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We Can’t Afford To Buy Cheap

1 December, 2007

Inspired by a thread on Aussies Living Simply I thought I’d write something about this.

For example, we buy a cheap item of clothing. It gets stretched out of shape the first time it is washed. So we buy a slightly more expensive version from a inexpensive department store. It lasts a little while, maybe a season if you’re lucky, and then is threadbare, has a hole or is also stretched out of shape. So next season, a new one is bought.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper (financially and environmentally) to purchase one good quality item that will last five years (or more) instead of five cheap ones? Or purchase second hand in the first place?

You also have the risk of higher running costs for some cheaper products. A poor quality saucepan will not conduct heat well and will require more energy to cook foods. A more expensive washing machine will usually use less power and water than a cheaper washing machine. A cheaper car may use more fuel per km than a more expensive car. It may not be possible to repair a cheap blender, whereas a good quality one will be able to be repaired, saving money and waste. The ongoing costs of “cheap” purchases are well worth considering.

Or kids toys. Why buy 20 cheap nasty toys for $2 each, across the year, to have them break within the first week, when that $40 might buy a small toy that will last ten or more years (think lego, duplo, brio train sets for example). And, on top of the wasted resources and expense, you then have distressed children because their “precious” new toy has broken.

Buying cheap supports sweatshop labour in third world countries. It costs a lot, environmentally, to have these items shipped from (usually) Asia. Then there is the health risks to oneself and ones children. We have seen recently recalls of products made in Hong Kong and mainland China that contain unsafe levels of toxic chemicals. Toys have been the major “victim”, but there have been recalls of other products such as toothpaste and blankets recently, too.

Buying cheap also fails to support cottage industries, artisans, crafters and small businesses that make high quality products. It also fails to support fair trade products and community development projects in third world and developing countries.

Buying cheap food can have the same implications. Generally produce that is in season locally will be cheaper than out-of-season imported goods. However, organically farmed produce is better for the environment and probably better for your body too! It costs a bit more, but what value should we put on the environment and our own health. Buying cheap white pasta at 55c a 500g bag may seem like a wise food purchase. However, wholemeal pasta will make you feel more full on a smaller portion, and keep you satiated for longer. Buying fast food may (in some cases) be cheaper than a home-cooked meal but is it worth the “cost” of pumping our bodies full of trans fats, artificial colours, flavours and preservatives etc.

There can be other health costs associated with cheap purchases. A cheap pair of shoes may seem sufficient for wearing for a season, particularly for children who grow out of shoes quite quickly. However, cheap, ill fitting and unsupportive shoes may damage a child’s growing feet and cause them pain and suffering (as well as expense) later in life. A cheap toothbrush may not clean teeth adequately, resulting in cavities and gum disease. Even the stress caused by unreliable products is a health risk!

However, buying good quality products can be quite difficult for those on a limited budget.

This is where second hand purchases (op shops, garage sales, trading post, classifieds, for-profit second hand dealers, reclaimed goods etc) come in. While also being environmentally friendly, they are friendly on the “hip pocket”. The only downside to buying second hand is that it can take time to trawl through second hand dealers and patience to wait, sometimes weeks (months or even years) for what you are looking for to become available at the right price. Sometimes you can’t “afford” to wait that long. Then a judgement needs to be made. It it wiser to purchase a quality, brand new item now, and cut back in other areas, or to purchase a cheaper, poorer quality item and save the family unnecessary short term hardship. Sometimes it will be worth the short term sacrifices and sometimes it wont.

In the end, God asks us to be good stewards of all He has given us, including our money. For some, the wisest and most God-honouring thing to do would be to only purchase high quality items. For others, it might be to purchase more inexpensive items to “tide them over” or perhaps not purchase at all. In the end, it is between that family and God.

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