Price of a cheap thrill

When you buy something that's inexpensive but doesn't last, you're not getting value for money


Those of us starting out in our careers tend to gravitate towards the cheapest option - whether it's clothes, food or holidays, the more affordable, the better.

But I'm beginning to realise that in some cases, you really do get what you pay for and higher prices can sometimes mean better value.

A few weeks ago I unearthed a pair of black flats while spring-cleaning my shoe cupboard.

These shoes - which cost me about $15, or $20 at most - had been in storage for some time and were unworn, making them practically brand-new.

Or so I thought, until I wore them to work one morning.


The first inkling that something was amiss came minutes after I walked through the turnstile entrance to my office.

My right shoe felt unusually slippery, so I looked down to check - only to discover that most of the sole had come unglued from the shoe.

Frustrated, I braved the torrential rain to visit the cobbler at lunchtime - only to have the other shoe also separate from its sole while I was walking there.

At this point, I decided repairing the shoes would be an exercise in futility and hobbled back to the office.

For the rest of the day, I was reduced to wearing a pair of slippers usually reserved for post-gym ablutions.

Luckily, I had no external meetings or events to cover that day, or word would have got back to my editors about millennial journalists and their inappropriate attire.

All in all, the entire experience was extremely annoying and entirely unnecessary. I could have saved myself a lot of grief by wearing better shoes.

I know this because I do in fact own a few pairs of pricier work shoes.

Some were bought years ago and have seen me through many kilometres of travelling to interviews, pounding the streets for quotes in the run-up to elections and other forms of "abuse" associated with the life of a newbie journalist.

At $60 to $100 a pair, they were relatively extravagant purchases back when I had only just started drawing a salary.

But given that some of these shoes are still in my regular rotation today, that was $100 better spent than the $20 I wasted on cheap shoes which fell apart almost instantly.

Basically, some things are worth paying more for, especially if they will be used frequently - like shoes and bags - or are meant to last a long time - like home appliances or furniture.

This seems like common sense, but too often we fall into the trap of going for the cheapest option, then spending more money on replacements or maintenance when the item inevitably falls apart within months or even weeks.

While a higher price tag does not guarantee better quality, it (usually) significantly improves the odds.

This means you might end up spending less in the long run when you invest in the best quality you can afford.

But finding that sweet spot between cost and quality can be a challenge.

For instance, I can be convinced that a $200 bag is 10 times better in quality than one that costs $20.

But I cannot bring myself to fork out $2,000 for a bag because I find it difficult to believe that it is going to be 10 times superior to one that costs $200, or indeed 100 times better than its humble $20 counterpart.

As someone for whom shopping is a bit of a hobby (the same way this sentence is a bit of an understatement), I would argue that $200 is more than enough to buy a presentable work bag which can handle the demands of everyday use without falling apart. There is really no need to spend $2,000.

In other words, when the price tags approach stratospheric levels, the argument that "you get what you pay for" starts to break down.

Quality can improve only up to a point. Beyond that, any extra money the buyer is forking out likely goes into intangible things such as branding.

Ultimately, being prudent doesn't just mean saving money. It also means spending wisely.

This entails doing research before coughing up money for a purchase. Read reviews, visit multiple stores and compare products across different price ranges.

Think about your lifestyle and consider what items would be a worthwhile investment. For instance, a $2,000 bike might be a good buy for an avid cyclist but not for someone like me who can't cycle.

Find out where you can get good quality for a decent price. It is worth the effort to make sure your money goes towards durability and efficiency, instead of paying for brand names and marketing.

On that note, I welcome e-mails from anyone who would like to exchange tips on good shoe brands which won't break the bank. My wallet thanks you in advance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline ' Price of a cheap thrill'. Subscribe