Economic Survival: Toilet Paper

I posted this a year and a half ago on the immediate effects of this recession on our household budget—on a blog I’ve discontinued. Some of the details have changed. For one, we don’t buy this brand anymore. Two, we still haven’t found the best buy in toilet tissue. Three, I believe I was ahead of the curve of people calling this economic downturn a recession—not that it matters much, but hey, I like to be right sometime. Finally, things have gotten worse as far as pricing goes, but the principle remains the same:

Originally written on March 20, 2008:

I’m no economist, nor am I trying to be a pessimist. I just have so many questions. Questions like, “Why has my household goods bill increased from $75 every two weeks to over $125 every two weeks, with the same items purchased?”, and “Why have products become less valuable?” Maybe I’m just over-sensitive, but it’s true.

My family has purchased the same items every two weeks for years. We used to allocate $75 in our budget for these items, but as of this last month, we’ve had to increase our spending to over $125 for the same quantities of the same items.

Then there’s the other signal of recession. I know you can call me crazy all you want. But, when it comes to the quality of products, I can see and feel the cost-saving measures. Maybe it’s a point to cut down reliance on foreign oil. Maybe it’s the increasing cost in petroleum products that make our consumer goods. Maybe it’s a combination of all these factors, but the consumer goods we buy are not the same as they were even two years ago.

Example: Soft’n Gentle Toilet Paper
We have purchased the same 24-pack of the generic “Soft’n Gentle” Wal-Mart supplied toilet paper for years. Some time last year the price increased and the packaging changed. I wondered why the change. I was expecting an improvement as the package read “Improved!” What was improved? Well, instead of white, blue and green, the package used white, orange and yellow. I wonder if this was an effort to improve readability, until I stepped back from the trees to see the forest. All other toilet paper in the aisle featured blues, greens, and cool colors. Ahah! Improved brand recognition! or possibly improved cost saving because of the different color inks. Who knows.

What else was improved? Closer examination found the plastic packaging was thinner, more brittle, tore easier. Why was this? Is there some reason to have improved entry to the paper in an emergency? perhaps it is more water soluble to reduce suffocation hazards, like those dissolving packing peanuts. I haven’t tested this. But, if memory serves, plastics are made from oil or petroleum products. Maybe, just maybe, they’re cutting costs on the packaging.

Anything else improved? Yes! Our two-week supply of toilet paper ran out too early! Was this some interesting result of a flu-bug, or overactive runny noses from our children? No, all was well in our household. I did notice something else. The cardboard tube in the middle of the roll was thicker than it had been in previous months. How do I know this? It is my custom to be the household “Toilet Paper Fairy.” I know, such a manly job for one of my stature and training, but hey, I can handle it.

This job entails removing the old cardboard tube from the steel holder and replacing it with a new roll for my family’s convenience. How does a macho-type guy like me carry out this task? Why, by tearing the tube from its grip on the steel roller. Previous effort was successful with one mere swipe with my index finger, much like one might open a letter. The cardboard would give sway to my commanding tear and leave my other hand free to prepare the next roll of tissue. But the “Improved” roll was not so accommodating. It took double the exertion and eventually, I had to change my method to pulling on the small triangle shaped area where the corner of the wrapped cardboard sheet to make the tube. The cardboard was thicker!

Why would the cardboard be thicker and the paper last a shorter time? Because the weight of the packaging could remain the same! Improved indeed! It should have read “improved revenue for us!” But was the paper improved? Did it cause fewer noses to be scratched by previously dry paper? Did it feel good on our hind-quarters? No. In fact as I saw the tube get thicker, I felt the paper was drier, and tore easier. I was back in high school chemistry when I learned that paper was made softer by petroleum products in it. Ahah! Another point for foreign oil!

What does this all mean? I don’t know. You tell me. Are we in a recession? Are we heading there? My advice: If you get the economic stimulus payment from President Bush this year, invest it in the paper products your family needs throughout the year. Store some aside for when your TP company “improves” their product.

P.S. My wife contacted the company, but was not able to get an acknowledgment, comment, or even an answer of any kind.

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