Why your perception of expensive is relative

The word expensive is an adjective describing something that costs a lot of money. What does it mean by “costs a lot of money?” I believe the word expensive is relative. Because our perception of what is expensive and what is not expensive will change depending on things that we have.

Why expensive is relative

When I first purchased my first DSLR package, a Canon XSi camera with the 18-55 IS kit lens, I thought the package was ridiculously expensive. At $949 plus taxes, it was the most amount of money I had ever spent on a hobby. For someone who had just graduated from university not too long ago, I questioned myself whether I made the right choice.

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The Canon XSi DSLR camera and the 18-55 IS kit lens were considered as beginner hobbyist camera gear. Out of curiosity, I decided to check out other pro-consumer DSLR cameras and high end lenses. I was completely sticker shocked – many cameras cost more than $1,500 and many lenses cost more than $2,000! To me, I couldn’t imagine myself forking out that much money for a piece of equipment.

A few years after my initial purchase, I decided to purchase the Canon 17-40 lens. At $950 Canadian brand new and about $700 Canadian used, the lens was super expensive in my mind. At that time I was getting serious with photography. I felt that the kit lens was limiting my ability to take great pictures. After many weeks of consideration, I decided to bite the bullet and purchased a used Canon 17-40 lens at $580 US ($663.46 CAN). At the time I thought I was out of my mind to spend close to $700 buckaroos on a camera lens.

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Soon my perception of “expensive” camera gear changed. Pro lenses costing $2,000 no longer felt ridiculously expensive to me; lenses costing $400 were considered as cheap. Today, after many purchases of higher end camera gear, my perception when it comes to expensive camera gear has completely changed. As scary as it sounds, I no longer consider the Canon 5Diii camera or the Canon 70-200 lens as expensive.

Funny how my perception has changed.

The never-ending slippery slope

As you can see from my example above, the word expensive is relative. If you own a Ferrari, your view of expensive car probably isn’t the same as someone that owns a 15 year old car. Similarly, if you own an iPhone 6S plus, your idea of an expensive smartphone probably isn’t the same as someone that owns a 10 year old Nokia dumb phone.


The scary thing about expensive being relative is that your view can change over time. Once you get a small taste of more luxury goods, you begin to desire more. Pretty soon, expensive items are the norm to you.  It’s a never-ending slippery slope once you start this process.

What can you do to avoid this never-ending slippery slope?

  • Look at your needs versus your wants:  Always evaluate your purchases and see whether they are under the wants or needs category. If you need a new car, do you need a Ferrari or can you live with a Honda Civic?
  • Have a budget: Know how much money you need for necessities and set a spending limit on your wants. It doesn’t do you any good if you buy a Ferrari but you can’t afford the gas.
  • Quality over price: Just because something costs more, it doesn’t mean it has superior quality than a cheaper item. For example, Mrs. T once got a haircut for $50 at a hair salon but she was not happy with it at all. She now goes to a hair dresser school for her haircut for $15 and she is always happy with the end result.


Final thoughts

Always keep in mind what you define as expensive and cheap. Your perception of expensive is relative. Just because something is considered as cheap to you, it does not mean it is actually cheap. Always consider possible alternatives, evaluate your needs vs. wants, and go with a quality items. Price does not mean everything.

Written by Tawcan
Hi I’m Bob from Vancouver Canada, I am working toward joyful life and financial independence through frugal living, dividend investing, passive income generation, life balance, and self-improvement. This blog is my way to chronicle my journey and share my stories and thoughts along the way. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter. Or sign up via Newsletter