Should you buy it? A flowchart for evaluating potential purchases

My husband and I are in the process of building a home on 4.5 acres in the Texas hill country. At the moment, we’re still in the planning phase — not quite ready for blueprints.

Last month, our architect asked us to start thinking about the make and model of the kitchen appliances we want for our home. Visions of sleek, Thermador cooktops and double ovens danced in my head. Even when I saw the hefty price tag, I thought maybe we could find other ways to cut back so that we could afford the dream oven. After all, we’re both avid cooks. To us, eating well is one of the best ways to enjoy life. There’s no doubt we’d use it, so the purchase makes sense. Right?

Reality Check From a Minimalist

Then I happened upon an article by Mark Bittman, who writes The Minimalist column in The New York Times. In “So Your Kitchen is Tiny. So What?” he describes how he makes do with 42 square feet of kitchen space, precious little counter space, and a stove that sometimes doubles as storage for pots and pans. It is in this space that he develops most of the recipes for his cookbooks.

But when he posted a photo of his kitchen on his blog, readers were shocked. Bittman writes:

[Chefs and food writers] know that when it comes to kitchens, size and equipment don’t count nearly as much as devotion, passion, common sense and, of course, experience.

To pretend otherwise — to spend tens of thousands of dollars or more on a kitchen before learning how to cook, as is sadly common — is to fall into the same kind of silly consumerism that leads people to believe that an expensive gym membership will get them into shape or the right bed will improve their sex life. As runners run and writers write, cooks cook, under pretty much any circumstance.

With my feet firmly back on the ground, the fancy cooktop and double oven were erased from our kitchen plans. We don’t need top-of-the-line appliances to do what we love. Sure, I’ll have to cope with the quirky nuances of our oven, which loves to cook my cupcakes unevenly just to spite me, but I’ve learned its ways and I work around it. We know where the hot spots are on the stovetop, and we’ve learned how to position the racks just so for even browning. Surely if we’ve managed with a slightly cantankerous oven for this long, we’d be just fine with a new, moderately-priced range.

We do love to cook — and we like to think we’re pretty good at it — but we don’t need a 36″ Thermador to let the world know that, hey, in case you weren’t aware, we’re serious about food. That wasn’t my conscious thought as I was drooling over appliances at Lowe’s, but Bittman’s article made me question my motives (and probably saved me a couple thousand dollars). Anything that could be cooked on a fancier stove can be cooked on a standard one.

Curbing Wants, Focusing on Needs

Because we’re building a house, it dawned on me that this is just the beginning of a long list of decisions we’ll have to make — each one with a price tag. Our goal is to keep expenses down as much as possible so that we don’t feel owned by our mortgage payment. We want to pay off the house early. We want to travel. We want the flexibility that a lower house payment affords us. My fear is that we’ll be faced with so many decisions that we might lose sight of our goals.

To help us stay on track, I started thinking about questions to ask ourselves as we’re faced with more and more building decisions. I organized the set of questions into a flowchart, which we’ll use as a tool to help ignore emotions and evaluate need.

My “Should I Buy It?” Flowchart

Let’s look at how this would work using my cooktop example:

  • First, we’d ask ourselves whether we can afford it. Technically, yes, we could.
  • Is it something we need? Yes, our house will need a cooktop of some sort.
  • Is there a less expensive option? Yes, a standard range is much less expensive.
  • Is the alternative durable? Yes, there are durable ranges. (We researched Consumer Reports articles on ranges for their top picks.)

Our result? The flowchart suggests we should purchase the less expensive option.

This chart could be used for small, personal purchases, as well. For example, I’ve been coveting a blue YogiToes towel for my yoga practice. Can I afford it? Yes. Is it something I need or lack? No. I have one in red. Flowchart says don’t buy it.

I know we’ll want a few nicer features in our home, but it’s important that our spending decisions are made consciously. Little upgrades here and there could easily add up to a sizable mortgage in the end. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in credit card debt, it’s that the seemingly small things accumulate quickly. The only way to combat this is to be conscious of what we buy — and why we are buying it by constantly keeping a check on our credit report.

Photo by LifeSunDeath.

More about...Home & Garden

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

There are 69 comments to "Should you buy it? A flowchart for evaluating potential purchases".

  1. Adam Baker says 11 September 2009 at 05:14

    Fantastic concept, April.

    This simple flowchart is a great technique to help you minimize that effect that emotions will have on the buying process. It’s especially important for those big ticket items like kitchens!

    Tangible tools that help lead to conscious spending. It doesn’t get any better than this :-).

  2. Jason says 11 September 2009 at 05:33

    We lived in a house with the fancy Thermador stove and oven. It looked good, but it absolutely failed as a cooking appliance. The gas burners were constantly in need of adjustment and put out too much heat, even on the lowest setting. Need to gently simmer something? Forget about it. The oven couldn’t hold temperature and cookies inevitably burned on some racks, undercooked on others. Cleaning the thing was a major hassle, as well.

    We now live in a house with a GE Profile smoothtop stove. The stovetop heats and allows a wide range of cooking, the oven heats evenly throughout. I bet it cost about 1/10th of the Thermador’s price but it does a MUCH better job.

    Consumer Reports has consistently reported similar results over the years, too — the “boring” brands like GE, Kenmore, Whirlpool, Maytag, etc deliver far greater value and less hassle than the “premium” brands like Thermador, Viking and Sub-Zero. They are even available with the stainless steel look if that’s what you want, too.

    Also, there’s no reason you can’t put a double oven in your new home — just get two “regular” ovens — IIRC they are something like $500 each. Or, if you don’t want to spend the money right now, you can always set up the cabinetry with the right connections for a second oven so you can add it easily, later on.

    We’re also big Bittman fans in our house. We really like his simple approaches to cooking that usually turn out fantastic. “How To Cook Everything” is definitely the go-to cookbook for many of the meals we eat!

  3. DeborahM says 11 September 2009 at 05:35

    Great post.
    I think that if I kept Bittman’s words in mind, I’d save even more than a few thousand dollars… if I made it a lifestyle, I’d save potentially a hundred thousand or more over my lifetime!
    One of my favorite books, ten years ago: The Tightwad Gazette. The author and her hubby wanted the proverbial Big House in the Country and a Passle of Kids on one salary. This was their holy mission and keeping that in mind allowed them to accomplish it, even though it seemed impossible at first. The success of her (2) Tightwad book(s) helped!
    Bittman appeared in this month’s edition of Runner’s World, and another pic of him in his kitchen is in it. Great article in Runner’s World too… topic: Healthy eating, less meat.
    P.S. We have a tiny kitchen too! 13 ft by 7 ft, and some of that taken up by a jog! But we plan to make it a little jewel. On the cheap!

  4. ryan says 11 September 2009 at 05:47

    This is a very interesting post to me, and I’d like to see more of this flavor. I’m not interested in “How I got into/out of debt” but rather “I’m fortunate to have alot of extra room in my budget now, I’m working to become independently wealthy, but I also enjoy certain material things.”

  5. Collette says 11 September 2009 at 05:50

    We are in the process of looking for a new place for the first time together and think that this post is PERFECT for us as we start shopping for furniture, down to new curtain ties. What’s really important is what we should be looking at… we have a year/year and a half before the actual move so this will help immensely. Thanks so much for the advice!

  6. Deborah says 11 September 2009 at 05:57

    Great article, and great flowchart. I hope you continue to keep up updated on the house building process!

  7. Matt says 11 September 2009 at 06:21

    My wife and I just finished redoing the kitchen of the house we recently moved into.

    The previous kitchen was old, badly designed, and ugly. We would not have enjoyed cooking in that space.

    The new kitchen, which is nice but not top-of-the-line, gives us significantly more space (both cupboard and countertop), and is a joy to work in.

    Strictly speaking, we could have functioned in the old kitchen. However, we would have been frustrated with it, and would probably have eaten out more as a result. I’m not going to claim the new kitchen will save us money over the long haul, but if it means we spend even $50/month less eating out, it’s certainly something to consider.

    We also identified the new kitchen (or at least certain aspects of it) as a “want” that we were willing to give up other “wants” for. For example, it’s likely delayed our purchase of a new (or new to us) car. When we talked about it, we both agreed we’d rather wait another year or two for a new car and get the new kitchen.

    Overall point: yes, this is a worthy exercise. However, not everything should be measured solely against the “need” category. It’s OK to get “wants” if you can afford them and if you have properly identified them.

  8. Little House says 11 September 2009 at 06:37

    What a great flow map. It makes me think of the ‘thinking maps’ I use in class to help kids organize their thoughts before writing.

    This flow map could be useful in so many situations where you have to make a decision to spend money or not. Having a visual aid is definitely useful.

    Good luck on your new house!
    -Little House

  9. Erika says 11 September 2009 at 06:40

    We’re rehabbing a house and I really identified with this. There are so many decisions to make it starts making your head spin, and even though we have a budget, there are tons of times when I say, but I really WANT that.

    In addition to the flow chart, a chart of expenses, expected and actual, is helpful. It makes me happy to save a few bucks here and there, and if I’m under, sometimes I’ll splurge on something (like tile) because I love it and because I can. Overall, though, some unexpected expenses from rehabbing (mostly electrical/water issues) have kept that from happening!

  10. ABCs of Investing says 11 September 2009 at 06:51

    I love this post.

    A friend got an expensive new kitchen a while back and although he said they were happy with the kitchen – “the food still tastes the same”. 🙂

    As for the flowchart – I would suggest putting your brand new house purchase to the test. New custom built houses are VERY expensive.

  11. EscapeVelocity says 11 September 2009 at 06:54

    Another factor to consider is timing. Some things can be added later, some can’t.

    I’ve been considering a kitchen remodel, but I decided replacing the roof (which needed replacement anyway, badly) with a metal one and adding gutters and a rainwater collection system was a higher priority for me. I did replace the range vent hood at the same time, since it vents through the roof, and I’m very happy with that upgrade (old one didn’t really do much except make noise).

  12. Kelly says 11 September 2009 at 07:04

    My mom has a double stove like this one, the Maytag MER6741BAW – White 30 Inch Freestanding Electric Range. It’s got two ovens in the space of one. (No under-stove storage area.)I’s around $800, so it’s a bit more than a single stove, but I know she finds it really useful. She can bake a casserole in the top while cooking a meat dish in the bottom.

  13. Mary says 11 September 2009 at 07:05

    Love the flowchart. It is such a great, simple tool. I just applied it to a purchase I want to make and got stopped at the first box (“Can you afford it?”)

    I know I need to ask myself that, but it’s a helpful reminder to see that I should ask myself that FIRST — before picking out the perfect model.

  14. Dustin says 11 September 2009 at 07:07

    I love the flowchart! Our house currently has a tiny kitchen, so this article really hit “home” with me. We have struggled with “stuffitis” and resisted the move up to a bigger house that would stretch us financially. Instead, we’ve chosen to simply enjoy life in our current little house…at least for a few more years!


  15. Tyler@FrugallyGreen says 11 September 2009 at 07:10

    Great flowchart that could apply to any purchase, really.

    We always hear the mantra, “buy the very best you can afford and you’ll never regret it,” but I don’t know if that applies to every situation. I think a better principle would be “buy the very best you can afford and you’ll never regret it…as long as it’s something you actually care about.”

  16. ebyt says 11 September 2009 at 07:12

    Maybe I’m just in a bad mood this morning, but I think that designing a flow chart is a bit much, and probably unnecessary. It seems like a fairly standard thought process for people who have a brain (like you seem to).

    I love to cook and I have a small kitchen in a one-bedroom apartment (I’m a recent university grad). I hate the small space. I don’t like making things work. If you can afford a better kitchen, do it. I totally disagree with you being frugal in an area that you really don’t have to be. I think life is about balance and if you both love to cook, get what you really want. Don’t settle. Get the good kitchen, but skip the hot tub, giant deck, 2 SUVs, etc.

  17. Alexandra says 11 September 2009 at 07:27

    Maybe due to the fact that I create decision matrices for work, the actual layout and design of the flowchart itself is so flawed and hard to read that it bothers me.

    And I also have to agree with # 16 – does a purchasing decision actually warrant digging this flowchart out and checking it? These are just logical thinking processes that should happen without any need for a flowchart.

    This should just be a conscious checklist. Do I really need it? Can I afford it? Are there other options I should look into?

    It seems like something pretty simple has been turned into something quite complex for little added benefit.

  18. April Dykman says 11 September 2009 at 07:31
    @ABCs of Investing–“I would suggest putting your brand new house purchase to the test. New custom built houses are VERY expensive.” We are not building a large home, just a right-sized one with room to expand later, and we’ve paid off a great percentage of our land already. We’re also in a unique position because my dad is in construction. Our goal is to be able to pay all bills on one salary.

    @EscapeVelocity–We’re going with a metal roof and rainwater collection, too!

    @ebyt–We definitely plan to budget for some wants, but we don’t need the Rolls-Royce of ovens when an Accord gets the job done. 🙂 And yes, the flow chart is a fairly standard process, but so is “spend less than you earn” and “burn more calories than you consume.” With such an overwhelming number of decisions to make about the tiniest details, I think it would be easy to “treat” ourselves to too many upgrades. It’s just a way to ground ourselves before deciding what to buy.

  19. partgypsy says 11 September 2009 at 07:35

    Some of my most enjoyable times in my life have been on trips staying in modest cabins and beach houses. What I liked about them was that they were simple, on the small size but extremely functional, with durable and long wearing but not high end materials and furnishings.

    Everything was easy to clean and maintain, and there wasn’t so much “stuff” so you could spend more time doing stuff you wanted and relaxing than being owned by the house.

    That’s my ideal for housing, and we keep that in mind while in the process of remodeling our house. Surprisingly the most functional (and to me attractive) solutions are NOT the most expensive.

  20. Linear Girl says 11 September 2009 at 07:44

    I think your flow chart could be a big help in a long project like your house. After you’ve made so many choices and seen the giant numbers you’ve spent it’s easy to think what’s another $200 for this and $500 for that. I also quite like Erika’s (#9) suggestion to keep your actual and budgeted expenses so you know as you progress if you’re saving or overspending, as that will help inform your final decisions on some items.

    I empathize with your oven situation. We’ve got an oven that only we can use because the temperature control knob temps don’t correspond to the actual oven temps. Burner supports on the stove slip and the pots tilt (not dangerously). Every year or so we look at new ovens and get dismayed by the lack of quality at the low end but don’t want to spend thousands on a better one. Our latest idea is that we’ll find an old, used, non-functional Aga (or equivalent) and my guy will repair and install. His skills make this a safe and sane endeavor for us, obviously this isn’t a solution for everyone. In the meantime we just keep cooking with the crappy one that works just fine, once you understand it. Best of luck in your new house.

  21. Scott says 11 September 2009 at 07:58

    I kinda like this, it makes sense especially with the added step of “is the lower cost option high quality” However, the point of being frugal, the point of managing money well, the point of doing all the the things we do to build wealth is to enjoy some of the fruits of our efforts. I think at some point we need to include the evaluation of “Will I enjoy it” or “Which will I enjoy more”. If cooking is an important hobby there’s nothing wrong with making a purchase to upgrade for a more ejoyable experience as long as it does not compromise other more important fiancial goals. Few of us buy cars strictly for economy. There are also the enjoyability and comfort factors and we spend a few extra dollars to be comfortable and feel good when we drive.

  22. Brian says 11 September 2009 at 08:05
  23. Rich says 11 September 2009 at 08:15

    and this needs a flowchart? Maybe the flowchart helps force people to make these decisions instead of glossing over them…..


    good article though on checking your spending and doing a little research and internal dialogue before buying

  24. Nancy L. says 11 September 2009 at 08:18

    First of all, the 42 square foot kitchen makes me laugh. Our Times Square apartment had a kitchen that was MAYBE 18 sq ft. It was literally a small closet, with french doors to hide it from the living room. We didn’t even have a full-size fridge, just a large dorm room style mini fridge under the counter. Still, we cooked many extravagant meals there–the stove and oven worked same as any other kitchen. 🙂

    Secondly, as someone who’s looking forward to building a new house down the line, I’m curious about the overall budgeting process for such an enormous undertaking. Did you start with an overall number, and are now in the midst of allocating it towards specific parts of the build? Or are you starting with what you’d like, and then seeing if that’s affordable? Having spent a little too much time in the kitchen section at Home Depot while my husband was comparing fridges, I totally can see how quickly one could wipe out a budget doing a kitchen remodel. It almost seems overwhelming to make so many decisions all at once.

  25. ebyt says 11 September 2009 at 08:34

    @April: I totally agree with the decision process, just something about putting it into a flow chart hit a nerve – that’s all lol.

    I do think that as you go along with this huge project and discuss how you actually made the decisions (like one upgrade vs. another) will be interesting.

    @Rich (#23): My thoughts exactly.

  26. Kevin@OutOfYourRut says 11 September 2009 at 08:42

    A flowchart? That’s way to much for my simple mind to handle!

    On the topic of making due with what you have though, great points.

    Brilliance flows from those who are able to improvise around what they don’t have, including and especially under duress.

    I’ve long been suspicious of the investment in top equipment by ordinary people.

  27. Craig says 11 September 2009 at 08:51

    Pretty interesting approach and can be used in a lot of situations. i think everyone may have their own personal mental chart that is a process they go through in their head when making a decision like this.

  28. STL Mom says 11 September 2009 at 08:56

    Layout is more important than appliances. I remodeled the kitchen in my last house, and although I loved my new ovens and induction cooktop, the change that made the biggest difference was moving the island one foot further away from the fridge. If possible, mock up your kitchen plan and make sure you can move around comfortably.
    In the book “Creating the Not So Big House” they show several houses that were designed to be upgraded later, one to be enlarged, the other to have nicer finishes. There’s some ideas about which things you are better off investing in right away and which things you can add later. I thought this sounded like a great way to watch your budget while still considering your dreams.

  29. Carol says 11 September 2009 at 09:09

    A flow chart can be helpful (at the very least as a demonstration method for making logical decisions), as long as you fully define the goal and know what the constraints really are. While it might seem that ‘buy a stove’ is the goal, it’s really more ‘make our kithen an efficient, non-frustrating and enjoyable workspace for us to work in at the same time, on a budget of $##,000, so that we can eat healthy at home and have fun cooking together’. Then you can look at each of the options and determine how each choice fits the goals and affects the other choices.

    We have a small kitchen – the floor space is just 4 x 7, but one of the things it has that makes the tiny kitchen work is that the cooktop (a cheap glass top one from the Sears scratch & dent) is separate from the double wall oven (a non-cheap one). The double wall oven has been so worth it! I can be cooking at the stove, and even though the kitchen is tiny, my partner can get things out of the fridge, get the silverware, and tend to both the microwave and oven without even walking behind me. The sink & cooktop are one work area, and the oven & fridge are another. Yes, the wall oven cost more compared to a standard stove, but the microwave doesn’t take up counter space, of which we have precious little, and all the pots and pans are right under the stove, and my partner and I have a less frustrating time cooking together, and subsequently we eat at home much more often than we did before.

  30. Sam says 11 September 2009 at 09:44

    There is a reason why the AVERAGE cost overrun for building a custom home is 30-50%. For most people, they only build one custom home, we’re in the very early stages of planning a custom home – to be build in probably 10 years, and it is so easy to upgrade appliances, upgrade windows, add green technology (expensive but saves money), custom build-ins (again expensive, but can reduce size of home if building smart), fancy closets, upgraded design elements, etc.

  31. Vince says 11 September 2009 at 10:03

    One important consideration that seemed overlooked with the oven as well as the flowchart is resale value.

    I’m no real estate expert, but a consistent message I hear from the real estate agents I’ve spoken with and from almost every HGTV show I’ve watched, are that kitchens with modern appliances help sell a home.

    So, yeah, I suppose you could go with a lower end oven and get more bang for your initial buck, but when you sell the home, that oven may take away from the lustre your kitchen has for potential buyers.

    So I would propose an amendment to this flowchart to consider ‘resale value’.

  32. April says 11 September 2009 at 10:22

    I think the flowchart is useful for people who are new to the world of frugality. Anyone who is fighting a daily battle with spending/debt should consider this a tool before making a new purchase. However if you are a long time and experienced saver the flowchart is already part of your lifestyle.
    As far as purchasing stuff goes, my personal philosophy is the more frivolous and expensive the purchase (jacuzzi, guitar, game console) the more waiting time required to decide if the purchase is worthy. The only ways I can justify spending extra money on any given item is by considering how long the item will be used (therefore invest extra for longer endurance/timeless look) and if we can notice a difference in the higher quality. My husband has had a passing interesting in the guitar for years, however we only just bought him a starter pack ($100) two weeks ago. There were several other guitars at the store for hundreds or thousands of dollars, however since he has little experience with an actual guitar, he would have a harder time hearing and feeling the difference between a more expensive guitar, and a generic one. This same concept applies to not only to stoves but every other purchase that you can consider.

  33. Moneymonk says 11 September 2009 at 10:37

    I love that flowchart!!

  34. trb says 11 September 2009 at 10:40

    Tell us more about buying land and planning for the house! Like @24, I’m curious about the whole process by which you decided to do it, looked for and acquired the land, and settled on home site/design. Really hope to here more about this in the future.

    As to the flowchart, I think it works well for one-off decisions like buying a new jacket. But how would one put in in perspective with the bigger picture of “given that we previously bought a suit and new khakis, but found used shoes…” or “we kept the home to 1500 sq ft, but went with the expensive jacuzzi tub, but used low-end washer and only a clothesline…”? Seems like there needs to be a tie to the main goal somewhere.

  35. Claire says 11 September 2009 at 10:50

    Great post!

    I really like the flowchart. I have an additional way of evaluating a future purchase: I ask myself whether the purchase will solve a problem I have, or allow me to do something that I couldn’t do before. Keeping in mind the problems you are trying to solve is a great way to make the right decisions when remodeling, and I imagine it could be applied to building new, too.

    As far as kitchen appliances go, we just remodeled our kitchen, and like Jason, we bought GE Profile and I’m really happy with them (I bought a gas cooktop and convection oven, a great combo if you love to cook.) Reliability and ergonomics were at the top of the list for me.

  36. Foxie@CarsxGirl says 11 September 2009 at 11:10

    Okay, here’s my thing: I see the concept. I relate to the ideas. I like the flowchart idea. And I still can’t apply it to my life right…. Here’s my issue, though: I’m not overspending at all. I just can’t bring myself to spend my money in large chunks. Period. (Unless it’s on a car. If it’s for just me, I feel insanely guilty.)

    My current dilemma: I found a beautiful fall/winter (it’s cotton, so maybe winters where I live it’d make due) coat that I’m coveting. Horribly. It’s white, with big black buttons and in a classic cut, something that won’t go out of style…. Probably ever. And it’s only $150, compared to similar wool coats on sale. (Wool is nice, but probably overkill for where I call home at the moment.) My issue? I have no coat like it, I could definitely use a coat like it, it’s more dressy than the heavy hoodies that I normally don in the fall/winter. Can I bring myself to buy it?

    For some reason, I just can’t. :/ It sounds so weird, and it is. I have the money for it. I could definitely use it. I have no other coat like it, nor am I prone to purchasing coats. It’s a good deal and typical for it’s price range, and a higher quality than just going to the mall and picking one out without thinking. I still can’t seem to justify it, though……. (And I’m not even spending the money on my cars or anything, it’s just sitting in the bank, waiting for a job, waiting for a purpose or to be used. So weird.)

  37. Karen says 11 September 2009 at 11:30

    I disagree–I think kitchen remodels can be a great investment that yields an enormous value in ease and delight of use!

    Take away anything in my house and sure, I probably won’t miss it that much. But I spend hours every single day in my kitchen feeding my family (even though I work full time).

    After spending 12 years cooking (a lot) for my family in a kitchen that was barely functional when we first moved into the house, I am *totally* enjoying every single thing about my renovated kitchen. Which I paid for without problem, in cash.

    And it’s awful advice to say that you should buy cheap appliances because you won’t be able to tell the difference. Good quality appliances add a huge amount to the resale value of a kitchen, plus they last longer and actually work well while you are using them. I got top of the line stainless Kenmore dual-fuel range & hood, a Kenmore french door fridge, and a super quiet stainless Bosch dishwasher. They are total bliss to use!

    I am thinking that whoever wrote this doesn’t cook of use a kitchen very much/at all. Of course in that case, who cares if your kitchen is functional or not?

  38. April Dykman says 11 September 2009 at 11:48

    @Sam–So true! And then people blame the contractor or the architect when the home costs more than originally quoted, even though the owners were the ones adding the “extras.”

    @Karen–I would never suggest buying cheap applicances. I think (and Consumer Reports agrees), that there are quality, mid-priced options. Also, what I’ve found from reading Consumer Reports and Cook’s Illustrated is that the most expensive appliance or gadget isn’t necessarily the best performing.

  39. Jason says 11 September 2009 at 11:59

    @Karen — the problem with kitchen (and bathroom) remodels, as well as other consumer goods (like wine) is that people forget a couple of things:

    1) The value/money equation is not linear — it’s asymptotic. For a kitchen remodel, is it worth it to spend $2-300 more for the model with the high ranking in Consumer Reports versus an entry level model? Probably. Is it worth it to spend $2-3000 more? Probably not.

    2) The relation between expensive appliances and quality is tenuous at best, an outright lie at worst.

    3) I’m sorry to inform you, but by buying Kenmore, you bought “cheap” appliances in the eyes of people looking at Thermador, Wolf or Viking kitchen equipment. The good news is that you likely got a good value for your money, with a quality appliance for a good price.

    4) With respect to resale value, people forget what their home will be compared to by the next buyer. If other homes that are comparable to yours have Thermador stoves and built-in Sub-Zero fridges, you might be justified in saying it’s an investment. If comparable homes are all arrayed with Kenmore appliances, the money you dump into high-end stuff likely isn’t going to come back to you, since people will shop for things like number of bedrooms, price range, proximity to work, school districts and price first. When they actually show up, they’ll say “wow there’s a Viking range here”, but the offer they make will likely be more in line with the houses with Kenmore equipment.

    It’s a similar story with bathroom remodels and other home renovations — don’t improve the house so much that you end up pricing yourself out of your own neighborhood. It’s highly doubtful you will recover the cost.

    I’ll agree with April — don’t buy the cheapest thing because it’s the cheapest thing — buy things that deliver the best value, which is an entirely different thing — and not determined by sticker price.

  40. Paularado says 11 September 2009 at 13:20

    Having built a custom home, complete with cost overruns, I don’t think the chart is that helpful. When making decisions on home construction, ask yourself these questions:

    -can I upgrade it later? If not, seriously consider spending the money. We spent big bucks on the foundation, upgraded insulation, soundproofing in the floors and walls, high end radiant heating system, etc.

    -is this a flaw that really needs to be corrected?
    designing something on paper is so different than reality. You may discover that you really don’t like something on your floor plan. Change it.

    -will this ultimately save me money? good windows, insulation, heating systems…they can all have big payoff in money and comfort

    -this one might be suspect, but….will this increase the value of the home? We used this to justify the large lodge-style fireplace. It is a zero-clearance fireplace that is more like a furnace, so it also saves us heating costs….but ultimately, we figured it would add more value to the home than it cost.

    So, that means that we have a home with outstanding “bones”, excellent insulation, efficient heating systems, excellent windows, and a large kitchen that actually cost less than that fireplace.

    We only spent about $10K on the kitchen including cabinets, counters, and appliances because we can easily upgrade it later. I should mention that I cook more than anyone I know and the kitchen works just fine with Kenmore and GE Profile.

  41. Erica Douglass says 11 September 2009 at 14:43

    My only feedback on this is that my boyfriend really pushed “gas stove” hard. When we found a bigger house to rent in our new location, his main criterion was “GAS STOVE!”

    And, using it every day, I totally see why. We had a Ceran stove previously and I do like the gas one better. I’m a convert. So go cheaper on the stove if you want, but DO run the gas line.

    Also, a gas dryer will save you a bundle on your electric bill. Our current place has the laundry room just steps away from the master bedroom — another layout choice I’m really grateful for.


  42. Adrienne in CA says 11 September 2009 at 14:55

    “I’m no real estate expert, but a consistent message I hear from the real estate agents I’ve spoken with and from almost every HGTV show I’ve watched, are that kitchens with modern appliances help sell a home. ”

    Vince at #31, you do realize that HGTV is paid by those same high-end appliance sellers to deliver “programming” (really, program-length advertising) to convice you of that. Good grief, that’s what 99% of whatever is on television is trying to do!


  43. David/Yourfinances101 says 11 September 2009 at 19:16

    I think its a fantastic idea. While I was digging myself out of debt, I went thru a similar process for anything over $50. I was amazed at how many “little” purchases I ended up not getting.

    Great concept and great post

  44. Zee says 11 September 2009 at 23:00

    “Surely if we’ve managed with a slightly cantankerous oven for this long, we’d be just fine with a new, moderately-priced range.”

    The problem with this logic being that a moderately-priced range from somewhere like Lowes will probably last you less than half the time a more high-end stove, like a Viking, would. There’s being frugal, and then there’s being so frugal that all the products you buy need to be replaced in five years (or less). Spend more money on quality and you’ll spend less money in the long run.

  45. Financial Samurai says 11 September 2009 at 23:24

    Wow, what a concept! I guess once it’s done, just print it out and stick it on the fridge and resort.

    I just buy things, and sit on it for 2 weeks, or whatever the return policy is and return it, if i think it’s not worth it. Generally it’s not.

  46. Linda says 11 September 2009 at 23:26

    I definitely like this flowchart. What I think is helpful about this chart is that all these same thoughts float through my head when I make a purchase. However, they tend to swirl around like buzzing bees in annoying random order. This chart corrals them sequentially which greatly increases their effectiveness.

  47. kenyantykoon says 12 September 2009 at 03:15

    this thing looks like that thingamajig that programmers use to make software. that stuff just used to pass over my head and its nice to see that there are other applications other that geeky computing but be that as it may i think to some extent that it is unrealistic as one has to follow such a set pattern like a robot of a piece of software. While i advocate frugality and wise money management, it is not bad to splurge on a “sinful” extravagance

  48. Bunny says 12 September 2009 at 04:53

    The lesson my mother and grandmother pounded into my head (refugees in WWII) was to always buy the best quality you can afford and then keep it forever. So my Viking range is 8 years old and has moved house with me 3 times. (Houses will sell without the high end appliances thrown in.) My knives are 10 years old (from when I set up housekeeping on my own.) My pots and pans were purchased one at a time — usually on sale or from a Marshalls or TJMaxx. And the non-stick frying pans come from the restaurant supply section at Sam’s Club.
    So if you want that Thermador cooktop — go ahead. Based on your article, you’ve been pretty prudent with your finances.

  49. kipper says 12 September 2009 at 08:07

    I can definitely relate to the flow chart.
    Personally, I have been using it a lot lately but with a slight twist.

    Normally, I will consider only whether I can afford it and whether I need it/can live without it.
    For the second questions, normally a cooling period works wonder!

    After passing this 2 questions, I will normally buy the item that I wanted and not look for cheaper alternatives.

    Not sure whether is it just me but from experience, I realise that I always spent more money buying the brand/item I wanted in the first place after compromising for a cheaper alternative.
    On a positive side, I find that the joy of using something I wanted and not a compromise saves me money in the long run as I will continue to use it until the item breaks down.

    Good example of this for me will be iPod. I was using my second gen iPod (15GB) until it broke down and was extremely happy with it.


  50. Karen says 12 September 2009 at 10:08

    @Jason, I am very aware that Kenmore isn’t considered “luxury”!

    However, the stainless Kenmore line and the dual fuel Kenmore range are significantly more expensive than many others available from Sears. I could have easily paid $2500-3000 less total for the appliances by going with the lower-quality models with the white fronts, etc.

    But they’d be ugly, less functional (& for me, ugly also translates into less functional–asthetics matter!), and less likely to wow” a later buyer.

    My home is a modest one in a lower-middle class neighborhood that I purchased for $140K several years ago. A Viking range would just be stupid. But any potential buyer looking at my house would still prefer the higher-end stainless appliances from Sears over the cheap-looking and non-stylish (& cheaper) models. Everyone watches HGTV, not just people who can afford the houses they feature!

    What I’m saying is that it’s a much better idea to go with the top of the line models in the types of things are that appropriate to the size/value of your home, than to pinch pennies by buying the cheaper models.

  51. Tyler says 12 September 2009 at 10:39

    Great post April.
    I like that you identified the “silly consumerism” and stopped it from taking over! Buying just the essential items necessary is the way to start. Then if you really need to expand or improve upon an item, the time will come. Be inelastic in your decisions!

  52. Ann says 12 September 2009 at 14:30

    I’m cheap, but selectively so. Sometimes quality is worth the extra money, especially in the kitchen. If the choice comes down to something that costs more upfront but will last me a lifetime versus a less expensive option that will need to be replaced every five years, I’ll go with the former.

    Thus, my kitchen is outfitted with Le Creuset, All-Clad, Wustof, Kyocera, etc.

  53. Nicky says 12 September 2009 at 15:47

    A good story on evaluating a purchase and deciding you don’t need the high-end model, but I’m also a bit meh on the flowchart. Why? Because at this stage I can afford almost anything under house- or car-level expense, and I think the mere existence of a cheaper alternative (even if high quality) should not be the reason you don’t buy something, for a couple of reasons:

    1) In your example, the kitchen appliances should match the style of the home you are building else they’ll affect resale value. So if you’re building a modest suburban home maybe you don’t need a top of the range stove but if you hope it to be executive-style and in demand then you better make sure your appliances are the best.

    2) how do you compare quality at different price points? Say I want a dyson vacuum cleaner. They’re fabulous, but they’re pricey. You can get a perfectly reasonable vacuum for half the price, but it won’t have the suction, even though it’s high quality. I have pets and do craft so that would piss me off. So how can you compare the two on quality? Better to ask if the lower-priced one would suit your particular needs just as well, or if you could live with the compromise. Which in this case I couldn’t. This is the big problem with your flowchart imho.

    3) Sometimes if you can afford something, you should treat yourself. Not everything in your life has to be frugal.

    The flowchart is probably great for people who are struggline with debt or tend to impulse buy, but I think everyone else has inbuilt priority filters on purchases. (Can I afford the fancy oven? Yes, but it means I can’t have a holiday this year. Which is more important?)

  54. Sierra Black says 12 September 2009 at 17:03

    April, this was so helpful to me. My household is just at the turning point between struggling to pay off debts and learning to make wise decisions with the spending money we have. I really appreciated the clear window into your thought process about how to do this.

  55. Pedro Pais says 12 September 2009 at 19:57

    Great stuff!!!

    Would you mind if I translated that flowchart and put it on my Portuguese website about personal finances?


  56. imkeh says 12 September 2009 at 20:46

    Gas range gives one a lot more control in my experience and they make food taste better.

    Btw, great article. That flowchart will be used in our home a lot in the future. It’s a testament that JD made the right choice in you! 🙂

  57. John says 13 September 2009 at 03:16

    Kinda pointless when all paths lead to the same box, “Purchase the less expensive item”. Maybe it is important to buy the higher quality item, but regardless that thought is disregarded. The last box should be to “Purchase the Item”. (For example, Maybe you pay 2x for high quality, but it lasts 2x longer, or is 2x more efficient and you can save more money over time. This flow chart doesn’t consider that.)

  58. julie says 13 September 2009 at 18:15

    I agree with this flowchart except for one thing.

    After the question-answer sequence, “Is the option high-quality?” “No” “Is quality important?” “Yes”, I think the chart should take you back to “Don’t buy it”.

    In my experience, almost every time quality matters and the item is low-quality, it’s more expensive to buy despite the price, as it ends up being replaced.

    I say “almost”, because of the occasional low-quality item that ends up perfectly filling the bill and lasting a long time. That’s rare, though.

  59. Jeff B. says 13 September 2009 at 20:51

    This is nice but it removes the emotional element from purchases. If someone is deep in debt then everything that’s not food, clothing or shelter should be a NO. But in the real world, the heart trumps the mind. Just look at the comments that pet owners made when someone suggested that they’re an unnecessary expense:

  60. Robert says 14 September 2009 at 09:10

    My line of reasoning goes something like this: “Do I need it? If not, will it nag at my mind if I don’t get it? If so, sleep on it for a few days before buying!” I also try to think about where this item will be in 3 months. If it will be in my closet, don’t buy it. If I’ll be using it and feel like I’ll get value out of it, get it. Great post!

  61. David@DINKS Finance says 14 September 2009 at 09:24

    The more you think about your purchases, the better off you will be. No matter what you should end up saving a lot of money in the short and long-term.

  62. DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad says 15 September 2009 at 06:24

    Great approach– Any way to get better purchase decisions are always welcome!

  63. Tiffany says 18 September 2009 at 06:04

    If you buy a new dishwasher or fridge keep energy star in mind. Energy star labeled products reduce the amount of energy and/or water you use which saves you money. 🙂

  64. Yonathan says 19 September 2009 at 13:56

    Yes. I should buy an iPod touch or an iPhone or anything that syncs with my Windwos and Web apps.

  65. Susan says 20 September 2009 at 06:09

    This reminds me of a decision rubric I read about in Reader’s Digest–10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years. Anytime you think about an expenditure/decision, what will the impact be in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years? Helps with perspective.
    About houses–I say spend the money on stuff you can’t easily replace (plumbing, construction details) & delay big expenses on stuff you can replace/upgrade at a future time–which would include appliances.

  66. Meaghan says 28 September 2009 at 10:47

    This is awesome! I love having something set to follow! My husband and I just used this when we were purchasing a chair for the living room (ultimately we bought one). Thanks!

  67. zack says 12 November 2009 at 22:00

    slightly more complicated than your flowchart, but also helpful!

  68. MommaBee says 23 March 2010 at 17:24

    Great flow chart! Whenever we make a purchase, the first question we ask ourselves is,”How much will we use it?” If the answer is: “alot,” then we always buy the best quality for our budget. We use Consumer Reports as our guideline for those purchases. Anything that isn’t used alot is reconsidered and more than likely,not purchased.

  69. Jared says 03 April 2010 at 23:52

    Great flow chart! I have a family business and we could definitely use something like that!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*