why buy a cow when milk is so cheap?

An argument for choosing the least troublesome alternative; frequently used as an argument against marriage. One of the few proverbs in the form of a rhetorical question; cf. why keep a dog and bark yourself?

1659 J. HOWELL Proverbs p. ii. It is better to buy a quart of Milk by the penny then keep a Cow.

1680 BUNYAN Mr. Badman 293 Who would keep a Cow of their own, that can have a quart of milk for a penny? Meaning, Who would be at the charge to have a Wife, that can have a Whore when he listeth (wishes)?

1895 S. BUTLER Note-Books (1926) xvii. It was cheaper to buy the milk than to keep a cow.

1942 S. ACRE Yellow Overcoat v. ‘He ain’t marryin’..any more!.. ‘Why buy a cow when milk is so cheap, eh\?’

1984 W. TEVIS Color of Money vi. ‘I don’t have a wife.’ ‘That’s the best way. Why buy a cow when you can get milk free\?’

2000 E. GUNN Five Card Stud iii. 36 She said she thought people who wanted to live together ‘ought to get married and be done with it.’ ‘I don’t want to be done with it,’ Trudy said. ‘I want it to go on and on.’ ‘Fat chance of that. Men don’t buy the cow if they can get the milk for—’


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