You Get What You Pay For (A Cautionary Tale)

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Kelly Gurnett. Kelly runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

I am a bargain-hunting frugalista of the highest degree. If there’s a deal to be had, a dollar to be saved, or a discount to be taken advantage of, I will sniff it out, and I will probably gloat to my husband afterwards about how much I’ve managed to save us.

But sometimes, as much as I hate to admit it, you have to pay more to get a product or service that will actually be worth your hard-earned money. It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

My Way-Too-Good-To-Be True Deal

I belong to a million daily deals sites, and one day this spring, I saw a deal for $200 worth of service from a local contractor for $50. It sounded too good to be true, but I couldn’t help myself—our “fixer-upper” starter house is always falling apart, and at the time I saw this particular deal, we were smack in the middle of a kitchen sink leak/flooded floor double whammy. My husband, bless his soul, had done everything he could do to fix the leak, but it was only getting worse. Then along came this fantastic deal, just when we needed it most, to save our kitchen and also save us a ton of money.
I don’t even remember the contractor’s name, but let’s call him “Bob.” Bob showed up in a beat-up pickup truck loaded with odds and ends, wearing a ratty sweatshirt, several day’s worth of scruff, and the air of someone who’d just rolled out of bed and wasn’t terribly happy about it. He took one look at our sink, said yep, he could take care of that, then disappeared to the hardware store for parts and didn’t return until the next day (still scruffy and looking groggily disgruntled). I didn’t like the looks of him—I knew that from the start. But I’d already paid for my discount voucher, our leak was not getting any better, and I figured it was a project simple enough that even Joe Handyman off the street would be able to take care of it.

I was wrong.

Bob “fixed” the leak. He installed new pipes that did not leak when we ran the water, and they continued to not leak for all the months since—during which he disappeared off the face of the planet and never did give us the extra hour of time we’d already “paid” for. Chalk it up to a lesson learned, I told myself.

I just had no idea how big of a lesson…

The Aftermath (and How It Should Be Done)

This past week, having saved up all our Christmas money to buy a new dishwasher, we had our new (reputable) plumbers out to give us an estimate on installation. (Let’s call them “ABC Plumbing.”) We got an estimate, alright—for the installation for the washer, and also for all the pipe work that desperately needed to be redone first before we should even consider installing a brand-new major appliance.

Turns out Bob wasn’t even as good at Joe Handyman off the street. Let’s put it this way: ABC Plumber asked my permission to take a picture of Bob’s handiwork for their website’s “wall of shame” warning against the perils of going with lowest-bid contractors. The piping worked, technically, but it wouldn’t work well for very long—and it certainly wouldn’t be able to withstand the pressures of adding a dishwasher to the system. We had paid for cheap work, and cheap work is what we got.
ABC Plumbing, on the other hand? They’ll admit right off the bat that they’re not the cheapest around. But they do the work right. They show up in a fully-licensed, fully-decaled van stocked with every part they might need to do the job (to code). They draw you sketches and show you exactly what needs fixing and why. They answer every question you can think of, and even those you didn’t know enough to think of. They have 24-hour emergency service. They even put a double-layer of plastic hospital booties on over their work boots so they won’t track any mud into your house, for crying out loud.

Will it cost a pretty penny to have them do the plumbing right? Yes. And it will be worth every pretty penny. Because sometimes you have to pay a little more for quality to save yourself from tons of hassle and expense down the line. Especially when it comes to something big, like your house or your car, it’s worth paying the professionals to do it right the first time.
The only good news in the story (apart from the lesson learned)? ABC Plumber informed me that what I got from Jim was probably worth about 50 bucks, so at least we didn’t pay $5,000 for shoddy work like too many of his other customers have.

That’s not much consolation, but it’s some.
How about you all? Have you every paid for a “cheap” product or service only to regret it later?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of


    1. I believe the typical term is 'penny wise, pound foolish'. You're lucky that it 'only' cost you a couple of hundred bucks and as you said, not a few thousand. I also learned the hard way that the deal-of-the-day types things aren't a good idea for service based 'deals'. I signed up for a deal for lawn aeration for under half of the regular price. They must have got so innundated that it forced them right out of business. They never showed up, they never returned calls, and eventually Living Social just gave me my money back for the voucher. I'll get stuff for restaurants or products, but for services: never again.
      My recent post 10 Small Things To Do Around Your House Today

      • CordeliaCallsIt says:

        I actually go to a massage and day spa I found through a daily deals site. They (fortunately) are fantastic, but the owner has admitted to me that running that voucher deal nearly put them in the red. I don't think small businesses realize how much they're sacrificing to reel in a few extra customers with those deals.

        I am now with you on the restaurants and products only policy. And even then, I check around to make sure the restaurants are reviewed well and make sure the products don't look shoddy. The more I see of daily deals sites, sadly, the more I'm tempted to start unsubscribing. :/
        My recent post Reader QUIT: Repelling Freedom with My Immaturity (by Courtney Johnston)

    2. I read on Yes and Yes a while ago that you should always go with the second cheapest over the cheapest quote. That cracked me up. That's probably not the best way to go about it, either, but you're right, being blinded by price and price alone is dangerous…
      My recent post My fear of commitment

      • CordeliaCallsIt says:

        That's an interesting policy. At least less risky than going for cheapest alone.

        Out of curiosity, what's Yes and Yes? I think I might like to subscribe…
        My recent post Reader QUIT: Repelling Freedom with My Immaturity (by Courtney Johnston)

    3. I tend not to use daily deal sites anymore due to the availability of the deal and how they screw over the retailers. It is not worth saving money if I am going to put a small business out.
      My recent post The Reality of Family Debt and How To Manage Your Way Out

      • CordeliaCallsIt says:

        Yeah, I'm starting to like them less and less myself. The bad experiences I'm having are beginning to outweigh the good experiences–and those bad include hearing from business owners about how they wish they'd never ran their deal.

    4. I have been bitten by offers that seem too good to be true before. I always think I have learned until the next one comes along and I get done over again.

      • CordeliaCallsIt says:

        It's definitely taken me a few bad experiences to get wary enough to forgo the “great deals”–this plumbing experience is definitely the straw that broke the camel's back!

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