Why I Can't Afford Cheap | February 9, 2009

I remember reading a story once about an octogenarian discussing her most prized possessions with a researcher. She shows the researcher an iron that’s been going for over 40 years and explains how she had to scrimp and save to buy the product and how it ended up out living even her husband. Quizzed on why she spent so much money on the iron she said “I’m too poor to buy cheap!”

Too poor to buy cheap. That simple phase really resonated with me and has stuck with me ever since.

Cheap is quick. Cheap is dirty. Cheap is disposable.

Cheap breaks.

Cheap costs money. It costs money to fix, it costs money to replace.

Cheap seems like a good idea at the time but cheap fails when you most need it.

Cheap is flimsy and unsatisfying.

Cheap is inefficient.

Cheap gets in your way.

Cheap costs you time and it costs you customers.

Cheap always cost you more in the end. That’s why I can’t afford to buy cheap. Can you?

Posted at February 9, 2009 7:32 PM


Scott Mallinson said on February 9, 2009 8:00 PM

An employer of mine used to say that he’d rather buy something expensive and once than buy cheap and several. When I first heard him say it I thought it was a snobbish, elitist attitude, however I find myself adopting the same attitude now.

The cheap items I buy always tend to break just out of warranty or when I need them most, whilst the more expensive items last longer and can be relied upon, though expensive doesn’t always mean quality.

John said on February 9, 2009 8:21 PM

On the flip side, I hate to work for places that create cheap stuff.

It’s less fulfilling as a creative, and you see the long-term disappointment of those you serve on a day to day basis.

Work at “expensive” places. :)

Laurence Veale said on February 9, 2009 10:55 PM

Who do you think you are, Seth Godin?

Just kidding, kind of, I meant it as a compliment.

A great and memorable post and spot on too.

Ollie said on February 10, 2009 8:21 AM

Simply brilliant.

Fahim said on February 10, 2009 11:01 AM

What about buying a good thing which is a little out of date or second hand but in good condition :D or maybe something produced on a large scale reducing the overall costs. Somehow I always look for these options when not found I go buy something not cheap then :)

Paul Anthony said on February 10, 2009 11:06 AM

Soo true Andy. this one resonated with me big time. Great post.

Paul Anthony said on February 10, 2009 11:06 AM

Soo true Andy. this one resonated with me big time. Great post.

Dave said on February 10, 2009 2:06 PM

I’m too smart not to buy quality. Price has nothing to do with it.

Cheap stuff is sold at high cost all the time, particularly on the web.

Chris Neale said on February 10, 2009 3:01 PM

Alternative advice: “buy the most expensive tool that you can afford.”

Material Girl said on February 10, 2009 3:14 PM

To add to those above me: since price is so inconsistently tied to quality and instead often indicates only which logo graces the product’s upper right corner…let’s say exactly what we mean and say “shoddy,” not cheap. We can’t afford to buy low-quality,is the less poetic translation of what you’re saying.

Joseph Vanlandingham said on February 10, 2009 3:30 PM

Awesome post. I read a post similar to this one a while back saying “buy antique furniture” because its of a “better quality” and you can always restore it.

Since I am currently in the market for a computer, with the prices for computers varying significantly, does this apply?

Jeff Bridgforth said on February 10, 2009 3:47 PM

Good perspective. Thanks Andy.

Kevin Crawford said on February 10, 2009 5:50 PM

@Joseph Vanlandingham

Yes. Go mac ;)

Justin Gehring said on February 11, 2009 7:13 PM

Really though, there is a formula here that should be considered before hand… Take computers for example:

What would you rather have: a new $500 modern PC, or a bleeding edge PC that costs 2000. Both have 3 year warranty.

The cheaper computer will probably break right at year 3. It won’t be as fast, but, on year 3, you can buy one that will probably be faster than 2k one was, for another $500. You end up saving 1k, and getting better hardware at the end of the 3 years. (So you almost get 12 years worth of computer for the price of 1 bleeding edge PC).

So going the cheaper route isn’t always the wrong thing… It’s making quick decisions about purchases without doing the research first that will get you in trouble.

Or the quicker way to say it:
“I don’t buy cheap stuff… But occasionally I’ll buy inexpensive”

(Cheap implies quality, inexpensive doesn’t)

xian said on February 12, 2009 5:17 PM

sounds like cheap is an antipattern

Noah Iliinsky said on February 12, 2009 9:15 PM

Cheap is often unsustainable as well. Environmentally, economically, etc.

mark said on February 12, 2009 9:44 PM

WOW! Dead on. This is exactly why I buy Apple computers and not Windows based. You get what you pay for is more true than ever.

This conversation reminds me of a iPhone app that sold 8 times for $999 and all it did was display a red glowing gem. Irrelevant but a case that goes to the extreme of this spectrum.

Mark Adams said on February 12, 2009 10:24 PM

For 50 years at Vitsoe we have made furniture designed by Dieter Rams.

Frequently we have included - in print - the quote, “I am not rich enough to buy cheaply” because it says everything about why our customers keep coming back to us.

We design and make for the long term. Wherever possible, we sell directly to our customers so that we deliver the highest quality for the best possible price. Initially we do not look cheap but very quickly our customers tell us what great value we are.

Thank you for spreading the word.

Steve Firth said on February 13, 2009 10:38 AM

That is a fantastic phrase!

I’m always looking for ways to persuade people to do things properly and I’ve found targetting the wallet is an excellent way of doing so

Axel Berger said on February 14, 2009 4:10 AM

I’ve tried buying “quality” more than once and got bitten every time. Coffee machine jug breaks, as glass does when dropped. Lots of hassle and expense. Now I buy the cheapest. I’ve never had any problems and when I drop the next jug I get a new one cheaply and hassle-free. Expensive “quality” crockery, firm gone bust, no more replacements ever. Bought cheaply I don’t mind and who cares, cheap does the job just as well. Got an expensive quality angle grinder. Mate got five cheap ones, different tool in each, no changing tools, no hassle, great for work flow, built-in backup. Now I emulate him. Expensive all too often is flashy junk.
BUT: When getting quotes for the house I usually choose the highest one. Good workmanship really does save in the long run and of course another roof leak is not just the new repair but the hassle and all the ruined stuff inside. Same for shock absorbers. Lots of hassle to change. Konis are not cheap but I’ve seen them retain their full efficiency for 200 000 km. Same for tires and brake pads. With stuff that’s invisible and you can’t impress the neighbours with, you’re usually not cheated by the quality vendors, with clothes and other status gagetry you usually are.

Michael Gainer said on February 14, 2009 4:31 AM

I got the same sentiment from my father, but expressed as “Buy good tools. You’ll only cry once [over the price]”

Day Two Webdesign said on February 14, 2009 2:49 PM

You get what you pay for I suppose. And the whole concept of ‘cheap’ should not only refer to ‘immediate out of pocket costs’ but to overall cost in the long run.
So no: I cannot afford to go cheap.

Adrian Turner said on February 25, 2009 3:59 PM

No I can’t afford chearp. Thanks!