Questions to ask before paying more for quality

There's something to be said for spending more on a quality item. If frugality is about getting the most value out of something, spending more on quality can actually be thrifty. In a recent post, I admitted that I once splurged on a $200 coat. A couple of readers rightfully pointed out that an expensive purchase isn't always a waste of money. If it is a high-quality coat that lasts years, it may be a better purchase than a cheap $50 coat you replace every season.

Still, there is a fine line between buying quality and using quality as a justification to spend more. Here are a few things I consider before I plop down a bunch of money on a so-called quality item.

Can I find it cheaper?

Apologies for sounding like an infomercial, but quality doesn't have to be expensive. Ever found a big discount on something you know you will use often and that will last years? It's a great feeling! Here are a few ways to spend less on quality:

  • Look for sales: As Warren Buffett said, “Whether socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.” I agree, and that's why I waited years to buy a Kitchenaid mixer until I found it on sale — for $160! These days, there are so many browser extensions, tools and apps that let you price-check items and buy when the cost is low.

  • Shop secondhand: We have talked about this before, but it can pay to shop used. Thrift stores, yard sales, consignment shops — I have found some really quality items at places like these. I recently bought a used Armani jacket. It is the warmest and most comfortable thing I own and it goes with everything. I've worn it almost every day since purchasing it. Would I have paid full price for it? No way. But for $20, it was a steal.

  • Be patient: Sometimes you have to wait for those markdowns. But holding out for a better price can be worth the wait.

Whenever I have decided to buy a quality, lasting item, I try to see if there is a way to find it cheaper. Usually, there is.

How much quality do I need/want?

Again, a $200 coat can make perfect sense in cold weather. But here in Southern California, I don't really need a thick, warm coat to protect me from the elements. The reason I wanted that coat wasn't that it was quality. I wanted it because it was pretty. But there are plenty of pretty coats that are much cheaper and will keep my weather-spoiled self comfortable throughout the SoCal “winter.”

There's some sturdy, handmade furniture that will last years and is kind of expensive. And there's sturdy, handmade furniture that will last years and is insanely expensive. In justifying the latter, someone might say, “But this is furniture I might pass onto my grandchildren someday. It'll last generations!” And that may very well be true. But that doesn't mean we should all go out spending $1,500 on a Noguchi table. I know I certainly shouldn't, at least.

To decide how much quality makes sense for me, I compare the item to the lifestyle I am comfortable maintaining. Which brings me to my next question, which is probably the most important one.

How will this affect my finances?

Will buying Item X take away from my other financial goals? How big of a dent will it put in my budget? I assess my finances and decide whether the quality item in question fits with my financial plan.

When I was in the market for a mixer a few years ago, there was no justifying the $300 cost. I was behind in saving for retirement; I was rebuilding my emergency fund. I didn't feel comfortable with such a pricey purchase. But when I found it on sale — and I realized buying it wouldn't affect any of the goals I had set for myself — I went for it.

Will I change my mind?

Years ago, I decided I wanted to start making my own clothes. Excited about my new hobby, I asked for a sewing machine for Christmas. My sweet mother bought one for me — and a fancy one at that.

“It's a good one!” she said. “It will last you years.”

And she was right; I have had it for years. I've used it maybe four times, but I've had it for years (sorry, Mom). It sits in my closet because I keep telling myself I'll come back to it someday. But the truth is, I'm fickle about my hobbies.

So when I recently decided I wanted to learn to paint, I asked my boyfriend for oil paints for my birthday.

“But don't get anything expensive,” I asked him. “I might not be into this in a few months.”

There is no point in buying a quality item if you know there's a chance you might not be interested in that item for very long.

Am I paying for quality or just the brand name?

My mom called when I was writing this post and I told her about the topic.

“Oh, I know what you mean,” she said. “Sometimes things that are supposed to be quality aren't quality at all.”

She told me about my dad's recent splurge: a name-brand recliner. It started falling apart after just a few short months — nuts and bolts just falling off.

“We called the company,” my mom said. “They said there was nothing they could do. We bought from them because we thought their product would last a while. But we might as well have just bought a cheapie.”

Indeed, just because something is a brand name doesn't mean it is high quality. On that same note, you can also buy a cheap, off-brand, generic item that will last forever. Research helps: It is important to remember not to base your buying decisions solely based on name brand.

Anyway, these are the factors I consider before putting money into a high-quality item. Do you use similar guidelines? How do you decide whether to pay more for quality or not?

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