Never buy anything because it is cheap, never buy anything because it is expensive. Obvious? In theory yes, in practice, we use these as subconscious metrics far too often.
Everyone has heard “A man will pay $2 for a $1 item he needs, a woman will pay $1 for a $2 item she doesn’t need” – A neat little phrase which nonetheless fails to include my roommate’s mother, who will spend $30 on 100 x $1 items that we will eventually use up at some point, because they were on sale at Costco. Too often imagined value is a real problem, the hunt for a bargain is sufficiently compelling to encourage us to buy things we wouldn’t bother owning otherwise, and we end up with a three foot stack of paper cups. No really, we do. There is one beside my fridge. I have bought items of clothing I have thrown out a year later having never worn, simply because I could get three of them for a fiver. But as I become a grown-up and continue doing my real job in the big bad world I have slowly kicked this habit, and discovered a whole new way of being fiscally stupid.
Cartographer once asked me why people buy designer handbags. The cause of the question was a particular designer handbag which aside from its maker being Chanel entirely failed to be in any way noteworthy, and was being sold secondhand by someone in her place of employ. The only answer I could give her as to why anyone would want this unremarkable piece of leather was that it was – to anyone who cares to know about these things – Chanel couture. Theoretically meaning it is a classic and timeless accessory, suitable for use at all occasions and times of life, actually meaning it cannot have cost less than a thousand dollars as couture items never go on sale. Grasping this with her usual intelligence, candour and utter disregard for things that make no sense, she posed the question of whether this was then only a slightly more subtle way of pinning hundred dollar bills to your hat, and I had to admit she was irrefutably correct.
I have no objection to paying large quantities of money for beautiful things. I myself have something of a weakness for designer shoes*. I can see the value in a rare or difficult design, or in a perfectly cut suit, or a distinctive dress. As I gradually earn more I find my objection to paying a lot for something I want dissipating somewhat, but thats not a reason to assume something that costs less is inferior.
There is an innate tendency in the human mind to conform to an accepted concept of value. The aphorism that something is worth what people are willing to pay for it is not entirely accurate when thus phrased, what we should be saying is that something is worth to you what you would be willing to pay for it. To me, some things are just not worth it no matter what the rest of the world thinks. Which is why I will never own a Dior handbag, an antique desk, or a house in Dublin city, though I certainly wouldn’t mind owning all 3. Unless of course I become a millionaire, at which point I imagine my interpretation of value will change.
The real problem arises when you let other people’s judgments of value become your own. That handbag is worth two thousand dollars, this house is worth six hundred thousand, or the most ludicrous of all – that diamond is worth five grand (I could rant about the stupidity of diamonds for days). Know what you really want, and never let anyone else tell you the value of anything.
*It has been my considered decision that spending $500 on something because I really like it is perfectly justifiable as long as it is my $500. In fact I can imagine few better reasons.