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"How can I take over the world when I'm on a budget?!"
—Dr. Fred (who, indeed, utterly fails to take over anything), Maniac Mansion

While saving money and going for cheaper alternatives is a good idea in several circumstances, it can backfire almost just 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.

The bane of any Doom It Yourself enthusiast, especially when it comes to the Do It Yourself Plumbing Project.

Examples of You Get What You Pay For include:

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Classic example in Fawlty Towers, where Basil's overriding of his wife's decision to hire Mr. Stubbs for some repair work in favor of the cheaper O'Reilly leads to disastrous results, such as having no door to the dining room or kitchen. He also hired his totally incompentent Spanish waiter, Manuel bacuse he's cheap.
  • On The Red Green Show, this is the general attitude of Possum Lodge toward the idea of hippie "free love".
  • In the A Sound of Thunder movie, the boss of the safari company shutting down a key component of the time machine to save power contributed to the catastrophe at hand.
  • 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.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons spoofing the story of Moses, Lisa and Milhouse escape a badly designed Death Trap, with Lisa noting, "Slave labor. You get what you paid for."
  • Deadlands Reloaded has rules for inferior "el cheapo" gear.
  • 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.
  • What gets the ball rolling in Erfworld is a spell to summon "the perfect warlord" that ends up 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.
  • Truth in Television. Computers/cell phones are designed to last only 3 or so years, or less if they can blame stuff on damage.
    • 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.
  • The "Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness", as outlined in the Discworld novel Men At Arms:

 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 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..."
  • 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.
  • 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!"
  • In an episode of Kim Possible, 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.
  • Real Life example: 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.
  • Real Life example that led to one of the most unfortunate events in modern history: during the construction of the Titanic, White Star Line chose to cut costs by using lower quality components which backfired horrifically when the ship struck an iceberg and wasn't made of high enough quality material to stay together for the rest of the voyage.
  • David Van Driessen hired Beavis and Butthead to clean his house as a means of teaching them about the value of hard work. They end up destroying his irreplacable 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.