Tuesday, August 31, 2004

You get what you pay for

Joy and I have talked a lot about how we decide what thing to buy when there is a choice. For instance, we bought mountain bikes before we were married and talked over all of the various options and choices. I think our philosophy is that you get what you pay for. We paid quite a bit more than the minimum for our bikes because we wanted bikes that would last a long time and have minimal problems. Joy hasn't used her bike much, but I've used mine to ride to work and so on. I'm very glad we paid extra to save a few pounds and get better components. I've had very few problems.

Now Lance Armstrong uses a bike (or rather several bikes) that is far more expensive with a carbon composite frame and the best components. Cost is really not a consideration for him, since the Tour de France is on the line and every ounce counts. But it would be ridiculous for me to buy his bike, since I'm mostly happy with something far less expensive.

I try to minimize the product of price and problems. For instance, I bought a cheap pair of binoculars at WalMart that got misaligned almost immediately. So I replaced them with Canon's 8 x 10 WP binoculars that are more expensive, but are much more durable. A more expensive pair wouldn't have enough fewer problems to offset the higher price. In fact, it's possible if I'd bought image stabilizing binoculars I would have had more problems, not fewer.

There isn't a magic way to find the optimum price point, but there are some rules of thumb:

  • Ask an expert for the one or two most important features and focus on those.
  • Don't pay for features you don't understand or care about.
  • Don't pay extra for a single, secondary feature.
  • Lighter, smaller and simpler tend to be undervalued traits.
  • When in doubt, go for the cheap models of a high-end brand.
  • Sometimes the off-brand will make really good models that get overlooked (and undervalued).

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