Don’t Be Fooled: Businesses Need to Make Money

Don't Be Fooled“If it didn’t make them money, they wouldn’t do it.” That healthy dose of skepticism was the mantra of the first entrepreneur I knew: my dad. To this day, whenever my mom mentions loss leaders, BOGO deals, and doorbusters, my dad smiles, shakes his head, and repeats his favorite pearl of financial wisdom. This notion has always been accepted as truth in our family, and I am continually amazed at how so many people disregard the fact that a business’s number one job is to stay in business. The waters get murkier when it comes to more innocuous organizations, but the truth remains. Case in point: the shopping catalog I received from our teacher’s union. 

Last month, the National Education Association filled our teacher mailboxes with catalogues for something called NEA Easy Pay. The cover declared ‘Tis The Season to be Gifiting above a pile of stuff — Tickle Me Elmo, Ninja Turtles, a Samsung TV, an iPhone, a Nutribullet, a Keurig, and a few other things that I didn’t immediately recognize. The subtitles guaranteed no interest, low convenient payments, no fees*, and no credit checks. An even more frightening subtitle had my first and last name printed on it with the promise that I had up to $2,000 for gifts this year. A quick flip through the pages informed me that I could purchase everything from toys and living room furniture to home security systems and down jackets. I was horrified. My colleagues, however, gobbled it up.

For days, I watched as pages were dog eared, catalogues were passed around, and lists were made. At first, I stayed silent. I figured if people wants to squander their paychecks, they probably didn’t want me to point it out to them and would find other ways to do so, even if this catalogue weren’t an option. One by one, people signed up for these purchases. $12.50 from every paycheck for the next year. $13.46 from his. Soon, people were paying more from NEA Easy Pay than they were for their insurance and union dues combined. I am certain that one coworker actually now pays more into NEA Easy Pay than the required 10% that gets funneled into her pension.

After that, I couldn’t stay quiet. When someone would point out a Fitbit Flex or another entirely unnecessary purchase, I would quickly do the math for them. The $4.62 per payment sounds like a bargain until I pointed out that it would come to over $120 for the year. A quick Google search yielded dozens of retailers selling the same item for $20-$40 less. Some of my coworkers were shocked. “But they said no fees!” “They’re the NEA. They’re supposed to be on our side!”

But a few of my other coworkers looked at me sadly as if I were somehow missing the point. “It’s only $5 a paycheck. I couldn’t afford it otherwise.” “The union wouldn’t take advantage of us.”

To which, I could only reply, “If it didn’t make them money, they wouldn’t do it.” Just like the slew of retailers who so nobly broadcast the fact that they would stay closed on Thanksgiving, would shutter their doors on Black Friday, or eschewed sales entirely due to their already low prices, the union was preying upon a weakness in our logic. Just because something sounds noble or some company normally acts in a way that benefits us does not change the fact that every business needs to make money to stay in business. It’s one of the first truths that business owners learn. It’s time for customers to learn the same.

*With an asterisk. There’s always an asterisk. That’s the only real guarantee in life.

So Tell Me…How have you seen this logic play out this holiday season? What other truths do you know that make you a smarter consumer?

Don’t Be Fooled: Businesses Need to Make Money

12 thoughts on “Don’t Be Fooled: Businesses Need to Make Money

  1. I am always wary when a nonprofit offers products. You know it’s a form of fundraising. Sometimes it’s obvious from the pricing, like Girl Scout Cookies, so it’s easy to just go ahead and pay the inflated price to support the organization.

    When supporting the nonprofit is supposed to save me money I tend to get skeptical, although I admit that AAA and AARP members can save more than their membership fees if they use the benefits regularly. My guess is that your fellow teachers thought that their plan worked similar to one of those organizations and was leveraging numbers to provide discounts. Fortunately you were able to see that wasn’t the case and point it out.

  2. Ick, that brought back memories! The hubby would point out how buying that $100 item would only raise the minimum payment by $5, or whatever it was. $1000 item? Well, you get my point. It was like stepping in quick drying cement. Oh, it looks all innocent at first, and then WHAMMO! They, like that cement, own you! You should consider giving your co-workers a seminar. I understand what they’re thinking and for sure, I wish I’d had someone to wake me up. I was always a cash gal, but hubby believed in credit. His dad taught him that credit was king. I fell for him, and then I fell for IT. I wish I’d stayed with my mom’s teachings. If you don’t have the money, you can’t afford it!

    1. I LOVE credit cards – but only because I pay them off every month and then enjoy the rewards. Your comment about if you don’t have the money, you can’t afford it was the first thing I thought when my coworker told me “I can afford $5 a month. I can’t afford $90.”

  3. “…preying upon weakness in our logic.” Ah yes, this is a stand out line. I almost feel like I should write out a post on the fallacies of shopping during the holiday season. We are absolutely surrounded by them! The REI #OptOutside is what stands out the most this season because people continue to share it like crazy. I get it, I understand the message, and it’s great to sway people from the Black Friday madness. Then on the flip side sales are bolstered prior to & after Black Friday because of spreading the “opposite of consumerism” message. I am not completely against this campaign or think that it’s completely wrong, but being a smart consumer you can read in-between the lines. Great thoughts!

    1. Oh, REI. Marketing genius. If they thought that campaign would hurt their bottom line, they’d never have done it. Good for them for figuring us out.

  4. What a great mantra. I like to call it pretending to be frugal, or faux frugality. This way of thinking views spending as a game consumers can win, but in the end you save by not engaging in over-consumption. Of course we all need to make purchases and optimizing spending is great, but only after minimizing it wherever possible.

  5. Wow…I expect it from my credit cards but I wouldn’t from a union. I regularly receive catalogs from my credit cards to buy things with points that if you were to simply go buy the item and use the points to offset your bill, you’d come out way ahead.

    I think you should continue to help your coworkers by pointing out that there are better deals available. Maybe drop in a line or two regarding excessive consumerism.

  6. Yes, yes, yes to only being able to afford something if you can pay for it upfront!

    That was a huge concept that my mom taught me as fact. Even as a single mom, she always, always, always paid for everything in cash – including cars. She drilled it into me that if you couldn’t pay for it, you couldn’t afford it, and that payment plans were a Big No, all the time. For better or for worse, I’ve carried that with me! It’s really funny how much some of those lessons stick 🙂

    Good for you for being the voice of reason and doing the math for your colleagues!

  7. My company actually does something sadly similar.

    The lowest earners receive an extra pay period the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We’ve changed vacation policy, but apparently people also used to have the opportunity to cash out up to 3 days of vacation during that period.

    I work in retail, I think you can connect how this might be selfish.

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