Friday, February 13, 2015

Living on the Cheap. Dying on the Cheap.

Boating, actually sailing, for that matter, is not a cheap sport. The inherent problem with owning a boat is the fact that, unlike cars, they aren't as mass produced. Sometimes, no one has the off-the-shelf part you need, so, you have to have it made. That's even more expensive.

What we have to understand about the prices we pay is that not all of them are unfair, or necessarily a ripoff. When a company does the R&D for an item and only sells 10,000 units, they will recover that cost in the price per unit. Actually, they must recover that cost or they cannot stay in business.  If the same unit was going into 5 million cars, they can spread the R&D out a bit and the cost comes down.

Does this mean that some marine supply stores don't sell the *exact* same thing you can pick up at the local hardware store for what seems like half the price? Of course some of them do. They play on the "everything on a boat is expensive" game and, some people pay it.

But what if you don't want to pay it?

See that? This is a perfect example of going on the cheap. It's a photo of wire nuts and short pieces of odd spliced wire on my bilge pump. They don't belong there. The wires were also non-marine (not tinned) and were corroded where the wire was nicked. The pump failed. For lack of a handful of waterproof crimp connectors, a crimping tool, and a couple feet of tinned wire, I had no bilge pump. The house water pump was wired the same way too. Someone before me tried to save about $50.00 on a cheaper bilge pump for their $100,000+ boat. If that pump failed to run and Brigadoon had water intrusion while we were away for the weekend -- sunk boat.

The solution is not to "go on the cheap". Going on the cheap bends your sense of reason. It drives you to get the best deal, which is only measured by getting the cheapest price. It frequently means the person going on the cheap has a big pile of rationalizations why their cheap unit is as good as your more expensive unit. Most of the time they are wrong, as they try to defend their decisions.

Price isn't the only factor here, people. Sure, in America, where we value price above everything else. We don't care where our iPads or iPhones are made, or under what conditions, as long as we get it at a good price.

What matters is value for the dollar. How many times have any of us bought the cheaper of two items, only to have it fail or break on us. We get upset. "Damn cheap Chinese crap!"

But, who bought that, "Damn cheap Chinese crap?"

It's taken me a while to get over my early training. You see, my father served in the military in this country for 23 years. We had a family of six. My father worked second jobs. My mother worked. We were military poor. I was raised in an environment of scarcity, of worry over money, for fear of survival.

Fortunately, today, things are different for us. We have valuable skills that we can sell in corporate environs. We are beyond simply surviving and, for that, we're thankful. In our efforts to pay down debt and becoming truly "free", free from the yoke that debt puts on our shoulders and gives our creditors power over us. So, we shovel money towards debt (might be zero in mid to late summer).

I don't live in a environment of scarcity anymore but, that doesn't mean I'm foolish with my money.

So, what does this have to do with "going on the cheap"?


My background of scarcity might drive me to go on the cheap. However, I've learned, over the years that quality matters. If I'm trusting my life, I said, "trusting my life", to the safety and seaworthiness of my vessel and her systems, my primary motivation is not to save a dollar today only to die one dollar richer because a cheap unit failed.

There is always something cheaper that you think can do the job my thing does. I will not argue that. I will argue that, if price is your only consideration, you will get shortchanged eventually, perhaps at great cost, maybe a life.

Balance quality in what you do. You invest in quality and buy the best you can afford.

Save money in creative ways. Anchor out. Cook on board. Learn to splice your own lines. Don't buy useless doo-dads to hang fenders with. Learn to tie a round turn and two half hitches -- you already own the line on the fender. Learn how to use it. Save money in practical ways. That way, it's there when you need to buy the best diesel filtration, bilge pumps, safety harnesses, sails, and engine parts you can afford.

How has this worked out for us?

Our battery replacement project coast 5K. It ended up with the right parts, the right install, and a reliable and flexible system.

Our Portland Pudgy Dinghy and Active Rescue System was almost 5K with the electrical system and sail rig. The lifeboat canopy for this lifeboat (more than just a dink) will cost another $2,500. However, a life raft can cost about $5,000 plus an additional $1,000 a year to certify for a one time use item.

Our planned wind vane self-steering system will cost about $5,000, plus install. Aside from steering our boat so we don't have to, it provides a completely redundant rudder for Brigadoon. If our rudder fails, we can still steer. That's value added to the primary purpose of the unit.

Our sails cost about 14K. Yes, I could have paid less. I could have gone to any number of companies that took measurements (some have you measure) for sails made in Southeast Asia. We could have gotten those sails for about 40% off. Yet, our sails are clearly of a better quality. They are made locally, here in Pt. Townsend. Sail material arrives at one end, and finished, hand-made sails of the highest quality come out the other. Our vendor is here. That is valuable to us.

All these decisions were weighed on value. It was value that drove us to these purchases. It was value that drove us to save the cash for these purchases so we aren't in debt. Our money is our life energy. We sell our souls, our time, to corporations so we can have nice things. We won't waste money but we won't be afraid of quality either.

There are many ways to save money, yet still have quality. Yes, the stainless hardware (if it's the right quality) is just fine for marine use. Alkyd Enamel paint from any quality paint vendor will work just fine in marine applications and will be about half the cost of 'marine' paint. Heat shrink from my hardware store is cheaper -- it's still the same stuff. So, there is nothing wrong with finding value at a cheaper price.

Just don't buy crap that fails that you have to replace. Don't be cheap on stuff that can affect the safety of your boat or yourself.

I see it time and time again, in person and on the net. People put non-marine propane installations in boats. Use the cheapest lines they can for mooring lines. Buy the cheapest chain for anchoring. Thin wall stainless tubing is cheaper than thicker wall stuff. It's also weaker. Cheap anchors bend and break. Cheap light fixtures burn up. Cheap electronics fail. If all you look at is price, you will get burned, sooner or later.

Don't be so focused on living on the cheap that you end up dying because of it too.

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