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Old 07-13-2009, 03:23 PM   #21
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See, I'm never spending big bucks for appliances so I didn't realize Sears makes Subzero. Or does Consumer Reports rates Sears the same as the high end stuff?
What I meant is that high end isn't necessarily any better than low end.
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Old 07-13-2009, 06:03 PM   #22
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I'm sure that quality has dropped in some areas, but I am having trouble thinking of ones that seem important. A few little buggers that come to mind:

Buttons on things like cordless phones (and other devices) - seems that was the thing that went bad, and how can a consumer tell if the buttons are quality or not ahead of time, reviews don't cover long term stuff like that very well. In fact, my last purchase was from the AT&T line, CFB mentioned that the buttons were high quality and those phones have seemed to held up well so far, and have a quality "feel" (which might not mean much). But those annoying "dialers" on the old desk-set "worked" for years (if your finger didn't slip and miss-dial, but that was your "fault", right?).

Sound quality - again, phone related, but I bought a "digital answering machine" years ago. Nice to not deal with tape, but the actual sound quality was not that good. Again, when you buy in a big box store, no way to test these things out, and for $20, not worth taking back - who knows if the next brand is any better?

Also sound quality on music - we went *backwards* from CDs to mp3 (some would say CDs were backwards from LPs - in some limited ways I might agree), and people just accept it. I don't pay for a music download unless I can get lossless format, like FLAC.

I actually thought about this as I walked around my house and looked at my "stuff", and I'd still say that overwhelmingly (IMO) stuff that is available to me is getting better, not worse. I am having a tough time thinking of anything from the "good old days" that I can't get as good or better today - maybe not at WM or IKEA, but no need to limit yourself. Heck, you can order such a variety of stuff from the internet today, get free shipping and have it a few days - stuff you just could not get in a local store at any price "back in the day".

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Old 07-13-2009, 07:18 PM   #23
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In the land of hydropower, the electricity is cheap too. They never pay more than the minimum charge for electricity for the shack.
In San Diego, PG&E would literally pay you $25 to let them haul off that fridge.

And in Hawaii, where refrigeration is actually needed instead of existing as a year-round climate, that fridge would cost $25/month to maintain its temp.
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Old 07-13-2009, 07:19 PM   #24
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I am finding that outside of electronics, lawn and garden tools, and kitchen appliances, I am continuing a lifelong habit of buying "older" things at garage sales or in country antique stores. I looked around my house and realized that the majority of my furniture was not purchased new. The quality of real hardwood, even with a few dings here and there, versus veneered particle board, is my preference. Some of this stuff is older than I am.
Here's an example of a piece (secretary with flip-open writing desk and pidgeon holes) found at an estate sale for about $100 in 1990s dollars. It's not worth much as far as antiques go, but it is so well made.
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Old 07-13-2009, 08:20 PM   #25
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That's a pretty piece of furniture and a bargain, freebird.
I have mostly thrift store furniture, because I can usually find more durable stuff for better prices than new.
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Old 07-14-2009, 10:33 AM   #26
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You can never go wrong with solid wood!

Freebird, no comments from the peanut gallery.......
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Old 07-14-2009, 10:48 AM   #27
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You can never go wrong with solid wood!
Actually, you can (never say never!).

While veneer is associated with cheap furniture, it is used in very high end pieces too. Well done veneer over a substrate can be more stable and long lasting than solid wood. Solid wood can crack from expansion/contraction, while a thin veneer can stretch to accommodate movement, and a substrate like high quality plywood moves less, as the plies are in different directions. And you can do things you can't do with solid wood.

If it was good enough for the Pharaohs and Thomas Chippendale ...

HPVA :: Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association

But I agree with the general theme - if you can find lightly used furniture in a style you like that was made in an age of cheaper labor, you can get some great values and great quality. Most of our house is more modern style, but we do have a few pieces like that that we bought, and a few hand-me downs in the kid's rooms. They are kind of "special".

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Old 07-14-2009, 10:58 AM   #28
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Actually, you can (never say never!).

While veneer is associated with cheap furniture, it is used in very high end pieces too. Well done veneer over a substrate can be more stable and long lasting than solid wood. Solid wood can crack from expansion/contraction, while a thin veneer can stretch to accommodate movement, and a substrate like high quality plywood moves less, as the plies are in different directions. And you can do things you can't do with solid wood.

If it was good enough for the Pharaohs and Thomas Chippendale ...

HPVA :: Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association

But I agree with the general theme - if you can find lightly used furniture in a style you like that was made in an age of cheaper labor, you can get some great values and great quality. Most of our house is more modern style, but we do have a few pieces like that that we bought, and a few hand-me downs in the kid's rooms. They are kind of "special".

-ERD50
Ya had to get all technical, didn't ya?

All I know is the big buck stuff I see on Antiques Roadshow that the Keino brothers drool over is solid wood...........
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Old 07-14-2009, 11:10 AM   #29
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If we bought things only for functionality we probably would always buy the cheapest available--those board and cinder block shelves, or Ikea laminate bookcases, hold books as well as Ethan Allen bookcases.
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Old 07-14-2009, 11:24 AM   #30
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If we bought things only for functionality we probably would always buy the cheapest available--those board and cinder block shelves, or Ikea laminate bookcases, hold books as well as Ethan Allen bookcases.
I guess it depends on the type of function.

I spend much of my day sitting at a computer desk-- let's call it six hours. A cheap computer chair (or a stool or an egg crate) gets the job done, but I've never been able sit in any desk chair for as long a time as I've been able to sit in a Herman Miller Aeron. With free warranty service on our front lanai.

The concept of "décor" is pretty much lost on me, but there are times when it pays to buy quality. Especially when some cash-strapped Craigslist seller is trying to ditch it in a hurry...
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Old 07-14-2009, 11:39 AM   #31
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Nice chair, Nords--I just looked at the Herman Miller website and I can see it's very supportive.

I did get a chuckle out of the comment at that site that this chair is "94% recyclable"--they cost a pretty penny and I wonder how many will ever get sent to the recycling center.
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Old 07-14-2009, 01:07 PM   #32
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But I agree with the general theme - if you can find lightly used furniture in a style you like that was made in an age of cheaper labor, you can get some great values and great quality.

-ERD50
I think we are living in an age of cheap labor, but instead of getting very high quality we are getting very high volume. Lots of stuff for everyone.

I think there is too much stuff. Go to Goodwill and see how many plastic kids toys and stuffed animals there are. Tons. Not only can every kid have toys they can have way too many toys.
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Old 07-14-2009, 01:59 PM   #33
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If we bought things only for functionality we probably would always buy the cheapest available--those board and cinder block shelves, or Ikea laminate bookcases, hold books as well as Ethan Allen bookcases.
I still have those.
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Old 07-14-2009, 02:03 PM   #34
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I still have those.
Somehow I knew that (you're my RE hero )-- and that's why you're now able to be RE'd on less than you have coming in and can also afford to give some $ away.
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Old 07-14-2009, 02:32 PM   #35
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I think we are living in an age of cheap labor, but instead of getting very high quality we are getting very high volume. Lots of stuff for everyone.
I agree, we have cheap labor available to us (from other countries) - maybe the difference is that "back in the day" in the US, the labor was cheap relative to the price of the materials. I know my FIL (an "old school" carpenter-contractor) is very much of the mindset that you put in some extra labor if that allows you to save on materials. I was often doing the opposite in my line of work. Well, whichever made economic sense actually, but materials are more predictable than labor, so my bosses steered me towards reducing labor costs.

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I think there is too much stuff. Go to Goodwill and see how many plastic kids toys and stuffed animals there are. Tons. Not only can every kid have toys they can have way too many toys.
Maybe that's a combination of cheap foreign labor, and cheap materials? It is so much cheaper to blow-mold something out of plastic, and glue/snap together a few different colored parts than it is to manually carve that out of a selected piece of hardwood, paint each part, wait for it to dry, etc.

It would be interesting to compare the prices of some basic toys of equivalent quality (that's subjective though) - dolls, Lincoln logs, pull toys, stuffed animals (not fancy electronic ones) with prices in the 50 or 60's. If my theory holds water, those should be cheaper now (adjusted for inflation) than back then. Now that I flashback to my youth, playing with toys with my cousins - most of those toys were pretty cheap stuff. Tin-plate, poorly fit together, plastic and rubber parts, those green army men with the molding lines in them, and those plastics were terrible compared to today's stuff (which is why plastic is associated with "cheap" - but it's often the opposite today - ever see a wood motorcycle helmet?).

And if you want a hand-carved, hand painted pull toy today - they are available. You may need to search them out, and some places will price them very high trying to cash in on the nostalgia factor, but I'm pretty sure you can find some at decent prices if you look.

It's sort of like "labor saving" devices - many people still work
over 40 hours a week. We didn't "save" the time, we spent/invested it in different ways. So today, so many things are relatively cheaper, we just have more of everything (more toys, more TVs, computers, GPSs, iPods, stuff that didn't even exist 20 years ago).

I gotta stop thinking about this - I keep writing..... But another analogy - beer. We are awash in cheap, low quality mega-swill. It's everywhere, people buy tons of it. But there is also no better time to be alive than right now if you want to enjoy the highest variety of fantastic quality beers from around the world and around your own locality (or home for that matter, home brewers have access to quality ingredients that they never had before). So it is really about choice, IMO. You can shake your head at all the crap out there, or you can decide to appreciate the greatness of what we do have, and bring quality into your life.

OK, I'm finally reigning myself in... for now


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Old 07-14-2009, 02:36 PM   #36
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Go to Goodwill and see how many plastic kids toys and stuffed animals there are. Tons. Not only can every kid have toys they can have way too many toys.
Why go to Goodwill when I can just look in every room in my house and find these toys and stuffed animals lying around everywhere? We keep throwing these things away but I believe some of the prince and princess dolls are making whoopee at night when we aren't looking and reproducing because there always seems to be baby dolls lying around in the morning.

I really do wish I would have kept track of toy inflow and outflow so I could graph it over time. Then take the area under the curve (the integral of the junk function with respect to time) as a measure of "childhood junk factor" or something. I think we may slowly be winning the toy war of attrition.
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Old 07-14-2009, 02:48 PM   #37
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It would be interesting to compare the prices of some basic toys of equivalent quality (that's subjective though) - dolls, Lincoln logs, pull toys, stuffed animals (not fancy electronic ones) with prices in the 50 or 60's. If my theory holds water, those should be cheaper now (adjusted for inflation) than back then. Now that I flashback to my youth, playing with toys with my cousins - most of those toys were pretty cheap stuff. Tin-plate, poorly fit together, plastic and rubber parts, those green army men with the molding lines in them, and those plastics were terrible compared to today's stuff (which is why plastic is associated with "cheap" - but it's often the opposite today - ever see a wood motorcycle helmet?).
As a reluctant consumer of fine children's toys, I'll have to admit that the price per unit for toys has slowly decreased over time. The Dollar Store, for example, now has a huge range of really nice toys for $1. Some things there are not the best quality, but in general it is at least as good as stuff you would pay a dollar or more for back in the 80's when I was a kid and Kmart was about the cheapest place you could get "quality" cheap toys.

And this completely ignores all children's toys that are electronic. Ipod/mp3 player vs. walkman or discman or boombox, cheap sub-200 netbooks for every member of the household or $300 laptops vs. multi thousand dollar desktop computers with the green monochrome 13" screens. Video games - Nintendo video games were the same price back in the 80's as the latest xbox 360 and PS3 games are today. Most of the comparable items in this category are around the same price today in nominal dollars. Needless to say, features of 2009 electronics are 1000x better than that of the 1980's.

I really can't think of anything toy-related that costs more today vs. 20 years ago (the time of my childhood). Gas for cars is the one thing that is different since it was under a buck when I was in high school and a 2 hr trip to the beach splitting gas between friends cost about what a McD's combo meal cost.

To be a kid with a nice allowance today...
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Old 07-14-2009, 04:11 PM   #38
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I think we are living in an age of cheap labor, but instead of getting very high quality we are getting very high volume. Lots of stuff for everyone.
The worst thing about it is that we get cheap third-world labor when the goods are manufactured, but the labor to FIX these gadgets is very rarely cheap.

This leads to a perfect storm of encouraging "disposable" appliances, electronics and other stuff. It often costs less to buy a new one built in China than to get it fixed by someone in your local economy. So when it breaks, throw it away.
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Old 07-14-2009, 04:15 PM   #39
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This leads to a perfect storm of encouraging "disposable" appliances, electronics and other stuff. It often costs less to buy a new one than to get it fixed. So when it breaks, throw it away.
And the best strategy IMHO when buying these disposable appliances is to buy the cheapest item that fits your minimum requirements, knowing that all such appliances have some failure rate, and that you would not pay to have it fixed. Focus on lifecycle costs (ignoring externalities of course).
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Old 07-14-2009, 04:58 PM   #40
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Construction is another cheap service. Don't bring a level out to a subdivision going up. What you find will scare you.
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