“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Quick, easy and cheap solutions tend to be more expensive in the long run. However, we often overlook their long-term costs when evaluating them. For comprehensive solutions, on the other hand, we fixate on the high upfront effort they demand instead of focusing on the low amortized cost they return.

The easy solution is temporary - it defers the problem by treating the symptoms. An example: you are hungry, but your kitchen is empty. The quick fix is to get fast food. In a few hours, you’re back to square one; once again reliant on buying outside food. The long-term solution is to stock up on groceries and cook. It’s more expensive in time and money upfront, but it’s cheaper over multiple meals. And you get to eat healthier!

The cheap solution is expensive - it results in more consumption over time. Say you need socks. The quick fix is to buy the first/cheapest pair you can find. Before you know it, they wear out and you have to replace them again. That’s more expensive for you and the environment. The long-term solution is to invest in durable socks that will last you a lifetime. And you enjoy a higher quality product!

The free solution is dangerous - it leads to the adoption of products with perverse incentives. Consider Meta. Everyone uses Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp because they’re free. They are free because they want to maximize engagement, which in turn leads to ad revenue. What we don’t pay with our dollars, we pay with our attention… not to mention our mental health and democracy. Is it really free, then?

Next time you’re evaluating a solution, consider the tradeoffs. Especially the long-term costs. Don’t get caught up in short-term thinking. It leads to death by a thousand cuts. Put the extra work in and do it right the first time - it’s cheaper in the long run.