You Get What You Pay For

You Get What You Pay For

By Patrick F. Cannon

If you live long enough, and pay attention, you’re bound to learn something. One lesson people seem to forget from time to time and to their peril is this: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Related somewhat to this pearl of wisdom is a special favorite of mine: You only get what you pay for.

I learned this lesson the hard way. All the suggestions that follow are based on bitter experience. Many of you will have learned similar lessons, and may find my advice a bit late for you. I urge you to forward it along to your children, grandchildren, and other of your young friends so that they may benefit from our mistakes.

Here’s an example. When I was 19 or 20, my brother-in-law dragged me along to what he claimed was a fantastic men’s suit sale. It was taking place at what we might now call a “pop up” store (the implication being that the suits came from a truck hijacked on its way to Saks Fifth Avenue). I ended up buying two suits I didn’t really need (my job at the time didn’t require one). The first time I sent one to the cleaners, it came back a different size and shape. I complained to the cleaners, who nicely told me that is was the fault of the cheap fabric and bad tailoring. I bought my next suit at Baskins in Chicago, now gone, which was owned by Hart, Schaffner and Marx. It was much more expensive, but on the other hand it lasted for many years. Lesson learned.

These days, one often sees a commercial claiming that a retailer’s “Snappy Man” line of suits – regularly $750 – can be had for $299, and not only that! the second one is free! Now, a real $750 suit, say at Nordstrom’s, might go on sale for $599 at the end of the season (if they have your size, which is doubtful). If the only time you’re going to wear the suit is to the occasional wedding or funeral – and you’re not going to take it to the dry cleaners too often – maybe Joseph J. Skanks $299 double bill will work for you, but of course you’ll have gotten what you paid for.

(Again, back when I was a callow youth of 19 or 20, I briefly worked with a man who would buy his clothes at Robert Hall – a long gone cheapo chain that catered to men who couldn’t see well – and sew in labels from Marshall Field’s. He had other quirks and so was soon fired, so I never got a chance to ask why he didn’t sew the labels on the outside?)

By the way, I don’t have a clue about women’s duds, but I suspect the same principle applies: if you want quality, you have to pay for it.

Furniture is another area where quality counts. If you buy something that you have to put together, don’t expect it to last forever. I realize young people just starting out often have limited funds, and are thus lured to trendy stores like Ikea. That’s fine, as long as they realize the stuff is eventually going to be consigned to the alley next to the garbage cans. They would be better served by shopping at one of the many resale shops that deal in used furniture. Bored rich folks often tire of their quality stuff, hire a decorator, and donate the despised but expensive pieces to a charity or resale shop.

(Just as an aside, I just celebrated my 81st birthday. In fact, I’m really only 75. But I reckon that six years have been taken off my life by putting together cheap pieces of furniture. Every time I do it, I swear it’s going to be last time. I mean it this time!).

How can you tell the good stuff? For wood furniture – say a dining room set – try lifting it. If it’s too easy, it’s probably pine or some kind of composition material. Real Oak, Walnut or Mahogany will be really heavy. On cabinets, dressers and the like, pull out a drawer. If they’re constructed of actual wood, with dovetails and mortice and tenon joints (you can look them up to see what they look like), you can expect them to last. If on the other hand all you see are little nails, take a pass. Upholstered furniture can be tricky. Suffice it to say, if that snappy-looking couch costs only $599, it’s going to end up in the alley too.

Automobiles are a special category. First of all, some young people can’t be bothered to have one at all. If they’re hale and hearty, they ride their bikes to work, regardless of the weather; or they use their omnipresent phones to summon Uber or Lyftt; or, as a last resort, use public transportation. I’m talking about city slickers here. If through some accident of fate they actually get married and have children, they often end up in the suburbs, where they discover that biking 40 miles to work can be tiresome and time-consuming. Reluctantly, they discover that they may actually need an automobile.

Here, I must somewhat qualify my “you get what you pay for” philosophy. To be sure, your best choice might be a Rolls Royce, for which you would require a live-in butler/mechanic. It would probably outlast you, thus becoming a family heirloom. If you’re of a more-jaunty disposition, a Ferrari might suit you (again, you might require a full-time mechanic). Either might well set you back $300,000 or even more. Truth be told, however, a $30,000 car, properly maintained, could last 20 years or more. It would provide utility, but no fun.

If you like to drive – if the lure of the open road hasn’t died in you – I advise you to get your miles in while you can. Your betters are planning to eventually trap you in a self-driving vehicle as part of their long-range plan to take all the fun out of life. In this regard, I heard somewhere that New Hampshire is planning to change its state motto from “Live Free or Die” to “If you want to live free, move somewhere else.”

Copyright 2019, Patrick F. Cannon


One thought on “You Get What You Pay For

  1. As either Ben Franklin or my grandfather once said, never buy something you don’t want just to save money.

    As I come from a long line of impoverished penny pinchers, a corollary to this is, never buy anything you want unless it’s on sale.

    No Ferrari in my garage (alas), I drive a 2004 Subaru. Most of our furniture was acquired as hand-me-downs or at house sales. IKEA sells only one thing worth buying: their poang chair. We have three.
    They keep me young. I am only 59 years old.


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