The Big Brother shopping task – a lesson for modern living?

It may’ve shifted far from its roots as a social experiment, but Big Brother still holds a certain fascination. Nothing for me is more visceral than the shopping task, where a group of adults need to co-operate on a difficult purchasing decision, and even with mega-brains Andrew and Mario they don’t always get it right.

The Shopping Task…

Each week housemates earn a shopping budget, and this week it was a pantomime horse race. Whilst the only thing that teaches is how to run as fast as possible with your nose up someone’s backside, far more useful is the collective decision of what to buy and how much they get.

  • Luxury Shopping budget.   This is £500 for around 10 people, or roughly £50 a head.
  • Basic Shopping budget.  This is £100 for around 10 people, or roughly £10 a head.

Last year we ran a poll asking how much people spend per head on groceries. Here are the results:

From this, it seems Endemol certainly did its research in terms of budgeting. £10 is right at the bottom end, £50 more than most.   

Of course, it’s not a natural equation – I believe in BB leftover food from the previous week is confiscated (not 100% confirmed – do correct me if I’m wrong here), so there’s nowt to tide housemates over on bad weeks.  What I’ve never ascertained is whether some staple food and cooking stuff like margarine, salt and pepper is automatically provided, or if they need to buy that too. 

Without that, you’ve a slightly false situation, as most homes gain benefits from long-term purchases of such things, which are effectively amortised over a long period.

Then again, they also earn treats and booze through other means throughout the week, which probably balances this out.

The lesson of economies of scale

When it comes to ordering the groceries, it’s a fascinating thing to watch. A tribe who normally live in a primarily non-money environment suddenly need co-operate in a timed purchasing decision.

In weeks with limited budgets, it’s frustrating they oft don’t realise the only way to live decently is to put aside personal pecadillos, and bulk buy staple foods and cook collectively. Yet with people with specific dietary requirements, or just dominant, uncompromising personalities, it’s never going to be easy (not sure how good I’d be at it either).
Hidden within this, I suspect there’s a great money educational game buildable. It could be a good service from Channel 4.  A challenge for a group to see how they maximise their purchasing power amid competing priorities.

After all, you can buy a giant bag of pasta that could feed 10 people for a night, for not that much more than a pack of pre-prepared tofu that can feed two.

The 68p Shepherds Pie

I was prompted to write this blog after an email read out yesterday during my weekly Radio 5 Consumer panel slot on the Gabby Logan show (great fun I’m really enjoying it).

We were discussing students and budgeting, amongst other things, and, as best as I remember, this was the email:
“I’m very proud of my son, I went to visit him at university and one of his friends has calculated that if they cook together they can get all the ingredients for a Shepherds Pie down to 68p per person.”

Hoorah. This is such a powerful  lesson, the concept of bulk buying and working together.

It’s one that people don’t find so easy to grasp, I suspect boys especially – I remember from my own school days.

During A-Level economics we were set a game type task by Mr. Hutton and Mr. Hallis. We had pre-specified materials of which we needed ensure we had shelter, food and clothing.  

Those materials needed processing with drawing, sources, cutting out and making, and there was a strict time limit and limited resources.

In the first attempt we all tried to make our own home, food and clothes, and no one survived. Then the second time, people started pushing and shoving to try and get resources and getting tribal, and again we all died.

Our disappointed teachers told us how normally groups manage to work out the only way to produce sufficient goods in the appropriate time is to work together and set up a production line.  I suspect the 68p shepherds pie boys would’ve got this immediately.

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