Planet Money
1:10 pm
Wed July 31, 2013

Which Can Of Shaving Cream Should I Buy? A Surprisingly Complex Analysis

Originally published on Wed July 31, 2013 2:25 pm

Because my morning routine involves the waking, feeding, dressing, brushing and sunblocking of a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old, certain personal morning grooming habits fall by the wayside. Like, all of them. This is why I think of the gym mainly as a place to wash up.

Which is a long way of saying I ran out of shaving cream the other day.

It was a travel-size, 2.5 ounce can that I carried in my gym bag for about three months. At the local Duane Reade, it cost $2.99 to replace. But then, a few aisles over, I found a 7-ounce can of shaving cream that also cost $2.99 — almost three times as much shaving cream for the same price.

And yet, there's a value in the convenience of the smaller can. The 7-ounce can — let's call it "The Mick"-- actually outweighs the 2.5 ounce can — henceforth, "Roger" — by about 8 ounces, once you include the extra metal involved. (This difference is a rough approximation that I basically made up, by the way.)

So the question becomes: How much would I pay to eliminate my load by half a pound per day? Would I pay a penny a day? Obviously. Would I pay 2 cents a day? Sure. But that's the limit. Three cents a day just seems like too much. Bottom line: I'd pay $1.32 to carry Roger instead of The Mick for three months. (There are 22 weekdays in a typical month; I generally don't shave on weekends.)

But then there's the psychological cost of knowing I'm a sucker for paying three times as much per ounce. How much would I pay not to think of myself as a sucker? It would be convenient if the answer were $1.33 or more, thus negating the convenience premium of Roger. But it isn't. I just don't feel like that much of a sucker because I know I'm paying more for the convenience.

If you have followed me this far, let me throw a five-bladed, pivot-head monkey wrench into the works. Our original calculation assumed a 5-ounce difference in weight between Roger and The Mick. But there will come a time in the shaving-cream-can cycle of life when I would need to buy a new Roger, while The Mick would still have 4.5 ounces of shaving cream left to give. And — crucially — a round after that, when I would be on my third Roger and still my first Mick. By this point, The Mick would be almost empty — and just a few ounces heavier than Roger.

Add in the psychological satisfaction I'd derive from beating the system during the period when the Mick was lightest, for which I'd pay at least a penny a day, and my decision is made: Buying The Mick is the more rational choice, by a whisker.

Special DVD Extra: Somewhere there is a secret, industry-sponsored Shaving Cream Hall of Fame. Enshrined in this underground Shaving Cream Hall of Fame is the guy who invented the nozzle that even with the lightest touch squirts out more shaving cream than any one face can possibly accommodate — but not so much shaving cream as to have the user curse all the excess shaving cream and begin to question the (very precarious) underpinnings of the shaving cream-industrial complex.

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