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DIY trouble

This article, by Justin Baiocchi, was originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 3 June 2017.

I spent a significant portion of this weekend assembling some kitchen cabinetry. There were two flat-packed pantry cupboards I had picked up from a large hardware store (I won’t say who the store was, but let’s just say that I have eaten my fair share of sausage sandwiches there in my time). The cupboards were made of that chipboard melamine stuff, which is what seems to pass for real furniture these days. Presumably this was some ancient old growth Tasmanian tree, chopped down and turned into woodchips, shipped to China and eventually found its way back to Australia in a significantly less desirable form. The assembly was straightforward enough, but when I was finished I noticed that both cupboards had a slight lean. Also, the doors didn’t close properly and somehow the cardboard backing of each cupboard poked past the top of the cupboard. Now, while it’s true that I am never going to win a gold medal in the handyman Olympics, it seemed odd to me that both cupboards were so clearly misshapen. Some of the issues may have been my fault (and I accept that I put the backing on the wrong way around – twice) but it wasn’t all my doing.

Fortunately, our house is so full of DIY disasters that a couple more just blend into the background, but in a newer house (say, anything built since the end of World War I) the saggy and unbalanced cupboards would be obvious. In retrospect, I think this was simply a matter of getting what you pay for. Not that I considered $189 per cupboard to be an insignificant sum of money, but it was a fraction of what it would cost to hire a cabinetmaker to build a similar product from scratch. Of course, the quality of a skilled cabinetmaker’s work would have been on an entirely new level. When it comes to managing your finances, the issue of costs and fees is also an important one. While keeping your investment costs low is important, this is one area where you don’t really want to be paying peanuts and getting monkeys. Yes, a small difference in fees will make a significant difference to your financial situation over a long period of time (as the industry super fund advertisements often remind us), but the impact of a few percentages points less in performance, or the mistake of pursuing the wrong financial strategy altogether, is likely to far outweigh the small savings achieved by opting for the lowest-cost investment option. Put it this way, do you want the chipboard version of a retirement plan, or the solid oak variety? I know which one I would prefer.