You get what you pay for?

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“You get what you pay for.”

A term you often hear or see written. Be it discussing gear, restaurants, autos, services, etc.

But what does this often trotted out trope mean, exactly?

Not being athletically gifted, but loving a good argument, I joined the high school debate team. Then again, it seems like a good portion of the population of Rhode Island loves animated discussions, too. But I digress.

In any case, “truism” is a concept I quickly learned about during my debate meets. A no-no during tournaments. Because you can’t debate that concept with any real validity. You may as well debate gravity or a flat earth, of the effectiveness of vaccinations (Er..never mind. Sadly.)

The more grounded and blunter people I grew up with would probably say “No shit, Sherlock.”

So, of course, you get what you pay for! You buy something. You have it.

What these people mean by this trope is that if you pay more money for something, you get a superior product or service.


This person bought a foam pad rather than a Therm-A-Rest. If the person did their research, they would have realized the difference regarding application. Instead, the person gave a one-star review.

No. No, you don’t.

First, let’s take the idea to its literal conclusion. If I bought an Audi, is it superior to my 4wd vehicle? Well, the Audi is more expensive, more-than-likely comes with leather heated seats, blue tooth connectivity, a smoother ride, etc. But I doubt I’d make it far up a rutted jeep road.

What about apples-to-apples comparisons, Paul?

I am wearing a favorite fleece I paid $15 for at a consignment store. Is a Northface Fleece Pullover or even the sacred-cow of a Melly Fleece superior to my generic fleece? Not for my use, experience, or how many times I’ve used it. I doubt my hiking or ski touring would be better if I sprung for something more expensive.

And I have similar thoughts about merino wool garments vs. synthetic base layers, too. Meaning, I prefer the less expensive base layers, and I do find them more effective in the long run.

Saying you “get what you pay for” is just lazy. And potentially costing you money and time.

I once received a very generous gift card to a James Beard award-winning restaurant. The food ended up being overly salty, uninspiring, and overhyped in addition to just plain expensive. Even with a gift card. A hole in the wall place in Espanola, NM next to a dollar store? Absolutely delicious.

And even if something is “better” (material, craft, construction, etc.), it may not be better or even overkill for the task at hand. A bushcrafter-type poo-pooed my favorite beater utility knife because it could not baton wood or skin a deer effectively. Maybe, maybe not. Don’t know. But when I suggested it works well for cutting rope, slicing cheese, preparing dinner, and the other reasons I bought for the knife, the reply? “You get what you pay for.” Argh! Using this logic, the butter knife I used to spread jam is inferior, too.

So, stop trotting out the “You get what you pay for” trope as a reason why something might be superior. Give some logical reasons. Works better for a particular situation? The materials hold up? More effective in winter? Convince your audience.

A Nunatak or Katabatic quilt are expensive pieces of gear. And you do get superior products compared to similar designs. But I would never say the price is the reason why the products are better. The products are better for various reasons, and the price reflects it.

Bust out this truism, and I suspect I’d lose any debate in high school.

Or worse, one of my buddies would give me an appropriate, and well deserved, “No shit, Sherlock.”

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