Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Scurry for the meaningless

Four cents a litre is a great deal of money when you’re talking about petrol. It must be, because people whinge and moan when the price goes up by four cents a litre, and many act as if they’ve won lotto on those rare times it goes down by that amount (rather than the more common one or two cents a litre).

Awhile back, one of New Zealand’s supermarket chains began offering vouchers to customers entitling them to petrol discounts of four or six cents a litre (depending on how much they spent at the grocery store). The catch was that it could be used only at one brand of petrol station, and specifically only at those few locations that had a mini-version of the supermarket attached.

While we were in
Australia, we noticed signs up at petrol stations promoting grocery discount vouchers. They seemed to be everywhere.

When we got back to
New Zealand, we found out that a competing supermarket chain was offering four-cent-per-litre petrol discounts with another, much more accessible chain of petrol stations. Shortly after that, another petrol chain announced it would accept all grocery store discount vouchers.

Now, anyone who’s successfully completed primary school can work out that four cents a litre adds up to very little on each fill up. The other day I filled up and was asked if I had a voucher. I just happened to have one in the car. I saved a whole $1.50!

If someone refuels a few times a week over the course of a year it starts to add up. But I don’t drive all that much or far, and my fuel-efficient car isn’t very thirsty, so I fill up maybe once a month or so. Saving $20 or $30 a year would hardly seem worth the effort.

And yet I know I’ll use the vouchers. Part of it is simple human nature, I suppose: Wanting something for nothing (or something for somewhat less than normal, anyway). But the other reason is that I know this gimmick will mean the petrol companies won’t lower the price of petrol any time soon. Personally, I’d rather just have lower prices, but it’s not up to me.

So, even though I know it’s all a meaningless have, I’ll keep my discount vouchers handy. I guess sometimes—despite all the knowledge and wisdom we gain over time—one simply must scurry for the meaningless just like everyone else.

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