On BoingBoing recently, Mark Frauenfelder wrote a terrific overview of Cheap:The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel, who asks “What are we really buying when we insist on getting stuff as cheaply as possible?” The answers are a revelation and worth reading; they range from low-quality food supply and deserted town centers to low wages and the loss of craftsmanship.”Ruppels book offers suggestions for how to get ourselves off “the cheapness drug”, but the real fatso nugget of useful info in Frauenfelder’s post, are the questions he asks himself before buying anything, as he tries to practice her recommendations. I’ve reformatted his questions into a list:
“When I start thinking I need to buy something I first ask myself:
-If owning it will truly make my family’s life better in some way.
-Will it save us time, or consume time?
-Do I have to learn a new user-interface to use it?
-What am I going to get out of it?
-What would happen if I put off buying it for a year?
-What else could I spend the money on that might be a better choice?
-Is it something I can hand down to my kids or will it break?
-Can it be serviced and repaired at home?
-Will it make our household environment more pleasant, or less pleasant?
-Will it clutter the house?
-How much storage space will it consume?
….The one thing I don’t consider is how “cheap” something is. As a result, I don’t buy nearly as much stuff as I used to (it turns out that my decision not to be cheap has made me more frugal and thrifty) and the things I do buy more often end up being well-made and improve the quality of my family’s life.”
And here are Ruppel’s suggestions for breaking the habit of “cheap”:
“We can set our own standard for quality and stick to it. We can demand to know the true costs of what we buy, and refuse to allow them to be externalized, We can enforce sustainability, minimize disposability, and insist on transparency. We can rekindle our acquaintance with craftsmanship. We can choose to buy or not, choose to bargain or not, and choose to follow our hearts or not, unencumbered by the anxiety of that someone somewhere is getting a ‘better deal.”