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The “Dollar Menu Economy” and How it Skews Our Perspective

“Something for nothing, a bargain, a steal
Used cars on credit card, lost another wheel
I’d like to get it for free
It’s what the price should be
I just wanna pay less
I just have to confess
Quality and value, always wanting more
Tip my hat to the taxman, the revenue does pour”

– Anvil  “You Get What You Pay For” (Please note: while the lyrics to the song are very applicable to the discussion, the song itself is terrible. Save your ears some distress and do not listen to it.)

An uneven (and at times recession-impacted) economy over the past decade has really spoiled us – since those factors have kept prices in check and bargains relatively plentiful. Coupled with cheap imports on certain items and competition on the internet, it seems like we don’t want to pay for anything anymore. I’m no exception – heck, I might even be the prototypical example of it. I can’t go into a store and buy an item. I have to go online, research it, and scour around for the best deal. If it isn’t a rock-bottom price, I rarely feel good about it.

A lot of times we become accustomed to this without even trying. For example, in 1955 a McDonald’s cheeseburger was $1.65 adjusted for inflation. But I don’t even want to pay $1.65 for a double cheeseburger at McDonald’s anymore (…or buy McDonald’s food at all, but that’s another point altogether). Pizzas that were $12-16 a few years ago are $5-10 now. There are tons of things you can find on eBay or Craigslist that would cost you 5x as much in the store.

That’s great, but what it has a tendency to do is to skew our perspective away from value. We start to confuse price with value, but the two are very distinct things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought multiple “cheap” items only to have them break and exceed the cost of a single quality one. The things we buy fall apart, the fabric on the cheap clothes rips, and whatever “meat” is used to create a $1 double cheeseburger starts to make our body rebel against us.

Or as the old expression goes: “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

Or more bluntly: “you get what you pay for.”

Cognitively we know this. But we start to get dollar signs in our eyes when we think about how much we can “save”. And in most things, there really isn’t much harm. We blow a few dollars here and there because we keep having to replace the junk we bought on a budget. No lasting harm and no real foul.

But when it comes to the things that really matter in our life, how cheap do we really want to be?

And as I am an accountant and this is my blog, I’m of course going to point to taxes and other financial matters now. Do you really want to plod through TurboTax, cross your fingers, and just hope and pray that you didn’t mess anything up? Or not know how to implement more sophisticated solutions and strategies than the little software program has built into it – possibly resulting in unnecessary taxes? Do you really want to go to H&R Block where someone without an accounting degree, with no certifications, who has likely just completed their “comprehensive” 3-week tax training class, and trust that “expert” with your return? Do you really want to leave so much uncertainty with something that is so important to you?

Not everything we spend money on is an expense. Some things are investments. Medical, legal, and yes – financial and tax matters are not the areas to be “penny wise and pound foolish.” Mistakes are too costly. So make the investment and get me to help you with your taxes and related business matters – to make sure it is done right!

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any federal tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code.