If You REALLY Want to Save Money, Buy Less But Better

I first learned the importance of buying less, but better back when I worked summers as a lifeguard.

See, I went through a lot of flip flops working that job. I didn’t really care much about flip flops, but I needed to wear them. So I would go down to the dollar store and pick up the cheapest pair for like $5, wear them everyday, then replace them a few weeks later when they fell apart. 

Every summer, I would go through 2-3 pairs of the stupid things. 

That is until one day when a coworker saw me duct-taping together my latest shoe-wreck so I could make it through the rest of the day. She recommended I try a new brand of flip flops, the same ones she wore.

Unlike what I was used to wearing, these new sandals cost about $50, which made me quite nervous at the time. 17-year-old me didn’t see much point in “wasting” money on fancy footwear. But I was fed up with what I had, so I went for it.

That was years and years ago, and I still wear that one pair of sandals constantly. They feel great, and I love the way they look. On top of that, they’ve actually saved me a bunch of money in the long run. And all without any duct tape.

Sometimes the thing with the lower price isn’t really the cheaper option.

Frugal Doesn’t Mean Cheap

If you know me, you probably know that I’m pretty passionate about saving money. And I don’t do it to put an extra few bucks in the bank here and there, or to be “responsible.” Gross. I save enthusiastically so that I can radically change my future with money.

You can probably picture a few things about me, just by hearing this:

  • I’ve never owned a pair of jeans that cost more than $20
  • I eat steamed rice and beans for most of my meals because it is highly cost-efficient
  • On the rare occasion I am dragged to a restaurant, I refuse to buy appetizers because they are a scam
  • Due to a rare coupon-stacking oversight at my local grocery store, it was possible for one week in 2009 to buy hand soap for 20 cents a bar, so I bought two pallets of it

Except that none of these things are even remotely true. Can you imagine living like this? It would be exhausting. Appetizers are why I go to restaurants. 

young people eating at restaurant with drinks
Yeah, I only ordered a water so…

Stereotypes like this are what make people think that saving money is always about doing what is cheapest right now. Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for the rice and beans industry (don’t worry, they’ll be fine), this notion is way off. Saving money doesn’t always mean buying cheap. It means buying less, but better.

Cost vs. Value

One thing that the savviest spenders understand is that cost is not the only factor to consider. They weigh both cost and value when making their decisions.

Simply put, cost (or price) is the money you put into something. Value is what that thing is actually worth to you.

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

– Warren Buffett

While cost is usually an exact number on a price tag, value is rather more subjective. A variety of factors determine a product or service’s unique value to you, such as:

  • How effectively it serves its purpose or does its job
  • How long it is likely to last before needing repair, replacement, or follow-up
  • Not insignificantly, how it makes you feel and how much you enjoy it

If you focus only on cost and never on value, you may be making a serious money-saving blunder. Often, something with a slightly higher initial cost can yield significantly greater value over time, making it the better deal.

smarter and harder graphic - how to buy less but better

Think of a product that costs a few dollars more, but works better, lasts longer, and makes you happier than its counterpart does. Something like this will actually save you money over time. The “cheap” option isn’t always cheapest.

But at the same time, something with a very high cost may only offer similar (or even less) value than the more affordable option. So how do you decide?

Case Study: Flip Flops

Consider my example above about the flip flops.

At first glance, on price alone, the dollar store jobs were the way to go. $5 vs. $50? Are you kiddin’ me? Easy choice.

But look what happens when you bring value into the mix. Remember, I used to buy 3 pairs of the “cheap” ones to get through one summer. The ones I have now have lasted me fifteen years (so far). Imagine the cost of sticking with the “cheaper” option that whole time:

5 (dollars per pair) x 3 (pairs per year) x 15 years = $225 (!!!)

So over time, the “cheaper” (I AM going to keep using those quotes, btw. Deal with it.) flip flops would have cost me more than four times as much as the brand name ones. 

Add on top of that the fact that the higher-priced ones feel great on my feet and I never have to spend time going out to buy more, and you can see how ignoring the value of what you’re buying can be disastrous. These flip flops are just one of countless examples where value-oriented decisions have enabled me to buy less, but better.

Buy Less But Better

The most often misunderstood thing about minimalism is that it’s not about having no stuff at all. It’s why I’m what some may consider a bad minimalist.

But really, the purpose of minimalism is to have as little stuff that doesn’t matter to you as possible, while maximizing the joy you get from the things that you love.

And that’s basically what we’re doing here. Buying less but better means being more conscious about what you allow in – into your budget, into your home, into your life. When you think in terms of cost/value, rather than solely cost, you are able to be a better gatekeeper.

Low-value purchases have a nasty tendency to leave us wanting. They may leave us emotionally unsatisfied, or leave a practical need unfulfilled.

In either case, purchases like these inevitably lead us to buy more. When we set out to meet a need (whether an emotional or a functional one), buying something that leaves that need unfulfilled will set us back to square one; back to buying.

woman shopping with multicolored bags

Assess for cost and value from the get-go, and you will find yourself “closing the loop” on your needs more easily. This creates less need (and desire) to buy more in the future, and THAT is how you buy less but better.

When the Cheap Option Does Make Sense

Before I let you go, there is one CRUCIAL point I need to make. PLEASE do not take this advice and swing the pendulum too far the other way.

Every single time I give someone this advice, I invariably see their eyes drift off into space as their imagination runs wild to the tune of, “you’re right, I should start buying more expensive stuff.”

Yes, but more importantly, NO.

There’s cost, there’s value, and there’s your situation. Hopefully this was already clear to you.  but I cannot stress enough the point that what we are trying to achieve is to reduce our overall costs and increase the value we get in return. We want to buy less but better.

Leaping for a more expensive version of everything because you “deserve it” is not what I’m talking about here, and is just as reckless as always getting the cheapest thing. 

Always look to minimize cost for maximum value, and you will buy less but better every time.

When did you buy less but better? What was well worth the added cost?


  1. Lynn said:

    HAHA love that. Appetizers is also the reason I go to restaurants! This is an awesome post, Sam! I live similarly. I live intentionally which means my purchases are thought out, budgeted and planned. My home isn’t fully furnished yet after a year of living in it because I haven’t found things that I’ve absolutely loved yet but I’m willing to wait and this means raising my budget too! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Lynn | https://www.lynnmumbingmejia.com

    May 1, 2021
    • Sam said:

      Haha same! My first apartment after college stayed largely empty the first year or so while I picked out furniture I loved. No need to rush to fill it up just for it to be filled up!

      May 3, 2021
  2. Lyla Stone said:

    I used to buy so many clothes. Most purchases were impulse buys, usually if the item was in the sale. I would fall out of love with these clothing items within weeks. In the long run it ended up costing me a small fortune!
    Nowadays, I only buy pieces that are good quality, and that I truly love – and these purchases are rare. Thanks for this post 🙂

    May 2, 2021
    • Sam said:

      I think clothes are a great example, I hear this one a lot from people on this topic. You can overspend on clothes, and you can underspend on clothes. But if you’re thoughtful and patient, you can always find pieces that will really stand out, make you feel great, and that will last for ages.

      May 3, 2021
      • Lyla Stone said:

        Clothes are a prime example for many. Consumerism can become a terrible addiction – stressful, bad for the environment and, of course, the bank balance! The psychology behind it is wild. So happy to have kicked the habit. Thanks, Sam 🙂

        May 5, 2021
  3. Such a good post! I think I’m also guilty of buying cheap clothes which obviously don’t wear that well. I have to say spending more money on quality basic/timeless pieces is something I try to do and if i want to buy something more trendy I usually buy a more affordable option.

    xoxo Annaleid


    May 6, 2021
    • Sam said:

      I love that approach, and I’ve heard a few others mention it. Go for high value on the classics and timeless items, and focus on low cost for something trendy/short term. Makes a lot of sense!

      May 10, 2021
  4. bethany jones said:

    this is a really great post with some great tips, I personally tend to buy way too much cheap stuff, particularly clothes as it’s just become a habit, but I’m intending to cut down on the amount that I purchase in order to help with sustainability as well as value for money.

    May 21, 2021
    • Sam said:

      that’s great! sustainability is an important point to this that I didn’t even really get into, but reducing our overall consumption has a huge impact on our little world, not just our own lives.

      May 28, 2021

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