I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog writing about saving money and living a lower impact lifestyle. But sometimes I find strange anomalies in my life worthy of sharing. It has taken some time, but as I mature, I’ve realized that I’m becoming much less “cheap” than I once was, and I’m starting to view objects, purchases and experiences through the lens of total value. I went though a period of my life always looking for the least expensive solution to any problem I encountered. And I still value that perspective. However, occasionally I would end up making purchases or repurchases of objects that provided both an inferior experience and cost more in the long run.
So what is the “Nice Pencil Principle”? I’ll define the NPP as: Buying and using a high quality item can often be the most rewarding and cost effective way to utilize an object (or experience) over time. By purchasing the object or experience with rearguards to its total value instead of simply its price or quality, one can often come out ahead in the long run. And I’ll add the idea that sometimes paying a little more up front can actually be a cost savings proposition.
My fancy pencil example. I actually remember doing a little back-to-school shopping when I was in elementary school. I remember going to office depot and getting a large box of nice wooden #2 pencils. I had a whole box. I remember being excited and I used them every day for a month or two before I realized they were running out. I’m not exactly sure what would happen to them but they would slowly get borrowed, broken or sharpened until they were all gone. When I ran out I would just simply go get another box. When I reached middle school, I moved up to the five packs of cheap bic mechanical pencils and used those (or ones I found/borrowed) until the end of high school.
When I started college I decided I wanted a nice pencil. I was going to be a grown up and wanted to try it out. I ended up selecting a nice Pilot Mechanical Pencil. I didn’t know it at the time but I ended up keeping and using the same pencil daily for almost eleven years and it would become one of my favorite things. I had never owned a nice pen or pencil but using a fancy one was a much better experience than using the cheap disposal ones. The Pilot Pencil a better writing utensil than the #2 and it was nice enough that I took extra care of it and went out of my way not to lose it. Not only that, when you let someone borrow a regular wooden pencil they easily forget, but when you hand over a nice one they always return it. Because it is nice, it is actually easier to keep.
So, why would anyone spend $10 on a pencil if you can get one that preforms the same task for $1? For me, using a fancy pencil to do a lot of writing is great. But not only that, over the last ten years I have saved a lot of money and had a better experience! That is a great combination. Often, disposables provide an inferior experience and are more expensive over time!
I think tools can be another example of this. Or watches (but be careful). Or even, for me, sunglasses. Often, a really nice set of tools will last longer and perform better than the cheapest set possible. In some cases it makes sense to just get a cheap object for a single-use specific task. But if you plan (and actually will) to use something for many years it can be worth the extra expenses to get a quality product. As an added bonus, many quality products come with extensive or lifetime warranties and can be repaired rather than thrown away and replaced. I enjoy this concept because I dislike waste and prefer the idea of having quality things that I’m not throwing away every year.
I don’t want this to sound like an excuse to buy the most expensive things! In fact, I think the idea would be to evaluate, as precisely as possible, the value of an object and purchase according to what you expect to gain in return. Because cost is often a consideration, I am learning more and more that I would rather purchase a high quality used item than a new cheap disposable one. And to mitigate the risk and expense of buying high quality items, I always try and get the best deal possible.
The middle ground. There are times when I still have the debate about where to shell out big bucks, small bucks or tiny bucks on an object that I’m not sure if I will enjoy or not. Like the guitar. I decided that I wanted to learn a little about playing guitar. Now, you can get a guitar for $10, $100 or $10,000. So where do you start? Very few people want to spend money on a really expensive guitar if they might not end up liking it or decide that practice is simply not that fun. But you have to be cognizant of the fact that a really cheap guitar will not sound very good, loose its tune, and might be frustrating enough to make you want to quit. My traditional approach was going with a really cheap one, trying it for a few weeks or months then buying a fancier one (or three) if I liked it. And that works alright. But I’ve changed my tune a little bit and now I tend to just look for a really great deal on a used mid-range guitar that I could sell back for about what I paid for it (or more). This gives me the luxury of being able to try a decent instrument without the risk of a huge investment. I don’t always go for complete cheapness anymore.
So, in essence, buying and using a high quality item can often be the most rewarding and cost effective way to utilize an object or experience over time. Do you agree? Are there things you purchased that have lasted a life time? Or things where you over purchased? Which objects in your life exude the Nice Pencil Principle?