We all have strange rules about what we will and won’t splash out on. Blame the way we were brought up – and our fear of death Before the financial crash, people used to explain behavioural economics with the example of the rich man mowing his lawn. “Why are you doing that boring task when you’re so minted?” the hypothetical economist would ask him. “Because it costs £10 to get your lawn mowed.” “OK. If I give you a tenner, will you mow my lawn?” “Of course not.” Money, far from being a fixed, fungible quantity, changes value depending on how you feel about what you’re spending it on. After the crash, “behavioural” got to be shorthand for “Why did all those people behave so crazy?” But actually the pre-crash question – “Why are some tenners worth more than others?” – was more interesting. Nowhere is this more obvious than with food and drink. I will think nothing, for instance, of having two pints with my mister on an average midweek evening, which is (quick maths) four pints, or 20 quid. I would no more buy a £20 bottle of wine on a Wednesday than I would go to Hawaii for a mini-break. I don’t mind at all going out for a fancy kebab irrespective of whether or not it’s my birthday, yet when a butcher casually lifted £5.95 off me for a lamb shank, I was still talking about it days later (I’m still talking about it now). I would never look at the cost of a main course and think: “How was it possible to get to 17 quid for a mackerel?” – I merely accept the restaurant’s decision. Yet the tag on side dishes sets off my daylight-burglar alarm: £4.50 for spring greens? No, really though. There had better be a tonne of them. At those prices, I want enough spring greens to put me off spring.
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