Did I Waste Money?

June 18th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 31 comments

I’ve been following you on YouTube and listening to your audio book. I’m a Korean American Christian, but have been interested and following Judaica lately.

I live in San Diego County and decided to go to a mom and pop Judaica store to purchase my first Torah. I had a very pleasant experience talking to the owner, and she helped me pick out my first Torah, business blessing sign, and accessories. We talked for a bit about her family, family history in the holocaust, etc.

I’m making an attempt to network and add more ‘real friends’ in my list of friends. I’m trying to specialize and bless others as well.

After I purchased my items at the store, I checked on Amazon (I buy almost everything online), and was disappointed I paid about $60 more than Amazon.

I’m currently having financial hardship. Should I be disappointed I paid too much or be glad this is a blessing to the business owner and her family? I feel guilty that I feel bad.

Sam

Dear Sam,

We appreciate that you have been following our work and that you wrote in with this dilemma. We think that because of the ubiquity of online shopping and the ease of comparing prices among vendors, many others share your question.

We use the term ‘ethical capitalism’ to define the best type of marketplace in a Godly society. While it is easy to focus on the obligations of business owner, that is only half the story. Certainly, a store owner must be honest in describing his wares and transparently above-board in his dealings. However, customers have obligations too. 

One of these is not to waste the time and resources of a shopkeeper. For example, it is often hard to compare large appliances like refrigerators by only reading the online descriptions. Many of us still like to see what we will be buying and to ask questions of salesmen who have experience with the brand. In a similar fashion, we like to sit on a couch before buying it. Another example might be going to a department store and having a saleslady help you find just the right dress.

Torah practice as it is found in ethical capitalism forbids taking advantage of the sales staff in a store under these circumstances. If your plan is to order online, then you may not use the resources of the store. So, when you look at the price of an item online after having spent time with someone who helped you to choose exactly the right item, you aren’t comparing apples with apples. By purchasing in the store you are also paying for the expertise of the shopkeeper as well as being able to see and handle the item before buying.

In the same way, it would be wrong to buy an outfit at the start of a season, wear it, and then take advantage of a generous return policy so that you can buy the exact same outfit at an end-of-season clearance price. You paid a premium for having the item of clothing when you wanted it.

Rather than resenting the price you paid, or even chalking it up to blessing the shopkeeper, think of the transaction in its entirety. You not only have items that we hope will bring you pleasure but you were assisted in finding exactly what you wanted. You had what you described as a “very pleasant experience” and people legitimately pay money for very pleasant experiences. Don’t spend time feeling bad for paying more than you would have on an Internet order, or feeling guilty for feeling bad, but instead feel grateful for the entire experience.

I (RDL) often pay about forty times more for a cup of coffee at a coffee shop than it would cost me to make it at home myself. I consider that money well spent mainly because of the human interaction. The Hebrew word for a store alludes to it being a wonderful place in which two strangers make one another happier than they were before the interaction. Truly something that makes God smile. Sounds to us you got your money’s worth.

It goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with shopping by price. Purchasing online can be incredibly quick and efficient but obviously lacks all human contact. If that is what you want, then by all means shop online. It’s not your job to ‘bless’ the storekeeper by paying more than necessary. However, if you desire the human contact, and that can add value as in your experience, it can come with a price.

Finally, dear Sam, you confess to “currently having financial hardship.” We’ve discovered that for many people, financial hardship is the result more of a spending problem than an earning problem. If you are experiencing financial stress, should you really have been buying such expensive optional items?  After all,  $60 wasn’t the price but the sum you might have saved by buying it on Amazon. Perhaps this wasn’t a wise purchase.

One added bonus of buying in person is expanding one’s circle of relationships, as you are wisely trying to do. That is very much the theme of our audio CD set, Prosperity Power: Connect for Succe$$. You can buy it now on sale, but if someone benefitted from the information on it by paying full price for it a few weeks ago, we trust that they will feel that the money spent on it at full price was worth having the teaching at the time they needed and desired it.

Wishing you prosperity within the system of ethical capitalism,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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31 comments

Cretee says:

Your response was really insightful. However you implied that the shopkeeper overcharged for his item. Local merchants have brick and mortar overhead that many online sellers do not. Rent. Taxes. Wages. Utilities. Costs of goods. The list goes on. Not to mention that the more only purchases people make outside your own community the more jobs are lost. This will end up a disaster for the economy at large. Just saying

Susan Lapin says:

Cretee, we certainly did not mean to imply that the storekeeper overcharged. What wording suggested that? As you say, brick and mortar stores have many more expenses than online ones. Thanks for letting us clear this up.

Carmine Pescatore says:

We have all purchased items sight unseen and have been somewhat disappointed when it was delivered. When you make your choice online you have only the reviews (which can be biased) to go by. Buying in person allows you to see and handle the item. You are also buying the sales person’s expertise in picking out something that fills your needs.

I had a conversation with a woman in a store one day on various topics and she told me a funny story about returns. At the time she was working at a high end department store in NYC and a customer wanted to return a dress that had a funny smell. Her supervisor told her to take it as a return. Someone recognized the smell. It was formaldehyde. The dress was on a body.

Susan Lapin says:

That is an awful story, Carmine. I wish I could believe that it was a “one in a million” occurrence.

Mike says:

A wise and balanced reply! Thanks!

Susan Lapin says:

We do aim for that, Mike. 🙂

Shana says:

This happens to be a pet peeve of mine!! I used to own a clothing store. The amount of people that would come in, try on what they needed, took up our time asking applicable questions and then leaving the store empty handed was a mystery to me. One day I plucked up the courage to ask one of the repeat offenders, who admitted most candidly that she buys the product online for cheaper…

Susan Lapin says:

Shana, I think this is one of those things that our grandmothers would have intuitively known is wrong but our moral compasses often aren’t as finely tuned.

Glenn Gilbert says:

Dear Mrs. Lappin
I agree that our grand parents would have intuitively known that it would be wrong. Would you tell me why you think that they seemed to have that intuition that we seem to lack?

Susan Lapin says:

Glenn, on one foot, I think that Biblical values of morality used to be part of general culture for most of our grandparents. Even if they were not religious, the ethics were still there. That did not transmit down the generations. The culture today is much more in tune with legal/illegal than moral/immoral. Where it does talk morality it is often the opposite of what the Bible says.

Andrew says:

Shana, I understand where you are coming from there. When I used to work in retail, people would do the same. “Will you match ebay prices?” was one of my least favourite questions. Kudos to anyone who can run a small store and still make it these days.

Susan Lapin says:

I think that until you run a business, you have no idea what is involved in doing so. I don’t think those asking the question are insensitive people, but there is a lot of economic illiteracy around.

Carole Carrara says:

For me, my personal thought is on many things these days that I would rather support a mom-and-pop store rather than a big conglomerate. I feel by doing this that I am keeping what we call the little guy in business. Don’t fret about your purchase but be glad that you helped a local Judaica store. You did good. Poll

Susan Lapin says:

Carole, people like you are keeping many small stores going.

Cretee says:

Okay. I reread the post and perhaps I misconstrued what it actually says. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I should not read something when I am tired. My post sounded critical and I apologize for that. I am a business owner and I try my best to be fair and ethical. I’m hypersensitive because small business struggles to be competitive with online. So again I apologize for a hasty unthought out response. Lesson learned

Susan Lapin says:

We appreciate your following up. It is easy for us to write something that comes out differently than we meant, so we’re glad that in this case all is good.

Andrew says:

From my point of view that was $60 well spent. You knew you had the best items for you in your hands when you walked out of the store.
Of course the buyer will only pay what the seller is asking, but a seller who cares more highly for their customer should ask for more.
Any company can be a box mover, it’s not that hard. To be committed to the sales experience and guide someone to what they need takes a skill that should not go unrewarded.

Pieter Erasmus says:

Principal is this…
When you help a person in need, you help the person and is glad that you have the means to help. If you then afterwards see another person, maybe in a greater need of help, do you feel bad that you did help the first seen person. Will you go back and say sorry friend, I need to give what I gave you to another?

What happens must come forth at the appointed time. Do not have regrets on any. You never willfully make a wrong decision if you know the currently answer. Water, once passed under the bridge, do not flow under that same bridge again.

Be content with what you have decided. Learn form that how to conduct or amend your ways to be inline with being content with yourself.

Stay blessed.

Susan Lapin says:

Pieter, you are raising a different, and important, point.

Grace says:

HI Susan
I must admit I did also think you meant that possibly the shop keeper had overpaid. I let it go with the overall theme of the article but in re-reading it I wondered why I had thought that and I think it was the wording ”Don’t spend time feeling bad for overpaying” . Even though it is factual I think it is often contrued by meaning we have been ripped off. Thankyou for an informative article.

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you, Grace! I see how it reads that way. Through the wonders of the internet, I am going to go back and edit our answer.

Kalvert says:

Shop Keepers might need to publish their financial books, like every big business, in this way the customer would understand the dynamics of running a business, and their choose to support them.

Jean says:

Sam’s situation is much like mine when I have to make purchases at a hardware store. If I know exactly what I want and need, I can order online from one of the “big box” places and have it delivered to me. But if I have questions about a certain fixture, piece of hardware or tool, I go to the local “helpful hardware store” and ask the counter person. He or she will provide guidance, and in one instance, actually showed me how to do a repair and made it easy to learn. The prices are higher, but I am paying for the expertise as well as the hardware.

Susan Lapin says:

Jean, that’s a great example. And a loss if physical stores disappear.

Jacinta says:

I love reading your articles & the interaction & comments.

Thank you for sharing & teaching Jewish Wisdom.

Kind Regards

Susan Lapin says:

Jacinta, we enjoy reading the comments as well. So many people with so many views and such wisdom.

Kevin B. says:

Everything you said has been great! Like many others stated here, if I know exactly what I need I buy it online. If I need help, I go to a local store and pay for the assistance and expertise. I don’t Google what I bought, because I am happy with the purchase and the knowledge I paid for in assisting me with my purchase. I agree that it would be wrong morally to use a local shopkeeper for their expertise and then buy online. It wouldn’t be illegal, but it would be wrong. This idea of moral verses legal would make a good thought tool. Some people think they are the same thing, when they are not!

Susan Lapin says:

Kevin, the Founders of America knew that law would not keep a society functioning if the people did not have a shared moral code.

Steve Vasquez says:

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

Once again I have profited and learned from connecting with your ministries. I too have asked myself the same questions. Did I pay too much? Could I have bought it for less online? I too have had my doubts after purchasing a needed or a simply desired item from a brick and mortar store and subsequently thinking I could have bought it for less online.
And once again my personal mantra comes to mind, I’m old school. Without truly understanding what I have learned since I’ve gotten to know you both, I prefer dealing in person with store personal, asking questions, feeling and touching the items I’m interested in. What I never realized was how this was a blessing to all concerned especially me.
Thank you Rabbi Daniel and Susan. You have made my life so much richer, fuller and given me a greater sense of clarity in learning how the world rrreeaaly works!

God bless you richly in your faith, family, finances and friendships.

Susan Lapin says:

Sounds like you have great instincts, Steve. Thanks for sharing your story.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks so much for your blessing, Steve,
we receive it with gratitude.
Cordially
RDL

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