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:
- If you buy only cheap stuff, your things will break all the time… and you will be filled with woe.
- 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!)
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.
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
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)
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!
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!).
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.