Cost of Cheap

I spent the morning walking through lower Manhattan, good coffee and a particularly delicious doughnut in hand.

I’m here in New York visiting my girlfriend who’s doing a gig. I mentioned recently that I am a proud member of the long-distance-relationship club (at least for most of the year) so I often find myself visiting whichever city she happens to be working in.

Whenever I come to New York (either on business or as arm candy) I fly on the wings of my Megabus chariot. Yes…. If you haven’t experienced it, it is as cool as it sounds. And no, just because I used the words ‘fly’ and ‘wings’ it doesn’t make it any less of a bus.

I’m not sure if all of you have experienced the wonders of bus travel.

They boast of their comfort, the convenience, the power outlets and wifi, and from the outside it seems… like it’ll be pretty okay.

But 12 hours is a long time to spend sitting in a seat. The power outlets and wifi are spotty at best. And as nice as everyone I’ve encountered on buses are, they’re just… really close to you… all the time.

I now have a visceral reaction to the bus… I get just a little queasy for our time together, and don’t feel quite right until I’m 10 blocks away.

But I keep coming back because simply… it’s the cheapest way to get to New York.

They used to brag that they had trips from Toronto to New York starting at just ONE DOLLAR…. I noticed recently it’s gone up to ten. And the tickets at the ‘starting price’ are pretty rare. Only once did I manage to nab a one dollar ticket. It was possibly the greatest day of my life.

But even the normal tickets end up costing you 80 bucks for a roundtrip ticket to New York.

Not bad, considering flights will be three times that, if you’re the most lucky.

I take the Megabus not because I love getting close and personal with strangers, or because I can “just get so much work done” while driving, but because at this stage in my life my money is worth more than my time.

There’s rarely such a thing as a true deal. Everything costs something, and if something is cheap that means that you’re paying for it in some other way.

Cheap food comes with a cost to quality, and often to the environment as well (whether that’s transportation across the world, or other trendy food issues).

Cheap clothes definitely come with a quality hit (thank you Forever 21… ya… I know I shouldn’t have been shopping there) and with some of them you might even find a nice ethical cost (depending where and who put those threads together).

There are ethical cost considerations all over the place: coffee, chocolate, and not to mention all that ivory and fur in your wardrobe.

It’s a lot to take in to consideration when you’re thinking about the ‘cost’ of something.

The cliche is true: the cheapest things don’t always have the most value.

I have bought so many cheap pairs of headphones, only to have them fall apart in a month causing me to buy yet another cheap pair of headphones. In the long run (or not so long) it would have been way more worth it to just buy a nice set… but in the moment, it’s way easier to justify spending 10 dollars than it is to spend 80.

And that’s just the price.

A lot of the time, it comes down to the money vs time battle.

The virtuous frugal side swears that there are so many things that you can do yourself to save heaps of money.

They’re completely right, but some people don’t have time for all of that, or just don’t want to TAKE the time for that. Their time is worth more than their money. So they pay extra, to keep that time free… and spend it where they will.

Cost is a hard fact, but value is pretty subjective. It depends what you’re deciding to take into consideration.

That’s what makes all of this personal finance stuff hard. It would be pretty simple to just say… save money, buy cheap stuff. But cheap isn’t the answer, it’s only a small part of it.

A lot of people wouldn’t think of taking the bus. It’s a lot of time spent, and no matter how much you think you might accomplish…you don’t… well.. I don’t. But I can more easily afford 12 hours, than I can afford 300 dollars to fly.

I assume that at some point that will change, but until it does… I’ll just keep praying for working wifi.