Obsessed with saving money? Buying cheap ends up expensive

I recently wrote a post titled My husband spends too much money… or is it just me? I guess that since I confessed about how I flinch when my husband buys non-essentials like mustard and peanuts and how I obsess over how many squirts of liquid soap he uses to wash his hands, it’s understandable why many readers would think I have an obsession with saving.

And maybe you’d think that since I favor saving money so much, I only buy the cheapest stuff ever.

Cheap means low-quality, low-value

I think it’s a safe bet to say that the cheapest stuff out there is usually the most low-quality stuff, too.

See, in order to provide a really low price that’s well below the market average, a producer has to cut some corners. The materials that go into the product would have to be cheap. The equipment used in production would have to be low-end. The labor would have to be cheap, too, and cheap labor means bad make. (You can’t work minimum wage and tolerate your supervisor demand you give a five-star performance at the assembly line.) So you have all these factors working together to provide a low price, but they also work together to provide a really low-quality item.

And you can usually tell cheap stuff just by looking at the make. At one point, I had become an expert at browsing the cheapest clothes shops in town, and I had learned to quickly find any manufacturing defects. (That was when I had money problems.)The cheapest jeans and blouses had plenty of those: zippers with small teeth that would easily get stuck, badly cut shoulders that made you look like Quasimodo, fabrics that would blead in the washer or loose buttons that were ready to come out because they were sewed with really thin threads.

I’ve also found that buying the cheapest sort of food products is not worth it, either. At all. It might actually be a health hazard! (By “health hazard” I don’t mean that you will drop dead at the first bite, but it probably has some not-so-healthy ingredients, and if you eat them long enough they accumulate in your body and could cause you problems later on.)

How the cheap ends up expensive

But even if you put the safety issues aside, buying the cheapest food is still not worth it – and sometimes it ends up more expensive than the expensive version.

The other day I got some pork on sale. When I brought it home to cut it, there was so much fat and tendon that I had to throw away nearly half of it. I bought meat that at a 20% discount but wasted 50% of it. That’s not saving me money! When you add in all the time I wasted removing the fat and tendon, it was clearly not worth it.

Which is not to say that food on sale is always bad quality. Sometimes a bargain is just a bargain. But in my experience, you can never know for sure the reason whya certain food is on sale. It could be on sale because the store got a great dealer with the producer. Or it could be on sale because it’s getting close to the expiration date and they want to get rid of it. Or because the item is not good enough to justify its original price, and customers have picked up on that.

It’s hard to change your shopping habits (or your husband’s)

We all have different shopping habits. When my husband and I started living together, we had to adjust to each other’s money habits (among other things. More about that here: 10 tips: How to manage money as a couple)

For example, one Thursday we were shopping for omelette ingredients. I was fine with buying just the essentials like eggs, cheese, tomatoes, and maybe some OJ; but I made sure they were high quality. He, on the other hand would rather get the cheapest kind of everything but also squeeze in mustard, hot peppers and soda.

Now, my logic was that if you throw together a bunch of cheap ingredients, you’ll end up with a cheap-tasting omelette. I’d rather make an omlette with just the basics and skip the mustard and hot peppers BUT make sure the basics like eggs and cheese would actually taste good.

So we had a disagreement.

What did I do? Naturally, I played the “cooking is a woman’s job” card; plus he was totally converted once he tasted my omelette :) He thinks I’m a much better cook than I really am – just because I use

Quality items last longer and perform better

Last winter my boots failed on me just when I was coming to visit my husband (then-boyfriend). I hadn’t budgeted for new shoes so I set a pretty low spending limit.

As much as I had tried to be picky and get the best bang for my poor buck, I knew I could only expect so much from a cheap pair of shoes. Sure enough, by the end of winter my “new” boots were looking really beaten up. Even the best of the cheap was still cheap.

So this winter, we went boot-hunting again. I actually hate shopping because we have to go from store to store and I have to try pair after pair… and I’m Gemini so it’s really hard for me to make up my mind about what I want. I usually get stuck between two options and even after I pick one, I keep wondering maybe the other one was better. It’s hell I tell ya!

Anyway, I settled on a pair, and these boots cost twice as much as last year’s. But I’m totally cool with that because they will last at least three times as much. And you can’t imagine how good they are to my feet!

We applied the same strategy when buying a winter jacket for my husband. The good jackets cost twice as much as the cheapest, but they would last him five times longer. And, the feeling of wearing something well-crafted can’t compare to the feeling of wearing some cheap stuff. I had to spend a good hour talking into buying the expensive model, but it was totally worth it. Now he has a nice jacket to keep him warm in the long cold winter months when he’s waiting at the bus stop. (Plus he looks so sexy in it!)

Getting my husband on board

I thought I’d seen the last of his resistance towards buying more expensive stuff, but then we had to buy him a wallet. He said “This time I’m getting a cheap one and I don’t want to hear about it!” Oh he made me sweat this time! We went through practically every store in town and spent one whole evening looking at wallets. Eventually the difference between the cheap and expensive ones became hard to ignore, even though he was set at buying a cheap model. We finally bought one of the good ones – and again, I think we’re going to get five times the lifetime for just two times the price.

Luckily, when we were buying winter shoes for him, I didn’t have to spend much time convinsing him to get one of the good, more expensive models.
HIM: “Do you really think these will last a few years?”
ME: “Oh yeah. I’m sure of it. That’s why you’re not getting any new shoes till 2020.”

After all the hard work of shopping, we decided to treat ourselves at the Chinese restaurant. We love that place because it has great food at good price. Once the sweet-sour fried chicken arrived, we got to talking about our buying strategy.

“But you know, little owl*, you can’t use price as a guideline for quality,” he said.
(*Little owl is his pet name for me. You would have known that if you had made yourself a regular reader through email subscription. Ha!)

“Well not always, but it’s a pretty sound indicator. If something’s really cheap, you can’t expect it to be well-made.”
“Perhaps. But also just because something is expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s high-quality. It could just be overpriced.”

I thought about that, and I guess he did have a point.

” ‘Cause you see,” he said, “the selling price is marked up. Two stores could carry the same pair of shoes bought from the same manufacturer for the same amount of money. But if one store is bigger, nicer, and better equipped than the other, that same pair of shoes will be marked up higher just so they can cover overhead.”

“Yeah. That happens. But still, no matter how high the markup, the difference in the final price for the same pair of shoes will be 10-15%. It’s not gonna be like, double.”

“Well maybe not double, but I mean price alone is not a solid indicator of quality. I mean, look at this place [the Chinese restaurant]. It has great food but it’s not expensive at all. Just because it’s not expensive doesn’t mean it’s low-quality.”

“I agree, the food is great” I said and stole one of his fried mini-bread loafs. “But not the interior. The waiters are wearing jeans and T-shirts and are probably not paid much. The bathrooms only have cold water and the napkins we get are not cloth napkins but paper napkins. That way they are able to keep many costs down so the food prices can go down, as well.”

So, now we both agree that buying cheap stuff is NOT saving money. It’s wasting money. Because when we buy a cheap item, it doesn’t last long and it doesn’t perform well. We end up having to replace that item either because it breaks or because using it is too uncomfortable.

One final example I can give you is with this pot I have which burns every single time I cook rice or milk in it. I’m so sick of it that I’ve requested a new pot with ceramic coating for Christmas. Well, that and a Disney comic book.

Oh and a bar of white chocolate with orange sprinkles.

I can’t wait for Christmas!

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8 thoughts on “Obsessed with saving money? Buying cheap ends up expensive”

  1. There are several reasons to buy cheap and I will give you some examples:
    1. When you can’t distinguish bad from good quality. Usually I pay 30-40 levas for winter shoes. And I expect them to last for the season. Next year I buy a new pair. Once may then-girlfriend convinced me in buying a 100 levs shoes. They lasted less than a season. So I don’t see a point in buying more expensive shoes now – I can’t tell whether they are really good or just expensive.
    2. When you expect an improvement in your finances. Currently I am paying back a large mortgage loan and my plans are to pay it back in the next 29 months. If I have to buy a new washing machine I would buy the cheapest one now. I know it will last for 4 years, but I don’t care because at that time I will be able to afford a “Miele” one.
    3. To delay spendings. Ok I need a new pair of jeans for example. A 20 levs pair will last for 3-6 months and a 50 levs may last 1-2 years(and maybe not). So it’s definitely better to spend the 50 levs, eh? No. Because 20 levs will not affect my monthly budget as much as 50.

  2. Well if you can’t tell bad quality from good quality then yeah, don’t buy the most expensive model. Although I think with shoes and clothes it’s pretty simple to tell good make from bad make :)

    I’m not advocating you should always buy THE most expensive model. Something that’s priced a little above average should be good enough.

    And of course, don’t forget that price alone is not a solid indicator of quality. Some items are just overpriced becuase the store has a great location and equipment, so in order to make up for the high rent and expensive interior they paid for, they price all their goods higher.

  3. Don’t overspend on hygiene products . For most people, inexpensive hygiene products do the trick – for example, I just buy whichever toothpaste is the cheapest, and the same goes with deodorant and the like. The key is to use this stuff regularly and consistently – bathe daily, keep yourself clean, and you’ll be just fine. No need to buy a $40 facial scrub if you actually scrub your face properly.

  4. It’s a matter of experience :
    – I can’t distinguish between artificial leather and real leather, but some people can. Basicly I enter the store and if I like a pair of shoes I buy them. But I’m not able to tell if they are really good.
    – On the other hand I’m able to distinguish between a good laptop for 600 levs and just an overpriced one for 2000.
    That’s why my friends ask me to consult them for phones and laptops and not for shoes and clothes :)

    Of course sometimes the most expensive model is really the best one. But if you don’t have the money and need the thing what to do? There are a couple of options here:
    1) Take a loan. The worst option in my opinion.
    2) Buy the best model you can afford. It’s Ok if you decide to take what is possible now.
    3) Wait until you have the money to buy the best. In some cases you need the item now. For example a fridge – you can’t afford to stay long without one.
    4) Buy the cheapest and wait to save money for the best. When talking about technics the cheapest is usually 2-3 times worse than the best and still 5-6 times cheaper. So buying cheapest + best may be better than buying the avarage.

  5. I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of experience so much as it is a matter of paying attention. It’s easy to educate yourself by reading up online and by asking the question WHY when the shop attendant tells you “This is the best model”.

    One guy told my husband that Chippolino strollers are the best. The guy swears by Chippolino, but actually that’s the first stroller he buys, ever. I imagine that the shop attendant told him this was the best model and he believed him without doing any research, just taking the seller’s word for it. (By the way, the baby market is full of junk – overpriced junk! – and offers many items that I don’t think a baby’s ever going to need.)

    I’d say if you are unsure what to do, you shouldn’t buy the most expensive model because the seller can easily flip you.

  6. Hi Wilbur,

    Great insight! My husband and I buy the cheapest liquid soap and we are very happy with it. True, at first we had some trouble until we could figure out which of the cheap brands was good (“Teo” is awful but we are thrilled with “Medix”, both very cheap.) It was the same with the regular soap (in bars) – we struggled to find a good brand (again Teo’s cheapest line was bad while their higher-priced line was good, but we wanted cheap so we found “Flavia” which is great).very

    BUT there’s one thing I have to say about hygiene products: not everyone can use the cheap stuff. My mom has dry skin so she can only use Dove soap bar. Other people may have bleeding gums, for example, so they would have to use a special toothpaste which won’t be the cheapest.

    Overall, there usually are a few areas where each of us can go with the cheapest stuff. But only a few. Generally, buying the very cheapest is not a good choice.

  7. One of my pet peeves in life, is paying full retail price for stuff. I’m a big believer in buying quality items versus purchasing cheap things, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get a good deal. There’s a difference between buying value, and only focusing on instant savings.

  8. Hey Prince,

    The best kind of savings for me is when you buy some high-end item for a low-end price :) We bought some nice chocolate for Christmas this way, it was 50% off the price but 100% the taste ;)

    Sometimes a good deal is a matter of luck (like finding a sale at the store), but other times making a good deal is about WORKING at it – like when you are buying a car. And usually the more work you put in, the more savings you get. If you negotiate well and take 2k off the price of a car… how many chocolate bars would you have to buy on sale before your chocolate savings accumulate to 2k? :)

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