What This Simple, Common Saying Taught Me About Budgeting

published Jan 30, 2022
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entering expenses into a budget spreadsheet on an ipad with a pink background, calculator, and mug

Pick two: good, quick, and cheap. You can’t have all three. 

This is called the “production triangle” in TV, film, and theater. I learned about it during one of the design classes I took while earning my acting degree — and it’s stuck with me more than iambic pentameter.

The production triangle works like this: If you want something good and quick, it’ll cost you a lot of money. If you don’t have money but want quality, you need to use your time to find or make something. Then, of course, there is always the cheap and quick option, but the end result usually isn’t great.

Whenever I self-produced low-fi sketch comedy shows or directed a short film on a shoe-string budget, this mantra helped me decide what I could accomplish. The production triangle made me appreciate my time as the valuable resource it is. While the original intention of “good, quick, and cheap” was meant to budget for sets, costumes, and props for a play or movie, I use it in my everyday life for personal budgeting.

Outside of everyday expenses like groceries, I decide how to budget based on the production triangle. Any time I take on a project or task, I ask if it needs to be good — and if the answer is yes, then I see how much time I have.

From throwing parties to decorating picture-perfect apartments, here are a few situations where you can apply “good, quick, and cheap” to personal budgeting. Keep in mind that in most cases, you want “good” as one of the two points you get. It helps to separate your idea of quality from cost. Trust your personal taste when deciding what’s “good.” By using a measure of quality other than money, you develop a clear sense of your own style. 

Decorating a New Home

If there is one piece of design advice I hear often, it is to not rush decorating a new home. My lord and savior Bobby Berk (of “Queer Eye” fame) said it best when he pointed out in an Apartment Therapy house tour that “furnishing your home is a marathon, not a sprint! It takes time to really make a space a reflection of you and your style.”

Instead of buying everything all at once (which is expensive), accept that stretching out the timeline will help you find things you really love — and will help you get them on sale or secondhand. 

Buying Furniture

Even if you’re just buying one side table, take a minute and decide if you have time or money. If you need something now — like your coffee cup is going on the floor because there is literally no other option — maybe you buy something you don’t love and replace it later when you find the perfect thing. Or, if you don’t have a two-side-table budget, maybe you revisit your college days and use a cheap milk crate until Craigslist brings you the perfect little table. 

If your budget is small and your dreams are big, take your time. Count all the minutes you scroll through Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp as part of the value you’re adding to your purchase.


A key point of Marie Kondo-ing that has gotten lost over the years is that you do not need to buy a bunch of bins. She suggests collecting sturdy little boxes (I love the ones my eyeglasses and fancy face oils come in) over time. Have I bought a few bins? Yes. But I use the new bins along with my collected, free containers to make my organizing habit more affordable. 

Throwing a Party

When having friends over, you can take the time to make food yourself — which is more effort, but cheaper — or have your affair catered. You can spend time making decorations with crepe paper and streamers or you can buy the premade goodies at the party supply store. When the time leading up to your event is short, then spending some money is worth your while. Sure, you can arrange flowers yourself, but is that really what you need to be doing the week of your wedding? Again, it’s all about determining how much time you’re willing to dedicate to any given task.

Buying a New Outfit

Sale shopping is a form of religion to my mother and me. When we find something spectacular on super-sale, it doesn’t matter if we don’t have a place to wear it yet. Once the perfect party invite comes along, storing an outfit for a certain amount of time justifies its existence.

Now, if there is a specific event to attend and I simply have nothing to wear, then spending a bit more to buy something new, and not on sale, is the trade-off. This almost never happens because of my fabulous wardrobe, but it feels good to give myself permission when this instance occurs. Good and quick, but not cheap in that case.

Buying Presents

The quality of a present is obviously subjective. One person’s homemade knit socks are at the top of another person’s giveaway pile. When it comes to gifts, the thought really does count. We tend to think that spending a lot of money on something makes it better. But try to separate quality from cost and remember that being expensive doesn’t make a thing intrinsically valuable. This is why handmade gifts can be so moving. The gift is the person’s time — the time they took to learn a skill and then make something for you.