is talking about the kind you use on bbq grills. My wife uses the finely crushed kind and mixes it with the soil in her houseplants which the garden center recommended. If it needs a hashgocha for Pesach, does that make the houseplants "chometzik" and something needing to be sold for yom tov? My rav is really not going to believe this question but now I have to ask him. I'm betting he says no hashgacha needed, I hope.

mother in israel said...

I put a smiley at the end of the comment, which was not meant to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Mother, I know you weren't being serious but since I saw the rabbi anyway last night I asked him about the charcoal. He sort of rolled his eyes and laughed and told me that I was not the first person to ask about charcoal. he did mention that no one seems to ask any more about the real items that could be a problem but get bogged down with all the things like charcoal.

Anonymous said...

Allen, our rav was complaining about the same kinds of questions. He used as an example the Do I have to sell my bacon for pesach if I'm not sure if the salt used in making it has iodine in it or not type of question.

Anonymous said...

We do eat dairy on Pesach and I needed to buy all the stuff last year when we were home for the first time. I made a game of it and took $100 and told myself that was all I could spend for everything dairy. I got dishes and silverware and pots and bowls and knives and all the works and only went over $1.37. It can be done if you want to do it. And 99 cent stores rule!