Don’t be cheap, be smart
Being cheap hurts. It hurts the earth, it hurts people, it hurts the economy, and it hurts you too. Ever think of the things you buy just because they are cheap, some of them you don’t even need?
Cheap products are usually a bad decision. To keep their products cheap, companies break environment guidelines, bribe officials to pass cheap unsafe materials, hire non-qualified people, exploit workers, use child labour or use hazardous materials in the product or in the packaging. These products not only harm consumers, they harm the image of one’s country as well, and this impacts its economy.
When it comes to abnoxious plastic, sure, it’s a valuable material of great use to mankind (duh) but the truth is that humans have got carried away with their love for plastic. Everything is plasticky nowadays. Even things that needn’t be. Take the bucket. I didn’t see anything wrong with say that steel bucket or mug we used not so very long ago. It lasted forever, so it was value for money. Plastic bags have flourished because consumers are too lazy to take along cloth bags and in any case why should they make the effort when the manufacturer provides a cheap alternative?
I was angry with myself for buying a cheap bottle of phynyl. There was something wrong with it, because it was difficult to open. Once I managed to get the lid open, I found I couldn’t hold it without spilling it. Bad buy.
This Diwali, I was shocked to see the plastic kandeels (lanterns) and decorations in the market. Everywhere I went I saw shiny plastic paper used indiscriminately. All very cheap ofcourse. Wonder what happened to good old paper and cloth. Sure, paper depletes the environment, but at least it’s biodegradable.
And why have people started to use plastic visiting cards? How much money are they saving?
It’s irritating to see companies giving away plastic items for free with their slow moving consumer goods. Do they expect us make a garland out of the plastic items and hang them as decorations? I mean, how much plastic can we take?
Video piracy and book piracy hurts the authors. It flourishes because we want to buy cheap, even if it is illegal and unethical. We don’t want to think that it deprives the owners of income, although if the shoe was ever on the other foot we would make a fuss. The argument often put forward is that well, if it wasn’t for pirated books and CDs people wouldn’t be able to buy them. We know that this is false logic, because people can always borrow. Ever wondered why (in India) we don’t have too many good libraries for books? Not even private ones? Well, who is going to go there when the majority of well-to-people buy pirated stuff off the streets? Yes, I have been guilty too, but I don’t do it now.
There’s cheap food, and I don’t mean just the food on the streets. Cheap food might even be fresh if you are lucky, especially if it is cooked in front of your eyes, but remember that the cheapest ingredients go into it. Bad oil, often re-used, use of unpermitted colours, or too much of permitted colour and flavour, too much sugar and cancer causing packaging. You get what you pay for. Cheap for cheap. Cancer treatment is expensive though.
You can always make a healthy sandwich at home if you feel too lazy to cook.
Other food products, whether grains, masalas or packaged foods, can be harmful if you buy them cheap. Don’t think that that the tea powder which you can buy for half the price, or the aam ras (mango pulp) which is being sold for Rs 35/- a kg is actually what it says it is. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the affordable juice in cartons is actually fresh juice. Manufacturers add plenty of sugar and water to dilute and they make it from concentrate too. Real packaged juice costs much more. I prefer an orange.
Countries and economies suffer too for all of the above reasons, and more. At a broader level, you know what happened when companies started to offer cheap and easy loans. It didn’t just hurt people who took the loans, but also those who gave them. In India we didn’t get the brunt of it but we do have companies who send out goons to recover the loans they gave away so easily and so cheaply.
There’s cheap education. But good education does not come cheap. Ofcourse, the issue is a complex one and there is no one reason why our education policies need a re-think, and I have written about it here, here and here, but I do believe that the emphasis should be on quality, not quantity. True, it is not only money that influences quality, but being cheap can be harmful. Hiring teachers because they come cheap even if they are not qualified or capable, is just one example. Each teacher influences thousands of young impressionable minds, so just think of the harm that can be caused.
Ever had a bad experience yourself? Ever regretted buying cheap?
While each one of us can do our bit and try and not be cheap, it’s worth checking out this one organisation which I stumbled across. It’s mobilising consumers in a novel way, although not in India. It’s a great movement called carrot mob:
Carrotmob is a method of consumer activism that leverages consumer power to make the most socially-responsible business practices also the most profitable choices. Businesses compete with one another to see who can do the most good, and then a big mob of consumers buys products in order to reward whichever business made the strongest commitment to improve the world. It’s the opposite of a boycott.
This is an idea that should catch on in India, considering that we are fans of Gandhigiri. We can certainly do it because there are at least about 200 million of us who have sufficient money power to make a difference. If we come together we can make a difference to help the earth. And ourselves.
(Photos are by me an copywrited)
(Although I wrote this post, the idea came from Minal. She is a long time blog friend, who does not blog nowadays. Minal did the majority of the research for this article.)