Playing The Percentages

Posted on November 15, 2013 under Storytelling with 4 comments


I am a sports enthusiast.  I have played a lot of sports in my time and still watch my share on television.  Sports analysts are forever talking about “playing the percentages.”  Whether it is golf, football or basketball, you pretty well know what the risk/reward factor is at any given time.   And baseball is king when it comes to dissecting the game into incredibly useless minutiae where every play that has ever been made has been analyzed to death.  You pretty well know the percentage chances of a runner stealing home from third.

Into this arena of the sometimes incomprehensible deciphering comes the world of shopping, where understanding percentages is as important as breathing itself.

I was always pretty good at math.  I can calculate a 15% tip with ease.  I can do complex mathematical calculations on a solar powered calculator.  Mortgage amortizations.  No problem.  I can calculate the future value of a present amount.  I can even tell you how much money you will need in retirement, adjusted for inflation.  I can do this projection for single men or married men. Guess which of these will be retiring much later?  I don’t need a calculator for that one.

But for a good old head scratcher, try figuring out the bottom line when there’s a 70% sale on at a department store.

Just the other day, while on vacation, I had a small chore to do.  A haircut … a task that has become quicker by the day as my hairline recedes.  While readying to leave our vacation property, I happened to overhear a few women discussing a 70% sale on at a very popular store.  I casually mentioned this to my wife.  There was a perceptible quickening in her breathing.  “Would you like me to drop you off at the mall?”  This is like asking a heart transplant patient if they would like to be put under a general anaesthetic for surgery.  A rhetorical question that required no answer.

Several hours later, I was summoned for the pickup.  My wife had reached the checkout counter and would be out momentarily.  I parked outside the store and waited… patiently.  Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes.  I watched several men hunched over, on those classically designed concrete benches built for maximum discomfort.  They all appeared to be suffering from PTSD.  Post traumatic shopping disorder.

The glow on her face said it all.

“How did it go?”

“We saved $333,” was the excited reply, bordering on exuberance.  “I got 70% percent off everything and then when I got to the checkout I discovered that I got 50% off the 70%!”  My head was beginning to spin as I tried to work the numbers.  What was the actual cost of the merchandise in order to “save” $333?  I was coming along nicely when she threw me a curve ball.

I gingerly asked why it took 20 minutes to get through the checkout.  “Well, I decided to apply for the in- store credit card which gave me another 20% off the 50% off the 70% off.”  At this clip I expect the store to be handing out money along with merchandise.

By now I had totally given up.  We drove back to our place where I took refuge with a cup of coffee and the newspaper.  “Would you like to come and see my loot?” she queried.

I pretended not to hear her question.

“And, what did you buy?” she asked. I told her that I got my haircut for $12.00 and gave the barber a $3.00 tip, which by my calculation is 25%.

Examining my bald pate she retorted, “I bought clippers today – I’ll cut your hair for $10.00, no tip.”

I picked up my calculator.

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