Buy at a low price, sell at a higher price. That, as I’m sure you know, is one way to make money. It is something that we have never set out to do, but over the last two years we have acquired many hundreds of items which we are now able to offload at twice the original cost to us. We can shift 100 of them at a time, doubling our original investment, if that’s the word I’m looking for.
Unfortunately, the items that we are making a profit on are not high-value, in-demand consumer goods. They are plastic bags, hundreds and thousands of them. Here’s how it happened. Throughout 2020, our online shopping service delivered our goods in plastic bags, and charged us 5p for each one, as they were legally obliged to do. Before lockdown, they would take back up to 50 empty bags at a time and refund the cost from our bill. From March 2020 onwards, they no longer took back the empties, and we accumulated untold numbers of plastic bags. I learnt that you could squeeze several hundred of them in a small cardboard storage box. I filled at least four boxes in this way.
Since late last year, the online shopping service has resumed collecting empty bags. They take up to 100 at a time and refund us the current cost, 10p per bag. This means that we get £10 off each bill, and we have made £5 profit on the deal. When my wife and I realized this, I did something that everyone of my age and background would recognize: I made reference to a scene from “Fawlty Towers”, specifically from “Communication Problems” (S2Ep1, first broadcast in 1979). It’s summarized here, on its IMDb page: “When Mrs. Richards, a demanding woman who is hard of hearing, checks into the hotel, Basil, Sybil and Polly find themselves with a very difficult customer. Meanwhile, Basil bets on a horse that is sure to win, however he must not let Sybil find out.”
Towards the end of the episode, it appears that Basil has lost out again. He has to hand over his winnings to Mrs Richards because she thinks some money has been stolen from her room. They find her money, redistribute it, and Basil, in disbelief, realizes that he’s still up on the deal. While counting out batches of 100 plastic bags, just before our shopping is delivered, I have been echoing Basil Fawlty, saying, “You realize what this means? We’re up … for once in our lives … we’re up”.
Having checked the original scene, I see that I have been misquoting, but the meaning is the same. Basil’s exact words are: “I’m £10 up on the deal … Even if I give her 10, I’m still 10 up. Polly, for the first time in my life, I’m ahead. I’m winning …”
We bought for 5p and we’re selling for 10p. For every batch of 100 plastic bags that we return to our online grocer, we are £5 up on the deal. We are, in a very small way, winning.