I’m cheap. Period. I can try to call it what I want- frugal, thrifty, whatever. But I’m cheap. The problem is, this isn’t always a good thing. And cheap doesn’t always mean the same thing as frugal and thrifty. For sure, I try to be frugal and thrifty, but I have to constantly remind myself of the difference. Because they are different. In fact, often cheap is the exact opposite of thrift. Ironically, being cheap tends to negatively affect your finances.
My Impulse Buying Phase
My cheapness has morphed over time. At first, my cheapness made me an impulse buyer. To me, buying cheap things simply licensed me to buy more. I’d see something cheap and buy it. It mattered not if I had wanted or needed it or not. For some reason, the $5 Walmart DVD bins were one of my favorites- I’ve bought at least 200 of those. I’d see something cheap and rationalize it- surely a few dollars won’t break the bank!
It didn’t help that I really had no concept of money at this point in life. 20 dollar bills were lethal to me. Spending 20 one dollar bills felt like I was spending a significant amount of money. But spending a 20 felt like nothing.
Gradually, I recognized that my impulsive buying was a problem. I was accumulating a lot of junk that I never used, and I was flying through money like there was no tomorrow. Finally, I had a few ‘aha moments’ that woke me up to my impulse buying problem. I realized that five 20 dollar bills makes 100 dollars! And those 200 $5 Walmart DVDs had cost me 1,000 dollars! Math! And there was my first big W-2. I remember being shell shocked at the amount I had made that year, and not having anything to show for it (other than a bunch of useless junk).
My impulse buying was almost immediately cured. It became painfully obvious that buying cheap stuff was extremely detrimental to my finances. Those few dollars here and there did in fact break the bank.
Having practically cured my impulse buying (I still catch myself now and again), I was still cheap. Sure, most of my purchases were now intentional, but I was still buying junk. The synthetic leather jacket that barely lasted 2 years before cracking. The slippers that lasted a single winter. The speakers that barely lasted a year. The shoes that lasted 3 months.The problem is that junk wears out fast. And the list goes on. Buying cheap things may seem thrifty in the short term but are typically an awful value in the long term. I refused to recognize that spending twice as much on an item that lasts 5 times as long saves me in the long term.
Buying cheap things also cost me time. Replacing things more often means more time shopping and more time deliberating over purchases. More time shopping also means more opportunities to buy stuff. And even though I’m not the impulse shopper I once was, there will always be an impulse buying streak in all of us.
Sometimes Cheap Makes Sense (And Cents)
Buying high quality things isn’t always the wisest move. Sometimes cheap is a better buy. If something is by nature disposable, there’s often no reason to shell out more. When you’re buying something that you’ll use infrequently, you may not want to shell out on the higher quality item. If you’re buying something that will be at high risk of theft or loss, buying cheap means you’re putting less on the line.
Sometimes You Don’t Get What You Pay For
Price also doesn’t equate to better quality. Sometimes you’re just paying for advertising or brand. A good example of this is store brand vs brand name. Sometimes the store brand will perform just as well. Even different higher end brands perform differently. Although you are often paying for higher quality, sometimes you’re just paying for the swag status. Do Jaguars last any longer than Hondas? The opposite, actually. Similarly, high end designer clothes often wear out way faster than a pair of Levis. Although those Levis will last longer than a $10 pair of jeans.
Because you can’t rely on price to determine quality, you do need to research purchases. Over time, you’ll find brands that you can trust (until the brand starts lowering their standards). You can collect testimonials from friends and family. You can read reviews online or in magazines, although be aware that there are a lot of fake, paid reviews. Also remember that even legitimate reviews are written in the first 3 months before a product starts to show wear.
One of the best sources for product research is an independent testing agency such as Consumer Reports. Unlike your friends, family, online reviews, and personal experience, Consumer Reports and other testing organizations put products through rigorous tests to provide an unbiased and scientific-as-possible reviews and recommendations.
Buying For Life
I’m gradually recognizing that buying cheap stuff doesn’t make sense, but it’s still a struggle for me to shell out extra for the better quality product, partly because I don’t want to take the risk of the more expensive item failing as soon as the cheaper item. My solution to my dilemma is seeking out companies with reputable long term warranties. I’m much more comfortable shelling out the extra if I know my investment is protected. I’ve bought two Hyundai Accents because of their 10 year warranty. I’ve fallen in love with L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer because of their lifetime guarantee. Even though I probably wouldn’t send back my L.L. Bean slippers if they wear out in 15 years, its nice to know that the guarantee is there in case they wear out in 2 years.
Since I’m relatively new to this whole ‘buying quality’ concept, I know it will take time to get out of the habit of buying cheap. I know it will also take time to learn what brands I can trust, and what brands are just ‘swag.’ And if you’ve had any success with buying quality, leave it in the comments!