For every person you asked this question to, you would probably hear slightly different stories. No two people are exactly the same, so no two situations are exactly the same.
I can’t answer for everybody, but I can answer from my own personal experience.
I grew up poor. And I don’t just mean poor financially/materially. I grew up with a mentality that I think most poor people have. I don’t know who said it first but I really agree with this quote…
“Being broke is a temporary situation. Being poor is a state of mind.”
I would say this, poor people keep buying cheap things that break because they have a poor state of mind. One of the most important things you can do to get yourself out of having a poor state of mind is to look to the future. You must begin to lift your eyes up from the daily grind and look forward to what could be.
If you only look at the short-term reality of life, it makes perfect sense to buy the cheapest thing. If my time horizon doesn’t extend past “how am I going to get past tomorrow?” why would I pay up for something that will last 5 years instead of 1 year?
Let me give you an example from my own life. My first house that I owned and lived in was a 30-year-old single wide mobile home. I had to gut it and pretty much rebuild it from the studs out. I had very little money to work with. Also, I only expected to be in this house for a couple years. All I was concerned with was getting it done as cheaply as I could because that’s all I could afford.
I bought the cheapest paint I could find. I put on the cheapest roofing shingles I could get hold of. I put in remnant pieces of carpet in the bedrooms and the cheapest laminate I could find. Everything I did, I did with the thought of, “what is the cheapest way I can do this and still be happy with it?” I had no thoughts of “how long will this last?”
Fast forward 8 years. I have moved out of that mobile home (I lived there with my wife for a little over 5 years and it was a great starter home.) We have purchased a home in a great neighborhood and we really have no plans of moving anytime soon. In fact, most of the people who move to this neighborhood stay at least 15 years.
We are getting ready to redo the front and back yards. We want to put in a deck, a patio, a small retaining wall, and a fence, among other things. The mentality now is, “what is the best option that will provide us the most enjoyment and will last for as long as we live in this home but is still something that we can afford?”
I am not going to spend more on something just because it is more expensive. But, if buying $65 per gallon paint instead of $15 per gallon paint means I won’t have to repaint again for 10+ years, I’m going to go with the more expensive paint. If using an aluminum railing system on the deck means little to no maintenance and will last 3x as long as a wooden railing system, I will spend more on the better railing.
What has changed? Well, a few things.
One is that I do have more money to work with than I did before. That cannot be ignored when answering the question “why do poor people keep buying cheap things that break…?” If there is an immediate need and you only have $20 to spend, then you don’t really have the ability to go for the $30 option, even if you know it is the better choice.
The financial side of things is a part of the equation. But my mindset has changed far more than my financial situation. (Although my financial situation has much improved because of the changed mindset.) I’ve learned that doing things on the cheap is a short term mentality, in almost every situation. If I do it on the cheap, (and by cheap I am mainly referring to the quality of the materials), I am setting myself up to have to just redo it all over again.
Building a deck that is going to last 30 years and is low maintenance for $5,000 makes a lot more sense than building a deck that is going to last 10 years for $2,000 and will require regular maintenance. It makes sense financially (in the long term view). It makes sense emotionally (I will enjoy a deck that is built well and properly more than a deck built cheaply that I am always having to worry about falling apart). And it makes sense from a time-saving perspective. (I only have so much time granted to me. Do I really want to spend my time doing the same things over and over again just because I went the cheap route?)
However, all that being said, I still go the cheap route sometime. Paint brushes are a good example. I know that if I buy a high-quality paint brush, it could last me for years. But that is only if I take care of it.
If I leave it out overnight without cleaning it properly, it will be just as worthless as a cheap paintbrush left out over night. I don’t want to spend my time properly cleaning my paintbrush every time I use it. So what do I do? I buy the “economy” version of it. I wrap it in plastic for the night and keep using it until the job is done…then I throw it away.
In this instance, my time is more valuable to me than a quality paint brush. And that brings up my final thought on the matter of “why do poor people buy cheap stuff…?” I think that people often just don’t care about buying something that may last longer or work a little better. They’d rather just enjoy the process of buying it, using it, throwing it away, and buying a new one again down the road.
I know someone close to me who always buys the high-quality tool. They never buy the cheap stuff. They always go for the brands that offer lifetime guarantees. But you know what? They are still poor. They are still poor because they continue to think like a poor person.
The actual purchasing of the item isn’t really the issue, in my opinion. It’s the state of mind that someone has when it comes to “rich” and “poor”.
A person who has a “poor” state of mind will most likely stay poor, whether they buy like a poor person or a rich person. But a person who has a “rich” state of mind can buy like a poor person and still be/become rich.