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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Johanna
Johanna
5 years ago

I’m glad you included “want,” not just “need,” in question #2. Even if the pretty $200 coat isn’t something you strictly need, if it makes you happy to wear a pretty coat, and you’re not sacrificing anything else that you need or want more, then there’s nothing wrong with that. Question #4 can be a bit of a catch-22. When you buy cheap stuff when starting a new hobby, for fear that you’ll change your mind, sometimes the cheap stuff is such low quality that it will *make* you change your mind. The example I’m most familiar with is musical… Read more »

Beth
Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

Totally agree about using good tools and materials when starting a hobby. It makes a huge difference! If you do buy good quality tools and change your mind, you can sell the tools and still come out ahead of buying cheap stuff.

I had been thinking of renting a guitar to learn how to play but someone told me exactly what you said above — buy used! It’s more cash at the outset, but I’ll get my money back if I change my mind.

Rail
Rail
5 years ago

I don’t skimp on clothing or tools for the job. I work for a railroad and things like work boots, clothing, grips, etc. are put through a lot of abuse. Buying cheap always comes back to haunt you in this situation. Trying to find a good deal is of course part of the equation in any purchase and if something is on sale I may step up and purchase it for future use. Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Amanda
Amanda
5 years ago

For items that I know I will eventually need like clothing and electronics, I open a bidding process with retailers. For example, when I needed a good quality suit to interview in, I signed up for several retailers emails and kept an eye on the suits I liked. Most retailers will send you a welcome coupon when you sign up for their emails. Then I waited to see if any of the suits I liked went on sale. One of them did, so I used my coupon and snagged a good deal. When I was in college I had a… Read more »

Nina
Nina
5 years ago

One of the ways I decide whether to pay more for quality is if the cheap versions keep breaking on me. For example, I’ve bought purses that have fallen apart, and they’re not even “cheap” (more like $100 or so). After all the purses that would break, I bought a good quality one that, in the same period of time, has not broken. I did the same with sunglasses and umbrellas (cheap ones keep breaking, but the quality ones didn’t). I figure I’m actually saving money from not buying so many cheap things over and over and instead buying one… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
5 years ago

“But this is furniture I might pass onto my grandchildren someday. It’ll last generations!”

Assuming that you have grandchildren and that they’ll want your old furniture. Some people aren’t that fond of antiques, find it outdated and ugly, or feel that it will clash with the decor they already have.

PB
PB
5 years ago
Reply to  Jeff

We have my grandparent’s dressers in our bedroom. We took them because we were broke, always intending to trade up. Forty years later, they are still in our bedroom. They are very sturdy, have art deco insets, and huge drawers!

Steve K
Steve K
5 years ago

This question hit me just last week when I was looking for a toaster oven (and a half year ago shopping for a microwave). I looked at the good quality brands – Cuisenart, Panasonic, etc – and focused on two things: features and reliability. The first is easy to determine, the second a little harder. There’s Consumer Reports, of course, but I’ve found the best resource to be the reviews and comments at Amazon. As it happened, in both cases, microwave and oven, I bought “cheaper” brands (Magic Chef, Waring), and have so far been delighted with both. But my… Read more »

Emma @ Life. By Emma
Emma @ Life. By Emma
5 years ago

After having a terrible year of cheap clothes wearing out too quickly I am actively shopping thrift stores for quality second hand items. Recently I got a pair of boots that retail for well over $200 for $5 in a charity shop. I plan to buy a pair of Levis after Christmas becuase my last pair lasted well over three years. If I can’t find them second hand I’ll live with buying new, knowing my cost per wear is much lower.

Cookster
Cookster
5 years ago

I bought a London Fog raincoat with a zip in liner for winter 25 years ago and I still wear it today. I remember paying $220 for it. Cost per wear? Maybe 5 or 8 cheaper ones. It’s a classic and I still receive compliments. I saved for a shiny new Pinto years ago, new for I don’t remember how much. What a worthless piece of junk. Everything but everything went wrong with it. When I finally got sick of it, I traded it in. I remember mourning the loss of my equity. Dad convinced me to look at Buicks,… Read more »

Erica W.
Erica W.
5 years ago

My 12 year old Fisher Paykel dishwasher died recently. I priced new Fisher Paykels and they cost around $1200. The repair man (it would have cost $1100 to fix the old one and that would not have made it last another 12 years) told me all appliances die after about ten years now. So instead of getting another expensive one that would die in 10-12 years, I got a less expensive, but hopefully good, one (for about $650) and hope to get 10 years out of it. We’ll see.

dani305
dani305
5 years ago

I consider how long I expect to get use out of a purchase. My sister reproaches me for buying cheap clothing. I would love to buy name brand and quality stuff. But I know that I change my wardrobe every year. It’s more functional to go for the cheaper stuff. That way I don’t feel as much pain donating it to charity and replacing it.

Amanda
Amanda
5 years ago

I’m thinking about quality that not topic with clothes and sewing your own. Make sure its a brand you are already familar with, sewing my own clothes helps me look at clothes differently.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
5 years ago

Now that I’m a homeowner, I also ask myself “what are the financial implications if this breaks?” So I might buy picture frames secondhand or really cheap, but I wouldn’t buy the cheapest appliance.

Edward
Edward
5 years ago

I have a philosophy which goes in favour of “buy cheap, buy twice”. Consider somebody who buys a $25 Pampered Chef potato masher. I buy one from the Dollar Store for $1 and invest the other $24. I would have to go through 30 cheap potato mashers in my life to justify the cost of the Pampered Chef model. …And that just really is never going to happen. The same can be said for $20 MP3 players versus iPods. I don’t know anyone who’s still using their iPod from 2002. They’re on their fourth or fifth while I’m on my… Read more »

Marie
Marie
5 years ago

I’ve found that spending LESS than usual is often better, such as when buying vintage. I wanted a heart-cut solitaire for my engagement ring, and the floating-style prongs popular today don’t offer the same protection for the point as old-style settings. We found an estate piece that was easily a third the price of a comparable new ring, and it’s held up very well over the years. I also have to agree with Johanna about musical instruments. My husband teaches guitar, and he gets incredibly frustrated seeing children struggle with the POS kit guitars their parents buy to “see if… Read more »

Emma
Emma
5 years ago

Also: Is there a safety/health/legal concern with the cheaper option?

Examples:
Secondhand helmets, climbing ropes, infant car seats

Food near to the use by date that won’t be used in time

Pirated music/film

kyle
kyle
5 years ago

“I waited years to buy a Kitchenaid mixer until I found it on sale – for $160!” Assuming you were doing things by hand this whole time, and didn’t have another stand mixer you were upgrading, this waiting probably ended up costing you more than you saved in lost productivity. If your mixer saves you 1 hour a month that would be 24 hours of saved time over 2 years. You’d need to value your time less that minimum wage to justify waiting. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make with money is not including the value of… Read more »

Rob
Rob
5 years ago

I apply the “buy cheap, buy twice” principle, but in an unusual fashion. This applies to areas of my life where I’m not an expert: a new hobby, tools for a new skill, etc. I buy cheap equipment first, so that I can try out the hobby/skill *and learn what I like/want.* Then I go out an spend real money on equipment that has the features I’ve learned about from my cheap-o stuff. So I *do* buy cheap, and I *do* buy twice… by design!

Sandy
Sandy
5 years ago

Regarding your comment about the Noguchi table another way to think about it is as an asset. There are a few products in your life that you use on a daily basis that can either increase in value or maintain its value. Designer or antique furniture is collectible and can often be resold while still providing function and style in one’s home. I work in a museum and this is how the wealthy do it. Provided you have some knowledge about the pieces you are buying and also are willing to maintain your asset, it can be a shrewd way… Read more »

Jess
Jess
5 years ago

The husband and I wanted decent winter coats. We looked around and waited for the sales. We ended up paying $99 per coat, retail was $279. They both have a lifetime warranty on the workmanship, and they are incredibly warm and wind resistant. I consider it a frugal purchase because the coats SHOULD last us at least 10 years. That comes to less that $10 per year, per jacket. To me, that’s more frugal than buying a cheap coat that falls apart after 1 winter.

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