A few years back, Angie and I started seeing a lot of posts about how frugal living isn’t the same as cheap living, and I even wrote about the concept on a few occasions. Frugal living (to us, anyway) is about living on less than you earn, using your resources wisely, and not purchasing things that are unnecessary. Cheap living, on the other hand, tends to conjure up images of subpar goods, less than ideal living conditions, and things that are constantly in need of repair. You can be frugal and still have quality things. In fact, a lot of fellow minimalists will tell you that making a quality purchase that may cost more in the beginning far outweighs buying cheap things that will need to be replaced more often. Not only is it better for your wallet, it’s better for the environment as well.
Except when it isn’t.
Folks, I honestly don’t think that anything is made to last these days – be it “quality” or otherwise – so we may just be better off going cheap. For example:
In 2015, we purchased a quality brand name sofa from a local furniture store. Around that same time, my mom bought one from Big Lots. Ours cost 4 times what hers did. We use ours daily to sit and read or watch TV but hers has been slept on, jumped on by toddlers, walked across by a teenager, and lounged on for hours on end by kids and grand-kids alike. Our cushions are as dead as the pet goldfish I had when I was 10. Her cushions are just now starting to sink a little when you sit down. But, hold on…I have an even better one for you. Our good friend has a sofa that has been moved to 4 different apartments in as many years. It has been slept on, jumped on, and is used for hours of gaming every single day and yet, it is still comfy. Did I mention that it was used when she bought it??
And then there are the socks…
About the same time that we were buying our quality sofa, we decided to switch to wool socks. We read that they were the best socks for hiking since they wick moisture better than other socks. We bought a few pairs at Dick’s Sporting Goods and they lasted for about 2 years, which I consider to be a good life for a sock that gets used all the time. When we went back for more, we found they no longer carried that brand, nor could we find it anywhere. So we bought a pair of SmartWool brand socks and a couple of pairs of Columbia. After a year, the SmartWool is starting to get a little ragged. Want to know where the Columbia socks are now? In our rag bin. They make excellent dusters. The Columbia socks did not even last a few months before they started getting holey (yet, they cost $15 a pair!).
If I had to guesstimate, I’d say we spent about $160 on brand name wool socks over 3 years time. You might be thinking, that’s not so bad, but I’ll beg to differ. A sock is designed to protect your feet from moisture, keep you warm, and stop your shoe from rubbing a hole in your foot. In an unintentional (and unscientific) quality test, we found that cheap socks do this job just as well, if not better, than expensive ones.
I purchased these socks BEFORE Angie and I met in 2011. In fact, I was still living in TN when I bought them (at Big Lots). I moved away in 2006, so they are at least 14 years old. They cost $5 for 6 pair back then. When we “upgraded” our wardrobe to wool socks, we moved these to my mom’s house so we could use them in the yard. We still wear them every week, at least twice a week, and they still have no holes in them!
We have applied our same unscientific method to dishcloths, bath towels, walking shoes, manual can openers and even underwear and found the results to be consistent. Cheap lasts just as long, or longer, than more expensive “quality” items. The $20 can opener we got as a gift lasted about 3 months before we had to replace it with one from the Dollar Tree (that one has been used daily for 4 years now). The $18/pair Ex-Officio undies that we thought we needed to have for travel are unraveling just the same as the $2/pair undies from Walmart. And the $10/3-pack of eco-friendly dishcloths we ordered online – well, they are in the rag bin with the Columbia socks, while the $4/6-pack from Target are still washing dishes every night.
So why do we wear cheap socks? Because there’s no financial benefit to buying more expensive ones. When the so-called quality socks wear out faster than the cheap ones, there’s no environmental benefit either. Being frugal is always good but being cheap might not be such a bad thing either. Just think, if we had back the money we wasted thinking we were buying quality items, oh the savings we could have banked!
Have you ever purchased something expensive only to find it did not last very long at all? What items to you routinely cheap out on?