Cheap Things You Never Use Are No Bargain

A couple of months ago, I shared some of the things I choose to spend my money on now that I've paid off my debts, saved for emergencies, and am funding my retirement. Most folks seemed to get my message: I cut back hard on the things I don't care about (cable TV, clothes, newspapers and magazines) so that I can afford to spend on the things that do matter to me.

As I say, most people seem to get this, and understand that I'm not saying, “Hey you! Go spend a lot of money on whatever you want!” Because I'm not saying that. That's not my message at all. I'm simply saying that if you can afford it, and if it's something you'll use and enjoy, there's nothing wrong with spending on what you want — even if it's expensive.

In fact, I'd argue that in some cases, the expensive option can actually be the most frugal choice. (The frugalest choice?) What do I mean?

Let's take my physical fitness, for instance. As you know, I've struggled with both diet and exercise for decades. I've had success now and then, but mostly I've failed. And I've spent a lot of money to fail.

I've purchased weights and DVDs and exercise balls and gym memberships and fitness machines and fancy shoes and, well, a lot of Stuff. Most of this has been a waste of money. Why? Because I never use it.

I'm not completely stupid. Eventually I caught on that buying running shoes didn't make me a runner, and that buying dumbbells didn't give me muscles. So, instead of buying new Stuff, I started finding exercise equipment for free (or cheap).

For example, when my neighbors decided to simply give away their exercise bike, I took it. And when they gave away their other exercise equipment, I took that too. But you know what? I saved money, sure, but I was just as fat and sedentary as I always was — and now I had a lot more exercise equipment taking up space around the house. Free Stuff is still Stuff.

Sidenote: In what I consider a hilarious development, I eventually gave this free exercise equipment to another neighbor. For free. Now she doesn't use it. I wonder if she'll pass it on to somebody else on the street.

 

In April, I visited a local gym that uses the Crossfit methodology. (I'm not going to explain the system now — go read about it at Get Fit Slowly.) I tried Crossfit for a week. It killed me, but I loved it. It just felt right. It felt like something I could stick with. I asked how much it cost to join.

When the owner quoted me a price of $200 a month, I hesitated — but only for a moment. I signed up, and I've been paying $200 a month ever since.

Two-hundred dollars a month?!? Am I nuts? How can I possibly justify such an expense when other gyms cost $40 or $50 a month? Especially since I could do a lot of the Crossfit exercises for free at home? Easy. I'm okay spending $200 a month for Crossfit because it works.

I've lost 35 pounds this year, with more to follow. I'm stronger than I've ever been. I'm faster than I've ever been. I feel good. This is worth two-hundred bucks a month to me. Because I can afford it, cost isn't an issue. In fact, I'd argue that this is a frugal expense because I use what I'm buying.

On the other hand, I have mountains of exercise equipment at home that I've bought and never used. (Okay, “mountains” is an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.) And all that free gear I got from the neighbor? That may have been cheap, but it wasn't frugal. Cheap things you never use are no bargain! And something with a steep price tag can be a steal — if you get good value from it.

When you buy something, whether it's an object or a service, ask yourself how much you'll really use it. (And watch to see how much you actually do use it.) If there's something you use a lot, it's okay to pay for it, especially if it's important to you. But I'd argue that if it's an item or service you seldom use, you're better off paying as little as possible.

Important note: Of course, the most foolish purchases are those that are both expensive and seldom used. If I were paying $200 a month for Crossfit but never attending, and if my weight were staying the same, then that would be just plain dumb.

 

Can you think of costly items and services that are actually good deals for you? Do you have collections of cheap things you never use? How have you learned to tell the difference?

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Derek
Derek
10 years ago

I have been struggling with the idea of purchasing a membership at our local gym, but here’s my logic: Within our development, we have a community pool that I could use for swimming laps (I love to swim, and it transforms my body), but lately I have been slacking. I haven’t been in the pool for over 2 weeks! If I can’t get myself to exercise on a regular basis in a pool that sits 50 ft. from my front doorstep, what are the chances that I’m going to take the time to drive to the gym, change into my… Read more »

getagrip
getagrip
10 years ago

Key point to me is that you not only “can afford it” (since that is the lure used by sales folks to justify us spending on anything that they want to talk us into) but that you have your financial house in order and can afford it with while meeting your other financial goals. Too many folks use the “I can afford it” line to justify making bad financial decisions, not to point out that they’ve reached a place in life where they can actually get real value from something and not have it just load up on them financially.

Adrian
Adrian
10 years ago

You’re completely right, J.D. When you’re deeply in debt, frugality honestly has much more to do with cutting out what is unnecessary in life to make progress on debt-reduction rather than prioritizing money to be allocated towards indulging in certain luxuries; especially if you generate a low-income or reside in border-line poverty. Once you have passed that threshold and have established adequate savings and an emergency fund, frugality tranforms itself into a system strictly used for prioritizing what matters most to the individual. Health is (as you afforementioned) our most valuable asset, and judging from your photographs in France &… Read more »

wanzman
wanzman
10 years ago

I just signed up for a local country club near my house costing $350 per month. I love to play golf, and have easy access to a not so crowded course was important to me.

My wife and I have no debt other than our mortgage, a 12 month emergency, contribute quite a lot to out 401k’s, fully fund both of our Roth’s, and also save quite a lot each month in cash and stocks outside of these.

We felt is was OK to spend some money on something we enjoy at this point.

Elle
Elle
10 years ago

It can be tough to determine what you’ll use and what you’ll just store unless you do a trial run. If possible, my friends and I borrow video games, gadgets, etc to see if we want to buy it or if we’re just want to mess around for a bit with it.

You can’t always do it, but rotating stuff has a been helpful for me.

DJ
DJ
10 years ago

For me it is coffee. My wife and I are fanatics for good coffee. In fact, it is one thing we had in common when we first started dating and has blossomed the longer we have been together. We are willing to spend money for good coffee. Everybody knows about the “latte factor”. We do too, yet it is one thing we are still willing to spend money on. Well, my wife works from home and doesn’t have the opportunity to spend money at coffee shops and we are all about being frugal, so we decided to purchase an expensive… Read more »

kl
kl
10 years ago

It can be hard to know in advance just what gets used and what does not. This applies to anything, from clothing to kitchen gear to sports. A good rule of thumb is that if you already do it with worse equipment, it might work. Then again, sometimes the “worse” works well enough and there’s no added value for the bigger investment. My best buy was a personal trainer for 3 months, as a b-day present for myself. While I do not want to spend that much on a regular basis, it helped with a couple of health issues and… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
10 years ago

I found that the one place I should not cut back in is groceries. After years of clipping coupons and trying to squeeze every dime out of the grocery budget, I’ve discovered it was only pushing me to go out to eat. Now, I’ve added $40 a week to our grocery budget, I’d rather eat at home than go out. The food is much better and I feel that my family is healthier because I know exactly what goes into my meals. It can easily cost over $40 to take a family of four out to eat one time, so… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

Good post. Best to use things you value than to not use and acquire things you don’t.

I have one question: Now that you’re a regular, have you asked if they have any sorts of discounts they could offer you? You’re obviously not willing to walk, but it never hurts to ask…

Tom
Tom
10 years ago

But J.D., what about all the exercise you got hauling all that equipment into the house, from one part of the house to another, or to simply move it aside to get to something else? #8^)

John
John
10 years ago

Seems to me that you are writing this article as a way of rationalizing spending $200 on month on a health club membership. Really, to me it is a ridiculous amount to spend and I could ‘afford it’. You could just as easily get into shape at a $50 health club. It all depends on your desire and motivation to get healthy, not some gimmickly fitness program. You are losing weight and doing great because of yourself…not because of this grossly overpriced program. Imagine what you could do with that near $2000 you would be saving.

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
10 years ago

I too have bought exercise equipment that has just rotted in my basement. Actually, I think an old Nordic Trak is still folded up somewhere near my furnace. Not sure why I haven’t donated the darn thing. Maybe I need to drop it off on your street? For me, I will spend money on a decent car because I spend so much of my life driving. I am not saying Cadillac, but I want decent options. Also, I will spend money on healthy food. I am not an ‘all organic’ person, but I spend plenty every week on produce, but… Read more »

trb
trb
10 years ago

Tools – I learned by experience that it’s not worth buying a cheap circular saw, hammer, or router bits. Anything that breaks under routine use is a waste and should be purged. Have fewer tools of higher quality and then use them.

I’m now discovering this applies to kitchen tools, too. When you have one good knife, the other knives get lonely and are a waste of space. One good multi-use pan is way better than three different sized crappy pots.

Nate
Nate
10 years ago

My wife and I rent a luxury apartment in downtown Charlotte NC full of amenities I use every single day. I am within walking distance of a nationally recognized park and 3 dozen or so restaurants. I am surrounded by successful people who work in similar industries to my own (autopilot networking). Additionally, the median income in my building is probably over six figures (from 5-10% occupant sampling of those I have spoken with about such matters). This has provided me with the perfect client base for my small business as they have plenty of discretionary income even in the… Read more »

El Nerdo Loco
El Nerdo Loco
10 years ago

I also pay for a gym but it’s just $10/month and I’ve also lost 35lbs this year. Before the gym I had a couple of exercise DVDs that I used to get me in some shape, but not good enough. The $10/month is well worth it, but at that price it’s no luxury–its actually a great deal. Since you mention cable: I recently got internet with Comcast because it was the best value around, even after they charge $15 EXTRA for standalone service (not bundled with phone or cable). Basic cable costs $12.50, so I can actually get “free” basic… Read more »

April
April
10 years ago

I agree with Nicole. You could be like Jared and Subway. “I was an out-of-shape blogger who couldn’t do a chin-up, until I discovered CrossFit!” 🙂 I’m only half kidding. Those spokespeople make serious bucks!! Costly items that are good deals for me: Groceries and fitness. We spend big on quality food from the market, but we are never sick. Even when I worked in an office and almost everyone would get flus/colds, I didn’t, and I don’t get flu shots, either. Taking care of my health by eating right and working out ($70/mo unlimited membership at yoga studio) are… Read more »

Maureen
Maureen
10 years ago

I have also lost 35 pounds this year and lowered my blood pressure. I did it through calorie counting and walking. Can”t beat that price! I walk in all weather. The only thing that poses a problem are icy sidewalks. I have to switch to mall walking if the sidewalks are treacherous.

partgypsy
partgypsy
10 years ago

I agree with Stephanie and April. We have cut down on our grocery spending (hello bean burritos and lentil soup!), but it warms my heart when my husband splurges a little and gets a pomengranate, a local artisianal cheese with a baguette, nice beer in addition to our staples. They are not needed from a nutritional standpoint, maybe just a spiritual one. Ironically I may be one of the few people out there who would use an exercise machine if I had one. But they are ugly and I have no room for them. So it’s walking outside and exercise… Read more »

ESB
ESB
10 years ago

Dance classes. At $12 a class it definitly adds up (taking 2-3 a week) but it is something that I truly enjoy and there is no replacement for it in terms of the way it makes both my mind and body feel.

Kirk
Kirk
10 years ago

In Economics, this is called “value per dollar spent”. The classic problems appear in discussions about marginal analysis in which consumers must decide between more and less expensive items. In the choices are many items worth more than their cost. Students must figure out that to get the maximum value out of one’s income/resources, individuals must buy those items with the greatest value per dollar spent. I drive an economy car. I can afford a larger car. Both cars were worth more than their price, but at $16,000 (new) the value per dollar spent was worth more to me than… Read more »

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
10 years ago

We;ll, Ive lost forty five pounds since april by simply cuting calories and walking or walking in a pool-I agree that these things depend on you and your attitude, not on the gym or the trainor. Admittedly, you can afford it, but………..

ldk
ldk
10 years ago

I find the areas where we are most likely to spend money on items we never use are the ones that are designed for “self-improvement.” We all WANT to be the type of people who exercise (treadmills and bikes)and cook healthy food (bread makers, juicers, George Foreman grills!) and protect the environment (composters) and read important literature. (books and more books!) But most of us just aren’t! You wouldn’t know it from the stuff we have stored in our basements, though, would you?

Joanne Wright
Joanne Wright
10 years ago

I never cut back on food – for example I only ever cook with free range chicken and eggs – they are twice the price – but 100% worth it!
With regard the gym equipment – how very right you are – the cheapest way of losing weight and staying healthy is walking and if we are one of the lucky ones that can just get up and do it then it costs nothing…

Joanne Wright
Joanne Wright
10 years ago

P.S just saw comment above – Agree – Don’t buy a bread maker! No knead (haha!) – the effort you put into 10 mins kneading is fantastic exercise!!!! Less clutter, no electricity and you get the satisfaction of it being baked by your own fair hand. My kids are soooo impressed when I bake bread, they get to see the whole process amd it’s such a lovely feeling that they are learning about where food comes from rather than seeing it packaged and in the shop/store

Janice
Janice
10 years ago

If it works, do it. No matter what anyone else thinks of your spending $200 a month on exercise, if you, a financial professional, can justify the expense by showing real results and feeling good about it, then it’s worth it. Doesn’t matter if the program seems like hype to someone else. Obviously, not important to them. That’s why there are different strokes for different folks. For myself, what I’m amazed by are the numbers of people who are in debt buying books and movies (or expensive cable to watch said movies) when almost everyone has access to a library.… Read more »

Cely
Cely
10 years ago

As a fellow Crossfitter, and someone who has gone to typical gyms (regularly) since 1997, I have to chime in to say that Crossfit really is a completely different approach. Yes, you can pay $40 a month at the local 24-hour club, take a spinning class every morning, and you’ll lose weight. But Crossfit makes you leaner as well as stronger, faster, more agile…there is a reason it’s favored by so many firefighters, police officers, and military men/women. Honestly, I worked out at a boxing gym for nine years and thought I was in fairly good shape — my first… Read more »

Brent
Brent
10 years ago

J.D., have you looked for a good boxing gym in your area? A lot of them probably have the same equipment and old school cross-training philosophy of a cross-fit gym, but a much cheaper price. You don’t have to be a hardcore combat athlete to join up with most boxing gyms. All sorts of people go to these gyms. For an even better deal, try building your own gym if you have the space. Get a power rack with pullup bar, olympic barbell with bumper plates, some kettle bells, medicine balls, sandbags, ropes to climb, punching bag, etc. That might… Read more »

Clint
Clint
10 years ago

El Nerdo’s comment reminded me of a foolish frugal buy I made several years ago. I tell it not as a teaching moment but just because I find it amusing. I was in Sears, looking through the clearance shoes when I found a handsome brown pair marked down to about 17 bucks. I needed brown shoes, so I tried them on. They were a bit uncomfortable, but for that price, I had to buy them. When I got home, I tried them on again and rethought the purchase. They were just too uncomfortable, so I returned them. I go back… Read more »

Melissa
Melissa
10 years ago

The past few months I have been trying to save money where I can and started getting into coupon clipping, however I found myself buying items that I don’t need/use just because I had a coupon (I was looking at a can of spagetti o’s last night wondering what I was thinking, oh yeah they were only $.25). I just found out about “the drugstore game”, using coupons and reward dollars from CVS and Walgreens to a ton of stuff with little out of pocket expense. I read a few blogs that show me how to get $50 worth of… Read more »

Stephanie M
Stephanie M
10 years ago

My splurge was on my $1500 road bike. It was my first and I could have gotten a cheaper bike to start, but I knew I wouldn’t upgrade it cuz I’m too cheap to buy a new one when I have one that works fine but isn’t quite as nice as I’d like. So I bought the pricier one that I fell in love with and I’ve never regretted it for a moment.

chris
chris
10 years ago

I told DH just the other day that I’m not buying any more cheap stuff I don’t like. I know what I like. Life is too short for cheap shoes, cheap furniture, factory farmed food, cheap tools. That’s different than I think I can find stuff I love for not much money (I have and will continue to thrift/garage sale from time to time. I use coupons for organic and other high quality foods when I find them) Or that I am going to buy super expensive shoes for my DSs with growing feet. I personally am not going to… Read more »

Dan53
Dan53
10 years ago

Good beer.

Life is short.

Des
Des
10 years ago

I’m still kicking myself for our exercise equipment purchases. Oh, we used them. Daily. That was the problem. I bought bottom-of-the-line equipment and it broke after just a couple years of use. I tried to find replacement parts, but I couldn’t find the off-brand company anywhere online. I went back to Sports Authority where we bought them from, they didn’t have any information. I tried my best non-handyman attempt at fixing them (JB Weld) but it didn’t work. I was bent and determined to fix it, but in the end I couldn’t and I ended up giving them away on… Read more »

Jackie
Jackie
10 years ago

I use nearly everything that I buy very regularly, so I don’t have a huge problem with this. The exception is probably tubes of oil paint. I do paint regularly (although not as often as I would like) but I certainly don’t need as many tubes as I have. They’re expensive little suckers, too. I guess in general what keeps me from buying things I won’t use is an even stronger desire to avoid clutter and save money. By default, if I’m doing those two things, I’m not buying a bunch of useless items. (Even my paints all fit neatly… Read more »

Sunny
Sunny
10 years ago

I gave up buying cheap shoes about 6 years ago. The blisters and crampage were not worth saving a buck at Payless. Now all my toes have wriggle room and I can pinpoint brands that always fit right on the popular shoebuying websites.

LB
LB
10 years ago

Our criteria for many decisions we make is “when we are old and look back on this [job, trip, saving, spending] will we be glad or will we regret the time/money? You will NEVER regret being fit and healthy. There’s little more important to you and your loved ones than your ability to live a long, healthy life. You will likely save $$ too on healthcare expenses, but even if you don’t, money well spent I say. Yes you could go to a $40 gym but if you don’t go, what’s the diff? I pay $25/month but don’t go –… Read more »

Michael @ aapfi.com
Michael @ aapfi.com
10 years ago

I’m a big Crossfit guy too. I also agree with your take that meaningful expensive purchases can be much more frugal than a bunch of small wasteful purchases.

MrsKruse
MrsKruse
10 years ago

Amen! I recently decided to forgo my $36/mo gym for a $76/mo one. I hate spending the extra money, but now I actually like to go to the gym! Plus it’s right on my way home, so there are no excuses. When I had to drive 20 minutes and walk into a place that felt like a bargain basement, I just didn’t go. I assume that your $200/mo fee includes personal training? When you factor those costs in, $200/mo doesn’t sound so bad. PT costs around $70/hour here… Maybe one day I’ll be okay with a cheaper gym, but for… Read more »

SM
SM
10 years ago

I spent $2200 on a Apple Macbook Pro. It was at the top of the spectrum of what to spend on a computer, considering I could get a bargain Windows laptop for $400. But I was tired of dealing with malware and hardware problems I had with my windows vista computer. All I had to do with the Mac since the day I got it 4 months ago was plug it in. That’s it. No problems. Over the years I actually became somewhat of an expert at fixing Windows computers. As a sidenote I now make money removing malware and… Read more »

olga
olga
10 years ago

I am frugal as hell, and while my exercise of choice is running, and we also have free little gym in our complex, I have 24hr membership and also sign up for races to keep on running. Often it is being around others that motivates people. I’ve been at it for almost 10 years and help others to get healthy, but still keep my “motivators” paid for. So, if for JD it’s a crossfit gym at $200/mo, then, well, it is. He tried others before. And he can easily pay for it.

Shalom
Shalom
10 years ago

Y’all, it doesn’t matter that it’s possible to lose 35 pounds without a posh gym membership; the essential question is: will you? It is admirable, impressive and cool that a number of commanders lost weight without a gym membership. I’d say that they should be grateful that the exercise plan that works best for them happens to be a free or low-cost one. The one that works best for JD happens to cost $200 a month. I’m glad he earns enough, and is frugal enough, to pay for it. I also used to avoid spending on health. I had perfectly… Read more »

Crystal
Crystal
10 years ago

For my family it is a good new vehicle. We have low debt and good credit. We’ve recently financed a new vehicle. We live well within our means, (i.e. using cash every month to pay bills) but since I have three small children and my husband works out of town we’ve decided against a good used vehicle. Our reasoning is this: a new vehicle comes with a warranty and is dependable. If something goes wrong I can simply return to the dealership. As a mostly “single” mom, it helps my husband sleep at night to know that my vehicle will… Read more »

Shalom
Shalom
10 years ago

“Commanders??” Darn this auto-correct function on my phone! I meant “commenters!” Please assume that any other weird words are also gifts from the auto-correct software!

Crystal
Crystal
10 years ago

Shoes. I’m a shoe fanatic and every single day I slip on some expensive shoes it just puts me in a great frame of mind and makes me feel great. But I but my underwear at the dollar store so its a give and take….=)

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
10 years ago

I purchased a canon DSLR camera earlier this year. The photos are so much better than the small point and shoot camera I had before. I spent 600 bucks on the new camera, but it is worth it because pictures are priceless.
I go to the work out room at work every lunch hour so that works pretty well for me. I used to go to 24 hours fitness, but was able to cut that expense.

bethh
bethh
10 years ago

I would totally pay $6.50 per day to magically feel great and healthy, and I wager most people would! If that expense for Crossfit works for you (minus the magic.. of course) then more power to you. I have the feeling it might work for me, too, but I haven’t gotten over my self-imposed barriers just yet. I’ve found that crappy kitchen equipment is a deal breaker for me. I’m not weeding too much right now, but will be ruthless the next time I change apartments! The only other expensive thing I have my eye on is a camera, but… Read more »

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

I use this methodology with clothes. If I buy an expensive pair of good fitting, high quality black pants that I can wear once a week, such a per wear purchase price is generally worth it. If I buy a pair of cute shoes on sale but they don’t go with anything and they pinch my toes and I end up selling them at my community yard sale (where the money goes to the community) such a bargain is a failure. I think $200 a month for a fitness plan that you actually use is a bargain. My only concern… Read more »

Kendra
Kendra
10 years ago

If I want something I know I’m going to love and use, I buy it, no matter what the price is. I bought a computer because I was tired of using my mom’s dinosaur one. I spent over $1,000 on it. But, I don’t regret not buying it. I also have an obsession with clothes. If I don’t have much money I shop smart, but if the money is in my pocket then I’ll just go into a store and tell em what I want. I’ve spent $1,300 on clothes in one week once. I actually don’t care to buy… Read more »

Lincoln
Lincoln
10 years ago

Hey J.D., keep up the good work! I give myself a budget of $50/month for personal fitness, but you have to do what works for you. A few months ago, I made a list of the top 10 baseball cards I always wanted growing up but couldn’t afford (as a kid) or just was never able to find. Note: as a child, I was an avid sports card collector and was constantly raiding the sofa cushions for spare change to buy more cards. With a few months patience and eBay (and a “favorite baseball card budget”), I was able to… Read more »

Sol
Sol
10 years ago

I work in home renovations and I never skimp on tools for my jobs. Just yesterday i went out and bought a $450 tile cutter. What makes this one better than the other is the quality of the tool and the speed/accuracy of the cuts. Over time, this tool will allow me to complete jobs quicker and allow me more free time or time for other jobs. It will also allow me to provide a better finished product which always leads to referral jobs. When I first started the business, I bought a decent hammer drill. A few months later,… Read more »

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