When Will You Pay?

If you go to the men’s airport toilet in Kuching, Malaysia, you’ll see a gigantic fan bolted to the wall at the end of the urinal line. As a result, you’re quite literally peeing against the wind, and while there’s a lot of movement in the air, you’re not really cooling down. If anything, you’ll get a cold.

To be fair, Kuching’s airport is not exactly the fanciest, nor the newest, but I couldn’t help but think that, with a few different decisions during construction, they could have saved a lot of the electricity they are now sending through those fans. This, in turn, brought to mind a question: When will you pay?

The idea is that, sooner or later, we’ll always pay, the question is just how much when. When you build an airport, you can pay for the more expensive air conditioning up front, or you can pay hefty electricity bills later. When you buy a house (and can afford it), you can pay the whole sum in cash, or you can pay twice as much over the course of 30 years. Even when you buy an iPhone, you can now front $1,000, or you can pay in installments, often with steep interest rates attached to them.

Of course, we don’t always pay in life with money. Sometimes, we pay with regret for changing too late. Sometimes, we pay with a missed opportunity that will never come back. All of those non-monetary costs are worth considering, but in my experience, even if you stick to the financials, you’ll come to strike many bargains over the years.

I always pay for my phones up front, and I never have to worry about getting ripped off in my monthly plan. I also pay a tiny bit more for the flexibility of being able to switch or cancel at any point, not just every two years. When it comes to my business expenses, however, I always go for annual if it means I get two months off which, at $500/month for some tools, adds up.

The list goes on and on, and I’m sure you get the idea. There is no free lunch in life, but you can swallow most bills in a way that makes them manageable. Which dosage is best will differ in each situation, but usually, if you can afford to pay sooner rather than later, you’ll save plenty — money, time, and energy — down the line.

If there’s a prize to be gained, there’s a price to be paid. The only question is when will you pay — and I hope your answer will never force you to bolt massive yet totally inefficient fans to the wall.