A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


A toothbrush. That's all I needed.

But not just any old toothbrush. None of your bargain basement, wimpy bristled, use-it-twice-then-throw-it-out toothbrushes this time. No sir. This time I was going to get a toothbrush that could withstand the beating I seem to inflict upon instruments of dental hygiene (you should see what I do to dental floss it isn't pretty).

Perhaps I have toothbrush-intolerant enamel. Or perhaps I have latent hostility issues that cause me to Hulk out in front of the bathroom mirror. Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I grew up with two dentist brothers-in-law who insisted on vigorous brushing or else. Whatever the reason, I am hard on toothbrushes.

My wife, Anita, is still using that really nice toothbrush I gave her for our 21st wedding anniversary five years ago (what, you've never heard of the Toothbrush Anniversary?). I, on the other hand, go through them like Britney Spears goes through belly button make-up. I buy a toothbrush, it works well for a few days, and then, before you know it, the bristles stop bristling. Or the handle breaks. Or the brush doesn't brush it just sort of rubs.

So I was determined to get the best toothbrush I could find. It was the only thing I needed when I walked into the store that day. I was prepared to spend as much as three or four dollars on the brush. Little did I know that three or four dollars wouldn't even constitute a decent down payment on a state-of-the-art toothbrush. There are toothbrushes with engines I'm not kidding about this. They have more horsepower than my Toyota.

I don't want to compete in the Indianapolis 500. I just want to brush my teeth.

Finally I settled on a nice, sturdy, no-nonsense toothbrush that looked like it would get the job done for at least the rest of the month. Then I noticed that this toothbrush was also available in a five-pack for even less per toothbrush than I was going to pay for the one I had selected. If one toothbrush is good, then five is even better, isn't it? Sure, it was more than I was planning to spend during this trip to the store. But it would be worth it in the long run.

Wouldn't it?

After picking up the box o' brushes I noticed another good deal: a package of four tubes of our favorite toothpaste for a very good price. Well, I couldn't pass on that deal, could I? It seemed so cosmically synergistic: toothbrushes and toothpaste. It flowed naturally from one to the other and such good prices!

Then I noticed another great price on a multi-bar pack of soap. And then another great deal on shampoo. And they had such a good price on the latest Harry Potter book . . .

Nearly $100 later I escaped from the store with my debit card smoking. Of course, this isn't unusual for me. Anita often sends me to the store with a 12-item shopping list, and I end up at the checkout stand with a fully loaded shopping cart. It's called impulse buying, and I'm about as impulsive as they come. I'm the reason store managers prepare those attractive displays and mega-sales offers they want to entice me into being impulsive. And usually I oblige.

But no more. Although it is my nature to be impulsive in the grocery store, I've decided it is time to go against my nature. Our burgeoning cupboards and our crashing budget both demand it not to mention Anita. And that's OK, I think. One of the most important things we learn in this life is when to trust and act upon our natural inclinations, and when to control them. There are times when "that's just how I am" is an explanation, and times when it's a cop-out.

Even when dental hygiene is at stake.

# # #

--- Joseph Walker

For more ValueSpeak, please visit

E-mail Joseph at:

Look for Joe's book,
"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through