Sunday, February 18, 2007

Recognizing Quality

Thanks to the current glut of imported goods, we now live in a disposable society, Most of the goods we buy are made cheaply; we use something up and throw it out and buy another when necessary. After all, today these goods are at bargain prices, so why not?

Take hand mixers, for example. At one time, a good hand mixer cost $40-50. If it broke, you had it repaired because you had put a lot of money into the purchase of it and you wanted it to last. But now, thanks to technological advances (and mass production in countries with a much lower standard of living and therefore lower rate of pay than ours), you can buy a hand mixer for $8-10. With such a minimal investment, when it breaks (and it will), you can just buy another. It’s not worth putting money into repairing it. You can try buying a more expensive model (I have done so several times), but even if you spend $50 on a new hand mixer, it will break. You might as well buy the $10 model and plan to replace it on a regular basis.

For those of us who care about being good stewards, this is a tough call. It makes no sense to have something that inexpensive repaired at a cost equal to or greater than its worth. On the other hand, to keep replacing these poorly made hand mixers seems wasteful. We’re not being good stewards when we put more money into something than it’s worth, yet we’re not being good stewards by tossing electronic equipment into landfills on a regular basis.

This conundrum will be solved eventually, as the countries where such products are manufactured so cheaply get a tiny taste of the affluence their new-found income brings, and want more. Writing about the new affluence of former third-world countries in Fortune magazine, Justin Fox reports:

"Indian call-center workers may make a lot less money than Americans (salaries start at about $2,000 a year), but they make a lot more money than fresh-out-of-college Indians who aren’t computer geniuses have ever made before."

Fox goes on to describe the lifestyle one Indian call-center employee, Anshul Pathak, age 23, now has thanks to his new job:

"Along with his Maruti Suzuki 800 subcompact, he has a Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle. His mobile phone is a Sony Ericsson T610 with a built-in camera. He banks with Citibank. On nights off he hangs out with friends in bars where he favors the local beer, Kingfisher, but others go for foreign concoctions like Bacardi mixed with Sprite. Or they go to Starbucks-like coffee shops where a cappuccino costs $1---an absurdly large sum to older Indians. Pathak watches American movies, That ‘70s Show, MTV. He brushes his teeth with Colgate. He owns a pair of Nikes and a pair of Reeboks."

As more jobs go to the people in such countries as India, their standard of living will rise. As we’ve seen in the United States, the increased affluence will lead those people to expect higher wages to finance an ever-increasing standard of living, which will bring up the price of the products they produce and sell to us. The more we pay for those products, the less we will be inclined to pitch and replace them as soon as they stop working properly. We’ll be more likely to have them repaired.

Or not. Some people get into that pitch-and-replace groove, and it becomes the natural thing to do. But that is an expensive way to live. For those of us who try to keep a lid on our expenses for whatever reason (to live on one income, to survive on a modest income, to be a good steward), it is not even an option.

But there is another option, one that allows us to be good stewards of what we are given. If we learn to recognize quality in the items we buy, we can slow the rate of speed at which we fill the landfills. We can give things we no longer need to others for their use. We can make our money last longer because we won’t need to replace things so often.

What is this option? It’s the recognition of and insistence on quality. Once you educate yourself about quality, you can make wise decisions and not have to replace things so often, thus keeping down expenses while increasing your satisfaction with what you have.

That’s the practical advantage of quality. But there’s another advantage, one that can’t be measured, and that’s the pleasure that something of high quality can give us. The aesthetic value of a beautifully made set of oak bookshelves cannot be measured in mere dollars, and can’t be replicated by an assemble-it-yourself fiberboard set of bookshelves. The set of oak bookshelves will look better and hold together much longer, so that not only will you not have to replace it, but you’ll be able to hand it down to your children.

Of course, in order to appreciate oak bookshelves (so said shelves don’t end up in the garage holding paint cans someday), our children should be taught to recognize and appreciate quality. That ability is becoming rarer these days, but it will be necessary for our children, because as we become more inundated by cheaply made goods from other countries, it is very likely there will be a backlash that will cause people to want quality goods again.


oratiomom said...

It is hard to teach children to look for quality in a culture that emphasizes the quick buck and I want more FOR less.

"Mom, let's get that one, it's cheaper..." It sounds like mom doesn't want to save money-she wants to buy the more expensive product. If Mom buys the cheap one-she'll have more money left in her pocket!

It is all about the short term when it comes to the kids today-yes, even mine. They want more now-not save later. Everything is NOW for my advantage. Who wants to think about tomorrow?

That is why I life your Life Prep book for Teens. It teaches about investing, quality and value! We are going over the food expense section with our daughter who has Special Needs and our son-who has NO concept of food budgeting, (hey, he's 15 what can I say!)

Teaching children and teens to recognize quality is hard, but you are right it must be done!

tootlepip said...

Thanks for the Great food for thought!


Dana said...

It is so hard to find quality, though. Really...we have searched and searched for a good mop. It is insane. I don't know what it is about Swiffer that made something in me snap, but everything truly is moving toward being disposable.