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The other day I was in an office supply store. I was looking for an inexpensive bookcase that would merely hold my books, nothing more. At one point the salesman leaned against the lowest price book shelf and pointed to another much more expensive one. "You get what you pay for," he told me as though this were a truth that could not be denied. "You would be much happier with this $50 model instead of this $20 one," he added.

"Will the less expensive bookcase store my books and not fall down?" Well, yes, it would, he agreed.

There are a lot of sayings we have all grown up with, sayings that we accept as true. However, when you look closer there may not be much truth. Take the popular notion of "Look before you leap." It sounds good enough, but what about "He who hesitates is lost." These two common sayings are opposites. Sometimes one is true; sometimes the other is true; sometimes neither is true.

I believe the saying "You get what you pay for" must have been coined by a salesman or a company. I have certainly heard that phrase more from salesmen than any other group.

The office supply salesman gave me an example of what he meant. He always bought an Oldsmobile while his brother-in-law always bought a small sub-compact economy car. The salesman estimated that he had bought one car during the time his in-law had bought three. So by paying more initially the salesman had actually saved a lot of money. It sounded good until I thought about it.

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Here were my unanswered questions: How much did the in-law save on gas with his more economical car, and what about insurance and taxes? Did the salesman drive the car less or more than his brother-in-law? Was the in-law hard on his car while the salesman babied his? Did the salesman put his car in a garage while the in-law left his out in the weather? And, of course, how much had the salesman exaggerated about the number of cars his brother-in-law had actually gone through?

Simply saying "you get what you pay for" is much too pat. Sometimes you get what you pay for, sometimes you don't.

I have seen the same office product sell for hundreds of dollars more in a different store or catalog. Instead of saying "you get what you pay for," I believe you get what you comparison shop for. Only by comparing products do you really find the range of prices and the range of features that are offered. You get the best deal when you find a product that meets your needs. There is no point in paying a lot of money for something if you don't need the extras it offers. Only then can you make an intelligent choice.

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