Do You Always Get what You Pay for?

Last updated on May 5th, 2017

Seriously, who came up with the phrase: “You get what you pay for.”

They were wrong, and I don’t agree. Mostly because every single day, Jacob and I find deals all over the place with little effort.

But just for fun, let’s consider that silly little phrase.

The argument is that buying higher quality items, even at higher prices, will save replacement and repair costs in the future.

For example, there is a popular excerpt from a story that comes from a fictional story by Terry Pratchett called Men at Arms: The Play, and it goes like this.

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars.

Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years.

A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

Now, if you’re nodding your head and thinking about how wise this story is and how much you agree with it, then you’re not alone. The story does call attention to the fact that it is possible to save money over the long haul when buying a higher quality item that will last longer.

But if you are applying the Boots story to each your recent purchases, you could be taking it too far.

This poetic and romanticized story is all most people need to justify their terrible spending habits.

They take one look at this story and think, “Why of course! I will spend more because higher priced items are undoubtedly of better quality!” and the thought becomes a spending crutch.

But let’s take a second to re-think how this theory applies to life in the 2000’s, when our boots are no longer made out of cardboard.

This story has 3 errors.

1. The story assumes there are only 2 options; cheaply priced and cheaply made boots or more expensive and higher quality boots. This is simply not the case in our modern times.

If you were actually looking to buy a new pair of boots, you would be caught up in an avalanche of options. Everything from the $22 pair at your local Walmart to the $8,000 pair we just found at Allen’s Boots in Austin, TX.

There are no longer merely cheap boots and well made boots, but level upon level of intermediate boots and every variation in between.

The lines between cheap, intermediate, and a high end boot begin to blur, and the endless choices become difficult to tell apart.

In fact, Jacob and I have purchased several pairs of $20 Walmart shoes and have been pleased overall. Based on our observations, it seems like expensive, name brand items aren’t of much higher quality these days. Many are manufactured in the same foreign warehouses, so what makes you think that Nike produces a superior product?

2. The story assumes that better quality boots always cost more. While in the story, this might be true, in real life this is not always the case. Great boots (and nearly everything else) can be had at a steal of a price if you take the time to research your purchase and wait for a sale to come along.

A great example is the seemingly endless list of items for sale at the dollar store. Take sunglasses, kitchen supplies, and frozen broccoli for example. All of these items cost $1 at the dollar store, as their identical twins sell for double, triple, or quadruple the price at your closest Walmart. Does that mean that the dollar store items are of less quality than the items sold at Walmart? Not at all. Side by side, you couldn’t tell the difference.

Another great example is buying at garage sales. Over the weekend I bought a glass juice pitcher that would have been priced around $10-$20 anywhere else, and I got it for $1. When you consider that my item of the exact same quality, the trite phrase, “you get what you pay for” is laughable.

And even if you still believe that price is indicative of quality, you should call into question the frequency at which people use this theory as an excuse to buy things they don’t need, at prices that are ridiculous.

3. The story doesn’t make mention of the enormous used market that is available in our modern society.

There are countless consumers here in America who delight in paying full price, then selling a year later for 60% off. Heck, some don’t even sell it, they just stick it outside at the garbage haul where you can pick it up for free.

Even if there are instances where higher prices are justified better quality, why not take advantage of the consumerism that plagues this country? Buy lightly used and pay next to nothing.

How do you escape the “you get what you pay for” myth?

1. Don’t assume:

Don’t assume that the higher priced item is of better quality. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

It’s important to question if the asking price reflects the true value of the item or if that is merely what the hoards of consumers will pay because of good marketing.

2. Do your research:

Research quality by reading reviews. Compare with similar items and determine which is the better value.

Research price before making a purchase, and be sure to research whether or not the item you’re buying can be found for a better deal elsewhere, either at a different store, or used.

3. Be leery of brand loyalty:

Don’t be suckered by brand loyalty. If you’ve  been using a certain brand for a long time, re-evaluate whether it’s worth it or if you’re just wasting your hard earned money.

4. Be patient:

So, say you’ve done your research and you’re convinced that buying the more expensive item is really worth it. Great!

Don’t buy it yet.

The majority of things will go on sale eventually. Wait until there is a great deal on your desired item before buying.

So what do you think. Do you always get what you pay for or do you agree with me, that high quality items can be had at low quality prices?

  1. Reply

    Alas, the issue with the Walmart boots (and even the more pricey ones) is knowing if it’s a FAIR price, and those involved in making the items are paid fairly. One can, and might assume that buying more expensive items are less likely to exploit the supply chain.

    Basically, constantly being fixated on price, pushes companies to lower quality to achieve the price point which makes us buy buy buy. Sad.

      • Jacob
      • September 13, 2014

      Please explain:
      1) Please tell me how you “know” if something is fairy priced. I let the market price things, since that’s the most efficient method.
      2) Why would anyone assume that expensive items do anything other than increase the profits of the manufacturing company? That’s Econ 101.
      3) Wrong again. Increased efficiency and consumer demands are the pricing factors in a free market. You make claims, but lack the supporting evidence.

        • Jane
        • September 15, 2014

        I think the issue she’s hinting at here is that sometimes, stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and other major department stores don’t follow fair labor practices to get you the items you want at an affordable cost. While yes, the “market” might have priced the salaries of those employees at 20 cents an hour, that doesn’t necessarily make it “fair”.

        But like you said, just because it’s an expensive brand name does not mean it’s made in a “fair trade” environment. Most major brands, especially “luxury” brands, are made in China or somewhere similar. Even a fancy pants $400 Helmut Lang dress is made in China! Now while I don’t have issues with products being made in the developing world (quite the contrary if it’s done fairly), in certain regions of the world, corruption is rampant and fair-treatment of employees does not exist.

        Personally, I prefer to buy things used. I especially love finding leather purses at thrift stores or Ebay. When I need clothing, I buy used at thrift stores or eBay, or free items at swap meets. I’ve even found great leather shoes with little wear on eBay that have become my favorite dressy work shoes for $20 with shipping.

        When I do buy new on occasion, I try to buy from reputable companies that have good warranty fixes and have an ethics code they follow with their manufacturing plants. So when I spent $300 on a machine-washable ankle-length down jacket (a necessity in a northeastern urban city for a bus rider) it’ll last me numerous winters (my last cheap jacket only lasted 2 winters), and I feel better knowing it was made using fair trade processes.

          • Jacob
          • September 15, 2014

          This isn’t the place for a full blown discussion on economics, but my original point is that we should attempt to separate fact from opinion. In your example:
          1) Let’s not slander large department stores because they pay employees less than the American minimum wage. They are paying precisely what the labor market demands in that geographical location. “Fair” and “Unfair” are just individual opinions, and can be debated forever…
          2) “Fair trade” is another difficult term to define and I don’t want to debate the point. But if I knew for a fact that a company took great care of their employees, and their competitor treated employees like trash, I’d buy from the former every time. I guess that means we agree.
          2) Exactly! Brand Name and “Walmart” branded items are often made in the same labor markets, with similar materials. People need to stop worshiping clever marketing and understand economic facts.
          3) I love used too. Others seem perfectly happy paying retail prices and selling to us for next to nothing 🙂

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  3. Reply

    There was a time when branded goods were an indicaton of quality, and that meant value for money. That’s certainly still true to some extent these days (think BMW, Sony, etc.,) but recently it seems that many people are paying more for the brand itself… take the well-known logo off a pair of sneakers or a T-shirt and you wouldn’t be able to tell the branded version from a cheap sweat-shop knock-off.

  4. Reply

    For me, doing research consistently pays dividends. Information, including tips and reviews, are available to us online in a way that information has never been available before. I’m so grateful to be in a time where this is possible. Most of my decisions, at least big ones, include a lot of researching. Thankfully, I can say that I have’t regretted any!

  5. Reply

    My first thought upon reading your post was about shirts. For years, I bought the best quality shirts at the highest prices. They lasted for years some for decades. Now, with dwindling finances I buy much less expensive shirts. They tend to last for months before they start to unravel. In the area mens shirts at least, I believe that you get what you pay for. In fact, I think in the long run, you pay a great deal more for cheap shirts.

  6. Whenever I want to buy things especially those very expensive ones, I just wait until it is on sale. That’s the only the time I buy it. Hence, patience is truly the key and helps us save money.

  7. Reply

    It’s said price is what you pay and value is what you get. Sometimes, most times in fact you can get super quality items at low premiums or prices. Sometimes it calls for patience and research and striking when then deal is hot. So no, you don’t always get what you pay for…sometimes you get a bargain 🙂

  8. One major advantage our society has over anyone in history is the widespread secondary market. We have craigslist, ebay, and even facebook yard sale websites. On the boot theme, I recently bought an extremely well made, lightly used pair of waterproof boots for $3 at a yard sale. Just got to keep our eyes open!

    • Reply

      That’s so true. And great find on those boots!

  9. Reply

    The other thing to remember is that a lot of people won’t use the quality item they buy for the whole of its life. Therefore, there’s no point in buying top quality if you only need/ want the item for a short time. On the flip side, if you do buy quality items- should you find you no longer need/ want them- there is always a good re-sale market which there isn’t if you’ve bought cheap.

    • Reply

      This is true. The real art is in being discretionary enough to determine what is worth buying high qualilty and what isn’t.

  10. The going in assumption is if it’s expensive it must be good and the corollary is if it’s inexpensive it must be cheap. These can both be true but not in all cases, plus there are ways to minimize the expensive good quality item, as you point out. There is thrill in this, the same way there you can have a horrible feeling if something expensive turns out to be not worth it, in which case, thank dog for return policies!

    • Reply

      You’re right! Finding something great at a cheap price is ALWAYS a thrill! 🙂

  11. Reply

    Great post and take on the Vimes Theory! There are so many ways to get quality at a decent price.

    • Reply

      Your post inspired this one, so thank you for that. 🙂

  12. Reply

    Great points. Just because one thing costs more than the other it doesn’t mean it’s “better.”

    We love hunting for bargains too. 🙂

  13. Reply

    I agree with you here! My strategy is to buy used whenever possible. Like you mentioned with garage sales, quality used items are always the best deal, in my experience. I am a devotee of Craigslist, thrift stores, garage sales–you name it, I’ve probably bought it used!

    • Reply

      That’s awesome. I bet there is probably not a whole lot of brand name items in your home either.

  14. Reply

    I really like this post. It makes some great points, AND it uses one of my favorite literary characters to do it. Even when he falls for a false dichotomy, Vimes is super awesome. Props for referencing him and his special boots !

    • Kipp
    • August 29, 2014

    Very good thoughts. I have to say with all of the options it really is a blur to know what it the best purchase. An example is Aluminum bikes I recently purchased for the wife and I. So many options starting at the $130 range to over a thousand. I went with the $130 bikes because the value is in the frame in my opinion, and I am not a biking expert. If I find later that I do not like the seat, brakes, or anything else, I can upgrade those individual items with $140 to spend on the bike before I even reach the next cheapest aluminum bike that I found. And who is to say I wouldn’t want to make changes to the $270 bike in the future once I know my needs?


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