How to Save Money » Frugal Living

Frugal Vs Quality: Buy Cheap, Buy Twice

I’ve been reading personal finance blogs for quite a number of years now. Over that time, I’ve read tons of advice on ways to save money, best ways to purchase items, investing advice, the list goes on. Most of the time, the advice makes sense. Every once in awhile, there will be a post or a comment that may ignite a response of “well, I wouldn’t do that myself, but okay”. Very, very rarely will a post or a specific set of advice incite disbelief, rage, and frustration. One post a number of years ago on The Simple Dollar advocated purchasing a more expensive garbage bag. The response was quite interesting, as some commentators simply disagreed, blog posts were written in response, and it was all because one person decided that the least expensive garbage bags were of lesser value than more expensive bags.

When you are purchasing a less expensive item, you have to take into consideration why it is less expensive. Is it because the other brand has an inflated price, or is it more expensive for a reason? Often, the most frugal option is not the least expensive option, as cheap items are only cheap for a reason – poor quality control, lower manufacturing standards, less quality materials.
Part of the reason there is so much controversy is because nobody can agree on what is “worth” the extra cost. Often it comes down to how much you use the item, and what standard of quality you expect from the item. Here’s a couple of things you should probably consider a more expensive option when purchasing.

Shoes

Feet are important. You never really realize just how important your feet are, or how much they support you, until you injure one of them. Walking around on a wound is an incredibly painful and uncomfortable experience, and I don’t recommend it for anyone. That being said, take care of your feet. When it comes to shoe quality, cost is, unfortunately, often a good indicator of the type of material and construction that went into the creation of the shoe. More expensive shoes will often mean that your shoe will last longer. This is not to say that you should buy the most expensive shoe in the store.
As always, do your research, find shoes that fit properly, and get someone to guide you if you are inexperienced. If you know, for example, that you are going to be needing a pair of dress shoes 5 days a week for the next 10 or so years, it may be worth investing in a pair of shoes (or two) that can handle that type of wear and tear while maintaining their structure. Think $300+. While that is very expensive, if you can buy one pair and make it last 10 years, it is far less expensive than replacing $70 shoes every year.

Vehicles

Inexpensive vehicles are very often inexpensive because they don’t have the same features as more expensive vehicles. If it is something like air conditioning or a nicer stereo system, then yes, that is something that may be worth giving up in order to have a less expensive purchase. If it is things like anti-lock brakes, air bags, or higher crash test ratings, well, then that’s something that I would suggest you pony up for.
Vehicles are a strange breed in that within each class of vehicle (sedan, truck, minivan, etc.) there is going to be a range of prices. You don’t want the least expensive (bare-bones, no warranty, potentially poor safety features), but you also don’t want to go to the top end of the spectrum as well, where you’re paying more for the brand than the type of quality construction. In addition, if you’re thinking about a used vehicle purchase, if you go into the “too old” and “inexpensive” range, you’re going to be dealing with more maintenance and higher fuel consumption than if you look at a more recent and more expensive model.

Computers

Inexpensive computers are everywhere these days. However, if you buy an inexpensive computer, expect to get very little life out of it. Cheap computers, whether a laptop or a desktop, is going to skimp somewhere in order to continue to make a profit. It may be the case, sacrificing airflow, or it may be the power supply. While those aren’t necessarily deal breakers, they introduce two very important factors when determining the life of a computer – heat and instability.
If a computer isn’t built well, it won’t have the ability to keep itself cool. While computer components are designed to heat up and cool down, reducing the strain on the equipment will prolong its life. Laptops are especially poor for this as they have very little chance of getting proper airflow without getting taken completely apart by a professional on an annual basis.
When it comes to power supplies, you never want to get a cheap powersupply. The PSU’s job is to regulate the amount of electricity flowing into each of your components. An inexpensive unit will give your components fluctuations in power, causing damage over time and potentially ruining the component. A poorly made unit can fry your entire computer.
By far the most frugal option for a computer purchase would be building a desktop computer with quality components that has the ability to upgrade your computer over time. More expensive at first, far less expensive in the long run.
What do you spend more money on in order to get a better quality product?

Comments

  1. krantcents

    I always spend on quality! I usually spend $300-500 on dress shoes. I may not own a lot of them, but I keep them forever. My oldest pair (cost $100) is 34 years old and still looks good. Shoes say a great deal about you. A good pair of shoes will hold up and they are super comfortable. It is also an indication of success.

    • falcon

      I agree with you on that Krant. I take good care of my clothes and shoes too so they last longer, with the period of not buying new clothes, i saved a lot.

  2. SavingMentor

    I could agree with you more Alan. I go for low cost items whenever I can, but really it is getting the EXACT item you want (after researching the quality) for the lowest possible price.

    BTW, I hate garbage bags that break and leak stuff everywhere. I can’t think if a bigger disgusting waste of time. I’ve actually started to use two bags all the time in my primary wet waste bin because I had to clean up so many messses and put up with the smell. Unfortunately, because of the rules of my city the bags have to be clear green and there is only one company that sells them so I don’t have a choice to purchase something of higher quality.

  3. Glenn Cooke

    I challenge you to tell the difference between a cheap computer and a ‘quality’ computer while sitting at the keyboard. The screens look identical.

    As for the reliability issue presented, I’m not so sure that there’s any real proof that reliability is a function of price. Cheap computers have done me just fine for many many years.

    My printers are the fastest I can buy that’s being dumped out as old stock. Never had a problem. Our scanner is an 3093DG, google it – it’s probably older than some of the readers here, and I paid $100 for it. My desktop I’ve had for years, built it for $300 all in. And my screen is huge, but whatever the cheapest model was when I bought it. Again, never had a problem.

    The only time I spend on quality is on our webservers which require industrial quality components. But for home/small business use? The cheapest knockoff crap works 100% the same as the branded ‘quality’ stuff.

  4. Bet Crooks

    One item in your “cars” section doesn’t always hold true: “You don’t want the least expensive (bare-bones, no warranty, potentially poor safety features), but you also don’t want to go to the top end of the spectrum.”

    For moderately expensive cars like the Toyota Camry, the variance in price between least expensive (I4, steel rims) and most expensive (V6, leather, alloy rims etc.) is almost all cosmetic. If you look at the specs, the car frame, air bags, warranty, safety features etc etc are identical. Admittedly there is a difference between an I4 and a V6 –but if you read reviews, you may be surprised even then to find the V6 does not give a huge improvement in performance. You’re often paying more just for luxuries like heated, leather seats and moon roofs.

    When in doubt, pull up the technical specs for the cars you’re interested in and compare them across the various levels of the same car.

    You can also do a bit of judging of the value of a used car by comparing the price per model year. Used Camry’s are worth a lot more per model year than some used sedans built by the Big 3. That’s because they are often in better shape after years of driving.

  5. Cancitizen0

    I would have to disagree with some of this. The vast majority of people buy clothes and cars based on emotion, trendiness and fashion. You make it seem like these are primarily utilitarian decisions. Why would I want a pair of shoes for ten years (besides my most formal dess shoes perhaps)? It is very complicated to compare the true value for these types of purchases. Most people overpay for cars, IMO, because they don’t want to look cheap. Computers are complicated because often the newest technology is issue-prone. My fancy Lenovo windows8 laptop is a pain, yet my old HP laptop from Costco (cheap, with extra year warranty) is doing great after a SSD upgrade.

  6. Eric

    This article is nonsene. Where is your substantiation? Way too general and unresearched.

    • Other Eric

      I think the article makes perfect sense; however, it’s also important to remember that everyone places different values on different things.

      Also – this is a blog, not an article from a major newspaper or academic publisher. Should we demand that all blogs are peer-reviewed as well!?

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