Jean Nero: Cheap lesson is as valuable today as it ever was

Jean Nero

A few weeks ago, I marked 81 years of living and recalled so many lessons we learned during those years. But I had to learn one all over again a month ago. The lesson: “Cheap is as cheap does.” Papa lived by that rule.

Although he had to watch every penny that went out of his pocket, one rule he lived by was, “Buy quality that lasts, you’ll save money and trouble.” Whether buying a rare new suit or an appliance for the house, he saved to buy one of the best quality that would serve long.

Shopping for a new fridge, I looked for the cheapest one — I had just made a down payment on a new house. Papa was checking with the store manager to find the best one in the store. We bought his choice. That was in 1967; the fridge was still doing well when I sold the house in ’03.

So you can understand why I laughed my head off at a recent buy I made. I spotted a nice steel 1-quart saucepot on a “bargain shelf” for only $5. The usual price is about $40. Wow. I immediately bought it. I took it home, proudly put it on my stove, and it promptly tipped over, handle to counter. And it hasn’t stood up level since.

Some 55 years ago, when my best friend Eleanor got married, she held a “demonstration party” (like Tupperware parties today) wherein the salesman for Lifetime Stainless sold pots and pans. I ended up buying eight pots of all sizes, and Papa paid the major cost of $250 (today’s equivalent is about $1,000). Today, I still use three of those pans, while my new $5 purchase keeps tipping over.

Cheap is as cheap does.

Many major corporations today learn the same lesson the hard way.

I recently read a news story about the oil spill that said there was a device that BP could have installed that might have prevented the spill. For a few million that the company saved by not installing that device, how many millions have they lost, both in 70,000 gallons of oil lost so far, and in the money now spent in claims and damages — to say nothing of the lives lost in the incident? How many dollars are lost for those whose livelihood depended on fishing the Gulf and today have no income? How many dollars lost ruining the environment, and the lives of the creatures who depend on the Gulf and its plant life. All that is lost so we could bring in a better profit?

Cheap is as cheap does.

Inspections are rudimentary to good operations, both by experts and government.

In a recent interview on CNN, in answer to a question about inspections, an executive explained that to have the inspections done by U.S. inspectors would take four to six weeks, but if they had “foreign inspectors” do it, it would take only four days. Translation: It was cheaper to do it in four days.

Cheap is as cheap does.

How many disasters will it take to teach both government and corporations that, while precautions are never cheap, they’re a lot cheaper than the disaster they risk.

It’s an age-old lesson: You pay more than the price for “cheap.” I can’t cook in my bargain pot that tips over. Maybe I’ll plant a flower in it, unless it tips and kills the flower when we water it.

Jean Nero is a contributor to The Repository in Canton, Ohio.