… you should.
First, some background:
I have used this example on Twitter repeatedly this school-supply buying season, because I have seen many well-meaning and earnest parents saying things like “but if you buy a backpack at MEC / Lands End / LL Bean it will last for three to five years!”
And they are honestly trying to help, and are confused that anyone would ever buy the Wal-Mart $9.99 special with a Pixar character emblazoned on it.
- LL Bean backpacks run anywhere from US$30 -$80, plus you need a valid credit card to order one.
- A kids’ daypack at Mountain Equipment Co-op is CDN$42, and doesn’t qualify for free shipping because you need to spend $50+ for that. Again, you need a credit card, unless you live in a city that has a MEC.
- The cheapest child’s backpack at Lands’ End Canada is $30, and would be too small for a kid in older grades
These are all outside the reach of many low-income families.
However, consider this from Terry Pratchett, OBE and all-around genius creator of the Discworld series. It is the “Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice”.
Samuel Vimes earned thirty-eight dollars a month as a Captain of the Watch, plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots, the sort that would last years and years, cost fifty dollars. This was beyond his pocket and the most he could hope for was an affordable pair of boots costing ten dollars, which might with luck last a year or so before he would need to resort to makeshift cardboard insoles so as to prolong the moment of shelling out another ten dollars.
Therefore over a period of ten years, he might have paid out a hundred dollars on boots, twice as much as the man who could afford fifty dollars up front ten years before. And he would still have wet feet.
That’s it, in a nutshell. Lower-income families have to make do with lower quality items because they simply cannot afford the initial investment required to buy something well-made that will last for years.
This holds true for everything from sneakers to looseleaf binders to pencils. It’s the number-one reason why I approve of teachers who simply ask for a cheque so that they can buy school supplies in bulk for the classroom. For a lot of years I was one of the kids with the “Club Z” brand markers, and the orange one always died out half-way through colouring my Hallowe’en pumpkin. Did I want the Crayola markers? Of course I did. And my mom knew they would last longer, too. But one pack of Crayolas equaled multiple packs of El Cheapo Store Brand and with four kids guess which one we always got?
My parents would inevitably spend more in total that the ones who could afford the Crayolas, and yet our markers never worked.
So! Buy the good stuff, if you can. If you are planning to contribute school supplies to one of the many charities that stuff backpacks for kids this time of year, please buy the good stuff for them, too.