This morning I did not hear my alarm and woke up late. Understandably, I was a little frazzled as I rushed to get ready for work. When it came time to brush my teeth, I struggled to get out the final drop of toothpaste. This was the last straw. Alexa, is it worth my time to squeeze out the last drop, or am I right in wanting to just buy more toothpaste when my supply begins to run low? — Minty Mandy
Dear Minty Mandy,
You are not alone! Just this morning I was grappling with the same problem. Is my toothpaste tube worth the frustration? In order to solve my problem, and yours, I turned to the experts, the economists. As it turns out, our toothpaste troubles revolve around the concept of marginal utility.
In every life decision, we think at the margin. Explained economically, the margin is where we start with something extra. The marginal utility is the extra utility, or usefulness I will receive from every additional unit of something. If I am eating a chocolate bar and I decide to take one bite, my second bite is the extra at the margin. How much pleasure did I receive from eating that second bite of chocolate? Well that would be my marginal utility. Unfortunately, as stated by the law of diminishing marginal utility, every added bit “more” will decrease in extra usefulness.
How does this concept relate to our toothpaste issue? Well, every drop that you squeeze out of the toothpaste tube is at the margin. How much more will I squeeze out by struggling for an extra few minutes every morning? According to the law of diminishing marginal utility, the harder and longer it is for me to get the toothpaste out of the tube, the less extra fulfillment I feel.
What does this add up to? It means that, at a certain point, your time is more valuable than these last few drops of toothpaste. Buy a new tube of toothpaste. I hope that this helps you, Minty Mandy!