When “Good Enough” is Best

By , November 30, 2014

A key self reliance strategy is often to obtain the highest quality tool you can afford or find, whenever possible. However, many times “good enough” beats “best.” The trick is considering all the angles, then making the right choice.

A few years ago, after yet another knuckle-busting bout of changing out the propane tank, I decided the time had come to give in and buy a proper-sized box wrench for the job. I’d limped along with my adjustable wrench, a geriatric tool that developed a tendency to loosen from its setting during use. I watched garage sales and second hand stores for more than a year, hoping to pick up a used wrench in the proper size, but eventually I decided to buy new.

I shopped around town, finding one wrench for an alarming price, and another for 1/3 that price.

If someone handed me both tools and asked me to choose for free, I’d take the more expensive one. I judged it to be a superior piece of equipment, one that would probably last longer than the other. However, for the price, I could “risk” purchasing the other, inferior wrench. If it broke, rusted, or otherwise wore out, I could buy another one like it and double whatever time I found it useful, and still save money over purchasing the better tool. In this particular instance, where the tool is dedicated to one specialized use, the “good enough” tool will likely last longer than I’ll need it.

I learned this strategy from my older brother. When I started building sailboats, I considered buying a top of the line circular saw. My brother suggested I buy a cheaper model of lesser quality, proposing that it’d likely last long enough to do the job, but if it burned out, I could buy as many as three others like it before paying the same as the one top-of-the-line model. That was more than 10 years ago. I still use that first “good enough” saw. Since then, I received two others like it at no additional cost when we bought the homestead. The gamble paid off in this instance as well.

Perhaps I’m missing the satisfaction of owning the best tool for the job, but I find saving money on “good enough” pretty satisfying as well.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

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