You get what you pay for.
I am NOT talking about consumables here, such as clothes, shoes, toiletries, or food.
I am talking about those real “keepers” in our lives. That can be houses, cars, motorbikes, shoes, or tools. It is here where the real damage happens.
While it is always easy to just dump that cheap polo shirt or to not eat that cheap schnitzel, it is always difficult to change a more expensive item by replacing it with a new one. And with “expensive”, I mean not only “money expensive”. I also mean “time expensive”: it takes me years to find comfortable leather shoes that can be repaired if the sole wears out after some time.
Patents and trademarks are such keepers, too, just in case that you are not yet aware of that.
This article is about keepers, and why they are expensive when you buy them.
Actually, they have to be expensive. Otherwise, they would not qualify as keepers.
And you will not be able to compensate poor initial quality with whatever amount of time and money that you throw in at a later time.
What Makes A Keeper
I have a set of questions that distinguish a “keeper” from anything else. I apply these questions before I buy anything new in my life. And the older I become, the more strictly do I apply these questions (stolen from Dr. Gary North). Here are these questions:
1. Where will I put it?
2. How often will I use it a month from now?
3. If I don’t buy it, will I miss it in two weeks?
4. How long will it take me to learn how to use it? (This is a true killer.)
5. How much time will it save me?
6. How much money will it save me?
7. Will it actually work? (Read the two-star testimonials on Amazon if you are not an expert) yourself
8. What else will I be asked to buy? (Something, I promise you.)
9. Do I have the spare time to enjoy it?
If the answers to one or more of these questions are negative, I will usually not buy that thing.
My Shopping List
I also have a list of things that I want to buy. I am using Evernote for that (click here if you do not know Evernote). This list is thought through carefully so that I can willfully decide to only buy what I really want.
After I decide to purchase something, I put it on my shopping list. Then I wait at least a week, sometimes even months or years. Every now and then I go back and look at my list. It is often an emergency need that brings me back to my list.
If something still sits on my list after years, I probably will not ever use it. But I will keep it there, as a reminder to a certain point in time when I thought about purchasing it.
On a sideline only: I tend to get my things repaired before I buy anything new. That almost goes without saying.
And on another sideline: I also learn how to use each item that I have bought before I buy anything else on my list. This also reduces my rate of purchases.
But I am digressing.
My Triangle Of Consumer Happiness
I am not different from anybody else: I am happy if I get what I need if it comes when I need it, for an acceptable price, and in the required quality.
My above-described list solves only one of these three aspects: the time when I will buy something new.
I usually look for a good price, and that means that I often buy something used (not shoes) and that also means that it must be of excellent quality. Otherwise, it would not be in an acceptable condition when I buy that thing “used”.
That “used” aspect comes with a few side-effects. One of these side-effects being that certain goods need some usage time in order to be turned into being fully useful. Take a house or a camper van: if you buy a house or camper van new from the builder of manufacturer it will only be suitable after a few years of using it. You will spend time and money improving them during these first few years. By buying a used house or camper van you can save that time and money.
The above does not yet take into account that both a house and a camper van depreciate a lot over the first few years. That also applies to all other goods, such as tools. In very short words, it is good to buy a depreciating high quality good only after they have been used a few years by someone else.
That brings me to my third happiness criteria: quality.
Being an engineer by training who went through a thorough apprenticeship as a bicycle and motorbike mechanic in my teenage years I consider myself an expert in mechanical tools. And I deeply relate to mechanical tools. And what applies to tools also applies all other tangible things in life: houses, cars, motorbikes, etc.
This is my experience: it never pays to buy cheap quality and to later try to crank up that cheap quality by investing time and money.
Examples: Why Cranking Up Cheap Quality Does Not Work
I found two enlightening videos about people who bought cheap tools and then tried to crank up quality by putting in their work time.
Watch them, it is worth your time if watching them prevents you from making the same mistake.
The first video is about a wood plane that was 90% cheaper than the original:
And the second video is about a milling vice that was 60% cheaper than the original:
The result in both cases is the same: the investment in time – counted in $$$ – for improving a cheap tool ultimately made that cheap tool more expensive than what the corresponding high quality tool would have been at the time of purchase.
I have seen similar cases when it comes to houses, tuned cars, and firearms.
The Same Applies To Intellectual Property (IP) Rights
Why I mention this on my blog that deals with IP.
The same principle applies to patents, trademarks and registered designs: buy cheap and pay twice.
The money that you save when drafting and filing your IP right will be spent when you try to assert your IP right against a competitor in the future.
And you will spend often much more. And that extra money spent may not help you because you will never be able to achieve that quality that is necessary for winning a court case.
I have seen that pattern often.
And believe me, that is always a somewhat bitter insight.
Individual approaches to quality probably depend a lot about experiences that are made early in life.
In my case, it was a thorough vocational training in a challenging professional environment. That experience came together with my inherent mindset that favors substance over appearance and style.
Some want to call that “German” but I found people of similar thinking and behaviors all over the world.
Here is my rule of life that I draw from that experience: you might not be able to compensate that poor initial quality with whatever amount of time and money that you throw in at a later time.
Martin “Substance” Schweiger