Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Bottom Line

I've been thinking a lot lately about buying the expensive version. Of what? Well, of everything. On Food Inc. there's a man who compares buying food to buying a car asking: who goes into buying a car saying something like "I want the cheapest car that I can get." Most people obviously don't because you realize that in paying a little more for a car you are buying reliability, or safety, or even comfort. The same goes for food--just with different characteristics like taste and -in truth- safety again.

Jeremy and I have held this position about food for a long time now. That's something that I've really appreciated about Jeremy as a husband--I never have to worry that I'll be repremanded over the grocery bill. We recognize that good food costs money. But over time our definition of good food has narrowed, and the potential cost has continued creeping up.

Recently a woman who's blog I read talked about making something herself particularly because she could get it cheaper in the store, recognizing that the cheapness of the product most-likely indicated. . . something negative. She didn't state her exact oppinion. Perhapse she feels it was a lack of ethical business practices on the part of the manufacturer, or dislikes the idea of so much of what we buy in this country coming from China. It's an interesting thought though.

Then there was an add for a nice leather bag Jeremy saw that says, "Your children will fight over it when you're dead." Goods made of such high-quality materials and of such high workmanship will obviously cost a lot more than a Jansport bag. But we want that. We want quality goods that wil last for a long time. We get annoyed by magazine articles that talk about how cell phones are designed to break irrepairably the week after your six-month warranty runs out. We're tired of all the cheap bookshelves we got when we first got married which are now in shambles.

So we are definitely getting to this point where we are becoming more comitted to paying more for things instead of looking for the cheapest version. But there is a flipside as well.

I completely, one hundred percent, absolutely hate paying for a label.

I see no reason to pay $100+ for a pair of jeans. They are made of cotton. Cotton is cheap. Cotton grows in America (Arizona to be precise) so the materials don't need to be shipped all over the globe. And jeans wear out quickly. These are reasons why I don't think I should spend that much on Jeans.

But consider a nice pair of leather shoes. I can see the value of paying $100 for a nice pair of leather shoes--I never have, but I can see the reasoning--if you pair nice materials with nice workmanship that will last for years. But another reason why I don't appreciate designer labels is because I don't see the point of buying an expensive pair of shoes that are so stylish that they will quickly be out of style. Then you have wasted all the quality materials and workmanship on a product that is now "obselete." Really--is that even ethical?

So I want to spend more, but just on the things that matter, and for the things that don't? Well, I'm not sure, but I still don't want to get them from China. . .


Jen said...


This is actually something I've been thinking about intensively for several months.

We paid $275 for a half-share in a local CSA. It's definitely more expensive than buying our produce from the grocery store, but--like you mention--it's not all about money.

I also like that you brought up the idea that there is something our kids will "fight about when [I'm] dead." I look around my house and I wonder, "Is there anything here that will LAST that long? Is there anything I own that will stand the test of time?"

I see paying more for quality food as an investment--pay more now and avoid the debilitating cost of medical care down the road when our bodies finally reject our lifestyle--when they finally say "ENOUGH! Stop treating me this way!"

And in the words of Michael Pollan--(paraphrasing)--you can eat anything you want, as long as you make it yourself. =)

I could go on. But I won't.

Have you ever made your own butter? It's next on my list of experiments.

JosephJ said...

Now you're really eliciting a "here, here!" response from me. I appreciate the conversation about cheapness, frugality, value, quality, durability, legacy. Are the future's "antiques" from the 1990s and 2000s going to be looked upon simply as old junk?

I think I used to be a quantity kind of guy, in that I was looking at the $$ first, and the quality second. If it wasn't cheap enough, there could be no justifying the level of workmanship. I bought international version paperback college textbooks, the $30 tires, and the buy-one-get-one free couches from DI. I bought the 20 lb sack of russet potatoes, the gallon of salsa, and 10 lb bags of apples. (And for the record, my goal was $15 jeans and $20 shoes). I would analyze everything for basic value.

Part of the impetus for these choices was my fledgling fear of running out of money. So I ate alot of baked potatoes with salsa on top. :) Incidentally, my cheapest jeans were the ones that lasted the longest, because they were thick (i.e. least comfortable) and weren't stonewashed (i.e. pre-discolored and pre-tattered). I was meeting my needs in the most economical way. I never felt deprived, because I knew a day would come when I could have nicer-than-basic things.

Now that we're further down the road, we tend to look at the quality first, and the $$ second. If it's not sturdy enough to withstand heavy useage, or if it doesn't match our tastes, then we're unlikely to buy it regardless of the discount. As you said, we're getting tired of sub-par performance. We can get 5 lb of yukon gold potatoes (or RED potatoes!) and 12 oz. of that fancy salsa. And glory me! Jen selects the apples one by one. She's got a soapbox all of her own on the food topic...

I won't pretend that I'm not still petrified that if we don't save more we'll never be able to afford a house. Most expenses cause a bell in my brain to signal "how much longer will I have to save now?" So my new strategy: If I want something that's really nice-- I get it second-hand from someone who took good care of it. I don't put much stock in being the first owner of a car or furniture or appliance if the first owner provided proper maintenance.

I still don't buy the expensive shoes, though.

Aleatha Shannon said...

Once I heard someone say, "My grandpa said that in his life he's had 'One car, one house and one woman.'" Meaning that his car, his house, and his marriage were all high quality and lasted for decades. Who can say that anymore? Cars especially just aren't made to last that long these days.

When we first moved here and I was looking for used furniture, I found a beautiful couch and chairs set on Craigslist that said something like "This set belonged to my parents who bought it as newlyweds in the 1930's. It has been reupholstered once." They kept that set for their entire married lives! I can't buy a brand new living room set like that at a "newlywed" price and expect it to last for 80 years like theirs did! It's just impossible anymore!

I really love this post, Jeanette. I'm actually writing a post tomorrow along a similar line of thinking. :D


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