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Everyone knows this bit. You go to the mailbox and it is stuffed. You pull the mail out and since it is mostly irritating, slick-paper catalogs they leap our of your hand and scatter themselves in the road, all flapping their pages pointing at you.

Your neighbor drives by and you duck you head trying to pretend like you did not see them. You might be invisible that way. If you speak dog, you know if you don’t see them, they cannot see you. I am not sure that works in human but it is worth a try. After hiding out with your head in your open mailbox while your neighbor drives by, you scuttle about trying to grab the slippery things and as soon as you have almost got them, you bend over for that last one and the movement of bending causes them to leap out of your arms again and there they go waving and flapping in the wind. This time two neighbors drive by. Hiding in the mail box is useless.

I have a love-hate relationship with catalogs. The good part is that you hardly have to purchase reading material any more. The mail order catalog business delivers directly to your door thousands of pages of text every year. Some catalogs really are good reads. They tell stories about their product or of the places where their products are used. Some of the catalogs we get tell stories about how the products were made and how making it changed people’s lives. Some catalogs tell of the people who make the product and the fair trade agreements they have with the seller.

Some catalogs make me feel really unhappy or sometimes even mad. In our consumer economy where nearly everything in the world is available if you have money, seeing something photographed and marketed in a catalog makes me think about what it cost in human capital for someone to make that product.  Sometimes I am just disgusted by items. To me, things liked blinged out dog soap on a rope for $1200 is ridiculous.

Most of the cooking catalogs include useful recipes. They have photos too. I always like to see a picture of what I am cooking is supposed to look like in case I cannot recognize it when I finish the recipe. I am not good at following recopies. I can cook just fine. Following a recipe is a bit more hit and miss with me. I am always out of something that the recipe calls for and discover it right in the middle of cooking when it is too late to do something about it. I am sure this only happens to me. I doubt it has ever happened to you, Dear Reader. However, once you go down that substitution road, it is the road to perdition. So, when my cakes cum muffins arrive at the table and someone looks at me oddly, I can always point to the photograph and say, “See, there it is.” Or, of course, there it would have been if I had had all of the ingredients.

I am a championship bargain shopper. Sometimes my friends look at something I have and say, “How much did you pay for that?” It is not being rude, it is amusing. My favorite opportunities are those 50% off sales when you have a 30% off coupon with free shipping. The key to catalog bargain hunting is stealth and perseverance.

Catalog bargain hunting is for me a case study in the economic principal of “willingness to pay.” When the new season catalogs come out, I study them with great interest. I turn down pages and circle items and think about having them. I think about how well that pan would cook. I think about how warm that hat would be. I think about how nice it would be not to iron that shirt. I think about cute those little Christmas Santa candles would be on the table for my holiday dinner.

Here is the lesson. Are you willing to pay $39.00 plus shipping and handling for those little Santa candles? If you are, then you know what your willingness to pay is. Order the candles. My table will look just fine with a few red candles from the grocery store and some twigs from outside.

I will, however, keep an eye on those Santa candles. They may go on sale before Christmas rather than in February. When they are reduced 20% I am not even willing to think about it–$31.20 can be put toward a lot more useful things than Santa candles. At 50% off  the candles are $19.50. Hm…that is the same cost as the ingredients for the soup I am making (without a recipe) for my family dinner. Santa candles? Think not. However, just at the point I am starting to set the table, a e-sale announcement arrives and piques my interest: “Online, Today Only, 30% of any item on our website, sale items included. Enter code FREE1 for free standard shipping,” The Santa candles were $39 to and went on half price sale for $19.50 but I was not willing to pay yet. Today, however, the Santa candles are looking good at $13.65 with free shipping.  Hm…nope, not willing to pay that. Grocery store candles are $7. More than twice as much. No Santa Candles for us. Then, three days later get the email saying, “30% off sale extended, enter FREE1 for free shipping. And, to our good customers, take $5.00 off. Since it is close to that Holiday dinner, we are offering free *2 day* shipping. Enter shipping code FASTNFREE” Now, we are getting somewhere, 30% off 50% off and $5 for good customers. Of course, I have never bought something from the company which makes the $5 seem disingenuous, the candles are $13.65 less $5.00 and free fast shipping. My little Santa candles are now $8.65 and they will be here in two days. The grocery store candles can wait. This year we have Santa candles.

More pages get turned down in my catalogs than items will ever grace my door. Once a teen in our extended family was going through my catalogs and said, “You must get a lot of things.” Economics 101. Pick everything you like and wait. When it hits your willingness to pay level, you may want to order it. Trouble is, most things are sold out before they get to my willingness to pay level. Still, you got what you waited for. The item never hit your willingness to pay level so you are just fine. On the other hand, you may not want it any more which solves the problem neatly. You are not willing to pay for it at all. As I explained it to my teen relative, you had to decide how much you want something and how much it matters to you if you don’t have it at. It is an important lesson in living in a consumer-driven economy, particularly as we head toward the Christmas catalog season.

Catalogs, why catalogs for today’s blog? Well, because I looked around our temporary home where we are waiting for “life-after-the-fire” to really start, and I found a pile of catalogs here and a pile of catalogs there and got frustrated with the mess that was piling up. Then I realized what it meant to have things pile up when all of your things have been reduced to ash. Even our catalogs burned. I never thought I would find a pile of slippery irritating catalogs familiar and comforting.

dog having fun tearing up paper

Sometimes we play “tear up the paper” with Sophie when the catalog pile gets high. She can use them for toys before they are recycled. Two for one deal.