When Going Cheap Doesn’t Pay…

My husband and I spent a good portion of yesterday shopping. Yes, you heard me right. Shopping. Me. Sounds like something I’d enjoy, right? And during our month of freezing spending? Something must be wrong…

Yes, something was wrong. Very wrong… Our son’s bike, that is. Let me backtrack a little. Our son is six years old and very apprehensive about trying new things. He’s not what you’d call the adventurous type. Overly cautious (almost to a fault) is a better description. So, when he learned how to ride a two wheeler at the age of six (basically on his own), my husband and I could not have been more surprised and proud. He not only took a huge risk (for him) but did so without any assistance from us.

Well, he now considers himself an expert bike rider (that’s right, after only biking for 3 months) and is on his bike everyday after school. His bike is our current “currency” with him – basically the only thing he cares about enough to really listen if we threaten to take it away.

Said bike has been giving us trouble pretty much since the training wheels came off. His chain started falling off once, maybe twice a week and is now falling off two or three times everyday. After an hour of bike riding, my fingers give the appearance that I’m a seasoned mechanic. We were left with two choices. Continue to put the chain back on the bike several times during a bike ride or buy him a new bike. He is way too big for his current bike so the plan was to get him a new one for Christmas. But his love of biking and the fact that we should have at least one more month of bike riding weather swayed us to get him a new one now.

It was not cheap. In fact, it was expensive. But, after doing our research, we realized that cheap wasn’t the way to go here. We first consulted Craigslist to see what quality used bikes were going for. To my surprise, they were much more expensive than I expected them to be – about 2/3 the cost of a new, quality bike. And after reaching out to a few that we wanted to take a look at, we realized that quality bikes sell quickly. When you add a tune up to the total (a must when buying a used bike), we weren’t that far off from the price of a new, quality bike.

So, we set out in search of a deal on a new bike. We had our son measured a month ago to see what size he really should be at (his current bike is way too small). He came in between a 20″ and 24″ bike. Given that we wanted to get at least a couple of years out of this one, we decided to go with a 24″. We physically went to five bike shops and called one more looking for the best deal. In the end, we found what we were looking for. It was a 24″ bike, the second cheapest of all that we looked at, in the color scheme that we knew would make him happy. And with our purchase came a follow up tune up for the spring time once the brakes and gears had been through their paces a few times.

We learned a lot during this process. One is that bike shop guys are great. I expected them to be similar to car salesmen but they weren’t like that at all. They even suggested other bike shops to check out. The other thing I learned is that at this level, there isn’t much variation in what is offered in a bike. Basically the differences are the number of gears (not important to us), the material the bike is made of (steel or aluminum), and color. The components (Shimano) are basically all the same, regardless of bike brand.  And they’re all priced very similarly. The only price variations we saw was about a $20 difference across all brands of bikes with similar attributes. And whether or not the shop was having a sale.

As you probably already know, I don’t buy much (spoiler alert – other than this purchase, our month’s spending has been awesome), but when I do, I only pursue quality when it comes to items where safety is a consideration. We’ve learned this lesson over and over with our own bikes and vehicles. We prefer to spend a little more up front but know that our investment will serve us well for quite some time. Basically, we apply the same logic to bike buying that we do when buying a car. We look for quality vehicles that hold their value and are known to last forever.

Our son’s bike should last three years. If we had gone cheap, we may have run into a similar issue that he’s running into now with his smaller bike. Maybe not, but if we end up having any problems with this bike, the bike shop is invested in helping us out along the way. And when we’re done, we plan to sell it. Given what quality bikes are going for on Craigslist, I think it’s quite likely that we can get about half of our cost back, assuming that he takes good care of it.

While I am always looking for a bargain and do almost all of our clothes shopping at Goodwill (when there are gaps in our “hand-me-down” supply), when it comes to certain things, being cheap doesn’t pay off in the end. Our investment should serve our son well in his bike riding adventures and when he’s outgrown this one, we hope to recoup a lot of the original expense, to apply to his next quality bike.

And as for no-spend October? Well, we failed with this purchase. But, I’m ok with that. We’ve done really well thus far and this was an important purchase for our family.

What about you? What purchases are you not willing to go “cheap” on?

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