Let’s be honest: Most of us have our cheap moments.
In fact, Kristen Cross from The Frugal Girl, who has managed to keep her six-person family out of debt and in the green, and Justin McCurry from Root of Good, who was able to retire early at age 33 through “careful saving and planning,” shared theirs only a few weeks ago.
But, like the rest of us, there are also times they find it worthwhile to shell out a little extra cash. “Buying quality items is one of my top ways to save money,” says Cross. “Paying more upfront for an item that lasts longer makes financial sense.”
When exactly does spending lead to savings? Cross and McCurry explain.
“Even if you only cook a few times a week, your kitchen items will get a fair amount of wear and tear,” says Cross. “My cheap saucepans warped and now won’t sit flush on my flat-top stove, so I’m slowly replacing them with All-Clad pans.” To figure out where your dollar will go the furthest, Cross recommends referring to Cook’s Illustrated for “helpful, unbiased recommendations.”
Routine car maintenance
“In the short term, you’ll save some money skimping on car maintenance,” says McCurry, “but long term, you’ll face expensive repairs. Transmission fluid, brake fluid, oil, coolant, and timing belt (among other things) should be changed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations if you want to keep your car in top operating condition. You can get hundreds of thousands of miles out of a properly maintained car, and when it’s time to sell, you can ask top dollar when you show how well maintained it is.”
“Items that are flimsily constructed of particle board won’t last long and will be near impossible to repair, which means you’ll need to buy replacements in fairly short order,” says Cross. She learned the hard way: “We bought a cheap particle board dresser from IKEA some years back. A piece broke the first week we had it, and the drawers keep falling apart. We learned our lesson and haven’t bought any flimsy furniture since.”
“Solid wood furniture lasts virtually forever, and if it breaks, you can almost always fix it,” she explains. “Plus, it can be easily refinished or painted for an updated look. Check Craigslist or thrift stores, where you can often get solid wood furniture for the price of brand new particle board.”
“Cheap knife sets can dull quickly and leave you bludgeoning food instead of slicing it to pieces,” McCurry explains. “It’s better to have a small handful of good quality knives that are sharp rather than a diverse set of 20 knives that are all blunt.”
“I like super cheap shampoo,” says Cross, “but 99-cent conditioner is awful. And you have to use far more to get the job done. When I first started grocery shopping on my own, I bought super cheap conditioner, and my hair turned into this greasy, waxy mess. It’s way smarter to pay a few dollars more for a conditioner upgrade.”
“You spend a lot of time on your feet, so you should be comfortable,” says McCurry. “Beyond comfort, proper support for the arch and heel and good padding can keep your feet healthy, and more expensive shoes tend to last longer as well.”
“We had to paint our cement basement walls, so we thought we’d save money by buying cheap paint, but the coverage was terrible and we had to do multiple coats,” warns Cross. “Cheap paint might seem like a bargain, but it doesn’t cover nearly as well as more expensive paint. More coats negate any cost savings and require more labour.” Her interior favourites are Benjamin Moore and Behr.
“For a trendy piece, cheap may do, but when it comes to classic clothing that will stay in style for a long time, I spend more to get quality,” explains Cross. “Cheap clothing shrinks, pills, and changes shape over time, so I prefer to pay for quality clothes that last. L.L. Bean makes great durable men’s dress clothes, and American Giant sells a nearly indestructible basic hoodie.”
Exterior housing materials
“Whether you DIY or hire a contractor, it usually pays to get the more expensive products outside of your house,” shares McCurry. “Exterior paint, siding, and shingles get baked by the sun’s rays and battered by wind and rain over the years. Durable materials won’t add a lot to a contractor’s quote, because labour is often the largest part of a job’s cost. Your house will look nicer for longer, and you may get a few more years out of a paint job or an extra decade out of your siding or shingles.”
“If you want to chop ice to a fine-grained consistency to make excellent smoothies and frozen margaritas, don’t go cheap on blenders,” says McCurry. “Skip the $US15 ’14-speed blenders’ and focus on mid-level or better. You’ll get a better chopping blade, more powerful motor, and a longer-lasting product.”
Wooden blocks, Legos, and other simple-but-sturdy toys cost more than their cheap counterparts, “but children are very hard on their possessions. To me, it’s worth it to pay for a toy that will last and that offers plenty of options for imaginative play,” shares Cross, who has four children of her own. Spending $US50 on Legos is worth it in the long run, since they will be around far longer than $US50 worth of flimsy toys.
“You spend eight hours per day on your sheets, so get something comfortable and long-lasting,” McCurry advises. “Thread count doesn’t always tell the full story, so check online reviews for quality and comfort. Cheap sheets can pill quickly and become uncomfortable after a few washes.”
Energy efficiency improvements
“Energy efficiency upgrades can save a lot of money over time,” says McCurry. “If you’re replacing windows, for example, go for quality windows with good thermal screening to keep your electric bills low during the summer months.” Plus, he points out, “Any extra cost might be offset by rebates from your utility provider.”
“Overall, I tend to spend more on items to get better quality, more comfort, and extra longevity and durability,” explains McCurry. “The upfront costs might be higher, but over time, a more expensive purchase can pay dividends by serving you better and lasting longer.”