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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 to make it through the rest of the day, and she recommended I buy a pair of rainbows. The higher price tag on them made me nervous at the time. But I was fed up with what I had, so I went for it.
That was nearly fifteen years ago, and I still wear that one pair of sandals constantly. They feel great, look cool, and have even saved me a bunch of money in the long run. And all that with no duct tape needed.
Sometimes the cheapest option is the one that costs more in the beginning.
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 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 a pallet 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.
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.
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 more money over time than defaulting to the “cheap” option.
But at the same time, something with a very high cost may only offer a similar (or even lesser) 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 Rainbows 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.”
It’s about having as little stuff that doesn’t matter to you as possible, while maximizing the joy you get from the things that you do have around you.
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 practical one), buying something that leaves that need unfulfilled will set us back to square one; back to buying.
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 in the exact opposite direction.
Every single time I give someone advice like this, 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 foolish a path as always getting the cheapest thing.
Always look to minimize cost for maximum value, and you will buy less but better every time.