Avoid bargains in parachutes and brain surgery

“Avoid bargains in parachutes and brain surgery.” This old saying is out there in many variations and versions, but the message remains the same: Some things are too important to shop for on price alone.

Econ 101 taught us that some items are commodity goods — the product is the same regardless of the supplier, and therefore price is the only consideration in choosing the supplier. The traditional examples are sugar, rice, sand … (A separate argument can be made that even sand is not a commodity. If you’ve ever been to our Siesta Key beach here in Sarasota, that fine sugary sand is like no other, and is part of what makes Siesta Key so special.)

We are a society obsessed with price. It is blasted all over the media in every form; we brag loudly about how little we paid, and clam up and feel less-than when we hear that someone got a better deal! (Our parents and grandparents, on the other hand, did not feel that money was a topic for polite conversation … once, we may have thought they were just uptight, but maybe they were right after all!)

We might be wise to pay a little more attention to what we get for the money we spend. And to be sure, in some products it doesn’t matter — what you get is what you get, no matter what you pay, so get it cheap.

On the flip side of that, some things are too large or too important to get cheap … like parachutes and brain surgery. We could add a few things to that list. If you’ve ever used a bad lawyer because the price was low, you may have found that having your case handled sloppily cost you every penny you saved and much much more! Examples abound … with some items, you should buy the very best you can afford!

(As an aside, we often treat food like a commodity and buy the cheapest there is … then we complain endlessly about the medical system and its inability to affordably solve the problems our cheap foods cause. How well is that working for us?)

We all want the best value for our dollar, but we must have the intelligence to realize that value and low price are not always the same thing.

The effects can extend beyond the isolated transaction, too. Look at the industry where you make your own livelihood: isn’t it easy to give examples of how the general clamor for lower prices has hurt the quality of your product, reduced the value of your labor, and ultimately hurt your wages? Hmmm … a vicious cycle, perhaps?

When do bargain-hunting and smart shopping become just greed and pride? And how long will it take us as a society to figure that out?

And do I even need to suggest that real estate transactions, given their size and complexity, are important enough to be listed right along with parachutes and brain surgery?

Naaah, that’s too obvious (isn’t it?).

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