Don’t Fear The Cheaper

Frugal Hound's face of woe

Frugal Hound’s face of woe

Sometimes folks, being cheap is just fine. In fact, more than fine, it’s sometimes wise, sanguine, and crafty all rolled into one. But wait, you might think, aren’t we to be frugal and not cheap?! Have we not learned this salient distinction through our prudent purchases of high-end glass tupperware and nice hiking boots and superior kitchen tools? Indeed, fair reader! But I posit to you today that, as with all rules, there are exceptions and hence, legit times to be cheap.

To assist us all with this concept, I’ve created the following very in-depth outline:

  1. If you buy only cheap stuff, your things will break all the time… and you will be filled with woe.
  2. Conversely, if you buy only expensive stuff, your house will be stocked with super deluxe stuff you rarely use, that you wasted a bunch of money on, and hence… you are woe-filled.

To avoid woe, we must strike a balance that’ll yield the elusive–and ever-desired–strategic frugality!

So how do we draw this ephemeral line? This hard-to-distinguish differential between frugal and cheap? From where do we obtain this ideal midpoint?!? Naturally, it’s a different calculation for everyone (what?! no one size fits all?!) and it’s all about testing, knowing thyself, and a willingness to fail at times. Allow me to take you on a tour through our cheapest of cheap purchases.

Tools (get excited! this is a whole section on tools!)

Before: we rescued this tragic dresser from the trash

Before: we rescued this tragic dresser from the trash

Let me introduce you to the beauty that is Harbor Freight, our source for dirt cheap tools and home improvement supplies. And by dirt cheap, I mean vastly less expensive than Home Depot, Amazon, and anywhere else that vends tools. Now if you’re a professional carpenter utilizing your tools to build fantastic wood-things* every single day, these probably aren’t the tools for you. But then again, if you’re a professional carpenter, methinks you don’t need me to tell ye this.

*that’s a technical term.

If, on the other hand, you fall into the camp that we do–weekend warrior home improvement amateurs idiots superstars, then these cheap-butt tools should be your cup o’ tea. Would I recommend building an airplane with Harbor Freight tools? I would not.

But for refinishing Babywoods’ trash find dresser or our kitchen cabinets, they work just dandy. Speaking of refinishing furniture: here’s the thing, their $14 random orbit sander performs the same function as the $80 DeWalt version. And that goes double for tools that don’t move–take our $6 Harbor Freight band clamp (a whopping $20 on Amazon), which is perfectly serviceable.

And after (using cheap tools!)

And after (using cheap tools!)

Going down the rabbit hole of assuming you need THE BEST tools in order to conduct a home improvement project is a pretty surefire way to either: 1) never get started on a project, or 2) spend WAY more than necessary on materials. Our approach to tool purchasing leads me to a crucial tenet of wise cheap-ness:

Test Out Cheap Consumables

When in doubt, run the cheapness test! In other words, buy it and try it. Mr. FW and I find that, more often than not, we’re pleasantly surprised by how well cheap stuff functions (but then again, sometimes it totally stinks).

Indulge me now as I present you with a two-part case study. Case study one is a successful buy it and try it, and study two was, well, an epic fail.

Case Study #1: Sandpaper

Functioning sandpaper is a wonderful thing. Non-functioning sandpaper? The worst. Harbor Freight’s sandpaper is, of course, extraordinarily cheap. And so, in a fit of curiosity, we bought some. Had we wasted $2???? No, my friends, we had not. This generic roughly gritted item works every bit as well as the name brand analogue. Oh happy day, we’ve discovered a cheap consumable.

Case Study #2: Electric Toothbrush Heads

This snout right here

This snout right here

Mr. FW and I have some decidedly not cheap Sonicare toothbrushes, which we’ve used on our frugal fangs for 5+ years (and nary a cavity!). Obviously, we replace the brush heads periodically (we’re frugal, not gross!) and were thrilled to spy some knock-off brushes pop up on Amazon a few months back.

Eager to test these discount bristles, we ordered two. And we tried them out. And they were, to put it mildly, freaking terrible. I mean seriously awful, paltry excuses for a brush head (a greyhound tail would’ve worked better). So, with heavy hearts, we tossed them out and purchased name-brand brush heads. Lesson decidedly learned.

Although it’s not certain that a cheap gamble will pay off, when it does, you can bet Frugal Hound’s snout* it feels good. Oh so good.

*and that’s a pretty long snout

When It’s So Cheap It Doesn’t Matter If It Fails (aka the legend of our mattress)

Frugal Hound testing out our mattress

Frugal Hound testing out our mattress

There are also instances where a knock-off is in fact so cheap that it scarcely matters if the item in question is destined to serve us well for decades. Enter the Frugalwoods mattress–the subject of much myth, lore, and I can’t tell you how many questions I get about it (you wouldn’t believe me anyway). Our mattress represents perhaps the pinnacle of our knock-off purchase prowess.

When we found ourselves in dire need of a mattress four years ago, I first hit up Craigslist to scope out a used one–I have no compunction about used mattresses. If they’re sourced from a clean home and are in decent shape, then I’m all for ’em! But alas, I could not find a king-sized used mattress for a reasonable price. Le sigh.

And so, we turned to Amazon, our go-to when we simply must buy new. We quickly discovered that Amazon vends a stellar knock-off Tempurpedic foam mattress. For a mere $279, we outfitted our bedroom with a beaut of a mattress that was delivered right to our front door (in possibly the largest box I’ve ever seen. Ever. And I’ve seen a fair number of boxes in my day).

$279 is undoubtedly a high dollar amount to pay for testing something out, but even if this mattress had only lasted us a year, we still would’ve saved money. A Tempurpedic is literally ten times more expensive. And you know what? We love this mattress! Four years later and it’s still going strong, err firm.

Ahh yes, relish the moments when cheap pans out.

The Dollar Store = Your Friend!

Frugal Hound in her dollar store elf hat

Frugal Hound in her dollar store elf hat

Have you been to the Dollar Store lately? If not, then you’re in for a treat! I’ve discovered that–in some cases–the Dollar Store is a cheaper option than the bulk offerings of Costco or Amazon. Here are the items where the $ store wins big for the Frugalwoods home: deodorant, face wash, greeting cards, and greyhound elf costumes (Frugal Hound disagrees; see photographic evidence at right).

I imagine they have good prices on other products as well, but I don’t know because I don’t buy them. That’s another frugal tip for ya right there: only buy what you truly need! I could most definitely buy Cheetos and candy corn (yes, I’m perpetually 10 years old as those are in fact my fave junk foods) for discount prices at ye olde store of dollars, but I don’t because I don’t strictly need them.

P.S. Yes, the greyhound elf costume was a “need.” You can clearly see why.

Know When to Shell Out Yo’ Frugal Cash

And then there are instances where being cheap is a fool’s errand. I wish there were a simple rule to apply to determine when to pay and when to save, but it’s based entirely on your own personal use patterns. We, for example, are devotees of our rather expensive kitchen kettle (it’s kind of embarrassing how often I tout the merits of our kettle… but I can’t help myself!).

The Kettle

The Kettle

We’ve used less pricey, subpar kettles before, and we’ve been sad. Very, very sad. Conversely, our fancy kettle makes us very, very glad! (Can you tell I’ve been reading children’s books to Babywoods?! My vocabulary, much like my personal hygiene, is going downhill post-child… ).

If you are a person who perhaps has a cup of tea once a week or so, then you probably don’t need a kettle this lavish. But if you are a person who makes coffee, tea, and oatmeal daily (oh hey, that’s us!) then this snazzy kettle is miraculous.

Not fearing the cheap doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the times when it makes sense to spend more. But it does mean opening your mind to the cheap possibilities out there. After all, frugal weirdos are made $1 at a time!

So please, don’t fear the cheaper.

What do you buy on the cheap?

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84 Responses

  1. Ashley says:

    On the cheap: diapers, formula, food, alcohol.

    Expensive: circular saw blades, kitchen cutlery, razors. That sounds scarier than it is. But in all seriousness better metal that will hold an edge costs more. Cheaping out on the tools is great with a good quality blade or bit.

  2. John says:

    Aldi, toilet paper. 59 cents. Yes, cents. It performs the intended function. They have other good and sometimes great deals as well.

  3. Megan says:

    I will spend money when its something that i know ill use repeatedly. Else its off to the thrift shop. Im also a label reader when buying new, so I dont tend to visit the dollar store types because i prefer to support American where possible. My second choice is used bc its profits have already gone back to the origin country and therefore any profit from me goes directly to the seller here. And its a scavenger hunt in those cheap places for anything american made.

  4. I’ve been noticing just how many cheap purchases have lasted us a long time. My cheap snow boots have lasted 7 or 8 years (I don’t ski or live in Alaska), I’ve have had Walmart clothing that has lasted as long, and my $12 electric kettle and hand-me-down cheap coffee maker have lasted a long time. Yours is much prettier–the example just reminded me of this category.

    One thing I’ve noticed about older items that you hang onto forever is that they tend to be nicer than the same exact brand & model available today. We’ll try to fix our old stuff & make it last–or buy used–just because we’re less likely to find a durable cheap, new item now compared to what was made 10 years ago.

  5. Lady FruFru says:

    For me: cheap = Clothes, many kitchen things bought at thrift store (eg, $5 bread machine, $5 Le Creuset skillet which retails for $170)

    Spendy = Hair care (see latest article on y blog for background!), my Vitamix (use it several times a day and it allows me to easily whip up all sorts of homemade goodies in minutes), my gym membership (I’m an avid marathoner and I LOVE going to the gym. It is my stress relief, my enteretainment and it’s healthy)

    I am also a $ store afficianado – I’ve even found some speciality vegan foods there that cost 4x as much in Whole Paycheck…er Foods. But some items are actually cheaper at Aldi. You have to know your prices. You can actually put together lovely gift baskets made from $ store items. You just have to use your editorial eye.

  6. Tarynkay says:

    I generally go cheapest for disposable items (like toilet paper) and for things that the the quality obviously would not effect the functionality. For instance: a $2 shower curtain does the same thing that a $20 shower curtain does. I buy expensive for things that need to last, like shoes. My favorite thing is to buy expensive things secondhand for cheap, though of course you can’t do that with toothbrush heads.

  7. Nora says:

    Ah Harbor Freight. My husband is a professional mechanic and even he shops there. He splurges on the more important tools and buys others at HF. Especially for shop supplies, they have great deals. Just need to keep him away from his version of the candy corn there!

  8. Danell says:

    I do the same thing. Certain things I am willing to spend more, other things, no way. I’ve never been to a Harbor Freight but now that I know how much cheaper they are, next time I need a tool, I’m going to check them out, especially since I am in no ways a carpenter. There’s one in the city I’m near, I’ve just never went. Thanks for the tip!

  9. Josh says:

    Glad to hear Harbor Freight has some good sand paper. They just opened one up the next town from us. You have piqued my curiosity to step inside their store for some other products.

  10. Erik says:

    Thanks for the tip on cheap tools at Harbor Freight, definitely checking it out for my next project! By the way, nice job with the “dresser from the trash” 😉
    Cheers, guys

  11. K says:

    My sister has a fake Tempurpedic and she likes it as well.

    I’ve been eyeing that kettle… It doesn’t rust? How (well) do you wash it?

  12. It’s definitely valuable to keep an open mind and be willing to test out different items. My favorite part about my recent dollar store find is that they actually carry a hand soap that does not test on animals. I try to balance frugality with other personal values, so it’s always a huge win when they align like that!

  13. Sabbaticalia says:

    Oh yes, an actual *good* pun to start my morning! Cue air cowbell! 😀

    The general principle of “spend as little as practical to try things out” works wonderfully. I treat my “discretionary” budget category specifically as a playground for little experiments like what you write about. (I don’t like putting them into the main categories: I experiment widely enough that it distorts our picture of normal spending.)

    For instance, I grabbed a $10 slow-cooker a few weekends ago and am trying out recipes which might ease dinner preps for the household. Black bean soup last weekend, oatmeal this morning, not sure what this weekend. Much fun!

    • Debbi says:

      My first cheap slow cooker lasted over 20 years before it started behaving oddly and needed replacing. My “new” slow cooker was around $10 and is working out just fine around 5 years after I bought it. I suspect the cheap ones are so good because the manufacturers absolutely do not want to be blamed for someone’s house catching fire!

  14. Debbi says:

    I buy expensive, non trendy clothes and wear them forever but get cheap shoes (other than running shoes – I would like to keep my original knees). EVERYONE says to get expensive shoes but I destroy pretty much any pair of shoes in roughly a year so cheapies make sense for me. It is also easier to find cute vegan shoes in cheap shoe stores than in upscale ones. Since I find I do need to try on shoes in person to see if they are comfy, the Internet is not a good option for me so hello, Payless shoe stores. I also get the cheapest possible paper for my daughter’s art cabinet because she is quite the prolific artist and as long as the paper is white and not a murky sort of color, her artwork looks beautiful!

  15. mr-bojangles says:

    For tools, search and go to local auctions!!! MUCH cheaper than new plus you can find quality products made in America that you cannot get new at any price anymore.

    • Northmoon says:

      Just know your prices when you go to auctions – I’ve seen tools sell for more than they would cost new (usually larger items like table saws)

  16. Kelly says:

    I’d rather re-use than buy new when possible for some things like tools.

    I have found some excellent tools and supplies at my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. They had some wonderfully broken-in trowels, plaster knives, screw drivers etc. They sometimes also have new tools surplus from other hardware stores. I got some brand new nice Sears gardening and landscaping tools for like $5 a pop at a ReStore.

    My dentist keeps telling me to get a Sonicare but I just can’t get down with paying for electricity to charge something that I can manually do.

  17. Mrs SSC says:

    Yeah – we tried the same thing with Sonic care tooth brush heads… they just don’t work the same, and its a shame. Although – I have not yet tried brushing my teeth with my greyhound’s tail – so I will have to take your word on that!

  18. Cindi M says:

    My favorite cheap find is our bought-at-Costco snowshoes. We paid $49 a set years ago (I think they go for $79 now) This is snowshoes, poles and carrying bag. We have used them countless times in the last 14 years. Are they as nice as the $250 sets? No. But for what we do — casual snowshoeing on defined trails — they give us many hours of enjoyment, and they have held up really well.

  19. Gwen says:

    I bought my mattress online as well! The box was HUGE and HEAVY. It weighed close to 80 lbs, which is a not insignificant chunk of my body weight. Moving that thing through the house was a pain in the rear, but sleeping on my very own mattress that night is what I assume Heaven feels like. Especially since I’d been sleeping on my couch the previous 2 weeks.

  20. Brenda says:

    Speaking of Harbor Freight….which I agree is great, don’t forget the 20% off coupons that you can fins in magazines, online, through coupons apps and through there texts when you sign up for them. Makes a great deal even better.

    I also agree with you about the Sonicare toothbrush heads vs the generic ones. You can usually find the Sonicare name brand heads in bulk at Sam’s or Costco though. Cheaper than Amazon in this case.

    And yes, we’ve even bought a memory foam mattress off of Amazon and loved it!

    Thanks for all the advice and research you guys do. I have been a stalker of your site for a little while now but this is the first time I’ve left a comment. Looking forward to your move to your Vermont estate when you find one. My husband and I went a different way and bought a motor coach and tour the country. We are in our 40’s and yes, our family thought we were nuts. After traveling since 2008 though, they are all wishing they could do it now. Loving it! Good luck in all your endeavors.

  21. Marcia says:

    On the cheap, hmm…I get stuff at the dollar store like shampoo and toothpaste. And 30 corn tortillas. We paid good money for our mattress, but the previous one was 20 years old, so that worked out to $30 a year.

  22. Thanks for the reminder about the dollar store — I’m almost out of deodorant. And actually you’re doing the smart thing by avoiding the candy there. Most of it, while only $1, isn’t as big as the stuff you’d find in a regular store. So you might actually be spending more cumulatively. Exception: delicious, delicious ginger snaps!

    Dollar store is also great for vases — which I use for organizers in some cases. And if you just need a few bowls and plates, that’s a great place too. I got some bowls there more than 10 years ago, and they’re still in great shape. They don’t look half bad, either!

    Conversely, we have a ridiculously expensive mattress. It made me a little sick to spend so much. But the one we had was too soft for my husband’s back and, worse, it held heat too easily. He has severe eczema, so heat pockets make his itch (worse) and scratch. He’ll scratch himself bloody in his sleep. And in Phoenix summers… So we got one with a cooling gel underneath that was also a little firmer.

  23. Rebecca says:

    The majority of our furniture is used. In general, I buy our home stuff for cheap: sheets, home decor, deep freeze, and picture frames all purchased at the thrift store. Our sofa cost $50 (it was broken and we repaired it), but the fabric is not the best, so we’ll probably spend more money on our next sofa so it lasts us at least 10 years. We splurge on shoes and clothing items that we intend to use for years (like winter coats).

  24. Money Beagle says:

    Our mattress is coming up on about 10 years old and while it isn’t trashed yet, you can definitely tell it’s seen better day. I had never thought of Amazon as an option for mattresses but might just have to do so based on your experience 🙂

  25. Lena says:

    I will splurge for a brand name well reviewed appliance- dishwasher, washer/dryer – since I’ve tried the knockoffs and been sadly disappointed when they die a year later. Furniture is something though that I do my best to get for free. If you spend any time looking, you can almost always find what you want for almost nothing – at least that had been my experience. I must say, I am impressed at your will power at the dollar store. No matter what I do I always leave there having spent at least $20!

  26. Noreen says:

    I went to the Dollar Store (Dollar Tree) to browse before going into the adjacent Market Basket. I checked-out the doggie treats because I needed a package to keep in the car as my pooch always gets a treat after waiting for me to run my errand. I decided not to get them in the $ store and rather get them in MB. Well MB had the identical treats for $3.99. I went back to the $ store and got them there. I’m always freaked out when dog food doesn’t say exactly where it came from and says instead “distributed by”. I try only to buy dog food made in USA or possibly Canada and definitely not China…heard too many horror stories about that. But, what a difference in price!

  27. For tools we don’t go the cheap way. Instead we buy used(we have our own dutch craigslist!) high quality products! My expensive sending machine definitely works better than the cheap ones(tested them also..;)).

  28. I try and calculate cost-per-use for things that I buy, so, if I’m going to use something every day (like your kettle, for example), then I can easily justify a higher quality item. If I’m going to use something a couple times a year (for sanding down crummy furniture, for example), then I really don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line item. This math has worked out really well for me, and especially as I go back and calculate my cost-per-use/cost-per-wear a few years down the road, it has definitely helped me figure out where I know I should spend and where I know I shouldn’t.


  29. Jessie says:

    Wait. Can you cook oatmeal with an electric kettle??

  30. Donna Werstler says:

    My recent “cheap” purchase at the Dollar Tree was a broom. I’ve recently moved to VA, where we do get some snow, and now live in a third-floor walk-up apartment. My car is parked outside. So, after our last snowfall, I decided I needed a “cheap” broom to keep on the back floor of the car to more easily brush off the top and sides after a storm. I WAS heading to Walmart, when I noticed a lady leaving the Dollar Tree, just across the parking lot, with a broom. BING! So, I went there, first, and for my $1 (plus tax), I got my car broom. I didn’t check prices in Walmart, after that, but I’m certain, even there, it would have been higher. Another example of buying cheap when quality is not an issue. If it holds up through just one year of snows, I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

    • MEL810 says:

      Hi,Donna. I am in Virginia in the Richmond vicinity. Welcome to the Old Dominion!
      I get stuff at the Dollar Tree also. I get their faux Woolite which is just like the real thing. I also buy greeting cards, party stuff for office parties, rubbing alcohol,etc. We also get brooms.
      As for food, I get the frozen ravioli and pirogi. They’re much cheaper than elsewhere and just as good. I don’t get TP there as TP is one thing I will spend on (but will buy on sale with a coupon) as I am particular about what I put near my bum. I like soft and cushy! LOL!

      • Donna Werstler says:

        Thanks, MEL810, for the interesting comments and for letting me know you’re “almost” my neighbor; I’m in the Shenandoah Valley. Just have to say, though I do buy my cards and some kitchen items there, I, likewise, do NOT go cheap on TP. Only Cottonelle for me, but I try to wait (when I can) and buy on sale.

    • Veronica says:

      Virginia people represent! I divide my time between the 757 and Fairfax. I highly recommend checking out Martin’s for grocery shopping (their bakery is great) as well as Kroger for their awesome sales.

      • Donna Werstler says:

        I actually do both, Veronica, for organic and farm-fresh (from the area) foods. Also, our local Farmer’s Market. I eat a LOT of fresh, raw and organic food – with a huge salad most nights for supper. I’ll either have a protein along the side or on top. But, salad is my supper of choice most evenings. Thank you for the recommendation, though. Yes, two places where I do enjoy shopping.

  31. OMG that picture of FH with the glasses in bed is priceless. I go to the 99 Cents store ALL the time since it’s a block away from my house. My big find there is lemons, which cost so much more at the grocery store. I go cheap with hand me down furniture, but unlike you who restores them nicely, I’m both lazy and very uncrafty, so I pretty much leave them as is. The “distressed” look is in, right? 🙂

  32. Sarah C says:

    There are some personal care items that it is not advisable to buy at the dollar store – toothpaste being the utmost. Many of those seemingly-similar (down to brand and packaging) items were made for sale in countries that don’t have the same safety laws as the US — and thus your .89 Colgate could really be made with unsafe ingredients.

  33. Anne says:

    Tools, beautiful, beautiful trools over which I can drool! You probably shouldn’t have told me about that website. I am always happy to add to my collection. It’s so nice to be able to go to do a job without having to buy a new tool, too, once you’ve amassed a collection.
    Princess Auto is a bit of a Canadian equivalent 🙂 Their house brand is delightful.

  34. Ruby Julian says:

    One thing I am spendy on is paint. I went the cheap route for years until coming across some top-end Benjamin Moore at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and it converted me to the stuff that goes on great with one coat. If it costs $20 more a gallon and saves me 10 hours work putting a second coat on a room, then it’s well worth the extra bucks.

    I also do not cheap out on shoes, as the Mister and I both have foot problems, but we stick to a couple of excellent brands that we feel confident ordering online because we know how they fit. I keep an eye peeled for sales. If there’s a good enough sale, I’ll buy two identical pairs at the same time.

  35. I just wanted to chime in and say I am absolutely tickled pink by the Blue Oyster Cult reference. Well played, Mrs FW!

  36. Bob says:

    Dear Frugal Family,

    About the dresser from the trash: I think you accidentally got my old dresser. In fact, I’m pretty sure judging from the duct tape and missing knobs that it could have been mine at one time or another in the distant or not so distant past. Did it smell old and nasty? Yep, that’s the one, I knew it! Yeah, maybe I kinda released my claim on it at the curb, not really sure. And I don’t even object to the fact that you updated it or even that you made it beautiful.

    But I do know father time, and I know that you will eventually part with it. And that’s the thing about time, just about everything re-sells eventually, excepting 39 cents a pound bananas and the like..

    So I’m writing to ask, could I please have first dibs on getting my fine furniture back? It was made from fine frugalwood about 50 years ago.

    It’s not the sentimental value either. It was ugly, dated, and even a little gross. But here’s the thing; eventually you probably won’t need it. So why wait? I will gladly pay you for the ribbons, cheap sandpaper, even the cheesy orbital sander, the free paint you probably used on some other job and a little for your time if I could just have it back now? How’s a hundred sound? A hundred twenty five?

    You see, I know Craigslist, and understand what something was or what it originally cost you has almost no bearing on what it now is and what it would eventually sell for. I get it. You made my trash into fine and useful frugalwood treasure. I forgive you! But now you are going to use it, and that seems unfair because when you sell it that you will even make money on it.

    So can we just skip the “you using it for a decade or two first” and go right to the selling it to me part? Ok, how ‘s one fifty? I’m a spender, and I appreciate the good stuff on Craigslist, sooner or later you’ll make money on fine frugalwood pieces so let’s just skip the later part.

    Now, will you take a check?

  37. YES!! “Cheap Gamble” is the perfect way to put it. I’ve gambled on cheap razors multiple times and they’ve NEVER worked out for me. I keep trying, and they keep failing. So I now stick with my expensive name brand ones, but my legs and pits are much happier for it. But I am perfectly satisfied with my Dollar Store face wash, too. It does the trick!

  38. Rae says:

    Thanks for the tip on toothbrush heads. I was going to order the knock-offs but instead went to ebay where I found the brand name ones for a lot less than another online source. They are sealed in original packaging and I am delighted with my purchase. No, they weren’t as cheap as the knock-off brand but they were MUCH less expensive than a retail or online store.

  39. Mrs. CTC says:

    Oooo I love it when a cheap plan comes together! I’ve bought myself some fancy fur boots a while ago, for walks in the woods with the dog and other outside activities for which I don’t need to look very officey. The pair cost me the staggering equivalent of 12 dollars. And behold: we’re almost two years in and the precious pair is still warm and solid and pretty and just freakin’ awesome. And everytime I put them on I snicker silently, gloating in the realisation that they were Cheap.

    Also, I’m with you on the toothbrushes. Went cheap on that once, cost me the inside of my cheeks, so I decided to only buy the real deal from that moment on. When on sale, obviously.

  40. Norm says:

    On the electric toothbrush head tip: We were scorned too. Got the ones that hold on by friction. They were tough to pull off and eventually destroyed our Sonicare. Luckily, it was under warranty, and we got a new one.

    But I wasn’t deterred! I bought more knock-off toothbrush heads on Amazon and they work fine! They were more expensive than the bad ones, but cheaper than official ones. The key is that they have to have magnets in the bottom. Sonicare heads connect by magnets, not by friction. They were $10 for three, sold under the name “BrushBrite.” Shame on Target, where I see them selling the junky friction heads for more than that.

  41. Tania says:

    I tried the generic sonicare toothbrush heads too and agree, not up to snuff. Went back to the real deal. I go on the cheap with private label groceries. I’ve only had a few occasions where I wasn’t happy. The dollar store or the dollar area in Target is great for gift wrap when I’m not reusing magazine pages or wrap from presents I received 🙂 I also buy dishwashing sponges (the kind with the white netting) from the Japanese dollar store. My not cheap stuff includes Mrs. Meyers dish soap (most others make my skin itch), Dr. Bonner’s Castile Soap (for the same itchy reason) and my Longchamp nylon bags/totes (but not too much, several sizes from tiny to carryon – they are easy to clean, light for my aching back, last forever).

  42. Marissa says:

    I have never thought of buying a mattress on Amazon! I bought my current twin mattress locally from a place that makes them, but next time, I will definetelly buy a mattress on Amazon when mine finally kicks it! I will probably get the one you guys got since you enjoy it so much. C:

    When it comes to buying things cheap, I always turn to the Dollar Tree. Like you, I LOOOVE the Dollar Tree and other dollar stores! What I usually buy there when the holidays are coming up are holiday cards. With cards being 2 for $1.00, or 50 cents each, you can’t go wrong when mailing 10+ cards out to friends and family! Besides holiday cards, I buy all of my other special occasion cards there as well! I also buy holiday supplies, popsicles, gum, balloons, and whatever else strikes my fancy! ^ o^

    But what I buy expensive is kitchenware. The fancier, the better because I care about my health. <3 No teflon cookware for me! Stainless steal or Le Creuset all the way! <3

  43. Linda says:

    Harbor Freight is awesome. One opened in our area a little over a year ago and now it’s the only place we go for tools. My boyfriend is like a kid in a candy store when we’re there.

  44. I won a free fancy Sonicare from my dentist and I tried the off-brand heads from Amazon too…same experience! Maybe I can win some free brush heads next!

  45. I’m definitely checking out Harbor Freight! This is the first I’ve heard of it…

    I usually buy party plates, napkins, plastic forks, etc., at the dollar store. They’re generally good enough, and since they’re going to be thrown out, why spend more than I have to?? (I don’t buy a lot of these items, btw, but they’re often requested for my daughter’s holiday parties at school.)

  46. I tend to buy cheap for things I haven’t owned before–I haven’t proved that I’ll use it yet and I don’t really know how I’ll use it. So I own a Goodwill salad spinner, for instance.

    Running shoes are another thing I buy cheap–because I don’t really run. Sometimes I do a lap around the park. I don’t need $100 running shoes, because I’m not going to develop running injuries from a lap around the park.

    Your kettle looks impressive! I actually don’t own one. When I want to make tea, which is often, I boil water in a measuring cup in the microwave.

  47. Buy expensive: running shoes, vacuum cleaners (especially with kids although maybe now so important since your have FrugalHound)
    Cheap: high chair (IKEA plastic one you can hose down), kids water bottles only because they are forever losing them

  48. Glenn Dixon says:

    After moving back to the states, we have been uber-Frugal (but have not used Uber, which is expensive!). Our entire apartment has been furnished using mostly Goodwill, Craigslist and things found near dumpsters. Washer/Dryer were refurbished and cost $350 delivered! Even new things were purchased cheaply (bed, LCD TV, etc.). I just wish there were a “99 cent store” here – they have groceries! Major cost cutter there…but we use the Dollar Store a lot.

    So far my favorite has been my desk and chair. Total cost was $5 (chair at Goodwill), and some chalk paint ($25 or so) and 1 yard of clearance fabric to recover the chair seat. The desk turns out to be an early 1900’s writing desk (Google ‘Cadillac desk-table’ for an idea) missing the interior writing surface on the drawer. We didn’t even have to sand anything! We found the desk near a dumpster and gave it another life. When we move back to Mexico later next year, we will send it to another home to live yet again…

    My other amazing cheap purchase was my razors. I shave my face *and* my head, and I was tired of paying for the seemingly expensive Mach 3 razors from Gillette. I discovered that the dollar shave club uses Dorco razors and blades, but you can buy those direct! I spent $30 in October, 2014. I’m still not finished with that box!

  49. Jenna says:

    Hi Frugal Gal!

    Just wondering what you did for your box springs? I am interested in purchasing this mattress for my son but will need box springs as well?

    Thanks Girl!

  50. Cameron says:

    In Denver, we’ve got a tool library that stocks dozens of high-quality tools for home improvement, torturing garden plants, etc. It’s only a few bucks a year to join, and it’s especially useful when you need a tool for one job (we checked out an angle grinder recently).

  51. When it’s cheap doesn’t always mean that it’s bad or low quality. It’s still dependent on us or on our assessment if it’s good or not. We just have to scrutinize every detail or sometimes we just have to keep looking for the best but cheaper items.

  52. Dinty says:

    I buy second hand whenever possible. Craigslist, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and our local animal shelter’s thrift shop are our best friends. $110 garden cart for $25. $125 winter coat for $40. All the lumber for my firewood rack (probably circa $100 retail), $20. But OMG Harbor Freight! Best purchase I ever made was my $100 log splitter which has been going strong for more than a year. (I think even if it only lasted one season and I had to replace it, it would be less expensive than the alternatives.) Hearing protection ear muffs – $2 on sale. FREE 25′ tape measure, stays in the car to make sure those thrift shop purchases will fit in the house. $6 sledge hammer so far works every bit as well as the $27 dollar one my neighbor got at the big box store. Solar powered LED blinking landscape rope lights – $10, 2 years running (I use them to keep the pack rats away from the cars – works as well as the $45 battery powered flashers made specifically for that purpose). Yup, they’re cheap, but choose carefully and follow the sales, and there are some unbelievable bargains.

  53. Dinty says:

    For The Personal Economist, re: vacuum cleaners – I totally agree, the cheap ones usually don’t last and aren’t worth it. BUT … I found a Kirby brand repair shop that sells used, refurbished machines. My $375 Kirby Heritage (a new one would cost $1500 retail) has a year warranty and works like a charm. And they threw in 2 replacement belts and 3 bags. Can’t beat buying used.

  54. Christine K says:

    Cheapest tools ever…my dad came over and brought us a tool box full of my grandfather’s old tools. He was a machinist, and this stuff is great quality. Woot! Other cheap stuff I’ve tried and loved – knockoff replacement heads for my Clarisonic face washer (Clarisonic itself was a college move-out find…I wouldn’t spend $100+ on a face washer!), dollar store Laundry detergent and household cleaners (LA’s Totally Awesome brand).

    There is a youtuber named Dumpster Marcus who has “Tool Tuesday” videos where he dumpster dives the Harbor Freight dumpster. He finds a LOT of tools in there, and sandpaper, and big tool organizers. Now those are cheap tools lol!

  55. Marie-Josée says:

    I vote with my money and buy products and services aligned with values that I cherish: ethical treatment of employees and stewarship of the environment. This eliminates most cheap stuff and costs me a lot of money. Fortunately, I do manage to some savings by purchasing some items at Costco such as organic olive oil, coffee, pasta and Cascade toilet paper.

  56. I feel very lucky that some of our friends/neighbors have every tool on Earth. We almost never have to buy anything because we can always borrow it from him. From tools to pull nails out of our floor to a rototiller to get our garden ready each Spring, he has it!

  57. Erin says:

    We go for the cheapest price for pasta, toothpaste and shampoo for the Chef (my other half), bar soap, and milk. We always go to Harbor Feight for tools first – just got a saw for Hermit Crab Upcycling, my Upcycling business. Love that store. I also shop for clothes at yard sales and thrift stores, so cheap prices, and sometimes you get what you pay for, but the odds are in your favor.

    Some things we pay a little more for to get in bulk, which saves us on packaging and unnecessary leftovers (like spices when we’re testing a recipe). I have some sensitivities to chemical fragrances so I make some personal car products to save money and get good quality.

    The Chef has more brand preferences than I do when it comes to food. So some of the things I used to go for the cheapest price on, such as canned tomatoes, mayo, and bread crumbs, we spend more for a quality brand. Also, I use natural remedies to help when I’m ill, because many OTC meds don’t work for me, so I pay for those and don’t worry so much about the cost.

    I think it is important to think about when being frugal becomes being cheap. If the least expensive option is perfectly serviceable, then I don’t consider that cheap. Frugal to me is going for the option that best balances price with function.

  58. JH says:

    I would like to sing an ode to my cheap, gas station gloves. I do a lot of outdoor photography (for animal rescue groups) and this can be a bitingly cold experience in winter – especially since I’ve eliminated animal products (including warm stuff like down and wool) from my wardrobe.

    Last year, I was photographing at a farm sanctuary on a February weekend that was probably the coldest weekend of the year: temperatures ranged from -5-10F plus a nasty windchill. My fancy photographers’ gloves (which have index finger tip covers that can be removed for button-pushing) and my so-called warm winter running gloves were WHOLLY inadequate.

    On our way back from dinner on the first evening, we stopped at a gas station to fill up and I saw a display rack with some gloves near the door. Desperate, I checked them out and found a moderately thick pair that fit. They were so cheap it didn’t matter if they didn’t work for photography, because I knew they’d work for everyday wear even though they there were kind of homely. I think they cost $5.

    They turned out to be miracle gloves, and I enjoyed the rest of our stay with toasty-warm hands (and some lovely photos). Sadly, sometime over the past year, one of the gloves disappeared. And so I began the quest again for warm winter gloves. They are absolutely essential for what I do and so I had to get replacements.

    Guess what? None of the more expensive gloves were fit for purpose. And so this year, when we headed out to the sanctuary (on the same weekend, and with similarly Arctic temperatures), we hunted for the gas station gloves again. (I couldn’t remember which gas station so we had to wander into several.)

    When I finally found the right gas station and gloves, I was greeted by the cashier who said “How can I help you?” And I said, “I’m here from New York City to buy your awesome gloves” – and decided it was worth stocking up on three pairs (at $5 each) because I don’t want to risk being winter gloveless again.

    I’m thinking about storing the gloves in our safe deposit box for next winter, so I don’t risk losing them 🙂

  59. Barbara says:

    Ha! Just sent hubby to the Dollar Store for greeting cards yesterday. They were two for a dollar and perfect. Cards at any other store cost $5.99 (not kidding!) and are so over-the-top ridiculous that I’m embarrassed to give them. A birthday card should say “happy birthday,” and not much more. If I wanted to give a love poem, I would write one myself.

  60. shakti says:

    As someone that bought a semi-fixer upper my two cents is that Harbor Freight is only good for things like work gloves, peg board hooks, and bungie cords. Pawn shop tools are where it’s at, my friend.

  61. I buy the cheap Target diapers for the kids, but have always been disappointed in cheap brand pull-ups, once they reach that phase. We set up our house Montessori style, and the kids use glass plates and cups starting at age 3. I always buy them at Goodwill, where they are all 25 cents. We use small saucers, tiny juice glasses, and old mismatched creamers for pouring practice, and I don;t care if they get broken.

    Our mattress is fancy expensive Tempurpedic that we have owned for 15 years. It’s still as good as new. I have arthritis and scoliosis, and it’s the only thing that allows me to sleep in a supine position. I slept in a recliner for years. Worth every penny!!

  62. Great article thanks! I buy the cheapest of cheap dishcloths because I hate having old dishcloths lying around (harks back to when I did basic food hygiene certificate and learnt about the nasty germs they can hold)…mine basically work out at £0.04 each (about $0.02). Also, because it’s important to me to send physical birthday cards to my friends each year, I’ve started doing an annual trip to the discount card store and buying all my cards in one go, taking advantage of discounts for multiple purchases. The cards may be cheap, but they don’t tend to look cheap and it means I can wish my friends well for a fraction of the cost!

  63. Carol says:

    I’m loving the dresser and believe at one point one of our 6 offspring had that same dresser. Which brings me to a point. I think Sweet Little Babywoods needs some proper drawer pulls for those 3 that are missing. Does anyone out there in Frugal Cyber Space have a couple lying around???! Can you please measure between the centers of the holes so we out here know what to look for??? I’m sure there’s those same dresser pulls on someones curb somewhere. A baby gift for Babywoods that will bring years of joy.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Fear not, since that photo was taken, we’ve acquired beautiful drawer pulls thorough an awesome member of my local Buy Nothing group, so Babywoods can use this dresser for years to come 🙂

  64. David says:

    If you are happy with sandpaper from Harbor Freight keep using it. In my business I use several thousand sheets of sandpaper a year. That includes sanding sponges, sander discs and 9×11 sheets. There are noticable differences between brands and price is not an indicator of quality. As far as Harbor Freight is concerned I was not impressed with the sheets of sandpaper but I did have good luck with their sanding sponges. Try different brands and stick with the least expensive one that works for you. Most people who read this won’t use enough sandpaper to notice the difference or save enough money to justify a trip to Harbor Freight. Because time has value you will be better off buying what is in stock at your local lumber yard.

  65. Sean says:

    If I am looking for a high end, high priced product, I generally default to I can find good things there very cheaply.

  66. Mackenzie says:

    The toothbrush heads that were awful, are they the ones you linked to in your 6 Things We Never Buy at the Grocery Store post?

  67. Being a saver and a cheaper is really cool. I don’t see any thing wrong with it as long as I can get to achieve my financial goals, it’s completely fine to be a “cheaper.”

  68. Kay says:

    Just FYI, but in Mass it’s illegal to sell a used mattress. That might be why you couldn’t find low cost options.

  69. There is a balance to everything. I certainly am frugal when it comes to some things but do believe quality can make a difference in some cases. When it comes to furniture, almost everything we have in our home was purchased used or was a hand-me-down. Furniture in particular, if well constructed, can have a great life span. I also had a similar dresser refinishing story and the money saved was huge.

  70. Rose says:

    Yet another simply amazing, useful and entertaining article. Even if I wasn’t an aspiring frugal friend, I would want to read your blogs. They are the best. No other blog comes close to yours for fun frugal advise, and of course they don’t have a greyhound.

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