Wednesday, May 8, 2019

You Get What You Pay For - Or Do You?

Paying twice as much for something doesn't mean you get twice as much.

We made the final payment on the trailer and got it registered and applied for a title.  We'll see how that works out.  Patty and Selma at the DMV seemed pretty skeptical about titling a trailer that exists only as a frame and VIN plate at the present time, and is located in a foreign country.  Who could blame them?

We bought this trailer because it cost "only" $30,000 USD, which still seems like an awful lot of money to me.   We paid $8375 for the Casita fifteen years ago, but sold it for $7500.   So these fiberglass RVs do hold their value, over time.

There was a discussion on one of the RV forums as to which was a better value, the $30,000 Escape or the $60,000 Oliver.   The Oliver is a nice trailer, but it is narrower than the Escape.  The reason it is so expensive is that it is built like one of those Yeti coolers - with a fiberglass interior wall and a fiberglass exterior wall, with insulation in-between.   The Escape, like the Casita, just has an exterior shell with a liner.

If you are camping above the Arctic circle, the Oliver (or the similarly expensive BigFoot) is the camper for you!   It also has features like an aluminum frame - why, I am not sure.   I guess it is to offset the heaviness of the structure (fiberglass RVs are heavy to begin with, a two-layer one, twice as much).   But I see no other benefit.  After 20 years, the steel frame on the Casita had hardly rusted.

Of course, the Oliver is far better than the Airstream.  The Airstream has a thin aluminum shell, which you can easily dent with your hand.   It costs twice as much as other campers (sometimes three or four times as much) and tends to leak over time - as well as develop yellowing fading clearcoat.

For twice as much money, you get.... not twice as much camper.   And a lady on the site got upset when I pointed this out as - you guessed it - she had spent twice as much.   You can really piss people off by stating obvious truths - that leasing a car is a raw deal, co-signing a loan is idiotic, and using a check-cashing store is just stupid.   The people who attack you for saying such things, well, they just leased a car, co-signed a loan for their grandson, or just cashed their paycheck at the check-cashing store.  They are not happy you are pointing out their foolishness.  As I noted before, the abused are the first to defend their abusers.

But it brings back a point I have tried to make time and time again in this blog - buying "expert" level equipment on the premise that it will increase your enjoyment of an activity is a flawed idea.   You can buy a Wolf or Viking range that costs thousands of dollars and still burn your food or be a shitty cook,   It is not going to provide 2x, 3x, or 4x the cooking ability of a $500 stove from Lowe's, nor is it going to make you a better cook.   And the really sad thing is, of course, the folks buying these monster ranges often never use them - microwaving a hot pocket or last night's take-home restaurant leftovers is often the extent of their cooking.

So why do people pay more?  People are idiots, look around you.  More precisely, we are all attracted to status and want to show off our apparent wealth and sophistication, even if the reality is we are bankrupting ourselves to do this, and we have no real sophistication (signing loan documents for a car doesn't mean you designed or built it, or indeed even know how to drive it - consider the typical BMW driver, for example).

But there are others who are lured down this path of consumerism because they think that paying more for something means you get more.  There is an old saying, "You get what you pay for!" which is about as wrong as "It doesn't cost anything to keep it!" - both of which were sayings Mark's Dad liked to say.  The latter is wrong, as depreciation "costs" you money every day you keep a depreciating asset - and in addition, equipment often goes stale if left unattended.   So if you keep an old tractor in your back yard, odds are, it costs you a few dollars in depreciation every day, and if you keep it long enough, it turns into a mound of rust and is worth nothing.   At one time, it may have fetched thousands in resale value, now it is worth nothing.  If you are not using it, get rid of it - it is indeed "costing you something."  ("It doesn't cost me anything to keep it!" is nearly as bad as "It's worth something!" - old sayings from Maine are always suspect).

Similarly the "You get what you pay for!" mantra is often wrong.  Usually this is applied in a situation where someone is too cheap and tries to buy something that barely qualifies as a product. The thing falls apart and the boys sitting around the cracker barrel at the general store nod their heads and say, "Well, you get what you pay for!"

A recent purchase is a case in point.  Mark wanted to screen in the garage like they do in The Villages.  Down in Florida, you can find ten people competing on price to install elaborate screen doors that slide out, roll up, or retract or whatnot.  Many retirees install these, turning their garage into a ersatz screen porch.  We already have three screen porches, so I don't see the point.  But we do work a lot in the garage, and in the temperate weather it is nice to have the door open.  But the bugs also like this idea as well. Of course, this time of year, the door is closed and the air conditioning is on, so the whole point of the thing is lost until the Fall.

Nevertheless, I agreed to look into this, and was shocked to see these things can cost $1000 to $2000 or more - particularly for fancy motorized versions.   One system is basically a second garage door, complete with its own tracks and rollers.  The problem with that unit is that being flat, it impinges into the garage as it pivots up, and thus it would hit your car or truck if parked near the garage door.  And our garage is such that we have to park inches from the garage door.

Another kind, slightly cheaper, rolls up and can be motorized or uses a hand-crank.   The problem is, of course, we don't live in The Villages, but rather in coastal Georgia, and there are no dealers or installers here, like there are in Florida.  If you want to be old, Florida certainly has an installed infrastructure for you.  It costs over $1500 for the manual model, even self-installed, so the point was moot.

On the other end of the spectrum are screen kits from the big box store that cost less than $100 - some less than $50.   Some at Harbor Freight even less than that!  You get a bag with a screen in it and some velcro dots.   It looks like a sheer curtain hanging off your garage door, and it blows in the breeze and doesn't keep the bugs out.  The online reviews were scathing - it is so sheer, it basically falls apart in a matter of weeks.  In that case, yes, you are "getting what you pay for."

We found a compromise solution - a heavier screen that attaches with industrial velcro strips, that rolls up like a curtain when you pull strings.   It was about $200, and was easy to install - which obviated the getting-someone-to-install-it problem.   And it works well.  No, it isn't motorized nor does it have a remote control you can access from your car.    But it looks good, doesn't blow away in the wind, and appears to be durable and most importantly, didn't cost $2000.  I think we found the "sweet spot" between utter crap that doesn't last a week, and gold-plated systems that are unaffordable.

This "sweet spot" idea has even more merit in things like appliances or cars or other big-ticket items in anyone's budget.  As I noted before, you can buy a BMW and it will cost twice as much as a Toyota.   But you don't get twice as much car.  Ironically, the Toyota is likely to last longer, and of course, will be more reliable and cost less to repair.   The BMW may go faster, but as I discovered with the M Roadster, where are you going to drive it so fast?   On the Capital beltway, traffic always intervenes.  On rural roads, it is sudden death if you crest the hill and see a tractor across the road (as has happened to me more than once!).   On wide-open highways, you just get speeding tickets and the cost of insurance skyrockets.   And on wide-open highways, you can speed in nearly any car, anyway - you don't need "The Ultimate Driving Machine" to do 80 or more on the Interstate.

On the Airstream or BMW forums, you read lots of complaints from people who assumed that since they paid so much for something, it would last forever and their experience would be twice as good as more plebian purchases.  They lash out at the company that made the product or anyone who tells them the hard truth about it.   Once out of warranty, these sort of things can be nightmares to repair - and yet they still owe years on the loan payments.  For retirees, the problem is compounded when they realize they've squandered a huge amount of money on a depreciating thing and they could have had as much fun - if not more - in something less expensive.

There is a "sweet spot" somewhere between a $29 Wal-Mart tent and a million-dollar Prevost motorhome - believe it or not.   And speaking of tents, we just bought one.    And the same effect can be seen there.    You can go to REI and spend hundreds of dollars on an Everest-capable tent that is barely larger than your sleeping bag.   It may be suitable for hanging off the side of a mountain, but for car-camping, it is just an unnecessary expense and likely to be uncomfortable.

We looked online and you can find tents as cheap as $29.95.   I don't suggest you do, however, as for just a few dollars more, you can find a much better tent.   You don't need to spend $500, either.   We went to Dick's Sporting Goods (which hasn't gone bankrupt yet due to staggering debt problems).  They had a selection of tents, ranging from about $39 for a basic two-man tent, to hundreds for giant screened rooms that doubled at tents.   We are driving to Vancouver to pick up the trailer and might be tenting for a few nights.   We found a nice tent for $49.95 which is large enough for a queen-sized inflatable mattress (which we got for free).  We later found out it was a $99 tent that was marked improperly.  Oh well.

They make the same tent in a "darkroom" model which keeps out 100% of the UV light as well as all the other kinds of light.  It was about $90 more.   Did we need to develop film in our tent?  Not really.  So we took a pass on that.   For the dozen or so times we will use it, this tent will serve us very well.   And for some folks, even a $29 tent may be enough - we've seen tourists fly to America, buy a couple-hundred dollars worth of camping gear at Wal-Mart, go camping for a week or two and then give it all away when they fly home.   It certainly is cheaper than staying a motel, and easier than trying to lug all that junk on an airplane.

And maybe that is the key right there - figuring out what your real needs are and then buying the appropriate equipment.   Paying a lot more for something thinking it will be "better" when your needs don't dictate that, is a waste of money.   If money is no object, well, then you shouldn't be reading this blog. For the rest of us, money is dear. If you are just an average cook, you don't need a "professional" range.   It will cost you thousands, take up half your kitchen, blow through a ton of natural gas, overheat your house, and likely burn your food.   And no, it won't add much value to your house - not compared to what you spent on it.  In fact, "expert" equipment in a plebeian house can make it harder to sell.   Sure, a mansion in Beverly Hills is expected to have that sort of crap - and servants to run it all.   But a tract home in middle-class America?    It just might be an example of over-improvement of a house.

Spending more doesn't always give you more.  You don't always get what you pay for!