While saving money and going for cheaper alternatives is a good idea in several circumstances, it can backfire almost as often. This trope deals with the situations where it does backfire.
Depending on the work, this trope comes in two variants: in more comedic works, this is the result of a certain character being a cheapskate and deciding to go with a cheaper solution to his problem, which usually leads to Hilarity Ensuing. In more dramatic works, this is the result of a Corrupt Corporate Executive deciding to cut corners in areas where doing so leads to disastrous results (many times of the "loss of human life and or health" variety).
If the situation involves a good or service that was received for free, this may involve some degree of Complaining About Things You Haven't Paid For.
- In A Sound of Thunder, the boss of the safari company shutting down a key component of the time machine to save power contributed to the catastrophe at hand.
- Cannonball Run 2 has Jill and Marcie use their charms to convince men to give them their cars for free. We see three of them break down. Jill quotes the trope name after the third such incident.
- In A Brother's Price, due to men's Gender Rarity Value, women who want children have three options: They can either swap their brother (if they have one) for a husband, they can pay the eponymous "brother's price" to marry another family's brother, or they can go to a so-called crib, which is a bit like a brothel, but more focused on conceiving children. A brother's price can range from two-thousand to five-thousand, depending on whether the man is a commoner or royalty. The men in a crib cost ten per night, but there is the risk of catching an STD, which is incurable. Considering that a woman might have to try for a dozen times or more to conceive a child, and a husband will sleep with all the sisters in a family, the "cheap" option is actually the more expensive one, as explained in the Discworld example of this trope. A family is mentioned where one sister went to a crib before she and her sisters married. The whole family (newborn children included) died from the ensuing STD.
- The "Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness", as outlined in the Discworld novel Men at Armsnote :
A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars... A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
- In Darksaber, Durga the hutt plans on building a weapon that's the Death Star's main cannon, minus the rest of the station. He cuts corners on every aspect of the construction, though; An easily-distracted Hive Mind workforce, substandard parts... It's no surprise to Bevel Lemelisk that it doesn't work when first fired.
- Despite Hammond's insistence that he "spared no expense," a large part of the series of failures in Jurassic Park were the result of extensive cost-cutting (He spared no expense on the stuff that the tourists would see, and skimped outrageously on the behind-the-scenes stuff necessary to make the park actually run), meaning it was only a matter of time before the park failed catastrophically even if he didn't have to worry about a disgruntled Nedry sabotaging the computers, who only did so because Hammond shortchanged him. Similarly, Muldoon's requests for military grade weapons to control the animals in an emergency were constantly diluted by Hammond on grounds of cost. As such, once the T-rex breaks free they only have one weapon on the island capable of subduing it... and that's in the jeep that Nedry stole.
- The Murderbot Diaries's main character is a robot who was manufactured by a company that buys and maintains its property as cheaply as possible. Its considered a reasonable theory that a glitch in Murderbot's governor module led it to kill fifty-seven people, and equipment rented from them fails regularly, even though the story is about a survey team on a largely-uncharted planet where the equipment can be vital to not dying.
- In an episode of The King of Queens, Doug decides to give Carrie eye surgery for her birthday so that she no longer needs glasses. However, she ends up going through a much longer than usual adjusting period almost completely blind. Turns out that Doug decided to not go to the surgeon Carrie's boss recommended but another one due to the fact that the latter had coupons. Carrie is understandably upset and forces Doug to take her to the other one.
- On The Red Green Show, this is the general attitude of Possum Lodge toward the idea of hippie "free love".
- In the Only Fools and Horses episode "Who's a Pretty Boy?" Denzil hires Del and Rodney to paint his kitchen because they're so much cheaper than a professional painter. Hilarity Ensues.
- On an episode of 30 Rock, Jack makes Liz get LASIK eye surgery, but being that it's Dr. Spaceman, it's decidedly third rate (it's called LASIG instead). Later in the episode, Jack makes her cry and the tears literally pour down her face. When Jack asks what's happening, Liz sobs, "This is how I cry now! Ever since you made me get that off-brand eye surgery!"
- A Running Gag in Fawlty Towers, where Basil Fawlty insists on hiring the incompetent handyman O'Reily specifically because he is much cheaper than his wife's choice, the pricier but actually competent Stubbs. When Basil hires O'Reily under Sybils nose to install a door, Stubbs later points out that the door is in a load-bearing wall, and O'Reily used a wood frame support instead of a concrete one, essentially turning the hotel into an even bigger deathtrap than normal.
- During BattleBots 2018, two surprisingly experienced teams (The Robotic Death Company and Team RioBotz) who you'd think would know better found themselves on the receiving end of shocking defeats when they used crucial parts that were made in China by a company that apparently did beautiful metal work for a really economical price, but unfortunately used cheap crap material to do so (and, to be fair to the teams, lied about it). Gigabyte was humiliated in its fight against reigning champion Tombstone when the securing bolt that held its spinning shell in place shattered and the shell flew off and bounced around the battlebox like a spinning top, while Minotaur's failure wasn't quite as dramatic, with their side armour panel giving way under the force of their opponent's weapon... in the middle of the Grand Final battle!
- In one of the later arcs in Calvin and Hobbes, a pair of aliens buy the Earth from Calvin for fifty alien leaves, which are implied to be worthless on their planet. A few months later, they come back to Calvin to complain about the Earth's tilted axis, to which Calvin replies "let the buyer beware".
- Deadlands Reloaded has rules for inferior "el cheapo" gear.
- Dark Heresy and related games have Craftsmanship rules laying out four qualities of gear: Poor, Common, Good, and Best. Poor-quality items can be obtained more cheaply and are easier to find, but weapons are less accurate and more prone to jamming, armor is less protective, and other gear doesn't work as well. Conversely, the more expensive and rare Good- and Best-quality items are more accurate, immune to jamming, more protective, and generally work better as well as being visually more impressive.
- Bleeding Edge has a variety of equipment grades, there's the usual Scrounged, Inferior, Superior, and Luxury grades in rising order of cost and bonuses/penalties. But there's also "Bootleg" grade gear that is slightly pricier illegal copies of military gear, "Cracked" gear that is untraceable and even more expensive, "Decoys" that are dirt cheap but don't work at all, and finally Undetectable gear that is extremely expensive.
- In Psychonauts, during the Brain Tumbler experiment Raz will tell Sasha about seeing "very weird things". Sasha exclaims "Ack! Why did I have to buy the CHEAP Brain Tumbler?". Turns out cheapness has nothing to do with it...
- In Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Gabriel Roman expresses his frustration in dealing with Eddie Raja:
Roman: Remind me again why we hired this superstitious idiot?Navarro: You wanted someone cheap.Roman: Ah, yes. Well, you get what you pay for, I suppose.
- In the beginning of Day of the Tentacle, the Chron-O-John fails because Dr. Fred used a synthetic diamond instead of a natural one.
- In The Adventures of Willy Beamish, Willy and friends get a free pizza with a coupon. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with their choice of topping, and it gives Willy a bad case of gas that gets him in trouble with the school bully sitting at a nearby table. The girl sums up the situation with "you get exactly what you pay for..."
- Max Payne 3 has Max explaining the concept (in his trademark sarcastic after-commentary) "to" a guy who threw a grenade too early in the intro sequence:
Max: So in the end I guess I had become what they wanted me to be: some rent-a-clown with a gun who puts holes in other bad guys. Well, that's what they had paid for, so in the end, that's what they got. Say what you want about Americans, but we understand capitalism: you buy yourself a product and you get what you pay for. And these chumps had paid for some angry gringo without the sensibilities to know right from wrong.
- In Deponia's 2nd part, Chaos on Deponia, Rufus is sent to get a datasette to reinstall Goals memory. Unfortunately, he chooses the cheaper version, because he gets a lollipop extra.
- Tower of God: On the Floor of Test, food costs money for the examinees. The currency is points earned from the exams, so people generally buy the bad food.
- What gets the ball rolling in Erfworld is a spell to summon "the perfect warlord" that ends up being a Summon Everyman Hero spell because the overlord running the show refused to purchase the spell support plan. Possibly subverted: later events suggest that, while Parson is hardly the warlord that Stanley wanted, he is the warlord that Stanley needs.
- In Kid Radd, a couple of flunkies were given ten grand to buy the very best assassin to kill Kid Radd while he's in jail. The flunkies decided to get a discount ninja for twenty bucks and keep the rest. The ninja couldn't hit a broad side of a barn.
- This pops up now and again in Schlock Mercenary; Trying to cheap out doesn't always pay off in a violent universe.
Officer: Spend some money and hire help.
- In the beginning of the "Hand To Mouth" arc, a wealthy merchant's planet is embroiled in civil war, and the military is too busy defending key locations to guard his store.
Duke: But all the affordable mercenaries are gone!
Officer: Actually, most of them are dead. You get what you pay for.
Duke: Fine. I'll hire the best mercenaries in the galaxy!
Lemony Narrator: Nope. Go ahead and guess who he hires instead.
- The Simpsons
- In an episode spoofing the story of Moses, Lisa and Milhouse escape a badly designed Death Trap, a room with moving walls covered in spikes where the spikes line up to the opposing walls, causing them to stop the whole trap. Lisa notes, "Slave labor. You get what you paid for."
- Also happens in "30 Minutes Over Tokyo", when the Simpsons, in a fit of super-frugality to save money for a vacation, goes grocery shopping at a 33 Cents store. Homer immediately gets poisoned by a can of plankton from Mexico that expired three years before.
- Kim Possible:
- In one episode Dr. Drakken angrily complains about the shortcomings of his henchmen; Shego scoffs at him for being too cheap to hire better ones from Jack Hench.
- Cheapskate villain Frugal Lucre is even less intimidating than most of the show's villains because of his low-budget operations. For instance, his version of a Shark Pool was a kiddie wading pool full of snapping turtles, all of which retreated into their shells before Kim and Ron had to actually do anything about them.
- David Van Driessen hired Beavis and Butt-Head to clean his house as a means of teaching them about the value of hard work. They end up destroying his irreplaceable collection of 8-track tapes, but they turn out to be unwittingly giving Van Driessen Laser-Guided Karma when he only pays them a dollar each.
- In the Justice League episode "Injustice For All" Lex Luthor gathers a group of villains and says he will pay them after defeating the Justice League. When he berates them for failing in their first attempt, the Shade tells Luthor you get what you pay for. In the end Ultra-Humanite betrays the team- since Batman guaranteed double what Luthor offered. And came through with a way to further twist the knife into Luthor: a major donation to Public Broadcasting in the Ultra-Humanite's name with recognition given at the end of an opera that drives Luthor nuts.
- On Rugrats, Stu makes a mechanical dragon for a medieval festival but can't control it. The owner sees the resulting chaos and is told he can't fire Stu, because he's a volunteer. This is his response.
- In one Goof Troop episode, Peg hires a professional handyman to fix up a house and gives Pete a bunch of money to pay the handyman while she's away, but because Pete spent the money on a new boat he instead hires Goofy to do the job and has to keep the handyman from doing any work so he doesn't have to pay him. Hilarity Ensues.
- Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja: In "McSatchle", Viceroy builds a robot with an armor made of McSatchles because they're indestructible. However, Viceroy's boss Hannibal McFist had decided to cut costs by making lower quality zippers and it allowed the Ninja to defeat the robot.
- The whole plot of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Slice of Life" is kicked off because Cranky hired Derpy to print the wedding invitations at half the price the other printers would charge, resulting in everyone turning up a day early due to a misprinted date. Derpy later admits the only way she could do it so cheaply was by hiring somepony who didn't know how to work a printing press.
- Truth in Television. Computers/cell phones are designed to last only 3 or so years, or less if they can blame stuff on damage.
- Especially obvious in case of the CMOS batteries in computers, which cause the computer to not boot when they run empty (often after three to five years). On desktop computers, one can usually swap the battery for a new one (same type as in a quartz watch), in notebooks, the CMOS battery often is soldered under the - equally soldered - CMOS chip and therefore cannot be replaced.
- To be fair, computer technology progresses so quickly that even an expensive computer will be rather out-of-date after 3-4 years.
- Also, companies that build products to last ~30 years might not last that long, because of a low turnover rate.
- As true as this is for products, it is especially true for services. House cleaners, cooks... cheaper is more expensive.
- A standard reply from Apple fans when haters complain about Apple's prices. Of course, the intended complaint is that you aren't getting what you pay for...
- Averted with a lot of Open Source Software projects that also happen to be free, which more often than not consist of Genius Programming.
- Averted with Android apps, which have a lot of free apps. Most of the paid Android apps have lower reviews just for being paid apps, outside of some popular games like Minecraft.
- Large long-term expenses like cars can also fall under this. A used, cheap, run-down car that requires frequent trips to the auto-repair shop can easily cost more in the long-run than a more expensive but reliable new car. This could be mitigated to a certain extent if you are into cars and can perform fixes yourself, but unless you're keeping a car for its classic/antique value, after several years it becomes more costly to maintain and buy the parts needed to keep it running than to just go buy a new one.
- Namco's American chain of arcades (Aladdin's Castle, Time Out, Cybertainment, etc.) all get their machines from Namco's home office in Illinois, which always tries to get cheap, broken-down used games and then try to fix them up. With special emphasis on "try", because it usually doesn't work, and they frequently end up spending more money failing to fix a game than it would've cost to buy a brand-new machine. They've driven many of their own arcades out of business this way.
- A bit of military wisdom: Always remember that your gear was produced by the lowest bidder.
- Attempting to avoid paying for disc-based media (DVDs, CDs, etc.) by borrowing them from the library often results in getting a scratched-up copy that won't play properly.
- This trope should always, always, always be kept in mind when planning any type of elective surgery. Top-notch, board-certified surgeons are going to be expensive, there's no doubt about that, but your body is what's on the line. Better to pay $10,000 for reasonably good results than to pay $5,000 for risky Meatgrinder Surgery.
- An old tale (that can be changed to be about any technical job) tells about an inverted instance of this trope. One day, a critical component at a major factory jams, shutting the a large part of the factory down. Executives are panicking, and ask the lead engineer to try to fix it. Luckily, he realizes that he doesn't know how, and brings in a paid professional to come in and see if he can repair it. The professional comes in, and gets his tools out. But first, he looks at the machine from every angle, for about ten minutes. He then takes out his hammer, and hits one spot on the machine, and it fires back up. The executives are overjoyed, until they see the fee of $10,000. They're enraged, and ask why they should pay that if all he did was tap on one spot with a hammer. The professional then (bemusedly) writes an invoice. "Hitting spot with a hammer"? That was worth $5. The other $9,995 was because he knew where to hit it with the hammer.
- Lawyers have the same joke, only in that case the problem was solved with writing a letter.
- This is a major reason why people living in poverty have such a hard time escaping it. People in poverty have to buy cheap, low-quality goods and services which don't last as long as more expensive ones or they have problems with them. They can't afford to upgrade, and they snowball into something bigger and often much more expensive, such as not being able to get a minor vehicle issue fixed; this then results in it breaking down completely and costing much more to fix.
- More than one business has gotten into trouble or gone bankrupt after the higher-ups decided that their more experienced and competent employees were "overpaid" and then laid them off in favor of less experienced and competent workers for cheaper wages.
- This is the reason Made in Country X is even a trope; some countries (China in particular) are known for mass-producing crap versions of things and selling them for cheap.