How much is that cheap thing costing you?


I’m a big fan of purchasing responsibly. I’m not profligate with my spending, but I do feel like it’s important to spend a little extra on certain things that provide a significant return, be it personally or financially.

But I also have learned over time to take a longer view of purchases. It’s not just what something costs now, it’s what something costs over the long term.

We see this most obviously with credit cards or “no money down” schemes. Sure it’s cheap (or free) today, but over the long term it will cost more than if you had just paid for it.

But it’s not just debt. Sometimes we cheap out and it ends up costing us more.

To give an example of that, I give you the New York City umbrella.

The NYC umbrella

NYC doesn’t rain as often as, say, Portland, but when it does, it doesn’t mess around. And since one is more often than not on foot, when it rains, you feel it. And a rain jacket isn’t nearly enough. The downpour can soak your entire wardrobe in the time it takes to walk from the subway station to your destination.

So an umbrella is often needed.

In NYC, there is (or at least there was) a particular umbrella that was sold by all the street vendors. Seriously, they all sold the exact same umbrella. It was a plain black umbrella with a curved plastic handle.

I can’t believe I can’t find a picture of it anywhere online, but such is its notoriety that it was described by none other than The Wall Street Journal as being “barely wide enough to shelter a troll and the faux-pebble handle resembles a deformed talon from some monstrous bird of prey.

Damn. No love there.

And here’s why: it would last approximately one rainstorm, and then disintegrate.

I lied. I actually did find a picture of the NYC umbrella, in its most commonly-seen form:

NYC umbrella
The NYC umbrella doing what it does best. Source

These things are horrible. They pretty much turn inside out as soon as a breeze blows with the intensity of a whisper.

Most commonly they were $5, except when it was actively raining out, when the price was doubled to $10.

For years, I bought these umbrellas over and over, thinking I was getting a great deal. And I didn’t feel like I had the money for a more expensive umbrella, so it was all I could do.

I can reasonably assume $20 a year in umbrella expenditures.

And that is what happens when you don’t think long-term.

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A better umbrella

At some point, my mom visited me and, presumably taking pity on her son, bought me a real umbrella. I believe it was around $20. I remember thinking that it was a lot of money to spend on an umbrella at the time. I was supremely grateful.

And here’s the thing. I still have that umbrella today, over a decade later.

My umbrella
Yup, this is my umbrella.

That’s a fixed $20 cost in umbrella expenditures.

Now compare that to spending $20 a year on umbrellas. Which one is a better deal?

What color is your cheap umbrella?

Forget the umbrella. What are you cheaping out on?

What are you buying that either breaks or doesn’t work well, costing you time, money, and frustration? Is it the $2.99 can opener that cuts your hands and snaps after a few uses? What about your lumpy mattress that makes you waking up feeling like you’ve been kicked in the back by a donkey?

Could you save up and buy something nicer? Well, some people can’t, but some of you can, with a little intentionality and focus.

I’m not advocating for luxury purchases, you understand. But I am saying that by buying the cheapest possible thing, you are risking spending more in the long run, and without any of the benefits of having spent all that extra money. Try to stay dry.

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