I just read an interesting post from Escape the cube asking whether we are part of a trend where “cheap” is the new “green”. My guess is a qualified yes. It is a co-opted kind of “cheap” that might be popular for a few years after which it will be replaced by another commercialized version of a conscientious trend. For instance, hydrid cars are green washed environmentalism. I understand modern hybrids gets around 50mpg (miles per gallon). Now this is slightly better than a traditional compact car at 30mpg. It is therefore hailed as an awesome piece of technology. Yet this is just because our standards are pathetic, perhaps due to 10mpg SUVs? Consider this 1959 Opel T-1 that gets 376 mpg. How was this achieved? Very simple: By reducing weight and friction (duh!). In comparison a cyclist on a bicycle gets around 650 mpg. Cycling is the most efficient form of transport known to man. It is more efficient than walking, sailing, driving, … so greenies drive a bike. Buying a high tech hybrid car is an oxymoron – like glossy simple living magazines.

What is happening here is that cheap is confused with frugal. I don’t think anyone is consciously being cheap, yet that is what the media picks up on and thus $80 preworn jeans are born.

Escape the cube made a list, so I thought I would make a similar list to dispel some of the myths what a “cheap” person spends money on

What I will spend a lot of money on:

  • Stocks! If I have $3000 lying around, I will probably buy N x 100 shares (*) of a company on my buy list. I get a kick out of being a capitalist. To me they’re not just numbers on a statement. It’s ownership. It’s 200 sqft of a factory, a delivery truck, or a cubicle where things are getting done.
  • I have a wrist watch fetish. The last watch I got was a 30mm Omega Seamaster. Yes, it is partially insane to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a mechanical watch when a $10 quartz watch is both more precise and more accurate, but I genuinely appreciate the engineering that makes a bunch of cogwheels tell time to within 1-2 seconds a day. This makes a greater impression on me than art. I wish I could own my own steam engine or water turbine. I have also looked into music boxes. Mechanics just rocks.
  • Exercise equipment. I usually get the best of the best. The kind of equipment you would find in an Olympic gym. Not the kind you’d find at Sears or even at your regular commercial gym.
  • Outdoor apparel. I don’t know why but there are just things that $400 jackets can do that $100 jackets just can’t in terms of cut and quality. One reason might be that I tend to spend more time outdoors seeing that going somewhere is not just a 10 second walk between an air conditioned building and an air conditioned car for me.

(*) I prefer to buy round lots to get limit orders filled more efficiently!

What I won’t spend any money on (if given a choice). It’s not even a question of spending my money – it’s spending any money on these things:

  • Bus tickets for anything shorter than 5 miles. I’d rather just start walking than wait for the bus. 5 miles might be okay if going with a group, but for a 1 mile trip, I’ll just bet the group I can get there faster on foot. How about 6 minutes?
  • $5 coffee. Once it becomes fashionable to drink juice, eat salads or cookies at cafes, I won’t be paying $5 for a juicy-choco-lettuce cookie either. If you want to hear a rant on consumerism and sheeple, try dragging me [kicking and screaming] into a Starbucks.
  • Knick-knack and souvenirs. Things must be useful. Otherwise they are just taking up precious space. The worst problem is when someone gets me something cute. Then I feel bad for hating the poor little thing 😛
  • Preprocessed food. Like meal-in-a-bag or a can. I don’t think this is any healthier than fast food. I’m still suspicious of cake mix.
  • Utensils and tools with very limited use. Enter the notorious hot chocolate maker. Now I don’t drink hot chocolate (like ever), but if I did I would just heat it in a pot (remember to stir). As such I don’t understand what useful purpose a hot chocolate maker serves. The same goes for electric egg boilers, rice makers, electric can openers, etc. It’s just over-engineering.

In general, one could say that in my value system the actual sticker pricer is not so important. Rather it is the lifetime cost of something. $5 coffee is incredibly expensive if turned into a habit. The same goes for preprocessed food. Knick-knack is also expensive because it tends to make one feel the need for an extra bedroom just like limited-use gadgets do.

Conversely, something might have a high sticker price (like a mechanical watch), but since it lasts for decades, the use and resource cost is actually very low. The same goes for other high quality items. Therefore “cheap” does not mean inferior as much as it means economically and ecologically efficient and meaningful.