Monday, March 14, 2011

Splurge to Save

I've known my share of both frugal people and cheapskates. The cheapskates I've known are the type of people who will complain about everything and anything at a restaurant or store to get discounts or things for free ("This book has a page with a bent edge. Can I get a discount?"). Or they'll fudge numbers or even lie to save a buck. Not cool.

On the other hand, my mom is one of my examples of how to be frugal instead of cheap. She knows how to be smart with money, but she also knows how to spend it . She knows when something that seems like a splurge is really an investment. Sometimes, she even reminds me to spend a little extra (especially when it comes to getting things for myself).  So that's the topic of this post -- sometimes, a splurge actually saves money. Really. {For a great read about the difference between cheap and frugal people, go here.}

There's a book I've been wanting to read (add it to the list of hundreds of books I want to read...) called Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. From what I've gathered, her book is about how our culture, in the pursuit of a "good deal", will forgo quality.  I watched an interview with the author and one of the things she said that stood out was the old Russian proverb she quoted: "I'm too poor to be cheap."

I know that I've forgone quality in the name of a "good deal". I've bought my share of "disposable" furniture at IKEA. But where will that get us?  In the end,  when we buy things that are cheaply made, we're often wasting more money than we're saving.

 Here are a couple examples of how skimping on things ends up costing more and how "splurges" can actually save.
  • My husband grew up in a family of six kids. His dad was an artist (He actually worked on the Smurf cartoons back in the day. How cool is that?). From what my mother-in-law has told about my husband's early childhood, times were very tight financially. However, despite their family's limited budget, she would always splurge to get Hanna Andersson t-shirts for her boys.  For those unfamiliar with the name, Hanna Andersson is a clothing company from Sweden -- their clothing is very well made and it isn't cheap.  The reason why my mother-in-law could justify spending as much as she did for a Hanna Andersson t-shirt instead of one for $2 at a discount store was that the shirts lasted and lasted and lasted. They even held up for the next younger sibling to wear later. This is saying something considering the way boys play. In the end, she saved money because she got more wear out of the quality product. If she'd purchased the cheapest things she could find, they most likely would have had to been replaced more often.
  • I am in love with my KitchenAid mixer. At around $250, they're not a cheap kitchen gadget. You could buy a similar mixer for less at a discount store, but chances are, it won't last as long. I have proof because this happened to my mom. My dad knew she wanted a mixer so he got an inexpensive model somewhere else. It worked all right, but the motor burned up after about a year or two. That following Christmas, he ended up getting her the KitchenAid she'd wanted in the first place.
  • Have you seen the documentary Food, Inc.? It's a great film and I think everyone should see it. (I wrote a review of it on my personal blog a while ago, if you want my take on the whole thing). One part of it that drove my husband and I absolutely nuts was the family featured in it who rationalized that fast food and cheap products (like soda) were better deals than fresh produce.  Why buy two or three pears for a dollar, when you can get four 20-oz. bottles of Pepsi for the same price? Isn't that more for your money?  Isn't eating fast food more economical because you can feed a family of four for around $10?  Of course not. It seems outrageous when you watch these people, but it's not a totally uncommon mindset.  Instead of purchasing whole foods, so many people opt for processed foods in the name of convenience. More natural, less processed foods sometimes cost more than their mainstream counterparts, too, so many people skip them because they claim they don't have the money in their budget. Instead, I believe it's all about priorities. This is one of the problems I have with couponing -- you can get a lot of food for hardly any money when you use coupons, but very often those foods are overly processed and nutritionally lacking. So, really, are you saving money by buying those kinds of food, food that isn't healthy or filling, that could eventually negatively affect your health? 
But splurging to save doesn't always come down to an issue of quality over quantity. Sometimes, you just have to spend more money up front to save in the long run. Here are a few instances in my own experience:
  • I just stocked up on all our cloth diapering supplies for the new baby. All the diapers (a mix of prefolds and pocket), covers, liners, the sprayer, and all the other accessories together ended up costing us a considerable chunk of change Even so, that amount (which ended up being around $400 for everything) will only be a fraction of what we would pay if we did disposables exclusively (most estimates are that it can cost anywhere from $2000-$3000 to use disposables for three years).  I'll also be able to reuse the diapers with baby #3 (oh boy, I can't even think that far ahead...), thus stretching the initial investment and spreading out the savings. {(for a good cost breakdown between cloth and disposables costs, check out this link).
  • My husband used to hate shaving until he tried traditional wet shaving. The start-up cost for the razor, blades, soap, and badger-hair brush was around $75, if I remember correctly. That may seem like a lot, but really it isn't. The razor he purchased is made out of metal -- it's actually pretty heavy in your hand, especially compared to the mainstream plastic cartridge razors. I can't imagine him ever getting a new one. Ever.  The blade refills only cost about $1.50 for a box of ten. Waaaay cheaper than the cartridge refills. This razor and shaving method will easily pay for itself. As for the badger-hair brush -- when I was shopping for it (it was for his Father's Day present), I read a bunch of reviews. A quality brush can last for a really, really long time. In fact, the badger hair ones get better with wear -- one reviewer said that he uses his grandfather's shaving brush that's over 50 years old!
  • I used to buy parchment paper for lining my baking sheets. When I ran out, I would just use non-stick spray. Then I got a Silpat for around $15. It seemed pricey for a single sheet of silicone, but I haven't purchased a box of parchment paper in years; a can of non-stick spray lasts a lot longer than it used to. I still use that same Silpat all the time. Plus, it gives me better results than the other options I used before anyway.
  • Remember my post about the Diva Cup?  Sure, it seems pricey to spend $25 for "that time of the month", but in the end, it cuts your costs dramatically over an extended...ahem...period. {did I really just write that?}
  • I know I've already mentioned my KitchenAid in this post, but it's another example of spending a little more up front to save money. I use this machine constantly -- for making bread, whipping up dinners and desserts, and even making ice cream. The thing is, it makes cooking easier and more enjoyable, which makes me much less likely to just buy the premade stuff at the store. Same goes for my
  • Cuisinart food processor - I use it all the time for shredding cheese, chopping up vegetables, making pie crusts, making salsa, and other cooking processes. I also plan on using it to make fresh baby food. Investing in this kitchen tool saves me the extra expense of buying things "conveniently packaged". 
The best way to sum it all up is in the saying, "You get what you pay for."  Am I against getting a good deal? No way. I love being able to shop sales and use coupons for things I normally buy, the things I would purchase at full price anyway. Do I splurge on everything? Of course not. But I do have my standards. I do my research before I buy. And all of that makes parting with money not quite as difficult.


Nisha @ Healthy Mom's Kitchen said...

This is an excellent post that I agree with 100%

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

Fabulous post. I am trying to buy quality over quantity, think about how long a purchase will last, etc., but it can be tough when money is tight. I love my Kitchenaid mixer too. I've bought my fair share of IKEA furniture, but I'm trying to only buy hardwood stuff now (watching for hardwood bookcases on Craig's List). I'm going to look into that razor for my husband. Also, you should get a Misto -- you won't have propellant in your food/ air (from non-stick sprays), you can use whatever oil you want, and you can use the same canister over and over again (less waste!). I am EXTREMELY flattered to be one of your Reliable Resources. Here is my own post about The Cost of Going Green (mostly Michael Pollan quotes about food):

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