We've all heard the sayings "You get what you pay for," "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" and "You can't get something for nothing." In each of these, the message is the same: everything comes with a price. And getting the most for your money involves more than just being able to identify a price that is too high — it's also knowing when a price is too low.
Cost is the amount that you pay upfront for a product or service, but value is your long-term relationship with it. In these tough economic times, it's important to be cost-conscious, but there is a huge difference between being frugal and being cheap. Being frugal involves looking for the best overall value; being cheap just means looking for the lowest price no matter what.
If everything does indeed come with a price, then sometimes the price of cheapness can be too high! Let's take a look.
It pays to be frugal — not cheap
Say your regular hair stylist has just moved away and you need to find a new one. If you are frugal, you might research online which stylists and salons in your neighborhood have the best reviews, make a list of these stylists, call them to find out what they charge, and then make an educated decision based on the combination of convenience, reviews, price, and perhaps the reputation of the salon where they work.
A cheap person in the same scenario, however, is looking for the lowest price — period. It's easy to see how this approach can backfire. What if the cheapest haircut is a two-hour drive away? Or if the stylist has terrible reviews, or none at all (which could indicate a lack of experience)? Or if the salon is part of a chain with a cringe-worthy reputation?
The worst case scenario is that you'll spend all day driving to get a haircut that you'll have to have immediately redone elsewhere, saving neither time nor money. There is another well-known saying that applies to this situation: "It pays to have it done right the first time."
Eyes on the prize
It's easy to be tempted by super-low prices, especially when money is tight. To prevent your inner bargain hunter from falling for those too-good-to-be-true offers, try shifting the focus away from what you are being sold and back to what it is that you actually need. Take time to define and prioritize which features are critical and which are not, as well as how the purchase will affect you in the long term.
Consider car maintenance, for example. If funds are scarce and all you are due for is a simple oil change, you may want to choose one of the specialty chains dedicated specifically to this one task over the elite mechanic with the great reputation and correspondingly high prices. However, if you need a skilled diagnostician for an issue with your brakes, then the specialist's expertise — and price — will be worth it for the long-term value and your own peace of mind.
The next time you need to choose a particular product or service, don't get pressured or rushed into a decision. Instead, let your requirements and desired outcome guide you in how and where you spend your money.
Pay peanuts, get monkeys!
When shopping for services, keep in mind that professionals charge professional rates. Those rates are based in large part on the education, experience and expertise that a qualified professional brings to a project. While there may be some regional variations, most professional services tend to fall within generally accepted price ranges, and you can sometimes get a rough idea of common rate ranges for specific services on the websites of many professional organizations.
It's also important to be aware that the internet has a long memory, especially if you are shopping for any service affecting your professional image. Just like an embarrassing Facebook photo, all aspects of your online presence will have an impact on your reputation far into the future.
Ultimately, when it comes to purchases that will directly affect your personal or professional well-being, it's wise to avoid going the cheap route and instead to make an investment in quality!
Karen Hodgson is the CEO of Translationz, a professional translation and interpreting services company. Karen is also the editor of Translation Journal, an internationally recognized publication focused on the translation and interpreting profession. www.translationz.com.au and www.translationjournal.net
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