Forest Gump got it wrong. Life is not like a box of chocolates, it’s like a loaf of bread. I came to this conclusion today as I struggled once again to find a competitive cellphone plan. I figured with an unlocked iPhone 5 and an expired contract, every cellphone company would be vying for my business. So, I took my current plan with Rogers and flogged it to the others with a simple request: Tell me what it will cost to get the exact same plan with your company.

I surveyed 5 vendors and they were within about a buck  per month of each other for similar packages. I say “similar” because everyone had a slightly different permutation of services, arriving at some close approximation of what I currently have. For example, one vendor only provided 1000 minutes of long distance, but you could pick your 10 most important numbers and they were free. Others only provided 1 GB of data, but you could share it with another family member, etc. But no matter what I did, what elements of the value proposition I tried to manipulate to get a better deal, the price always wound up the same.

If you look at almost every transaction you are involved in, from buying a computer, insurance services, managing financial investments, the price of gasoline, buying a car, buying property, getting cellphone service, TV cable/satellite, etc., each vendor slices his loaf of bread a little differently to suit the “profile” of his customer segment, but in the end, regardless of how you slice it, YOU’RE ALWAYS GOING TO PAY THE SAME FOR THAT LOAF OF BREAD.

Steve’s Third Axiom states that, “You can’t protect yourself part-time, from people committed to taking advantage of you full-time”. At one time, I actually believed that the solution was to surround yourself with “experts”, whose job it was to protect you. But I now realize that even with experts, there are “profound experts” who can screw even them! There is finally something quite liberating in all this: I now know that regardless the transaction, I am going to get screwed. The pleasure comes from finding out just how ingeniously I got screwed! Is this paranoia? Not if its true!

There are of course, some honest, straightforward people still out there. Usually, they are at the individual level, rather than in companies.  Our handyman/painter is so good that I routinely pay him 25% more than he charges because I feel that he doesn’t charge enough for the quality of work that he does. He is meticulous in his work, so clean that you have no idea he was actually there, and works so efficiently he finishes in a fraction of the time of other workers.

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