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Friday, October 21, 2016

Hard to BULK Up in Ecuador

Let's face it, we're a consumer nation, and there's nothing we like better than a "good deal". This concept has spurred on things like buying clubs, IKEA and (of course) Costco. To be right up front, many things in Costco scare me. Have you seen the size of some of the tuna tins? (Ron's parents only wished something like that existed back in the day, what with the 11 kids to raise.) It's given us the idea that bigger is often better: yes the idea of bulk purchasing. 
Now, there's only two of us, but we still bought 20kg bags of rice, 24 roll packs of toilet paper and 3 litre tins of olive oil. Why? Because we knew we'd use it and it was always cheaper in the long run. This leads me to Ecuador - land of the single purchase. You can actually buy a single cigarette from the corner stands. When you go to the pharmacy and are looking for ibuprofen (for example) you can actually buy ONE PILL. It can be challenging to buy the whole packet - at the very least you get a strange look. Heck, I've even seen them hand out single shots of cough medicine. (You can also buy eggs individually.)Toilet paper is the same price whether you buy 4 rolls or 24 - actually sometimes the 24 is more expensive and almost all food items are individually wrapped. When you buy a packet of saltines they come in neat little packages of three crackers. Talk about over packaging!

Single serve pills
So, why? Why is this? It actually comes down to cash flow. Just because 24 of something costs less per unit (in theory), you still need the money to buy the larger quantity and not everyone has that luxury. So the smaller stores sell the smaller individually wrapped packages at maybe a penny or two higher than the big stores sell the multi-unit packages (per unit). Why buy 10 when you can buy 1? (This also applies to instant versus brewed coffee. Instant is cheaper and you don't need extra equipment.)

Tons of tiny instead of one big one
This has been a life lesson for us and it's been very difficult to get our little North American brains wrapped around. It's really hard not to reach for the "family sized" items, but we're getting a handle on it. It's actually so crazy that I've seen restaurateurs buying 50 tiny bottles of soy sauce. (You can't get bulk soy sauce here, at least from what I've seen.) They don't have food distributors like they do in NA. either, they all shop at the mercados and at the big chain grocery stores...can you imagine the nightmare of running a restaurant???
Here, the answer is mainly..."no"
Anyhow, this realization is humbling and, in many ways, simplifies everything. There are no coupons to worry about, sales to chase (at least most of the time) and you buy what you can afford and no more.  That's not to say that there aren't people here with money. Cuenca is actually quite a well off city, but we can learn a lot from people who only operate in cash.

So the next time you're buying your jumbo pack of [fill in the blank], think of me and my Ecuadorian neighbours with our little pack of one.


  1. Fascinating. I am a shopper who buys on sale and stocks up. At any given time, I know I have toilet paper, paper towels, packages of frozen ground beef, and a big whopping bottle of ibuprofen! This would take some adjustment! -Jenn

    1. We finally found a pharmacy that will sell us a whole box of ibuprofen with 100 tablets, thankfully. You can still stock up, but there's not much financial benefit to it. If you see something that you really really like, buy a lot of it, as it may disappear off the shelves for months/years. (Like Dijon mustard for example!)

  2. That is really interesting, never thought they wouldn't have the larger amounts freely available like here, but it does make sense with the average wage there. Of course you never have to worry about expiry dates. Didn't you mention when you buy fruit, they expect you to buy more than one banana, or a minimum amount?

    1. This is true. $1 will usually get you anywhere from 10-14 bananas, if you only want a couple they'll charge 50 cents. You can actually buy one banana, they just look at you funny.

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