Iimust have looked stunned as the woman at the checkout counter at Hannaford’s tried to explain to me the economics of potato chips. She was trying to explain why a bag of Lay’s potato chips were on sale for $1.99 while a bag of FritoLay potato chips were not on sale and would cost me $3.49.

She continued by telling me that if I wanted a bag of Frito potato chips I would only have to pay $2.29 because they were also on sale but if I wanted a bag of Frito Ruffles potato chips, that would be the regular price of $3.99. After a couple of minutes my wife snapped her fingers in front of me because I was starting to drift into a trance. I just couldn’t understand how bags of what are essentially the same product, made by the same company, could have so many different prices. FritoLay makes Fritos, Lay’s and Ruffles and many other similar products – but they all are potato chips.

Eventually it involved the manager. He spent another few minutes trying to explain the fine art of potato chip pricing but I must still have had that confused look on my face because, eventually, he did what so many others before him have done, he gave up and went on to more important things.

I am the first to admit that I am not the world’s smartest shopper. I never have been. When I was young my mother did all the shopping for me and now that I am married my wife has taken up where my mother left off. Stores and shopping malls have always been thoroughly bewildering places to me In fact, I can figure out genetic sequencing faster than I can figure out the average store coupon.

Big department stores, like Macy’s and Filenes, are impossible for those things did for Ames anyway! I have also tried to explain to my creditors that a bill I was supposed to pay must have been lost in some catalogue advertising winter coats for dogs.

But, this was going to be the year I actually saved mone me to figure out. I don’t consider myself a dope but there is no way I can ever seem to calculate exactly how much I am supposed to pay for an item. Last Christmas, for instance, I attempted to shop like a professional. For weeks I collected every coupon I could find in the paper. This is not a difficult task because most of today’s newspapers are filled with coupons. In fact, many of the bigger newspapers are nothing much more than coupons. I guess there just isn’t that much news around to put in newspapers anymore.

These coupons don’t only show up in our newspapers. They also come in bundles of colorful mailings that engulf our regular mail. In the past I have thrown out checks that got lost between the pages of some Target or Ames shopper – and look how much goody by buying gifts for my wife and daughter. I organized the coupons into separate bundles held together by rubber bands. I put the different bundles of coupons into separate pockets so that I would hand the clerk the coupons that belonged to the correct store.

I thought all was in order until I purchased my first gift and handed the clerk the first coupon. I was attempting to buy a brand of perfume my daughter liked even though I didn’t have a clue how to pronounce its name. But the clerk told me the coupon was only good for stationery and men’s shoes. I looked baffled, which is something I am very good at. The coupon clearly stated that if I came to the store before 8:00 am on this particular day I would receive an additional 15 % discount on any purchase.

The clerk sighed. “Don’t you see the asterisk?” she said, and pointed to a microscopic dot next to the 15% off figure that took up most of the coupon. I squinted at the asterisk and told her it looked like a defect in the paper on which the coupon was printed. She rolled her eyes skyward as if I was some kind of simpleton. I then asked if she would take a look at my other coupons for the store and tell me if there was anything there that might give me a discount on anything I actually wanted.

She flipped through the wad of coupons and said I could get some great deals on towels, baby clothes or discontinued video games – or I could wait until next April and get 10 % off anything in the store. I asked her if there would be any asterisks involved and she smiled politely and said: “Of course.”

Automobile advertisements are another mathematical formula I can’t figure out!In the newspapers there are multiple pictures of automobiles from dealers promising never to be undersold. They offer zero percent interest rates and the lowest possible price for the best possible car. Last spring my wife and I went shopping for a new car. Again, in my hand was an advertisement that promised to pay off my old car, give me a zero percent interest rate and put me in the car of my dreams. Of course the paper didn’t tell me that first I would have to solve a math problem more complicated than Foucault’s pendulum.

We picked out a car of a color and model we wanted to buy and everything went well until we started in on the financial arrangements. First there were the add-ons that each had an alphabetized name and which were all essential to the operation of the car and which amounted to a figure way beyond what I had expected. The salesman then said there would be a delivery charge. I told him he didn’t have to deliver it anywhere, it was right there on the lot and I was going to drive it home myself. He gave me that familiar smile and told me I still had to pay for the cost of the car’s delivery. I asked him if he was going to drive the car to my home and park it in my driveway and he told me there would be an add-on charge for that.

Then it only got worse. He explained that I could only take advantage of the zero percent interest charge if I could put down a 50% deposit on the car. I told him I could save more money by putting that kind of deposit in the bank and letting it collect interest. He nodded understandingly as if explaining something very complicated to a prize boob and said that if I couldn’t put that much down I would have to pay an interest that was a lot higher than zero. At that point I yearned for the days when I was young and could just buy a second-hand car from a neighbor down the street.

As for the trade-in on my car it turned out that I had been driving the most disgusting automobile on the face of the earth and it would not fetch anywhere near the price I had expected. When I left the dealership I was actually ashamed to be seen in it.

But, newspapers aren’t the only sources of misleading advertising anymore. The wonders of the electronic age have seen to that. Every time I go on-line now ads pop up without warning, obstructing my search, and offering me everything from a five day Carnival Cruise to $5 off my first order of Viagra. One ad told me if I acted immediately I could buy all the DVDs I wanted for the rest of my life for less than cost. Afraid that I would miss out on such a great, never to be repeated, deal I jumped on it only to discover that the only true part was that I could buy all the DVDs I wanted for the rest of my life. A technologically invisible asterisk canceled out the ‘less than cost’ part of it.

Now, here I am once again, getting ready to become a good shopper. Family birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas are getting close and I need to be on my mettle. I just hope all my loved ones love the taste of Fritos. The $3.49 bag of course!

The End
Why the ultimate shopper will be giving potato chips this holiday season.
By J. G. Fabiano
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA
e-mail him at: james.fabiano60@gmail.com