In today’s consumer culture, we can hop on a computer and buy something new in less time than it takes to drive to the store (or even get dressed to go to the store). But many believe that buying new products has become too easy.
In response to our rampant consumer (and often, wasteful and throw-away) culture, there are increasingly popular counter-cultural movements recommending we make every purchase as if it were for life.
The idea is to buy quality products to last you a lifetime. The popular website BuyMeOnce curates products that come with a lifetime guarantee or are made to last a lifetime. Often, these products are multiple times more expensive than mainstream goods.
If you buy a product for life, so the thinking goes, you’ll only need to spend the money once. Thereby saving yourself hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the course of a lifetime.
However, is that really the case? Will buying quality products in every facet of your spending save you money in the long run?
Don’t Buy It For Life
Liz Thames, also known as Mrs. Frugalwoods, argues it won’t. She argues the “Buy it for Life” movement is largely unnecessary because more often than not, you can find a “good enough” product for a vastly cheaper price.
She provides as an example, her mattress. Instead of buying a pricey new mattress, she and her husband bought a memory-foam knock-off from Amazon for under $300. They’ve loved the mattress and it’s met all of their needs.
Liz also argues that items break, and tastes and needs change, so the “buy it for life” boots you hoped would last forever become dated and out-of-style in just a few years.
But should you ever spend more on quality items, or always look for the most frugal alternative?
The Barbell Strategy
Richard Meadows from the blog The Deep Dish proposes the “Barbell Strategy” for buying quality items: “buy the very best-in-class for a small set of items, buy the cheapest possible version of everything else, and avoid the middle ground altogether.”
Instead of buying middle-price point items, such as the second-cheapest wine, middle-of-the-line brand-name sneakers or sweatshirts, Meadows recommends an either-or approach.
Decide which items you use the most, and keep you safe (like hiking boots, bicycle helmets, and car tires), and buy the highest quality version of those items, while buying cheap (or used) versions of most other items.
According to Meadows, these are some everyday items that keep you safe or protected where you should buy quality:
- Fitness equipment
- Safety gear
For other items likely to wear out or be used up quickly, give yourself permission to buy the cheapest possible option.
Items where it’s okay to buy cheap:
- Kids’ clothes
- Paper products
Cost Per Lifetime
If you’re still not sure when to buy quality and when to save money on an ultra-cheap version, calculate the cost per lifetime.
Estimate how long the item will last (Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar doubles the length of the item’s warranty). Then calculate how many times you’ll have to replace the cheap item during your lifetime.
For example, if you buy a set of four cheap dining room chairs for $200, you may have to replace them every ten years. But, if you buy a set of heavier-duty dining room chairs for $600 that would last you forty years then it makes more sense to buy the longer-lasting chairs.
The Headache Factor
Another factor to consider when buying an item is the number of headaches it will cause. If you buy a cheap washing machine, for example, will it break more frequently? And end up costing you money in repairs as well as the time and hassle of getting it fixed?
If you opt for a used product, like a tennis racquet, think about whether it will perform as well as you want. Or will it ultimately require you to buy the quality item after only a few uses?
The Brand Trap
One of the most important distinctions to make when buying quality is that between brand and quality.
For example, when it comes to cars, there are many “luxury” brands that are exorbitantly expensive. However, consumers are often much better off buying quality, “everyday” car brands rating higher in safety and resale value.
The IIHS, an independent non-profit providing safety ratings for cars, gave cars like the Kia Rio, Hyundai Ioniq, and the 4-door Toyota Prius top marks in safety for their 2019 models. While several luxury cars made the list, these ratings show it’s not necessary to spend more for safe transportation options.
In other words, don’t conflate brand name with quality. They’re not the same thing.
When you do decide to buy a quality item, do your research to ensure you’re truly getting a product that will last, rather than an item only desirable because it’s trendy or hip.
When you buy cheap, it’s fine to buy items that are as cheap as possible or, even better, secondhand. If an item is likely to wear out, no matter how expensive, like cotton, it makes much more sense to stick with a cheaper alternative.
Take Your Time When Deciding
Both Thames and Meadows agree: if you’re not sure whether you should buy quality, start with a cheap product, or a second-hand version of what you need.
If that doesn’t do the trick, then make a move to a higher quality product. You can always resell your cheap version on Marketplace or Craigslist.
In the end, your best piece of advice for buying something new is to wait. If possible, give yourself at least 72 hours to think your purchase over, consider your alternatives, and look at available quality options.
The more time and care you put into your purchases, the better decision you can make between cheap and cheerful and a lifetime buy.
Article written by Laurie