Saturday, May 17, 2008

Daddy Diaries: The Winning Scavenger

My dad is uber-frugal. He revels in knowing he is getting a bargain. In fact, this knowledge is more important than knowing he needs the good purchased. He once bought a wheelchair because, “It was an irresistibly good price.” No one he knew required a new wheelchair.

This craving draws him to auctions (both under hammer and online), red-signed sales, second-hand stores, garage sales…and rubbish bins.

Yes, my father would dig through trash. Not because we were destitute, or because he just threw something away he realised he still needed…no, my dad would rifle through other people’s discarded things because there was no better deal than free.

As a teenage girl, it was already less than ideal to visit the mall with one of your parents instead of with friends. The “cool factor” of this trip plummeted when, as you waited at the entrance, your father curled eagerly over a nearby rubbish bin because he thought he saw a Crunchie wrapper within its bowels.

Yes, a chocolate bar wrapper was something deemed a “treasure” worth digging for. See, it wasn’t that Dad had spied a “perfectly good hat,” (or some other thing you can imagine someone fairly saying was worth rescuing), it was that the bargain could lie in literal waste. You see, Dad entered competitions using such wrappers. He usually needed three or four wrappers for each entry into the draw. Often, he would enter a draw 10 to 15 times without having personally purchased the actual product offering the competition. I remember unsealed envelopes stacked on our kitchen counter, each with one or two of the required wrapper, barcode, or seal tucked inside, waiting for additional findings so they could be sent away.

He was happy to discuss his habits too. He would explain how the odds are so good in New Zealand, it is crazy not to enter. He would outline scenarios. For example:

  • a competition is running where consumers are invited to send in three tokens from a particular brand of boxed contact lens solution;
  • let us estimate approximately 1 in 20 kiwis wears contact lenses (loosely calculated, this is 4 million divided by 20; 200,000 people);
  • perhaps a third of these people will need to buy lens solution within the duration of the competition (66,666 people);
  • at least two thirds of the buyers choose the promoted brand, despite there being 10 competing brands on offer (leaving 22,222);
  • only one third of these even care a competition is running (7,407);
  • two thirds of the people who notice there is a competition, have no interest in buying 3 boxes just to enter – it’s too much trouble (leaving 2,469);
  • half of these buyers will forget why they bought three boxes, and that the competition is even on, because they have a lot else going on in life apart from cutting out tokens and labelling envelopes (1,234 people are still in to win);
  • half of the buyers that bought during the correct period, noticed the competition, were motivated to purchase more than normal, and remembered to enter, then miss the deadline, and find the tokens in their wallet, pocket, or car ash-tray a month after the competition has closed. At this point, 617 people have entered.
  • finally, of these 617 people, how many have entered five times? And how many have also enclosed an envelope-sized piece of card with their tokens each time (so the envelope is more likely to be the one drawn)?


My dad figured a 5 in 617 cardboard chance was more than enough motivation.

It was easy to complain during the digging. It was difficult to express any distaste for this practice when the rifling reaped its rewards, and reap it did.

To date, my father has won:

  • A Chevette (car);
  • A Hyundai Accent (car);
  • A trip for 4 to Hawaii;
  • A trip for 2 to New Caledonia;
  • A $1,000 mall shopping spree;
  • A waterbed;
  • A Sega Megadrive;
  • A Sony sound system;
  • A Brother fax;
  • A bike;
  • 4 walkmans;
  • A Free Willy watch and poster;
  • A Coruba polar-fleece (that’s right, never have we purchased Coruba this win was a result of digging);
  • 3 Bluebird penguin backpacks, full of chips;
  • A coffee percolator (so Mormon-handy);
  • A drill;
  • Cookware;
  • A Microsoft flight simulator;
  • A $100 gift certificate for the Innovations catalogue;
  • A CD carry-case;
  • 2 jars of lollies;
  • A pack of K’nex;
  • A game of Monopoly;
  • A Reebok backpack containing merchandise;
  • A Nestle coffee sample pack (again, not so useful to us);
  • An electric cat door, with instalment;
  • Kleenex “Winter Survival Kit”;
  • 2 tickets to a rugby game;
  • A Palm Pilot;
  • 2 hampers of Hershey’s products;
  • Passes to Hoyts;
  • A bath set and bottle of champagne (to cook with?);
  • Sunglasses;
  • A giant stuffed bunny;
  • 2 passes to Harry Potter; and
  • A child’s Halloween outfit.

And no, he will never buy a Lotto ticket.

Oh, the irony – my mother’s landscape design business involves the pun “dig in”, but it is my father I feel best wears this slogan.

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