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4 Things You Shouldn’t Be Cheap About

Posted By Jim On 02/22/2011 @ 7:08 am In Frugal Living | 54 Comments

When I say you shouldn’t be cheap about something, I don’t mean you should pay through the nose. You should be prudent. Shop around, get several quotes or prices, and then buy at a favorable rate.

The tricky thing about pricing and quality is that they’re not necessarily correlated. We intuitively think that something that is more expensive is of higher quality (the Chivas Regal effect [3]). That was probably true a hundred years ago until savvy marketers realized they could charge more for an inferior product because the higher price sent otherwise absent signals of quality. So while I say you shouldn’t be “cheap” about something, I don’t mean you should spend top dollar. You should be savvy and spent as much time as you need to make the smart purchase.

So, what should you avoid being cheap about?

A Mattress

How much is a good night’s rest worth? $1? $5? $10? $50? Take that number and multiply it by 3,650 – or ten years. Now think about how much you’d spend on a mattress you expect to keep for ten years. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand how much we are willing to pay for something when you don’t do the math.

When I first looked at buying a mattress, the prices astounded me. The cheapest Queen-sized mattress started at $399.99, which seemed OK. The next one is $549.99, then $600, and goes to as much as $2,000. As a recent graduate who has never purchased a mattress, $400 seems high… until you calculate how much it costs per night. $400 for ten years of service comes out to less than eleven cents a night. At $2,000, it’s 55 cents a night and I can almost guarantee you the pricier mattress will last longer than the $400 one.

When it comes to sleep, don’t be cheap. (that was unintentional, I swear)

Professional Clothing

If you’re wondering why suits cost so much, it’s because when it comes to professional clothes, there’s a big difference between quality and crap. Some suits cost a hundred bucks. Some cost a few thousand. What’s the difference? The quality of the fabric, how it wears, how comfortable it is, and other factors you can’t necessarily see with your eyes.

If you only wear suits to weddings and funerals, the quality of your suits won’t matter that much. If you wear a suit every single day, then getting a nicer, more expensive suit will be worth the money because higher quality suits last longer. The materials are likely to breathe more. The weaves will be tighter and less like to get snags. I liken this comparison to CFL vs. incandescent light bulbs. CLFs cost more but will save you money if you use them often. Nicer suits will often be more comfortable, which is a nice qualitative difference.

Safety Equipment

Anything where safety is a factor, I recommend that you avoid looking for the cheapest generic products. Whether it’s a bicycle helmet, fire extinguisher, or fire detector alarm, you will want to make sure you get something that:

  • Won’t quit on you when you really need it,
  • Will withstand whatever it’s supposed to protect you from.

In the case of quitting early, a low quality product may have a much shorter lifespan than you’d expect. You’re supposed to replace fire extinguishers every few years, it should say so on the bottle, but lower quality extinguishers might lose pressure faster than they say they do. While I’m sure there are rules and regulations to prevent outright fraud, we all know that government watchdogs aren’t as mindful as they should be.

Items That Are Hard to Replace

If it’s difficult or a hassle to replace something, it’s often better to pay for quality because it’ll limit the number of times you’ll have to replace it. This takes into account the value of your time [4], which is always important to remember. Whether it’s something small, like the hallway lightbulb, or something big, like your HVAC system, it’s important to buy something reliable and long lasting, so you don’t have to replace it too often.

Another item that fits into this category is your car. Think about the whole car buying process, it pretty much sucks. It’s a big ticket purchase that comes with a lot of stress, it’s not something you want to do too often. So when you’re buying a car, go with something that you like and is reliable. Go with a car that you can drive for a decade and you won’t have to shop around as often! A more reliable car means less time spent on maintenance. A more fuel efficient car means less time spent at the pump.

Are there other things you think you shouldn’t be cheap about?

(Photos: alanstanton [5], stevendepolo [6], perry-moore-photography [7], 123 look at me [8])


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[1] Tweet: http://twitter.com/share

[2] Email: mailto:?subject=http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/4-cheap.html

[3] Chivas Regal effect: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,137412,00.html

[4] value of your time: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/how-to-quickly-calculate-the-value-of-your-time.html

[5] alanstanton: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alanstanton/2493833576/sizes/m/

[6] stevendepolo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/3854120822/sizes/m/

[7] perry-moore-photography: http://www.flickr.com/photos/perry-moore-photography/2487991114/sizes/m/

[8] 123 look at me: http://www.flickr.com/photos/15066227@N00/24831247/sizes/m/

Thank you for reading!