The average Australian woman spends about $125,000 on clothing in her lifetime, and while fashion comes and goes, your tattoos are a permanent style piece. As Sailor Jerry said: “Good work ain’t cheap. Cheap work ain’t good.”

By Paddy Vipond

If we were speaking of any other topic, the relationship between cost, permanence and visibility would be seen as positive. But when we speak of tattoos, all of these, for some reason, become lines of attack.

When we discuss cars, jewellery or technology, the price is often seen as a sign of quality, but this attitude is ignored when we talk about tattoos. The ink that we choose to put on – or should that be put under – our skin is dismissed or even criticised as a waste of money. People I speak to are shocked when I tell them how much money I have spent on this body modification – around the $5,000 mark currently – but in the same conversation they are more than happy to announce how much they spent on Friday night in a club, or on Saturday afternoon at the shops.

Yes, tattoos are expensive, but as with anything else in this world, you get what you pay for. A poorly designed smudge could be as little as $50, but when you are going to be carrying it around with you for the rest of your life, why not pay a bit more to ensure quality?

It is this combination of price and permanence that gives tattoos their true value.

My $5,000 worth of ink is roughly a decade in the making, meaning that, on average, I am spending $500 a year on tattoos. Though they may not be to everyone’s taste, I doubt anyone could criticise someone for spending that much money on something they love over the course of
12 months. Whether you call it art or a hobby or even an addiction (in the best possible sense of the word), $500 a year – all things considered –
is a reasonable price to pay.

Now I must apologise in advance for the inclusion of some maths here, but the figures really help to demonstrate my point. My $500 a year on tattoos is the equivalent of just over $42 per month. And to put this into perspective, the average person in Australia spends $50 on alcohol on a friday night, the average dog owner spends almost $200 on their pet, and it costs roughly $693.47 to own and run a car.

All of these things – alcohol, a dog, a car – have a limited length of life. Alcohol and its effects last hours; a dog is a decade or so (sorry!); a car is about the same. But the permanence of tattoos means that the $42 I spend a month on tattoos is an investment for life.

Let’s say I stop getting tattoos, and that the $5,000 I have spent to date is all I will ever spend on inking my body. If I live to be 79.5 years old (the average life expectancy of UK males in 2015) then my annual average spend on tattoos is just $63. If we see tattoos as a life’s investment, then the longer you live, the cheaper they become.

Unlike other hobbies or items, tattoos do not need to be replaced or upgraded (save a few inexpensive touch-ups here or there, if that is your thing).

As I said previously, the issues relating to the cost of tattoos, their permanence and their visibility do lead to questions and criticisms. There have been occasions whereby I have visited poorer countries, or walked past a charity worker or a homeless person on the street, and the thought strikes me, “What must I look like to them?”

When I apologise for not being able to help them or give them money, what must they think when they see my body decorated in such a fashion? For a time I thought it was vulgar to have this display of tattoos and this show of wealth. I thought that maybe I looked like a walking $5,000 note, more concerned with decorating myself than helping other people. But such thinking was a mistake. 

The fact that we can carry our ink around with us anywhere and everywhere we go makes it unique to almost any

other hobby or purchase. Yes, I have spent $5,000 on tattoos, but this was over a period of a decade. If we continually carried 10 years’ worth of purchases around with us, then I would stand out a lot less as the streets would be flooded with armies of coat hangers, salsa lines of shoes, and wheelbarrows of cigarettes.

In 2014, a survey conducted by Macmillan Cancer Support found that men in the UK spent an average of $1,164 on alcohol each year. A decade of gin-and-tonics would be almost $12,452 and would leave one a hell of a hangover.

Unsurprisingly, the National Health Service routinely attempts to alert smokers to the dangers they face, but they also provide an economic argument for giving up smoking. Even without the cost of lighters, matches, ashtrays, mouthwash and all the other externals, a 10-a-day smoker would spend roughly $21,791 on cigarettes alone over the course of 10 years.

A 2013 survey found that on average women buys 13 pairs of shoes and spend $710 on these purchases each year. A decade’s worth of shoes would equal $7,100 and 130 pairs. Shoes are a great comparison for tattoos or any accessory of clothing. Ink is essentially wearable art – style. Tattoos look cool (and like trendy sporting clothes are technically “sweat-wicking”). The average American woman will spend $125,000 over her lifetime on clothing – buying more than 3,000 items including 271 pairs of shoes and 145 bags. Don’t laugh, men: a 2016 poll by The Boutique @ Ogilvy says you will outspend her. What if I could sell you a purely ornamental piece of clothing, say a vest or a cap or a tie, that will last forever at an extreme cost break? That would be more popular than tickets to The Book of Mormon or whatever the new Fitbit is going to be this holiday season.

Actually, an apt comparison for tattoos are engagement rings. The Knot says that men spend an average close to $6,000 on diamond rings for their fiancées, and not only are the prices of diamonds the most marked-up item in all of retail but tattoos outlast 50 percent of marriages (again, sorry).

It is when we look at the cost of tattoos in the right context, comparing them to other purchases and hobbies, that we begin to see their true value. Rather than being written off as a waste of money, it appears that tattoos are in fact one of the most undervalued purchases a person could ever make.

Every once in awhile someone who is not an ink enthusiast will approach me with a sneer and sarcastically ask, “What will your tattoos look like when you are older?”

My new answer: “A smart investment.”