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Frugal Tip: Buy Quality for the Long Term

snow shoesFor those of you who have read my older posts on ways to save money, you may have noticed that I like to keep my material items for the long term.  Whether it’s my clothes, shoes, my car, house, appliances, electronics and investments, I like to keep it all for as long as possible.

It’s not about how much you pay initially, but how much you pay over the time that you own the item.

There are times when you can buy the knock off or no name brand, but it lacks severely in quality which ends up costing you more in the long run.  Other times, the no name brand is about the same as the high end item and makes it a good deal (ex. generic OTC drugs).  But more often than not, you get what you pay for.

Let me clarify with an example, you could get a pair of shoes at Walmart that look exactly like a shoe at a mainstream store like Aldo or The Shoe Company. However, at Walmart, shoes are typically sold for for around $25-$30, whereas the brand name stores are closer to $50-$80.

Shoes purchased from Walmart last me about 3 months before the soles start to crack or peel off.  Whereas shoes from brand name stores will last me at least a couple years.  The same applies for clothes from discount stores like Walmart.  Even though the price is right, they do not make it past a few washes at which time it’s simply a rag.

The point of the article is that there is a difference between a product that is cheap and a product that is good value.  Personally, I prefer quality products for the long term but wait for it to go on sale before purchasing.

Do you do the same thing?

photo credit: ginnerobot

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Andy @ Retire at 40 December 9, 2008, 8:35 am

    I agree. It’s well worth buying quality rather than cheap. Note, I didn’t use the word expensive. There’s trade off at the top too where you don’t need to pay more than you have to.

    I had a pair of shoes for 8 years once and I wore them pretty much every day for 4 days of that. A great pair of Doc Martens they were too.

    As for buying cheap, a friend of mine once said to me “Only the rich can afford to buy cheap” and he was right.

  • Money Minder December 9, 2008, 9:10 am

    It’s all about finding the best value for your money. The best value usually doesn’t mean the cheapest price or brand. That being said, I still try to wait for the brand name version to be on sale before I buy.

  • Brad Castro December 9, 2008, 9:17 am

    Good point – I’m always encouraging people to invest in only high quality companies. Why should consumer items–from shoes to washers and dryers–be any different?

  • Steve in Montreal December 9, 2008, 9:35 am

    You can save even more and still purchase quality if you know where to look. For me Value Village and the Sally Ann offer a wide selection. You just need to take the time and search through it all. In Montreal, I’ve never had to pay over $10 for a Hugo Boss shirt. Usually they have been professionally cleaned before being donated as well. Along with the shirts, I found 2 complete Hugo Boss suits along with a Valentio suit. None cost more than $30. I then take them to my tailor and have them altered to fit.
    Quality is there. It’s like buying a car…you can pay top $$ for new or pay considerably less for previously owned.

  • Alex December 9, 2008, 11:09 am

    I agree with finding the best value for the money. Case in point, the pair of Rockport shoes I have been wearing almost everyday for the last 5 years. Bought for 50% off in a discount shoe store. Before these I had to buy a new pair of shoes every year.

  • Scott December 9, 2008, 11:12 am

    Exactly what I said on the ‘Frugal Billionaire’ article: “Me, I would shop for quality. Buy it once and have it last a lifetime or three. I already despise Wal-Mart (people die there!), I couldn’t really see myself going there if I was uber-rich.”

    A couple points that really irk me about quality and price though, such as why is ‘quality’ automatically synonymous with ‘high price’? I understand there may be more hours of production, more advanced engineering, or rarer materials used to make the product, but does the increase in price correlate to the increase in quality 1:1? I’d be interested in some examples.

    One outrageous price:quality ratio that really gets me is “antique’ furniture — you know, the 100-year old stuff made with REAL wood. It sells for $1000’s even though it was produced 100 years ago when both labour and material were abundant and cheap. The only cost the dealer incurs is storage. So why am I paying an inflated price for stagnant quality?

    As a side note, why do manufacturers still make cr@p!?! Easier to sell? Larger (and poorer) customer base? More money to make? This is one reason I am against Wal-Mart — they lower the living standard of society by selling low quality products. We now have a world full of junk.

    Another thing to be aware of is the price of time — especially when considering shopping for a sale. Sure it makes sense to shop around for major expenditures (eg. house!) but for small items…? I read a blog where the woman and her husband went out on the American ‘Black Friday’ to shop. She bought some wool and saved about $3 — but spent about 3 hours waiting in lines, finding parking, etc. What is YOUR time worth?

    I’m definitely an advocate of quality, both in people and products.

  • Jewels December 9, 2008, 11:41 am

    I agree with all of the above, with one exception: kids’ clothes. They outgrow them so fast, rarely have I had to throw out clothes or shoes due to quality.

  • Donny Gamble December 9, 2008, 12:05 pm

    It is very important that you invest in quality assets now so that you can reap the benefits in the future. The benefits of doing this now will allow to expand your retirement fund when you plan to retire. More and more Americans are dipping into their retirement accounts due to getting laid off from their jobs.

  • Stephen December 9, 2008, 12:06 pm

    Buy the best quality possible at the lowest price. I usually determine the product or product range I want in terms of quality first and then go looking for the cheapest price on that quality level.

    If a deal on something jumps out at you … then your first step should be to research quality unless you can return it for a full refund then just buy it right away if you need it to make sure you don’t miss the deal :)

  • Sam Li December 9, 2008, 12:09 pm

    Winners, Winners and once again Winners.
    Even though I completely agree with the idea I still have a hard time to pay full price even for known brand. Therefore I never buy in branded stores if it’s not a sale. Quite often I buy in Winners, all my shoes for the last 8 years I bought in Winners. These are Rockport, Reebok and Prospector. I never heard of Prospector before but they remain in good condition for about 4 years and these are my winter shoes, I’m happy with the purchase. So my wardrobe is pretty much brand names not necessarily very fashionable but very good quality. Hence I vote for Winners.

  • nobleea December 9, 2008, 12:15 pm

    Furniture is a good example of buying quality rather than cheap. We’ve all seen the ads for the discount furniture place where you can get a $1000 complete ‘leather’ sofa set…including a trip to florida! Well, a couple years later and it looks and feels like junk. Buy a high quality leather sofa from a reputable manufacturer, and if you get the right style and take care of it, there’s no reason why it won’t be around looking great in 20-30 years.

    There is still a leather club chair in the family that is in great shape. I have pictures of me sitting in it as a baby.

    WalMart has the lowest price. But at what cost? I refuse to shop there.

  • FT FrugalTrader December 9, 2008, 12:19 pm

    Great points guys. Nobleea, do you avoid Walmart because of lack of quality? Or because of their shady labor policy?

  • Richard Edwards December 9, 2008, 12:22 pm

    I agree with most of what you are suggesting. For me it really varies depending on the category of the purchase. Services or items I use daily such as appliances, mattresses, furniture, electronics, shoes etc. are ones that I never scrimp on quality. Trendy items or things I’m apt to lose, grow out of or go out of style I look for the best value or buy cheap. On things like tee shirts, other clothing items etc. I don’t care if they don’t look good after a couple months because they get thrown out or are rarely worn after that.

  • Jon December 9, 2008, 2:18 pm

    Wow! I must be really tough on shoes. I’m excited when my Rockports have lasted an entire year. Low-end shoes disintegrate pretty rapidly – usually a couple of months is all I get out of them. I love my RedWing boots, too.
    I tend to buy low-end shirts at Target on clearance, as they inevitably get stained with something before they wear out.
    I also buy low-end automotive tools sometimes, when I know they’re going to be single-use or rarely used. My wrenches and oft-used tools are Craftsman, though.

  • Chuck December 9, 2008, 3:00 pm

    I look for a tradeoff between quality and price. Also I should stress the need to try and stick to the manufacturer’s care instructions.

    I bought a nice pair of dress shoes (Bass) for my wedding in 2003 afterwards wore them to work most days in all seasons except winter, and took good care of them and only ended up tossing them this summer.

    For larger ticket purchases, I still like to rely on publications like consumer reports to see what the long-term durability numbers are.

  • Neil December 9, 2008, 3:40 pm

    My girlfriend buys tons of cheap, inexpensive clothes, and consequently, is always replacing her stuff. She tells me it doesn’t matter because she only paid $10 for this, or $15 for that. On the other hand, I purchase most of my clothes at department stores that typically offer quality clothes at reasonable prices, but I can wear them much longer.

    How can I convince her that cheap doesn’t mean less expensive over the long run?

  • Bill December 9, 2008, 4:58 pm

    Disposable works in stock too. Wealth takes time and disciple. Cheap on the long run is much more expensive. Walmart is a great example.

  • Craig December 9, 2008, 5:18 pm

    I agree, buying cheap can break or not last and then it has to be replaced. Of course it all depends on scale and your thinking. Maybe pay a little more for sneakers because you know it will last a few months longer. You can say buy a car because you are going to have it for 10 yrs, but that’s more of an ordeal. Either way I think you have to find that middle ground and determine what is and what is not worth spending the money on.

  • Sampson December 9, 2008, 7:09 pm

    I’m not following the people who say this axiom works with investments and stocks as well.

    Buying goods that are low cost and low quality = no good.
    Buying goods that are low cost and high quality = good.

    These statements are true with stocks, but there is an upfront reason to pay for low quality goods (low cost). Is there a reason to buy low quality stocks?

  • Finance Matters December 9, 2008, 8:16 pm

    Great article, I agree my cheap crappy tire wippers barely lasted one season. On another note, I just want to announce my new entry into the blogoshere. You, CC, Preet and others have inspired me to give it a shot. I’d appreciate any comments, suggestions etc you can give to a newbie like me. Is there somewhere to go to announce a new blog? How did you get yours going?

  • Scott December 9, 2008, 9:53 pm

    @FinMatt: thanks for reminding me of the other permanent resident in my ‘No Shop Zone’ — Canadian Tire.

    I bought a lawnmower from them a few seasons ago. The front wheels/axle fell off on something like the third usage. After a very loooong exchange of transactions ect. I finally got my money back. And I learned a few things:

    Canadian Tire’s ‘Yardworks’ line of tools etc. is contracted out to a DIFFERENT manufacturer EVERY YEAR! I have no idea why but I can always speculate. I will not buy anything from them ever again.

    The repair dude also said in the last few years his business was seeing a huge increase in repairs from all kinds of equipment (lawnmowers to generators etc.). Lots of garbage being produced out there.

    Here would be a good rule of thumb regarding shopping for quality: if you want ‘Item X’, go to an exclusive ‘Item X’ store, and not to a “general store” like Wal Mart or Canadian Tire.

    And what about quality services? I think it’s much more difficult to find good quality people than quality objects. If you go to a high quality restaurant does that mean you will have quality service or just quality food? Again, price does not equate quality.

    I’m sure there can be some kind of thesis written about this topic.

  • Sarlock December 10, 2008, 4:32 am

    Bingo. Cheaper does not always equate to better value. And conversely, more expensive is not always better value either.
    I prefer to shop quality but carefully wait for sales so that I can buy them at a discounted price. There is also a difference between a “sale” and a “real sale”. Some stores have sales all of the time (The Bay) but it’s really just a reduction on a marked up price that is still higher than you can buy it at other retailers. Know the value of the item(s) you are shopping for and patiently wait for the price to be right, then buy.

  • moneygardener December 10, 2008, 12:13 pm

    The Aldo example is probably the best example of this and you hit the nail on the head. I think most of us learn this as we age.

  • Kevin December 10, 2008, 8:07 pm

    I agree that there is a sweet spot.

    Take windshield wiper blades. I usually replace them twice a year. Canadian Tire has a range from 4.99 to 22.99. I go for the cheap ones. Why?
    -All wiper blades (no matter how expensive they are) have a limited life span after which the rubber dries out and they cease to be effective
    -I know that the 22.99 wiper isn’t going to last longer than the 2 1/2 years it would take to pay for itself over the 4.99

    Another example is toilet paper. I once came home with (what I thought was) a great bargain on some single-ply toilet paper. Once my wife recovered from what seemed like rug burn on her backside she informed me that I was never ever to do that again. Perhaps this is an example where one can be a little *too* frugal. ;)

  • Scott December 10, 2008, 8:49 pm

    I just steal the toilet paper from work = $0.

  • Kaitlin December 16, 2008, 11:31 am

    That’s my boyfriend’s philosophy, and I’m slowly catching up to him on that one. In the past I have made the mistake of buying things cheap and having to replace them, when I could have bought one quality thing and had it last. I’ll be trying hard to not make that mistake in the future, but sometimes it’s hard when what seems like a good deal presents itself.

  • Mark January 1, 2009, 7:11 pm

    I agree. It is worth paying more upfront if it saves you money over the long run.

  • Scott January 2, 2009, 12:08 am

    My personal quality update (and coincidental New Year’s Resolution): do my damnedest to buy NOTHING stamped ‘Made in China’. It’s not a racial thing, just that the last thing I bought (yesterday), broke within minutes of use (today), was MiC. Made in China, Made in Canada, Made in Indonesia, Made in USA (ha! yeah right!) — it doesn’t matter.

    I’ve had it with cheap, poor quality, ‘looks good’ items. Be it a house, car, book, shoe, shovel, vacation, meal — basically ANY consumable or durable good.

    I can’t do it any more. I vow to seek out the highest quality I can afford. If that means I have to save for a year and half to purchase ‘Item X’, then so be it.

    That is one really great thing that will come out the other end of the World Wide Plummet — the flight (and return) to quality, of all kinds. What happened in the last 25 years with the explosion of Western middle-class demand is that the producers of quality could not keep up with that demand. That’s when all the second and third rate producers came to life and filled in the gaps. This did nothing more than fill the world with mounds of disposable crap (thanks Wal-Mart!).

    Now that people really care (or should care) where their money is going, they won’t support companies that produce non-quality goods. These companies go out of business. What is left, once again, and the way it SHOULD be, is the base of strong quality producers. Craftsmanship, not crapsmanship!

    As one economic blogger out there put it, “We have to realize that we can’t have both $35 DVD players and $45/hr union wages.”

    I’m also strongly considering putting Home Depot on my ‘No Buy’ list. Wal-Mart, the Bay, Zeller’s, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Radio Shack (R.I.P.)…seems to be a pattern of ‘big chain-low quality’. Coincidence?

    My personal Flight to Quality begins now. I’ll keep you updated.

  • Chris January 21, 2009, 1:02 pm

    I don’t mind buying cheap clothes, since I can mend & sew. But as for shoes, I do a lot of standing & walking, and I _invest_ in good shoes fairly often, because I believe it is better for the health and well-being of my feet. I think if you don’t treat your feet well, it affects the health of your whole body.

  • John August 8, 2010, 3:10 pm

    I live on the west coast of Canada and I find it hard to get good quality products at reasonable prices around here so I buy in the US from factory outlet stores. Almost all my clothes and shoes are from US outlet stores. The quality and price difference is astounding sometimes. I bought a london fog jacket 4 years ago for $50 that I still wear today for example and it still looks new. Two years ago I bought some very nice shoes that cost $400 a pair here for $95 in the US. Not sure why Canadian retail is so bad but I sure wish it would improve!

  • Calvin October 22, 2010, 7:11 pm

    I concur with you John. Living on the wet coast of Canada as well. I simply refuse to buy anything from shopping mall here anymore and haven’t been to one for months. Any “durables” I need will be on a shopping list and bought in these outlet stores, maybe just once or twice a year.

    Quality wise I don’t buy the cheapest stuff too. I found going for the least expensive product line of a premium brand gives the best value.

    Case in point:
    1) Car – I bought my used Acura (entry-level line) 10 years ago and it’s still running perfect. I intended to keep it for a few more years and likely will make it. It costed me more to buy compared to domestic cars, but the fact I don’t have to buy another clunker every few years had probably saved me tons without myself knowing it.

    2) Clothing – Most of my work clothes are from Banana Republic – bought only when they are on BIG sale – almost all had lasted 5 years or more, with some approaching 10 years mark…

    3) Housing – There are many similar places around my neighborhood with lower prices, but with no amenities. In comparison my building has many bells and whistles that I do utilize frequently. As I have the smallest unit in the building it means I have the lowest condo fee too.

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