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My 16-Year-Old Bike Explains Which is Best: Quality or Quantity (Hint: They’re Both Wrong)

quality-cleaners

There’s a silly debate that’s been raging since, I guess, the beginning of time. One side says, “Focus on quality! Always get the very best you can!” The other side says, “No, quantity is what’s important. The more the better!”

Both sides have fair enough points, and you can see the debate rage in almost every aspect of life from saving money on groceries (read the naysayers in the comments) to doing work to making travel arrangements. You probably even debate yourself on it each day as you make decisions for your own life.

What few seem to realize, though, is that—in the end—both arguments kind of suck. And a smart Riskologist knows that to get ahead in life, you must be able to look at the decisions you make for yourself through the lens of cold, hard reality.

Let me illustrate with a few examples.

The Folly of the Rolex Watch

What’s the point of a rolex watch? It’s fancy, it’s expensive, and many people (usually those who own one) think it the best of the best in how-to-know-you’re-late technology.

But is it?

Perhaps many years ago it represented a better time piece than any other on the market, but with the technology we enjoy today, you can get all the same quality and time-telling-fanciness from a $20 Casio. It won’t look as nice, but it’ll work just as well.

And there’s the problem. The quality argument is no longer about the quality that matters: telling time.

All of a sudden, it’s about more than that. It’s about making a statement and owning a status symbol.

There is not a Rolex owner alive that can look you in the face and tell you with honesty that they bought their watch because it tells time better than any other watch on the market.

No, they bought it to show other people that they have money. Only, now that they’ve bought a Rolex, they have less of it, which makes it hard to actually have it when people expect you to.

Next thing you know, you’re spending money you don’t have to keep up an image that isn’t honest and no genuine person cares that you have or not. Whoops!

I have a family friend that ended up in this very predicament. He spent his whole life trying to prove to everyone he had money he actually didn’t. He bought the “best of the best” in everything he owned.

Of course, it was all fake. He didn’t have any money, and now he’s about to go to jail because his addiction to keeping up appearances lead him to theft and fraud. Double whoops!

Sad story for everyone involved. Let’s move on.

The Truth Behind “Free” Frequent Flyer Miles

On the other side of the debate, the quantity lovers will say, “Your dumb friend should have watched his money better! He could have had the life of his dreams if he’d found cheaper ways to own the same things!”

An example of this concept in action is alive and well in the travel hacking community. Travel hackers will spend inordinate amounts of time searching for the best deals that allow them to travel for cheap. They find glitch fares, hoard frequent flyer miles, and do all kinds of funny stuff that make the average person scratch their head in disbelief.

They travel, and they do it a lot. According to them, it’s all freeeeeeeeee!

I’m a big fan of frequent flyer miles. In fact, they’ve changed my life. I’ve flown all over the world for nearly free because of them, but I don’t try to kid myself. There’s a whole world of other expenses that comes with that lifestyle once you’ve bought into it.

First, I would never pay full price to travel to all the places I do so, without miles, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to spend money on lodging, food, and other expenses that go hand in hand with travel. The more “free” travel I take, the more I spend while traveling.

And while I have zero debt and have never paid a penny in interest to anyone for anything in my life, there are plenty of self-proclaimed “frugal travelers” who are up to their eyeballs in debt after spending more and more on their frequent flyer credit cards to get more miles. They don’t realize their free travel costs them many times more than if they’d just used cash and paid full price.

I’m nothing but grateful for all the travel experiences I get to have, but I try to be honest with myself about just how free it all really is.

The quality lovers would argue, “You could spend the same amount and just take one lavish vacation each year and not hop all over like a nomad.” And they’d be right! Sort of.

Now the Answer: Value (As Explained by My 16-Year-Old Bicycle)

What all the quality and quantity loudmouths shouting over each other fail to realize is if you look at the argument as a one-or-the-other scenario, there’s no way to win. If you simply have to pick sides, you’ll always end up worse off. The same is true for most dichotomies.

In reality, quality and quantity exist on a spectrum, and the sweet spot you ought to land on is called value. This is a lesson I learned in 6th grade when I bought my first bike from the local shop in my hometown—a good ol’ Trek 420 that, 16 years later, I still ride every single day. Yeah, it’s a little small—like a bear riding a tricycle—but it’s perfect for me.

Even at age 12, I did a painstaking amount of research to find the bike that would be the best value for me. I wanted to spend as much as I needed to get the best fit without paying for an unnecessary status symbol or a bunch of bells and whistles that don’t matter.

The bike was $600, a princely sum for a 12-year-old who earned a “living” splitting fire wood. In the end, both my parents supported me in the decision, but my mom nudged me to save a little longer for a slightly nicer bike (quality), and my dad was ready to disown me for even thinking about spending so much on something I was just going to lose or sell in a few years (quantity).

Yet here I am, 16 years later, still pedaling it around every day. I suspect the same will be true in another 16 years. When my friends ask me if I’m ready to upgrade, my answer is always, “Why mess with perfection?”

***

Don’t get lost in the dogma surrounding the quality/quantity debate. The smart Riskologist need not choose sides. Instead, he should look at every aspect of his life on a spectrum, finding the option that satisfies every reasonable need without ever wasting time or money on extras that don’t actually improve his life.

Your Homework Today

If you’re a smart Riskologist yourself, I’d like you to leave a comment below explaining how you find the sweet spot of value in your life. How do you avoid being sucked into the quality vs. quantity debate?

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