Dangerous Pursuit of Cheap

At this point in my life I am neither young nor old. Im one of those, you know, adults.  Whether it seems like long ago or not to you,  I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s in the United States, and one thing I remember well, is the pursuit of all things cheap.

Choco Bunny Without a HeartOn Sunday’s my suburban New Jersey home would have the Sunday paper at the breakfast table, and at some point someone would go through the coupon section; it seemed only wise to find deals on foods we may or may not want this week.  At the supermarket my parents had club cards, because again, if you can save money on whatever item is on special this week, why not do so.  In terms of clothes, whether it was through a commercial or word of mouth among the neighbors, when there was a sale on types of clothing we kids might need, off we would go to the big department stores.  There is nothing controversial or strange about any of this, it was the way people lived and the way people live even today. Life wasn’t cheap, things were needed, and if you could get things for cheaper, you would absolutely do it.  You’d even tell of your exploits proudly to anyone who would listen, “I found socks on sale at so and so store.. I bought the boys 2 pairs for school.”

My story may have taken place in the US, but the reality is that variations on this theme have been playing out throughout the world for the better part of the last century.  Even before that, if you look back in history, the practice of trying to find cheaper ways to acquire things we need or think we need, has led to the rise and fall of nations, not to mention war, peace, and a never-ending list of historical events.  Again, there is seemingly nothing to question here.

Fast Forward to today, I’m sitting on an Easyjet flight from Amsterdam to Madrid where I will spend a few days exploring, learning, and enjoying myself.  The flight is cheaper than most, and when you look closely you see how the company saves. Less staff, less services, many extra costs, rapid turn-over. And voila, millions of people who perhaps would not have flown otherwise or who needed to fly to this destination, are now flying with this low cost company.  Elsewhere someone buys a new computer, among other reasons for choosing this specific model, because it is priced so low.  Even if that computer is broken within 2 years, it was purchased at such a low price, this is now acceptable.    Getting back to the supermarket, someone buys the bundle of bananas from the big fruit producing company; They look good, they taste pretty good, and they don’t cost much. Like the airlines and the computer, there are reasons for this price, but in that moment and the short term period after purchasing, none of these reasons matter as much as the fact that you’re paying a low price.

This is only the beginning of the discussion you may occasionally have among friends these days.  It may also be the beginning of a discussion you have no desire to have. It is too complicated, too difficult to do anything about, and it sounds like the answer involves you having to spend more money… money you don’t have anyway.  It goes counter to how we were raised, how people have lived for generations, and how we live our lives going forward.

So for now, I will stop here. With this coarse, simple attempt at an explanation of the world we have been living in, the world where – above all the other information surrounding how we get what we need – getting it cheap is the most vital aspect.  The pursuit of cheap is the way of the world, and suggesting there might be a problem with that is an irritating bourgeois or a hippy way of thinking that no rational working person is going to sit around thinking about.


  1. Cathryne
    April 10, 2011

    To me, the “cheap culture” is part of the race-to-the-bottom. It might look good on the price tag, wut we know that it is directly responsible for the destruction of worker’s rights, of the environment and might ultimately lead to worsening livelyhoods for all of us. Most of the stuff we buy doesn’t even make us more happy.

    Yes, it is hard to change ones own shopping behaviour, but I hope every little nudge helps. Yes, it feels like stemming a tsunami-like tide, but as the German band “Die Ärzte” once sung: “It’s not your fault that the world is like this, but it would be your fault if it stays like this!”.

    One guideline I (student, with about 300EUR per month to spend) follow, is to buy Fair Trade and Organic instead of conventional, whenever possible. I consider chocolate, coffe, alcohol, exotic fruit, meat and so on luxury and buy it less often according to the higher price. It makes the occasions I do buy it for more special and the diet gets more healthy.

    And ultimately: If you are spending the money anyway, what kind of business practice or company policy do you want to support with it? In a market democracy, money is your vote.

    • bicyclemark
      April 12, 2011

      Cathryne Its interesting to note that what you’re talking about, a growing movement understands and practices. But the question is still the majority.. that big group of people out there who’s actions can make or break us all on this planet.. are they listening?

      • Cathryne
        April 12, 2011

        I don’t know. I hope so, sometimes I see encouraging signs, sometimes I slap my hand on the face in disbelieve at the ignorance and stupidity I have the misfortune to witness. I try to not bother myself with the question “Will my effort make any difference?”. The answer to that can be very egoistic (“No, but at least it wasn’t me who fucked up this planet!”) and very altruistic (“Yes, if you being a good example and friendly-convince people.”) at the same time.

  2. Luzia
    April 12, 2011

    Mark, a great piece! Only recently I have been thinking about some things that fit with what you have written… Hope you don’t mind me sharing it.

    You can fall in love with things – but you can’t love them

    When I was visiting a friend not long ago, she told me excited that she had “fell in love” with a pair of shoes she had seen at a shop… It did not strike me as weird or funny at that moment. But I could not stop thinking about it: Does she love those shoes as much as she loves her family/boyfriend/me…? Can you really experience something like love towards a “thing” that does not find the right words when you are sad, is not warm when you hug it, that doesn’t sometimes also annoy you…?

    The answer I came up with is quite simple. Falling in love and actually loving is not quite the same. Remember those moments when you talked to that one guy/girl at that party when you were a little drunk and almost couldn’t sleep when you finally went to bed because you felt that he/she was “the one”? Wow, what a great feeling! But do you also remember the next date, when you saw her/him again and suddenly, in the daylight and without the misty view of the alcohol, that person just wasn’t what you had thought it would be?? The same happens with the shoes: you fall in love with them, you think that they would make your life awesome and then finally, once you have them you are not quite sure what to do with them… You can’t really remember why you once thought they were worth the 200 bucks… Welcome back to reality!

    • bicyclemark
      April 12, 2011

      haha.. I like how you wrapped that up and of course I know what you’re talking about. Keep sharing!

Comments are closed.