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The Age-Old Money Argument: Quality Vs. Quantity

Updated on July 25, 2017

The Struggle

In an ideal world, there'd be no dilemma between choosing a few high-quality products, or several much lower quality items when shopping. Unfortunately, when you're nearly broke, no such world exists.

Trying to find the perfect balance between these two can be a bit like walking a tightrope -- too far one way and you blow your budget, too far the other way and you're constantly replacing everything you own and wasting more money than necessary.

For example: If you can get say, 20 cans of good soup for that you might normally pay for 10, then what are you waiting for? That's an excellent bargain! On the other hand, finding 100 batteries for a dollar? That's downright scary. If you think about it, batteries are expensive for a reason, right? What did they do to them to make them so cheap? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

This is where you're going to want to get in the habit of stopping and asking yourself if the deal is really worth it in the long run, before you throw that item in your cart and buy it. I’ve done the thing with the package of 100 batteries myself – I saw the package, thought ‘What a steal!’, and brought them home. What? I was young! Don't give me that look.

The problem with the batteries was that not one of them worked for more than about a minute. They were THAT cheap. So, I completely wasted my money. True, it was only a dollar, but still. Sometimes you don’t have that dollar to waste.

It did teach me a very valuable lesson, however.

It's $5 For A Reason!

This phrase has become one of the top mottos in my life, and I have repeatedly found it to be very true. Remember the lesson with the cheap batteries? I wish I could say that was the last time I made a purchase like that, but unfortunately sometimes you forget... The four years I spent working for an automotive parts retailer, without a doubt, has been one of the biggest reinforcements of this statement in my life.

What it boils down to, essentially, is that there are some very good questions you need to ask yourself before you buy something that's cheap -- or cheaper than usual:

  • “Is it ‘sale’ cheap, or ‘weirdly’ cheap?”

  • “WHY is it so cheap?”

  • “How long will it last me?”

  • “How many times will I have to replace it?”

  • “Will it cost me extra each time I have to replace it?”

These questions will help you decide if you are really saving yourself money, or if you will end up spending more in the long run. I’m not talking about food here – food is in its own category and we all know that if it’s cheap we’re going to grab it.

I’m talking the bigger ticket items: Electronics, Autos, Auto Parts, Appliances, and so on. Apparel and shoes can flit in and out of this category as well, it depends on what you’re buying and what you’re using it for.

Expanding The Concept

To give you a better idea of what I mean, I'm going to go ahead and use automotive parts as an example -- they make my point perfectly.

Let's say that you have a manual window, and the handle to roll it down broke. You then go to the parts store and find that they have two options as a fix for you: a $4 part that’s a semi-universal fix, or a $20 part that they have behind the counter. Through either the parts person behind the counter or a website, you find out that the $4 part works well, fixes a common problem, and you can easily install it yourself in a few minutes. Here, even if you have to end up buying another one, the cheaper option would indeed save you money in the long run. As long as you install it yourself, this is the better choice.

Now, let’s say your alternator goes bad. Again at the store, you find out that you have a $30 value line brand that has little to no warranty, or you have a different brand that has a lifetime warranty, which is $75. Here is where you’re going to have to take several things into account:

  1. Who’s installing it? If it’s not you, then you’re going to have to pay installation.

  2. How long do these things last – what’s the failure rate?

  3. What does the warranty cover and how long does it last?

So, let's say the $30 one only has a 3-month warranty, and you’re paying someone $50 to install it on your car. On the surface, this seems like a pretty decent deal, right? What happens if it goes out in 6 months? Well, the warranty has already run out, so there’s another $30 down the drain. Now, what about that installation charge? Unless you've set up a warranty deal with the person who installed the original, you’re out your $50 again. At this point, you're now out $160.

In the exact same scenario with the lifetime warranty part, you'd only be down $125. There will always be budgetary concerns in situations like these, of course -- I know you won't always be able to afford the better option right off the bat. It's just vital to keep in mind that if you have to buy a value line product, you'll want to make sure that you start immediately saving up in order to buy a more permanent replacement in the future.

I do realize that the difference between the two amounts may not seem like that much to some people -- after all, it IS only $35. For some budgets, though? That $35 could be a week's worth of food or the difference between paying the rent or not. Even if you're NOT that fiscally strapped, that's still extra money you can save for retirement or put into other major things -- it's a good habit to get into.

The Take-Away

The most important thing to remember with 'value line' products is that they ARE cheap. I don’t mean price here – I mean materials and craftsmanship. They use thinner metals and cheaper wiring, they're thrown together quickly, and they have little to no quality assurance usually -- these are just some of the ways these companies save in production costs, so that they can price the item lower. These products simply can not hold up to the normal, everyday wear and tear that better-built products can! If you’re harder than usual on your stuff ? Well ...

In the end, it’s ultimately up to you – do you buy the 10 pairs of gloves for $2? On one hand if you lose some, they’re only a little under 25 cents a pair. On the other hand, how long are they going to last?

Just remember, when you buy ‘cheap’, be prepared to deal with all that entails …

And put that $1 hair coloring down. Unless it’s super mega discontinued clearance, there’s no earthly way something like that could only be $1. If you like your hair at all, just don’t.


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