Are You Cheap and Proud of It?

Today you might get an email teasing you with only three hours left for 30% off and free shipping.  You’ll always feel better when you buy something – anything – on sale and many pride themselves on being “cheap” when it comes to spending.   In her book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Ruppel Shell exposes expensive bargains –  being cheap may actually be costing – both the consumer and the retail business.

Ruppel Shell starts with the history of retail and early innovators who knew that somebody had to pay for low prices offered to consumers – Woolworth’s paying clerks low wages, and Wanamaker’s buying in bulk with  quantity and affordability replacing quality. Discounters arrived in the 1950s and

“Advertising had transformed citizens into consumers, persuading them that wants were needs…low price trumps all…”

Shoppers were created – not necessarily to buy what they were looking for or wanted or even needed – but to buy because it was hard to pass up a good deal.  Getting it cheap has influenced how we dress – low price requires standardization; how we furnish – flat packaging demands tables with legs that come off; how we understand luxury –  $5000 shoes and bags brand the wearer as lacking common sense.

Cheap is relentless in providing research, expert opinion, and anecdotal evidence that we are all being manipulated; real value is not marketing value.  The tone is that of a friendly introductory economics professor using examples and stories to illustrate the more difficult concepts – might be more information than you want or need, but if you persist, the book will dramatically change what you see as a bargain.

I was convinced; she had me at the first chapter.

It would be impossible to approach this subject without addressing how greed has been the downfall of the American economy, but Ruppel Shell does not offer solutions.  Rather, she offers the caution that you get what you pay for.    Let the buyer beware.