In 1984, Union Carbide’s mess in Bhopal, India sent cloud banks of lethal gas through innocent neighbourhoods. British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon platform spilled tons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico along with chemical dispersants that are proving just as harmful as the oil itself. The engineers at the Fukishima nuclear plant cited cost cuts that may have made the plant less vulnerable to the tsunami that ultimately spread nuclear effluvium throughout the sea and land around the plant. Billions have been spent on clean-up, far outstripping any cost-cutting savings.
Just about every man-made disaster can be traced back to cost-cutting endeavours by industrial administrators looking at their stockholders’ bottom line. When profits rule, for many companies, necessary employees, health and safety procedures, redundancies for safety, and similar measures to protect the ecological and civil safety of surrounding communities go on the chopping block. You can safely bet that any of the administrators presiding over one of the above-mentioned disasters wishes they could go back and pick up those cost-cutting measures.
Making the Industrial Personal – Listen to Your Granny!
You may not ever need to come up with the cash to clean up the Gulf of Mexico, but you could very well run into situations where whatever money you saved cutting costs ends up costing you far more than what you saved in the beginning. Many grandmothers will sometimes say: “I’m not rich enough to buy cheap.”
The snap of a strap on a “fashion” shoe, the crack of a “forged” wrench handle, the hiss of a “quality discount” tire, all are the sounds of bargain hunting gone awry – along with some accompanying profanity. And every generation needs to be reminded that, according to granny, we must not be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
That’s why we have grannies to remind us to ask ourselves a few questions, all of which overlap, before we make any purchase, be it a home builder’s barrel of nails or a home maker’s choice of vacuum cleaners. Anyone considering purchases of goods or services can add to this list:
Who’s going to use it?
A guy hanging pictures at home can get good use out of a cheap little tack hammer. A guy building houses is going to want a heavy hammer with a strong claw.
How’s it going to be used?
A cheap hasp and lock is good enough for the garden shed. What you would you use to lock away gold bullion?
How long does it need to last?
A sticky paper name tag does well on a lapel at a business party; only a nice brass tag will do on a mailbox.
What do others think about it?
Read respected consumer guide books to check on the durability of products. Ask your neighbours what they successfully use for certain things.
How safe is it?
Often, the cheaper the product the less safety features it has. Why mess with a product, no matter how inexpensive, that could cost a fortune in health care or damage reparations.
Is it legal?
Local building codes ensure quality construction and ISO International Standards ensure that products and services are safe, reliable, and of good quality. Is a purchase made of a banned substance such as ivory or rainforest lumber?
Cutting Costs and Using Disposables – The Bottom Line
Granny also said: “There’s an exception to every rule.” At times, based on the answers given to the questions above, it’s just a better idea to try some cost-cutting or to use disposable items. But no matter how little you will use a product, look for sustainable ways to dispose of it once used. Tissues and toilet paper are one thing; but our landfills are full of plastic disposable diapers.
For Goodness Sakes, Spend the Money
Another old granny adage comes to mind: “Buy it right or buy it twice.” Frugality is a virtue, but for certain items you just don’t cut costs without risking a fortune on into the the future. Though this list isn’t exhaustive, some specific important items come to mind:
Roofing and foundations should be sound. Wiring and plumbing can be expensive to replace. No price is right if the place falls down around your ears. However, buying a fixer-upper could be a very prudent move.
Yet another granny adage: “You are what you eat.” It’s less expensive to feed yourself or your family on fast food. Pre-packaged factory food is cheaper than fresh. Your payback for using those foods for sustenance will be a lack of well-being and ultimately diminished health, costing you a fortune in health care costs.
Spend a little money to correct a tooth cavity before it becomes an expensive root-canal. Granny might say: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If you don’t have your health, you’ve lost one of your most important life essences.
Fashion changes virally. The world is flooded with the latest and the greatest, cheaply made. Having some quality clothing and shoes rather than closets-full of stuff that won’t last a year is always prudent and cost-effective.
Cars, appliances, wrenches and screwdrivers, and anything else you need to trust should be of quality construction. Buying a tool that snaps or a torch that won’t light won’t save you any money on a bill for a tow-truck or a mechanic some rainy night.
Lawyers are supposed to guide us through the legal maze. Consultants of all types can be found to guide us through other complex negotiations and situations. Paying discount prices for half-wit advice, responding to the loudest TV advertisements or brightest posters, will only cost you more in the long run – a fortune in money and peace of mind.
Cheap Products Costing the Earth a Fortune
With the Earth’s population steadily inching toward 8 billion souls, one of the most important words in the world will become the adjective “sustainable.” We are doing ourselves, our societies, our environment, and our economies sore damage with our attitude toward disposability. Vortexes of plastic and other disposable materials have formed a number of floating masses in the Pacific – some of them approaching island-size. We are fast becoming animals living in cages of our own making and living in our own filth – just like a poorly run, foetid zoo.
Buying Quality Doesn’t Cost a Fortune
Though there are exceptions (explosives, for instance, are pretty much a one-shot deal*), buying good stuff that will endure should be a cardinal rule for all of us residing on Earth. No matter what it costs, buying a quality item will never cost you a fortune. Hopefully, human common sense will prevail regarding when to go disposable as opposed to sustainable. However, so far our common sense doesn’t look very good. And it’s costing us a collective fortune. What would granny say about this costly mess?
* After the Korean War, so many spent brass shell casings could be found in the countryside that many Koreans became master brass casters, making everything from machine parts to wall décor and candlesticks for the domestic and tourist trade.
About the Author:
Aileen Pablo is a Filipina business and finance blogger. She works at Open Colleges, one of the pioneers of Online education in Australia and one of the leading providers of diploma of management and small business courses. If you want to feature her on your blog, drop a line at aileen (at) oc.edu.au.