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Why I Started Buying ‘Expensive’ Things

by Chloe Lee. |

I find everything expensive - 60 cents for an air suam (warm water)? A total rip off. RM40 for a BPA bottle? You’re kidding me. RM189 for a pair of heels? Outrageously overpriced! But when my new Mr DIY umbrella broke the very first time I used it, I realized that there is something amiss in my spending habits. I can’t keep buying ‘cheap’ things that don’t last. 

Firstly, let us define what ‘expensive’ things are. They are not necessarily branded or designer goods - they do not need to put a hole in your pocket. This does not refer to bare necessities such as food, toilet paper or toothpaste. Instead, this refers to non-essential goods (but we still kind of need) such as umbrellas, shoes or bags. This article is not one about privilege, but about making wiser financial decisions, reducing waste in our purchases and building a heart of contentment.

When it comes to buying things, you should evaluate each item on a case-by-case basis to determine if what you are paying for it is worth the price. Here are a few aspects you can consider:

1. Quality

The general rule of thumb is that cheap things don’t last and good things don’t come cheap. In fact, the only reason some companies could offer dirt-cheap prices is because they mass produce their items in poorer qualities. On the other hand, there are companies who market their products as ‘precious’ and ‘exclusive’ when they actually are not. For example, diamonds are not as rare as they market it to be.

Between a RM10 umbrella and a RM29 umbrella, I decided that it was wise to pick the cheaper option – because at that point of time, I would have saved myself a good RM19. But when it broke down before I even got to use it and had to buy a new one (a better one this time), I technically had to spend RM39 (cries).

A handy formula to refer to is the cost-per-use formula. When we buy something, we expect to be able to use it more than once (you heard that, little umbrella?) – the more uses we expect of it, the more we pay. It also depends if you intend to use something often. For example, if you’re a frequent gamer, buying the new Spiderman game for your PS4 means the game would be more worth it compared to someone who barely touches the controller.

If something is of a better quality, you naturally get more uses out of it; and if you want something of a better quality, they are naturally more expensive too.

2. Ethical issues

Source: Fashion Network

How do companies manage to lower their costs to offer such cheap prices? Other than it being in a poorer quality? The low prices could also be an indicator that somewhere along the production line, someone is being underpaid.

How do things end up so cheap? Are we indirectly supporting child labour or robbing people off minimum wages? Globally, over 152 million children are victims of child labour (stats of 2018); if not, it could be the case of abusing factory workers. Even prominent figures or brands are seen to be promoting such activities – Beyonce’s apparel brand, Ivy Park, was said to be paying their Sri Lankan factory workers only 0.54USD (RM2.24) per hour. Even George, from Masterchef Australia, was caught underpaying his staff. It is even more unfair because these brands aren’t even cheap, but they still marginalise their workers anyway!

We always pat ourselves on the back for finding a good deal (I love good deals!), but do we know what goes behind the production of these goods that we love so much? A personal favourite, Lush, is a brand that is very transparent with their entire production-line. They are transparent with their ingredients, and have tons of videos on YouTube on how certain products are made. In fact, most of their bottled products come with a label of the person who made that very product.

It’s easy to be ignorant, but companies essentially supply what we demand for. If we purchase items in lower prices, we are directly demanding for items in poorer qualities and indirectly endorsing low wages or even child labour.

3. Greed: Your wants vs your needs

Honestly, I don't need another pair of fluffy slippers and my bottle water is still very functional – but I buy new ones anyway. Why not? They’re so cheap! They’re on sale! Having the mindset that I can keep buying cheap things eventually cultivates a spirit of greediness, which is very unhealthy.

Not long ago, Marie Kondo was super popular and everyone was clearing out their closets, decluttering their houses and getting rid of things they no longer need. When things are so cheap, we buy things that we do not necessarily need, but only because it was cheap. Before we know it, we are hoarding and adding sentimental values onto things that we shouldn’t have gotten in the first place, and we end up creating so much waste!

Personally, to manage my own expectations, I allocate a percentage of my earnings for shopping (which isn’t a very high percentage to begin with) and if something I want to buy exceeds that limit, I then take it as an indicator that I simply cannot afford that item. For example, I think owning a Dyson vacuum cleaner would be pretty fancy but I know for a fact that it is beyond my paycheck. I have the choice to then settle with a vacuum cleaner of a different brand and comes at a cheaper price – but is that what I want? Is that what I need?

Some things come available with installment plans, like massage chairs, the question is to then ask if I’m willing to have extra expenses each month?

Years ago, we only needed to buy new clothes once a year – often during New Year or similar celebrations; however, because of fast fashion, mass production and online shopping, purchasing new items on a weekly or monthly basis is now a norm – almost a trend. In fact, we don’t actually need that many new things (we really don’t). Of course we should ‘treat’ ourselves once in awhile, but we don’t need to go bankrupt during that process.

4. Product authenticity

Some say that imitation is the best flattery, but it isn’t very profitable for companies to have their designs or concepts stolen and sold for a cheaper price. Companies and brands work really hard and invest a lot in order to come up with new innovations and unique designs, but their work is being stolen in broad daylight.

If you worked really hard to come up with an idea you think is bright and amazing, how would you feel if someone copied it and offered it at a far cheaper price? Firstly, it lowers your personal value because the effort and time you put into creating such a product has been ignored. Secondly, it also degrades the idea of your creation. By supporting imitations, we are hurting the originality of the product we purchase.

In other words, this is not an excuse to chase after brands of luxurious goods. Instead, it is asking yourself what you really need, what it means to spend wisely, how to reduce waste and to be content with what you have. If you need to buy something, don’t settle for cheap alternatives that come in poorer qualities, have adverse effects onto the lives of others, or are hurting the environment; buy things that would last a long time even if it means having to spend more for it.

You can learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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