Is buying cheap costing you to much
Words have meaning. If, for example, I say the word “dog,” most people have a fairly good idea of what I’m talking about.
Unfortunately, people sometimes assume they understand the meaning of a word when they don’t. One such word is “frugal.” If I use that word, many people actually think “cheap.” That’s not what I’m talking about. Cheap and frugal are different concepts. When I talk about being “frugal,” I’m talking about being prudent, about being a smart buyer, about getting quality for your money.
“I’m too poor to be cheap.” I’ve seen this quote in more that one post on frugal living.
When someone says “cheap” I almost shudder in disgust, because I know what’s coming—poor material, poor construction, poor performance, or poor service. However, when someone uses the word “frugal,” I know they’ve planned—researched and budgeted for—the purchase; they will most likely get the product they expect.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, I’m sure you realize I’ve been a frugal guy for quite some time, but there was a time before… You also know I endorse fixing things if doing so is realistic within the tenets of frugality. Now, even before I began to practice being frugal, I liked to fix things, and I can draw a lot of lessons on a frugal lifestyle from those times (not that I learned them then). Anyway, one day I was working on a project that required a hammer. (Why I didn’t have one—who knows?) I ran out to a hardware store and bought an inexpensive claw hammer. (I guess I didn’t like spending too much money even then, but it was because I was cheap, not frugal.) When I got back to my place, I was working away, and in the course of things, I needed to pull some nails. I’d only pulled a couple when half the claw cracked and fell off. Aggravation… I had to return to the hardware store and buy another hammer. (Guess how that went—I couldn’t even get a refund.) Well, I knew I didn’t want another hammer like I’d bought the first time, so I got a pricier one. It was a name brand; known for craftsmanship—better quality. I returned home and finished the project (considerably later than I’d expected to). I know I had that hammer for a while. I don’t know what happened to it, and that’s too bad; if I had it now, it’d probably still be good. (The habit of keeping track of my things was one I’d adopt as I became frugal.)
I’m sure you can see that I wasted time and money being cheap. When you make a purchase and have to decide between similar items, the price tag should not be the only factor in making your decision. Durability (quality) should also be considered.
A lot of guys like to refurbish old cars. That’s cool, but when we lived in Navy Housing there was a high school kid in our neighborhood who was making a big deal about wanting a car. His dad decided he’d find a “junker” to fix up for him. Back then getting your kid an older, used car was a common practice, but the automobile usually had some value. I know this guy could have afforded something at least a little better than he bought, but his only requirement was that it would be “cheap.” I could only imagine what he would buy with that kind of criteria.
One day he drove up with a car he’d just bought. (He hadn’t even taken his son along to look at it.) The windshield was cracked, the paint job was faded and rusted in spots, the upholstery was worn and torn in several places, the inside of the car was filthy, it smelled bad, and it was noisy. I’m fairly sure it was not street legal. Whoever he bought it from had to have been fishing for someone gullible enough to take the vehicle off his hands so he wouldn’t have to pay to get rid of it. I knew this was going to go wrong.
My neighbor had never done much to a car other than change the oil. He had no real sense about what he needed to do. There was a place on base where some guys took fixer uppers to work on, but you couldn’t leave a vehicle there, and you can bet that car was going to spend sometime not running and in pieces. He had no tools, and wasn’t very open to suggestion. Maybe he thought it would be a bonding experience with his son. Yeah. Right. The kid hated it. It wasn’t like he was going to have something to brag about. It wasn’t an old car that needed a little work. It wasn’t a model that would have much value in money or cool if they ever did get it fixed up. And. It. Smelled. Bad.
The dad was insistent though. He do some reading about something he felt needed to be done, buy some tools, and make the kid hang with him while he worked on the car. From the day he started “working” on that thing to the day it was towed away, he spent a ton of money on that car and never really getting it anywhere near to being repaired. It was sad.
I hadn’t yet become ardent about being frugal, but it was very evident the dad had made a mistake, a very expensive mistake in buying that car. He hadn’t put any thought in what he was buying or who he was buying it for. Buying cheap cost him a lot of money, time, and misery.
When you spend money, you should look for quality. The car in the example above was trashed. It was no “diamond in the rough,” and the dad knew it. That he only paid a couple of hundred dollars for it was the only thing that mattered to him. You do have to realize this was in the mid-80s and cars—especially used cars—went for considerably less than they do now, but it was still old (an early 60s model), worn out, and nasty. With all the effort and money it would require to get it presentable and running well, he (or his son) could never have come near recouping the expense.
Take the cracked windshield. It had to be replaced. It was beyond repair—and even if the crack had not been severe, auto glass repair was still a fairly new technology; it wasn’t available everywhere. Computers weren’t all that common either. You didn’t look up inventories online. Junkyard and parts department people had a list of associates to call when a customer wanted something they didn’t have on hand. Frequently, the price of a part included shipping costs. I don’t remember where the guy found his windshield. I do remember it cost him a couple hundred dollars—about the same amount he paid for the car. That cracked windshield should have been a red flag indicating this was going to be an expensive project.
The smell and filthy insides should have been another red flag. Of course, the fact that the car barely ran was a bigger one. They were indications the previous owner had not put any effort into caring for the vehicle. (The faded paint may have been excusable.)
Being cheap cost this man a lot of time and money, and the project never did get finished. Finding quality used products is a science, but it’s not nuclear science. Know what you are looking for and how to recognize it. Take the time to do some research.
When you decide you want to buy a particular something, start with some research. Most items are in a class of similar ones with variations. You can fine tune your expectations and check the price range. (Will your budget support the purchase, or do you need to include some financial planning?)
Think about why you want the item. Think about what makes the one you want a good item to own. Let’s say you want a couch. (Let’s say you need a couch.) Couches are not all the same. Consider the materials and construction. Couches with mesh support and Styrofoam peanuts for the sofa cushions don’t last long. They’re cheap, and you’ll need to replace it before too long. A frugal purchase would be a couch constructed with eight-way hand-tied springs and cushions that are filled with down feathers or wrapped foam. That’s a quality couch. It will cost more, but it’s likely to last many years—even if you are buying it used. (Note: I don’t mean abused.)
There are a lot of places to go on the internet to get product reviews. On sites like www.consumerreports.org , www.amazon.com , and https://www.cnet.com real people have posted their feelings and experiences with particular items. Family and friends are other great sources for reviews. They know you. They may have had experience good or bad with the specific item or something similar to what you’re interested in. They can predict how well your purchase is likely to serve you and offer encouragement or recommendations.
Go to a retail store where you can expect to find the item you’re looking for. See and feel what it looks like new. Also, check out the price. This way you’ll have specifics to compare your new-to-you (used) piece when you find it. (By the way, it doesn’t hurt to watch for a good sale price for that item.) Use the internet to search for what you want. www.ebay.com is just one of the sites where people can list items for sale. Be sure to check the seller’s ratings and return policy if you find something you’re interested in. It will be harder to do this if you find your item in the classified ads of the newspaper, but it doesn’t hurt to chat up a seller and try to get a feel for his integrity. If you buy from someplace like a Salvation Army or Goodwill store, the price should be well discounted. (It’s good to be familiar with the price. I’ve found items in these stores that are priced greater than in stores charging “full price.”) There is no need to pay full price. Sometimes, it takes patience.
Hopefully, you’ll have a chance to check out the item before you pay for it. If it’s a dresser, do the drawers open and close easily? Do they fit correctly? Is the piece sturdy? What’s the condition of the finish and hardware? You’ve found a table you’re interested in. What’s its general condition? Are there any lose or missing screws? How about a car? Can you tell if it’s in good shape? (I’m not just talking about how it looks.) On the test drive did the steering seems loose? Tight? Any hesitations? Strange noises? I’m sure you get the idea. The criteria will be different for everything you look for, but more than likely, you want something that does not require a lot of maintenance. If you find a problem, can you fix it (or pay to have it done) and not exceed your budget. Or… do you need to keep looking?
More on shopping
If you have the opportunity, evaluate the seller. Consider who you are buying from. What assurance do you have of the seller’s honesty? Not just as an individual, but perhaps as a company representative, would it be to the seller’s advantage to misrepresent the it? This is not being judgmental. It’s prudent to consider motive. So, ask: Why are you selling this? If someone can’t give you a reason they want to sell something, you may want to decide you’re not interested in buying it.
What if you’re told, “It doesn’t work.”?
That doesn’t have to be a deal killer.
When I lived in Goose Creek, SC the people across the street moved out. Like most of us do, they left some stuff as final pickup for their trashman. Before he got there, a neighbor looked over the stuff and carried home a vacuum cleaner. Plugged in, it made noise, but otherwise didn’t work. He checked it out. The only thing wrong with it was that it was clogged up with debris and long hair. It hadn’t been maintained. He cleaned it out and had what was, essentially, a new vacuum cleaner. Later, he sold it. That man got the vacuum cleaner for free, but the principle is the same as if he had purchased it: There are times you can buy something that does not work, repair it at a reasonable cost (in this case, for free), and it works like new. Obviously, you need to know what you’re looking at and have a good idea about what can be done. (That falls under “Research.”)
On the other hand, you may find sellers who’ll tell you the thing they’re selling “works.” Now there’s a difference between working and working correctly. Once, I was inquiring about a washer I’d seen listed in the newspaper. It was listed at a great price, and the ad said it worked. I made an appointment and went to the seller’s house to see it. It looked good sitting there in the seller’s laundry room. I’d gotten her to chat about washers we’d each previously owned, about how good (or troublesome) the various models were, when she admitted she was selling this one because it shimmied on the spin cycle with every load—and she absolutely knew they all couldn’t be unbalanced. So, I asked for a demo with the machine empty. Sure enough, it shook and moved around quite a bit. Then, I asked if I could take of the front panel and see the insides. It was immediately apparent what the problem was—a couple of worn out springs. I knew I could fix that myself. I bought the washer for about a third of what I would have paid for it new. I think I spent $15 (maybe less) on parts and had a machine that I know lasted for six years.
Another thing to inquire about is maintenance records. These are, especially, helpful when you’re considering a used car, truck, tractor, or riding lawn mower. Maintenance records can confirm an item has been cared for. They also make any recurring problem easy to spot.
Through most of this post, I’ve pushed the idea of quality at a discounted price, so I think I should address pricing. If you’re buying new, definitely do comparison shopping and look for sales. If you’re looking for used (my preferred way), it’s been my experience that most people inflate the price of what they are selling. This allows someone to talk them down a little. I’m perfectly okay with asking for them to lower the price.
“I’m too poor to be cheap” is one of my slogans. A long time ago I decided that, regardless my financial status, I would never have enough money to waste any. So, I when I plan my purchases, I tend to buy used items—if they were of good quality. Used or new, the issue of quality is major. I don’t want to commit time or financial resources to re-buying an item. I know what I’m looking for before I start looking. When I buy, I look for quality at a discounted price, because buying cheap costs you too much money.