Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skimp now... well, you know the rest

I have never understood the mindset of people who will do anything to save a buck now, without regard to the consequences. I'm not talking about people who truly can't afford anything but the cheapest option but people who have the resources to make different choices but steadfastly refuse to spend a nickel they don't have to.

Take shoes as an example. Some people balk at the idea of spending money on shoes when you can buy shoes cheaply at big box stores. I've done both. And let me assure you, the expensive shoes last a lot longer. So if the expensive shoes last for years but I have to replace the cheap ones every few months, am I really saving any money by buying the cheap ones? Buy better windows and your utility bills will be lower. Buy better building materials and you won't have to do as much maintenance.

Sometimes, refusing to spend money now just costs you a whole lot more down the road. Like refusing to fund early childhood development programs like Head Start. Refusing to pay for school breakfast and lunch programs. Refusing to fund public schools and state universities. Sure, you'll save those bucks now, but what are you costing yourself in the long run? It may be tempting to save your pennies and not pay for an oil change now, but you'll be damn sorry when your engine seizes , leaving you carless and with a repair bill in the thousands.

If we don't pay for things like Head Start, public schools, and those nutritional programs, what are we costing ourselves? Well, eventually we'll be paying for high school drop-outs on public assistance. And we'll be paying to deal with crimes and punishments. Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to incarcerate a young man when we maybe could have avoided those costs by spending tens of thousands of dollars to help him achieve success in school, which might well have kept him from committing a crime in the first place? (Why am I including lunch and breakfast programs? Check out some of the research on the correlation between childhood nutrition and success in schools.)

Likewise, skimping money on indigent defense now may feel good, may feel efficient. But in the long run, it will cost the taxpayers a whole lot more. If you refuse to pay appointed counsel a livable amount, if you refuse to pay salaried public defenders as much as you pay prosecutors, and if you overload them with so many cases they can't name all their clients, you're going to get poor performances from attorneys. And when you get poor performances from attorneys, all sorts of bad things can happen. You can wind up wrongly convicting innocent people when you have an exhausted, overworked attorney who doesn't have the training, the time, and the resources to find the holes in the state's case. You can wind up having to do the whole trial again when a court realizes that the defense attorney's performance was so poor, it prejudiced the defendant's right to a fair trial. So all that skimping and penny-counting can wind up costing a whole lot more in the end.

Being smart and efficient with money and other resources requires something more than "don't spend, don't spend, don't spend!" Doing it right the first time, whether it be educating a child or decorating your house or trying to convict an alleged murderer, is the most cost effective thing you can do. It boggles the mind that people don't get that.

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