On being ... maladjusted

By Ingrid Sapona 

I write this with some hesitation because I appreciate that I’m in a comfortable financial position as compared to many. I also don’t want this to sound like the comments that one might hear from an old uncle recalling the price of things in his youth (no “back in my day admission to the talking pictures cost a nickel!”). So, with those disclaimers out of the way, today’s column is – in part – about the cost of things. But really, it’s more about my trying to learn to accept prices as they are, rather than getting stuck on what I think they should be. 

I’ve never been a big shopper so it doesn’t take much to surprise me price-wise. I couldn’t tell you the going price of a suitcase, cappuccino maker, throw pillow, or (fill in the blank). And of course, there are lots of services I’ve never needed so I’m constantly amazed at what people pay for specialized work. Just the other day I was shocked when a friend said it’s going to cost $5000 to have an old tree removed. Yikes! 

Because big ticket items – say a car or a sofa – are never impulse buys for me, I don’t get that hung up on their cost. One reason for this is that with such items there’s usually quite a price range and usually there are options/choices that impact the price. And, as I decide which options and features are worthwhile to me, the price usually narrows. In the end the decision comes down to a calculation of whether I want/need/can afford the purchase. The deliberativeness of the purchase process acts like a shock absorber so that the final price seems magically right (or at least justifiable). 

I’m not particularly bothered by many items that have gone up a lot over the past few years – like groceries or gas. I think I’ve managed to become a bit desensitized to the increased grocery prices because of the way I shop. I’m in the habit of checking the store weekly fliers on the Flipp app to see what’s on sale. As I swipe through the fliers, I do shake my head at the price of things (for example, seeing butter on “sale” for $4.99 was a shock initially, as that’s what the regular price used to be). But after seeing the prices in fliers, by the time I head into the grocery store, I have unconsciously adjusted to the higher prices of many items.


The two types of expenditures I really have a hard time adjusting to are the cost of going out to eat and in-person entertainment. No, I’m not talking about the price of Michelin-starred restaurants or tickets to see Taylor Swift. I’m talking ending up with a $50 bill (plus tax and tip) for lunch with a friend where one of us has a burger and fries and the other a sandwich with a side salad and no alcohol. Or two cappuccinos, one almond croissant, and an apple tart costing $32 at a gallery café where you have to carry the coffee and pastries to your table and bus the dishes afterward. Really? (Or should that be: Really!) I wonder whether my late father who owned a small breakfast/lunch place would have called that highway robbery or just obscene. To manage my shock at that café’s prices, I try to comfort myself with the notion that it was a rare indulgence (and remind myself that I’m lucky to be able to afford that) – but that only goes so far for me. After that, I’m more likely to think to myself, “Well, I’ll just never go back to that place again…” And that – in a nutshell – is the attitude I feel I need to overcome because it prevents me from enjoying going out. 

The same happens with the price of going to the theatre. I used to love going to plays but I have a hard time accepting ticket prices starting at $60 for local productions (not Broadway touring shows) – plus a ticket processing fee and tax. And, when you factor in the hassle and aggravation of trying to get to the theatre, it can be hard for me to justify the expense. That said, a girlfriend and I recently saw a play ($150 for the two tickets, including taxes and service charges) at a theatre company that is known for premiering plays by new playwrights. The theatre itself is small and my recollection of it (last time I was there was probably 10 years ago) was that the building was pretty basic and rather run-down. For this production all seats were the same price and it definitely seemed expensive to me, but the play sounded interesting so we decided to go. 

We got there a bit early and while waiting to get into the theatre, I was struck by how much nicer the lobby was than I remembered. Yes, it then occurred to me that the higher ticket prices impact the overall quality of the theatre experience, not just the performance. Well, I’m happy to report the play was excellent. It was interesting and thought provoking and on the drive home we couldn’t stop talking about the subject matter and how we might behave in that circumstance. All-in-all, it was certainly well worth the cost of admission AND the hassle of getting there, which truly is saying something in my books. Indeed, the evening got me thinking a lot about my need to get over the shock of the cost of tickets and instead think about how exhilarating a live performance can be. 

So, the bottom line is I’m working on being better at adjusting to prices of things that I can afford, but that I sometimes begrudge paying. I now realize that what I’m maladjusted to isn’t just the price – it’s the enjoyment I miss out when I forgo things I can otherwise afford. It’ll take some time to change, but I daresay it’ll be “worth” it. 

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona 


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