Thursday, October 11, 2007

A New York Dilemma

The other night, I was on my way to the gym and felt raindrops starting to fall. The sky looked very threatening, and I didn't have an umbrella. I knew if I continued to the next corner, I'd probably find a guy selling umbrellas-- that is one of the amazing things about New York, the second it starts to rain, umbrella sellers appear out of nowhere, offering cheapo umbrellas for a couple of dollars. But since I was worried about the skies opening up before I reached the next corner (I was on a long block between avenues) I ended up ducking into a cobbler shop I'd just passed. About 20 other people had the same idea-- the place was suddenly full of people buying umbrellas.
So what was the dilemma? The dilemma was what umbrella to buy. The cobbler shop had a wide selection of colors, styles, and prices. Nearest the door were the $4 umbrellas. These are what the guys on the street usually sell. They are pretty flimsy and you always see them discarded in the gutter after big windy storms. Then there were some $9 umbrellas, and some nicer-seeming $16 umbrellas. What to do? Go for the cheap model and hope it would get me through the night? Or invest a little more hoping for better quality that might last longer? I already have a couple umbrellas at home, and they're the kind of thing that is easy to lose. It never hurts to have an extra one, but does it matter if it's going to last very long? It matters when you're stuck in the windy rainstorm and you don't want it to turn inside-out!
Anyway, I decided to get the somewhat more substantial $16 umbrella. I kind of regretted it afterwards, as after using it that one time, I felt like I could have gotten a better umbrella elsewhere for that amount of money. I'm sure that is the most I've ever paid for an umbrella, and I can't imagine I'll ever bother to pay more. If I get stuck in a storm again, I think I'll take my chances on a cheaper one.

In general, I think it makes sense to spend a little more to buy something that lasts... but umbrellas might be one of those exceptions. With other items it might be harder to decide. I was talking to a friend recently about watches-- she has a very expensive watch that she adores, and insists that the purchase was justified because she'll own the watch forever. But she's had to send it away for very pricey repairs twice in the less than 10 years she's owned it. I have a crappy little watch that I paid $25 for at one of those kiosks in a mall, and all I've had to do for 10 years is change the battery. I love watches, and often used to tell myself I'd buy a really nice one someday, but instead I have about 5 relatively cheap ones that I wear on different occasions. I don't think I paid more than $50 or maybe $75 for any of them, and they've never broken, so I'm not sure I still feel the need to get something fancier.

How do you feel about this question? When do you choose price over quality, or vice versa?


Curtis Miller said...

I think it all depends on your use of the item. For me, I may live in St. Louis, but I still use the bus every day. I have a big golf umbrella at home that I will take if I know it's going to be a bad storm. I also have a smaller one that I can carry in my backpack with me at all times. I used to have a dollar store version in there, but it barely worked in the smallest storms. I spent about $20 for a good smallish one with a lifetime warranty from Totes. To me, it's essential.

However, I haven't worn a watch in years. I've got several at home that people have bought me in the last 5-10 years that are practically new with dead batteries. I have a cell phone in my pocket with the time on the front of it and I have a computer in front of me most of the day with a clock on it. Watches just aren't worth anything to me.

In general, I prefer to save for quality rather than spend now for cheap, but in a pinch, spend for cheap is the way to go.

Sicilian said...

My Seiko died after 15 years, and my TAG is not repairable it is only 10 years old.
I will never have an expensive watch again.

Bob said...

I generally buy quality, but consider the utility. As far as an umbrella in NYC, I am against them. I used to commute to NYC and short people try to take out other peoples' eyes with the pointy spears at the edge. Please use a brimmed hat for the sake of others.

And you with the golf umbrella - try using that in midtown during rush hour. you'll have a shredded mess. I once dislocated my shoulder when some brute body-checked me in a people merge.

Mike said...

I think the umbrella quality depends on what your situation is. If I was in the city and I happen to be walking somewhere when it rains, then I'd buy the cheapest umbrella I can find. But if I was in the burbs and I drove everywhere, I'd buy a really nice umbrella that I would leave in my car.

About the watches -- I have a Seiko that's about 40 years old that I got from my grandfather. It always amazes me when I hear people say how often their stuff breaks. Maybe I'm just really careful w/stuff, but nothing ever seems to break on me (except this Dell laptop screen that I'm working on). Either way, I usually go for quality on the more expensive items and cheap on the cheaper items that I replace every couple yrs.

Peachy said...

I've gone through 3 umbrellas in the past year in Chicago. You'll often seen numerous ones discarded because they broke. I have switched to a hooded rain jacket. I find that I can move much faster in foot traffic and I only have to evade the short people.

Anonymous said...

You can stand under my umbrella
Ella ella eh eh eh
Under my umbrella
Ella ella eh eh eh
Under my umbrella
Ella ella eh eh eh
Under my umbrella
Ella ella eh eh eh eh eh eh

SavingDiva said...

I have only used cheap umbrellas in the past, and the wind just turns them inside out. It might be the horrible wind we get in the midwest...but I have to purchase a quality umbrella. I'm still on the lookout...

Italian Girl said...

I have an $18 Totes umbrella that fits in my purse. I recently purchased the same umbrella in black for my husband to take on a trip to Ireland. I don't think that is extravagant. I thought they were reasonably priced, and so far, they seem to be good umbrellas... The two things I think should always be chosen based on quality instead of price are food and shoes.

mamacita said...

Mary Hunt has a saying, "Never buy more quality than you need." It's good to keep in mind along with the notion that sometimes higher prices are worth it for quality items.

frugal zeitgeist said...

I'm from Oregon. I don't need no steenkin' umbrella.

Susy said...

A good quality Gore-tex coat is all I need. I've had mine for 10 years (I wear it with fleece under it for my winter coat and without spring-fall). Hopefully it'll last another 5-10 years.

As for watches, all I've had to do is replace the battery.

certain things it pays to spend more on. Like an espresso machine. We wore out 2 $150 and finally bought a Kitchenaid Pro-Line and we love it. Makes way better coffee than our cheap ones. I figure a year of lattes every morning more than covers the cost.

Anonymous said...

If I'd forgotten my umbrella, I wouldn't buy one - it's not a big deal to me to get rained on. I only have one umbrella, and it was a gift from a company I worked for.

Anonymous said...

I live in San Diego - no need for an umbrella as it never rains here!

Anonymous said...

I prefer to keep things for the long term, treat them well and make sure they last. So I value quality over price, but only to a certain extent. . in proportion to my income and station in life, along with personal priorities. i.e. Rolex maks great watches, but that is a bit out of my league and basically ridiculous for me to buy.

For the people that can't seem to keep things in good condition (you don't strike me as one if you've kept all those watches for 10 yrs), they should go for the cheaper disposable items imo. My husband trashes shoes and clothing in a short amount of time so I no longer spend a lot on those items for him! :)

Brooke said...

Madame X - in the Midwest, we have a problem I like to call being "weather tough". We don't wear coats unless we're going for a long walk in the snow and we don't carry umbrellas unless we've just done our hair or we're wearing nice clothes. I'm not sure if this is a blessing or a curse!