Why I (Mostly) Disagree With Buy It For Life
There’s an expensive, pseudo-frugal trend floating around out there referred to as “Buy It For Life” (BIFL). The idea behind this proclamation is that you should buy expensive, high quality products for everything you need–from hair dryers to frying pans to bookshelves–and then never buy that item again. Ever. For the rest of your life. As a devoted non-shopper, I like this concept in theory, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that I’m catching the oh-so-elusive scent of a falsely frugal rat. Methinks BIFL might be good in some instances but not all.
Don’t Start With Buy It for Life
My first objection to Buy It For Life: it encourages you to overspend on high-end products when you can get ‘good enough’ products at vastly cheaper prices.
What I propose is a slight modification to this catchy phrase. Instead of the quippy “Buy It For Life,” I propose the equivocation, “Maybe Buy It For Life, But Not Immediately.” Good, huh? Bear with me, I swear I’m going somewhere with this. When we need something, we have a tendency to become mono-focused and, dare I say, desperate. Allow me to illustrate with my mattress. Six years ago, Mr. Frugalwoods and I had just bought our first home (which is now our rental property in Cambridge, MA) and we moved in with the approximately eight pieces of furniture to our names. Not one of those eight pieces was a bed. Thus, we needed a bed like yesterday. When one is in the mode of obsessing over one’s requirement for a soft spot to sleep on, one can become like a ferocious beast of a greyhound tearing through internet reviews in search of THE BEST BED ever made, invented, and sold on this green earth. It’s intense.
It’s from moments of raw desperation, such as this, that the seductive siren song of “Buy It For Life” begins to permeate our brains. Seemingly innocent, this concept calls out to us from customer reviews and forums and our best friend’s aunt’s neighbor who also really needed a bed really badly. We start to rationalize and say things like, “well, since I need a bed and am going to need a bed for the rest of my life, shouldn’t I buy the best, the most expensive bed I can find? Won’t this mean I’ll never ever buy another bed?” And hey, maybe you won’t ever buy another bed! But hey, you also might and you will have spent thousands of dollars on something you decide is too firm and too weirdly conforming to your body.
What I propose is that instead of going for the whole hog, priciest, top-of-the-line option at the outset? Bide your time (for at least 72 hours, to be precise). Source what you need through frugal means and then wait and see. Wait and see if your cheap Craigslist couch will cut it, use your free hand-me-down hiking backpack for a few hikes, try out a cheap mattress for awhile and see if it’ll work for you. In this spirit, Mr. FW and I purchased this knock-off King-sized memory foam mattress on Amazon for a cool $279 (with free delivery!). We reasoned that if we genuinely hated the mattress, and needed to spend more, we could re-sell it on Craigslist (it’s a myth that you can’t), or put it in our guest room. But on the off-chance that this cheap-o mattress was comfortable? That was thousands of bucks we’d save!
As it turns out, we’re going on six years with our dirt cheap Amazon mattress and we love it. LOVE it. We love it so much, in fact, that I devoted an entire post to how wonderful it is: Our Amazon Mattress: A Five Year Update. This could’ve gone either way and we had no idea when we bought the mattress if our gamble would pay off. But when something is that much cheaper than its competitors, I feel it’s worth the gamble.
I’ve discovered that quite often, in fact, the cheapest option will work. Take, for example, our humble cooler. I call it humble because, even for a cooler, this thing is a humble bumble. We got it for $0 from the free pile at a yard sale a few years ago and have used it to ferry food around on long distance car trips ever since. It was free, it is ugly, it is a bit odd-looking, but it works. There’s no need for us to buy the greatest cooler ever made when a free cooler serves our purposes perfectly well. As I look around my house, I realize that nearly everything I own could be categorized as ‘good enough.’ Most of our material possessions were either free hand-me-downs or were purchased used. And in almost every instance? They work just fine. One element of successful frugality–and a lifestyle of lowered stress–is letting go of the drive for perfect. The state of perfect is unobtainable and we can waste a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money in this futile quest.
Are You Really Never Going To Buy It EVER Again? Really?
My second objection to Buy It For Life: most stuff does not last forever.
Your life, hopefully, will be long. Given this, is it likely you’ll use the same spatula for the entirety of that life? In some instances, I will grant you, YES, you really might! However, I gotta tell you, my frugal radar is ridiculously suspicious of this claim for a number of reasons:
1) Things Break
Even high-quality “unbreakable” items bite the dust. Allow me to share an example. Mr. FW and I decided a few years ago to upgrade from our plastic college-era dishes to the indestructible, un-stainable glory that is Corelle plates and bowls. I freaking love these things. They’re plain white, which means they’re classy in all seasons and styles, they’re lightweight, they don’t stain, and they are almost unbreakable.
I say “almost” because of the great bowl-shattering incident of 2015. I (yes, I’ll admit it was me… ) inadvertently dropped one of our Corelle bowls on our granite countertop and it broke into 9 million pieces. I counted, there were that many. I still love our Corelle set, but it made me realize the ephemeral nature of material possessions.
Even though we spent a bit more money on these bowls and plates, they’re still not top of line or astronomically expensive. Good thing too since apparently, they can break. To redeem myself, I will note that the other week Mr. FW accidentally dropped a Corelle plate on our tile kitchen floor and it too shattered. So, there you go.
2) Things Get Lost
It’s undeniable that stuff just plain gets lost. I run what I like to think is a pretty darn clutter-free, somewhat minimalist, organized home and yet, things still get lost in the morass of household events and occurrences. I don’t know where this stuff goes, and it doesn’t happen often, but every now and then, things are simply gone. GONE, I tell you. However, this is rarely an issue worth grieving over in the Frugalwoods home since most of our stuff was either free or cheap.
Let’s explore flashlights as an example. I have no idea what happens to our flashlights. We use them a lot–what with living in the woods and having minimal outdoor lighting (no street lights, people)–but where it is that they disappear to remains a mystery (although I did find one on the floor of the backseat of the Prius last week… hmmm…. ). If we bought Buy It For Life flashlights to the tune of $857.25 a pop, we’d be sweating it hardcore when they got lost. As it is, we buy middle of the road, fairly cheap flashlights that don’t cause a national disaster when they go on hiatus for months at a time/permanently.
3) Needs Change
What we think we’ll need for the rest of our lives is highly likely to change as our life circumstances change (which they inevitably will). Mr. FW and I adore our couch. It’s an awesome couch! It cost us, oh I don’t even know, maybe $150 on Craigslist five years ago and we’ve enjoyed sitting on it ever since. It’s quite comfortable, it’s a nice microfiber suede (which cleans off well), and it’s a good neutral color. Everything you could want in a couch, right?
Well, yes, everything a family of two adults and then two adults and one baby could want. However, as the three of us were snuggling on the couch reading books the other day, Mr. FW and I had the realization that four people–which our family will soon contain–will not easily fit on this couch together once the two youngest people are out of diapers. It’s more of a two-cushion, two-person type of situation. And so, in a few years, we’ll be looking for a larger couch. No big deal since we spent so little on this one and we’ll resell it on Craigslist anyway. If we’d instead tried to go the Buy It For Life route and spent, I don’t know, $10,000 on a couch? I think we’d be feeling some pain at the prospect of upgrading in a few years.
Yes, you can (and should) resell items you purchased new, but you’ll never reap anywhere near what you paid for them. Material goods depreciate the minute they’re used and people are unwilling to pay anywhere close to the original sticker price. Reselling used stuff, however, will often net you a price very close to what you originally paid since the initial depreciation happened on someone else’s watch (and wallet).
4) Tastes Change
It’s true, we’re mercurial little beings and we change our minds. We adore orange patent leather boots one year, and the next? We realize we look like a terrible remake of a 70’s sitcom. Just saying.
I’m not an advocate of buying new clothes/furniture/decor/cars any more often than strictly necessary (certainly not annually or even every five years), but I am a real live person whose tastes change over the years. My clothing is a prime example of this. I cannot/should not wear the same stuff I wore in college. I mean, some of it is fine, but there’s not really a place for a gold lace dress here on the homestead. Just, no.
Hence, it’s a good thing most of my clothes are from thrift stores and garage sales. The total cost of my wardrobe isn’t very high since most of the items were under $10 (and in many cases, were in fact, free hand-me-downs). When my tastes change, it’s not a big deal to give away miniskirts in favor of maternity tops. Oh yeah.
I know there are folks who advocate buying only a few very expensive wardrobe pieces and wearing those items for decades. This system might work well for you, but for me, this would not work out. For one, my tastes change, and for two, my size keeps changing owing to the fact that I’m pregnant for the second time in as many years. And another thing, my lifestyle changed dramatically in the past few years. I went from working a white-collar job in the city of Boston to being a work-at-home parent on a homestead in the middle of nowhere. Slightly different clothing requirements, in case you’re wondering.
But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that I’m perfect (HAH). I fell victim–very victim–to the Buy It For Life temptation with my pair of $285.49 leather boots. Oh yes, you read that right: $285.49 leather boots. Six years ago, I decided I needed stylish, comfortable, low-heeled leather riding boots to fashionably crunch leaves underneath as I strolled around ultra urban Cambridge sipping a $7 latte, walking my greyhound, holding hands with my bearded hipster husband. Full disclosure: I do love these boots and they are amazingly comfortable. But, am I really going to wear these for the rest of my life and NEVER buy another pair of boots ever again? That’s still to be determined, but I’m going to guess it’s a pretty hard no.
5) Your Kids Probably Don’t Want Your Stuff
Speaking as a kid who LOVES hand-me-downs from my parents and in-laws, I include this point tentatively. I greatly appreciate the towels, sheets, kid stuff, kitchen implements, and more that my folks have passed on to us. But none of this stuff is super duper high-end because there’s no need for it to be. My parents don’t purchase extraordinarily expensive skillets and salad spinners with the thought that they’ll one day pass them along to their children.
Why? Because their children often don’t need or want the stuff they’re getting rid of. Our lives are different, we live in different parts of the country, and what worked for my parents 30 years ago might not be what their offspring need in 2017. I think that buying over-priced material goods with the thought that you’ll one day gift them to your children is nothing more than a justification for spending lots of money because you want to.
There’s nothing at all wrong with passing items down to future generations, but the issue is when we overspend on the premise that our children will one day use this lamp/chair and so we’ll get our money’s worth. There’s simply no guarantee that’ll be the case and, more likely than not, your kids will want you to stop texting them photos of some lamp you bought 40 years ago for their first home. Note that I exclude family heirlooms and antiques from this example.
Do You Require The Very Best?
My third objection to Buy It For Life: do you actually need top-of-the-line products?
There are some circumstances in which you actually do need the best of something. Say, for example, you’re a professional carpenter and you swing a hammer all day long, every day. If this is you, then you just might want to buy a $200 lightweight titanium hammer in order to reduce the strain on your shoulder over the course of a lifetime of swinging that hammer. But does someone who only occasionally uses a hammer need the very best in hammer technology? I think not.
If you casually/sporadically do something–say, fishing–you probably don’t need top of the line fishing poles in order to conduct your hobby. And this applies even to activities you do every day. For example, I hike with Babywoods 1 every day. Every single day. All year long. Unless it’s torrentially raining. But I don’t own expensive hiking shoes or a brand new jogging stroller. Why not? Because the old hiking shoes I have suit me just fine. And the jogging stroller I found at a thrift store for $5 is perfecto. I’m not hiking Mount Everest over here with a toddler. Thus, high-end equipment is totally unnecessary. We have a tendency to want to rush out and outfit ourselves with the very best, most very perfect stuff the minute we take on a new hobby/job/house/baby. But try to restrain yourself. Explore if things you already own will suffice. Examine if you can find whatever you desire used or as a hand-me-down. If, after that, you find you really DO need to buy something? Find a reasonably priced option that’ll suffice.
Especially as it pertains to hobbies, start cheap and escalate from there if you find that you need to. Mr. FW, for example, enjoys cutting the wood that we burn in our woodstove to keep warm every winter. Last year, he bought a moderately priced, middle-of-the-road used chainsaw, which works OK, but isn’t great. What he’s learned after a year of using that saw is that he’d prefer a higher-quality, lighter-weight saw, which he’s currently looking for on the used market. He’ll keep his first saw as a back-up (good to have in case your main chainsaw gets stuck in a tree). This realization that he needs a nicer saw only came after a year of using a cheaper saw. During this year he learned that: 1) he really enjoys cutting wood and plans to do so long into the future; 2) a lighter-weight saw would ease the pressure on his back of bending over felled trees to buck them. Don’t get carried away with purchasing for a potential or nascent hobby. See if you like it and if you actually do it all the time first. And, of course, assess whether or not your cheap gear will do (as I’ve found with hiking) or if you need to upgrade (as with Mr. FW’s chainsaw-ing).
Let me further illustrate this point with my food dehydrator. Last year, faced with an inordinate number of apples from our apple trees, Mr. FW and I began a frantic search for ways to process said apples. We landed on the system of dehydrating, which appealed to us because it’s cheap, easy, and doesn’t involve any added ingredients (such as loads of sugar, which we try to avoid eating… fairly unsuccessfully if you’re me… ).
The only problem? We didn’t own a dehydrator. I began a wide ranging search. I first attempted to find a dehydrator to borrow from a friend/neighbor. No luck. I next tried to find a used dehydrator through our community listserve, Craigslist, and our local thrift stores. Nope again. Finally, I resorted to my last resort: I bought it new. With all of our new purchases, Mr. FW and I attempt to hit the middle ground and buy something that’s not the very cheapest but not the very most expensive either. Cheap stuff is often, well, cheap, and expensive stuff is often unnecessary for our needs.
We’re not professional fruit dehydrators, we don’t dehydrate thousands of pounds of fruit every year, and so we don’t require a premier dehydrator. We just need a dehydrator that works and this one does! If, in the future, our dehydrating needs change, we’ll sell or give this one away and buy a better one. But for our first foray into dehydrating, there was simply no need to over-engineer the situation. This isn’t to say that you should always go for the dirt cheapest option with everything you buy. But rather that there’s a balance to strike and that probably, not very many of us actually require the very best.
When Do I Buy It For Life?
Believe it or not, there are times when I spring for the Buy It For Life option. Shocker, I know, but I’m all about analysis and efficiency and sometimes? BIFL actually is what I need. The rules are:
- I don’t do this often.
- I’m discerning about what items make this cut.
- I never BIFL the first time around.
Allow us to reflect upon my relatively expensive $80 electric kettle. A ludicrous amount to pay for something to boil your water, you say? Perhaps. But it’s worth it to me.
You see, we previously owned a very cheap, very dinky, very un-cooperative kettle. It was plastic, it always spilled, and it didn’t hold enough water. We (or, I should say, Mr. Frugalwoods) use our kettle every single morning to make two coffees and three bowls of oatmeal. The kettle is also employed throughout the day to provide coffee and tea for guests and then again in the evening for my tea or hot cocoa. And our $80 kettle works perfectly. It heats water to precise temperatures so that our coffee isn’t too cold or our tea too scalding, it’s stainless steel throughout, and it has a generously-sized carafe. The knowledge that we needed such a precision machine only came through field testing the cheaper analogue (which we keep as our emergency back-up kettle).
I’m glad that we first went the cheap-o route since it provided us with the data we needed in order to make an informed purchase of the more expensive kettle. Not only did cheap kettle serve to show us that we needed a nicer kettle, it also provided us with the crucial environmental information of exactly what it is that we value in a kettle. This is similar to my recommendation to wait at least one full year before performing any upgrades or renovations on a new home. You need to live with something before you know how you use it. The features that other people need in a kettle might be irrelevant to your use case. By gathering first-hand knowledge of what you need in a product, you can then make an informed decision on a more expensive model. Customer reviews are nice and all, but they might not be relevant to your real world usage.
It’s also important to consider the longterm costs of ownership for a product. For example, the energy usage of a large appliance. A few years ago, we bought a brand new, Energy Star certified efficient chest freezer. Sure, we could’ve picked up a used chest freezer for cheap, but when we calculated the energy usage of an older, less efficient freezer, we realized we’d save in the long run with a new, efficient model. For reference, at the time we bought our freezer, used freezers were going for $100 on Craigslist and we bought our new model for $159.36. Knowing the used vs. new rate, along with the longterm expected costs, are crucial data points in deciding whether or not to BIFL.
I’m gonna throw another example at you: our underwear. Fortunately for you, I won’t go into quite as much detail as I did re. the kettle. What I will say is that for years, Mr. FW and I bought cheap cotton undies that wore out after a mere few months. And then we’d buy more undies, which would wear out and require we buy still more undies. Also, these cheap undies were not comfortable. Also, I really hate to shop. So, we took to the internet and did research on what might potentially be a long-term undergarment solution. We came up with the Ex-Officio brand of undies and, in order to test them out, each ordered one pair (his and hers). We wore these test pairs, washed them, wore them again and made notes (mental, don’t worry). Deciding that these were, in fact, pretty magical undies, we ordered a full suite for each of us. Seven (eight? nine?) years later, we are still wearing these same sets of underwear and they show nary a sign of wear. I would include a photo, but this is a PG website. Suffice it to say, other than the colors fading a bit, these underwear remain as good as new. Plus they are mega comfortable, plus they can be worn throughout a pregnancy, plus they are excellent for hiking/yoga/chopping wood/exercising. The end.
Thoughts For Life
Buy It For Life is one of those pseudo-frugal philosophies that I don’t disagree with wholesale, but that I advise prudent caution before pursuing. In some scenarios and for some people, BIFY might be the right answer. But I’d wager that in the vast majority of purchasing decisions, falling back on the trope of BIFL is an excuse to spend more money than is strictly necessary to meet a need.
How do you balance a desire to only buy things once with frugal efficiency?
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I have looked around my house before and realized that a huge majority of what we own has been given to us or we found free. Many people think that’s weird but we see no point in upgrades when what we have works so well.
I do get crazy focused when we decide we want to buy something. I won’t drop it til we do. This attitude makes it hard to wait to buy things, but we tend to pick something out, wait a few days at least, and if the desire is still there, we talk it through again. We also make a list throughout the month of things we mention we need. Then in our budget meeting, we decide if there is an alternative, whether cheaper, borrowed, or completely different item, to use instead. That’s our biggest way of putting off/not buying things. Then we buy the mid range, as we’ve been burned by the lower end before. Mid is usually good enough to last, but not so dang expensive.
Hmm.. You’ve got to channel that focus somehow. I find that putting off buying stuff is one of the best strategies to save money. I often find better deals, better quality, or just don’t really need that item. I’ve never regret waiting to purchase. On the other hand, I regret buying stuff too fast plenty of times.
I’m good with mid range as well.
I also don’t agree with buy it for life. Even if it last for life, you’ll get bored with it. 10 years is long enough for most stuff. We really need a new kettle. I’m sick and tired of our 20 years old plastic one… I’m so ready to toss it.
this totally. Just deferring for even a couple of days is always a good idea. You can always go back and get it if you find you truly do want / need whatever it is, but very often it gets totally forgotten!
I guess this is part of the consideration with BIFL products, and while I think most things are not needed, sometimes having something more than sufficient (or “the best”) is actually what makes you hold on to it.
For example, the kettle. Lets say you have the BEST kettle. In 20 years time you say to yourself… i might want a new kettle. Then you go and look around, and guess what – Your kettle is still leagues above anything you can find. So you decide you don’t actually need a new kettle, and are content with what you have. This of course doesn’t work with everything, but if you can love it instead of just liking it, I think it does hold up.
Buy it for life is an exercise in escaping the “system” of corporate marketing telling us what we need. What’s good for corporations is frequent repeated purchases. They have quarterly earnings to report to shareholders, and your recent purchase is already ancient history on their balance sheets. Think fast fashion. BIFL is a mindset of trying to take back control. It’s not perfect, and most importantly it doesn’t mean buying new. You can buy something used for life, or how about building something for life. You can give someone something you bought/made for life, that you no longer need, to help them reduce their needless consumption. Take your time, slow down, and think thru what you need. Be intentional. BIFL should start with things like: Education, investing, healthy food, (buy it for a longer life), and only then should one look towards consumer goods. I find the things that matter most to me cost almost nothing. Usually they involve time, a difficult commodity to purchase. Good luck to everyone here. You are all on the right track
My wife and I try to get the best bang for our bucks. That means trying to maximize the value that we receive when buying an item. Like you it doesn’t make sense to buy the very best when we don’t always care about the quality especially if it’s going to break down the line or become tiresome. So we try to maximize our dollars where we can get enjoyment. So for the most part that means passing on IKEA furniture except in rare circumstances when IKEA furniture will work just fine 🙂
I was just thinking of IKEA! We live around the corner from an auction house and I just picked up a $100 solid oak bed frame for my new place – way cheaper than IKEA and it’s going to last (in theory) forever – well, at least compared to an IKEA bed. I was talking to my stepdad who deals with antiques and he said the newer generation just won’t buy the solid antiques, they all want IKEA. The auction houses can’t move furniture. There was probably an $8000 mahogany designer table with chairs for 12 and they tried to move it for $400 – no one want it (I didn’t need it, but boy was it beautiful). I think there are ways to buy furniture that will last you for as long as you want to use it that isn’t expensive. It just takes patience – lots and lots of patience.
Agreed! I have many friends (I fall into that newer generation) that can’t stomach buying furniture used. I just don’t get it. People compliment my furniture all the time – and guess what, it’s used! It’s all solid wood and way higher quality than what you’d find new at a big box store, usually for a fraction of the price. It does require patience, but it’s worth the wait when you find the perfect piece for the perfect price.
Definitely true. Plus, a lot of times you can sell it for what you bought it for. I have a Westnofa chair…I spent a lot in it (with my first grown up tax return lol) but I could sell it tomorrow for the same price. The truth is… You CAN get the very best, get it for a reasonable price used, and as long as you take care of it, sell it for just about the same price if your taste changes.
I don’t regret getting a top of the line zojirushi machine
… For $40 on Craigslist.
Zojirushi bread machine**
Also got a classic Burberry trench for $30 at the thrift store… Money can’t but a better trench coat and it won’t go out of style…But I didn’t pay too much.
A lot of times… You can’t get a better one than the cheap one. Like Andy Warhol said, “America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
With how frequently people are expected to move nowadays (college, jobs, marriage, whatever), and how fewer people own vehicles (much less large trucks), and the affordable housing crisis which leaves everyone squeezing into smaller spaces, it makes sense that people don’t want to buy extremely heavy and solid furniture like a mahogany table that seats 12. Just sayin.
Mr. FAF and I want to get the most bang for our bucks with furniture too! I spent $3,000 furnishing our whole house with discounted, free, and hand-me down furniture.
We could have gone to yard sales and craigslist to get cheap or free furniture. But Mr. FAF insisted we spend some money to make our new house truly ours.
It turned out the item we’ve used the most so far are used furniture we got from friends and free furniture we got from the curbside, not the brand-new ones we got from the store. @_@
Yup! This is what I’m doing – after my third move across country – didn’t bring anything but the beds and photos with us. I think I’m at $550 so far and just have my son’s room to go… We’re not in a hurry and quite frankly his toys wind up on the floor all over the house whether he has a toy chest or not, so….might as well take the time to find quality stuff that fits the ‘style’ – I so agree with you!
Tools are one of the things we like to BIFL, but that doesn’t mean get the most expensive one! This doesn’t always work out, we have a rake that has a lifetime warranty, but the head broke off. The manufacturer no longer makes as nice of a rake, so we can trade it in for a cheap model or repair it ourselves. We will be repairing it!
I have a tendency to lose things, and if we spent lots of money on the lost item I would agonize over it. Most times quality, middle of the road products work great.
Tools, yes! We are forever hunting for high-quality tools at garage sales and flea markets!
You really can get some excellent deals on used tools, especially with the warranty. My husband used to be a professional mechanic and really wanted a lift for home to do more side work. He’s been looking at new and used ones and recently a customer of his said they were moving and he can have their old lift for free. It doesn’t work perfectly but it’s professional grade and FREE. He also would buy cheaper versions of certain tools and then upgrade when they broke or trade them with another younger mechanic so he could upgrade if he used it a lot.
this is a bit gruesome BUT you can often get such items, very good ones, at deceased-estate sales. When various of my relatives died over the years, it was obvious that those left dealing with their possessions were often swamped and really just wanting to get stuff ”gone”, sometimes there was a whole garage full of really good tools, many duplicates and these often were virtually given away, if not actually free.
Obviously one doesn’t want to be a vulture, but there are sometimes good bargains to be had in these kinds of situations.
Excellent points! I think people often use BIFL as cover for the real motivation – Buy It For Brand (BIFB). BIFB happens because people want to feel cool and show off their friends.
A perfect example of this is the latest iPhone which sells for upwards $1,000. Now before I get mobbed by fanatic iPhone lovers, let me just say that I recognize the iPhone is a nice piece of technology. But $1,000? Come on!
The difference between Android and iPhone functionality has rapidly declined over the years. I only buy mid-range, second-tier- manufacturer Android phones for $149 or less – my latest is the ZTE Blade X Max. I usually keep my Android phone for 2 to 2.5 years because the battery starts to go. Then I replace it with another less than $149 mid-range phone.
But guess what? iPhone users typically replace their phones every 2 years also. Heck, some always have the latest and greatest and replace it every year. That’s $1,000 every year. Gasp!
I’ve got a Samsung s4, not on a plan, that runs perfectly and meets all my needs and takes great pictures of my kids and is always in my pocket and let’s me coordinate my life conveniently. I keep having people trying to get me to upgrade. Upgrade to WHAT, though: I know that the specs on more recent models are better, but until someone can tell me how those specs directly impact my life to the tune of multiple hundreds of dollars? NOPE.
100% agree. For me BIFL is finding the best balance of quality at the lowest price. Perhaps surprising to some but often name brand isn’t necessarily higher quality. Personally I look for something that has been around for a long time, has plenty of good reviews and comes at a reasonable price. Ideally this item should also be mate in Canada or the U.S (my preference). Lodge cast iron pans are a great example of this. They will last forever, are made extremely well and local enough all without being ridiculously priced. I went the same route with my first mattress from Tuft and Needle when I moved out and while they’ve since raised their prices it was a perfect buy. When my partner and I moved cross-province and we needed to replace his queen mattress due to (YIKES) bed bugs we ended up going for an Endy mattress, which rests on the same principles as Tuft and Needle but is a Canadian company. Neither are as cheap as the Frugalwood’s mattress for sure but both very comfortable and durable without being outrageously priced.
This is perfect! I agree that most people really want to Buy It For Brand and mentally justify it to themselves by telling themselves it will be better quality, etc. Sometimes certain brands are better in quality but the extra cost might not be worth it depending how often it is used, as Frugalwoods pointed out.
I have a friend that camps several times a year with her family and they convinced themselves they needed to upgrade from an old, perfectly usable Coleman cooler to a Yeti cooler. The first time they went camping they raved about how well it worked and that it was worth every expense and so on. The problem is, they worry so much about that cooler now. They are afraid to even take a walk around the campground without locking it up because they are terrified someone will steal it. And of course they baby it so much because they don’t want it to get scratched. My friend confided in me that she misses their old cooler because it used to make a great seat but they don’t dare sit on their Yeti!
I know there are some people out there that might have a need for a Yeti, but the average person could easily get by with a cheap, secondhand cooler. My grandparents used to camp for weeks at a time and never needed anything more than an old metal cooler and a hole in the ground to help insulate it.
That is such a great story about the dangers of BIFL!!! We sit on our free cooler all the time–makes a great bench 🙂
I recently replaced my iphone because my old one kept threatening to die. It is 3.5 years old and now a great backup phone. So I upgraded to an iPhone that is now 2 models old, refurbished, and works perfectly for 1/3 the price of the brand new, all-the-bells-and-whistles-I-don’t-know-how-to-work model. For me, it was the perfect compromise of getting a good phone with slightly better features without worrying about having the latest and greatest that will soon be outdated anyway.
Very nicely done!
When I had a (very)wellpaid job, I wasted masses of money on expensive clothes, toiletries etc. Now I am unemployed and struggling financially, how I regret allowing myself to be well sucked-in to an ‘expensive=best’ approach to spending. But we live and learn. I am so happy that i did buy a quality (and expensive) sofa because it means that my 17 yearold sofa may not look the best now but still does a great job. On the other hand, my clothes, my cushions, my kitchen utensils, and most of my other furniture, are mainly charity shop purchases. Even my fridge-freezer is a charity shop item. I am learning to ‘cut my cloth according to my means’ but it is definately not the norm.
I am sorry you’ve hit a rough patch in your life, but it sounds like you have a very realistic grip on matters, which many people simply never grasp. I do feel furniture, especially if it’s unlikely to get trashed by small children (I have 3 of these, so it doesn’t apply in my case!) is worth spending a bit on, NOT buying for a brand name, but going for good quality to last a long time. You’ve obviously done this, so don’t be hard on yourself. No one can see around corners, we all learn as we go (some of us take longer, ahem).
I agree with all the points you mentioned above. While I agree that in many cases, good quality items costs a lot more than inexpensive ones (I.e. laptops, phones), I don’t buy something thinking that it will last a lifetime to justify the costs.
In fact, many of the items I use frequently ($15 dress, $10 top) are among my most favorites. I don’t have to worry about dry clean or hand wash them be use they are too delicate. And I like that!
Yes. All of the above.
I can occasionally justify spending more on something with a direct link to quality (example: plastic breakable sunglasses for the toddler: 8$. Unbreakable twistable sunglasses that you can literally twist into a pretzel and pop put the lenses and re-assemble: 12$. She’s been wearing and abusing them for 2 years so far. Worth the extra 4$.)
Also there are times where I would absolutely be willing to fork out cash for a quality increase, but higher prices doesn’t mean better quality, and brands aren’t reliably good quality either, so… there are some brands I’ll fork out for (ll bean flannel shirts. Because perfect homestead clothing and warm and nursing access and flannel shirts never show up at thrift stores around here and also old navy flannel isn’t warm and that’s just insulting) but barring that I’d rather go used and cheap. And honestly, a piece of furniture that still looks good after 50 years is likely to last longer than new ikea anyway.
Yes! On this last point. Used furniture you really can BIFL because a 20 year old table looks pretty much the same when you buy it as it will after another 20 years
This is a constant struggle for me. I like the idea of a quality item that will last for a long time, but I also see the aspects of changing needs and a healthy detachment to goods/possessions in general.
I think my husband and I are finding a balance here (our cast iron cooking pans will last forever! But our used couch, free treadmill and basic furniture won’t!)
Thank you for the reminder to detach and put things in perspective 🙂
You are definitely right that “Buy It for Life” certainly catches you and makes you think that you are doing yourself a favor (only shopping once for those of us who hate shopping!!) – and it also sounds like a much “greener” decision. Great products, less waste – a win all around, right? I love the deeper analysis here though. The younger you buy these BIFL items, the less chance you really know what you really need or what you’ll want. We got sucked in to buying a stupid expensive mattress (like the thousands of dollars you mentioned!) and we hated it after about 6 months. My son loved it luckily! My parents had a vacuum that they had for 30 years that was the best – and they bought me one as a gift 25 years ago. It still works great. So there are a few items that it makes sense for. Maybe the idea is – if you can use it anywhere, need it on a regular basis, it doesn’t have to match? You get the idea 🙂
Admittedly, the only thing I’ve BIFL is a set of Cutco knives.
I inherited a set of these from my grandma! I will say, they are amazing. If you can inherit, versus pay for them, I highly recommend that! 🙂 And they’ll still honor the lifetime warranty, apparently.
You make a lot of great points. Even when I’ve splurged on really nice boots that will last me forever! they don’t. I have some amazing leather boots that I bought at LL Bean three years ago, and which I’ve worn almost every day of the winter for the last few seasons, but they’re starting to let water (snow) in. I guess because they’re LL Bean I could in theory return them, but I’ve been surprised at how such a high quality leather good only lasted such a short while. Granted, our winters are harsh, and I’m hard on my shoes, but I think the idea of Buy It For Life can be misleading for these very reasons. Also, with things like drinking glasses, as you mentioned, there is a very slim change they’d make it through forty or fifty years of married life without breaking. Even my mason jars occasionally break, despite their heft! I’ve never really thought much about this trend, but I very much agree with your points!
You should let LL Bean know! With boots that expensive, they should repair/refund them. I had a pair of Sorrel winter boots that wore out WAY too quickly and the company replaced them for me after I emailed them photos of the ripped soles. Good luck!
LL Bean will replace them or give you a giftcard for the value. I use and abuse my Bean stuff so I try not to take advantage of the warranty but I have returned coats that leaked, etc.
Contact LL Bean. We bought a backpack from them for my son to use for school. He used it for two years, it was still in pretty good shape but the main zipper stopped working. They exchanged it for a new one which he is now using for the second year. LL Bean is a very good company to deal with.
It’s not abusing the policy if they SHOULD have lasted longer. My bean boots lasted 5 years and I decided I didn’t want them anymore and sold them on ebay because there was NOTHING wrong with them and they had another 5-10 years in them. You got a defective pair.
I dont know if these would suit your needs, but i’m obsessed with my BOGS boots. I wear them every day in the winter, and most days in the Fall. They’re waterproof, warm, comfy, easy to slip on and off… and can take any muck i can throw at them, which can be a lot as I live in a very rainy and muddy place.
I’ve always been more of a cheapskate, and only in the past year or so have I seen the need to spend more than the minimum on quality items. But I guess my BIFL philosophy is similar to yours. I try to buy good quality used items whenever I can. Our energy efficient freezer was brand new, but a guy was selling it on Craigslist at half the cost because they were moving. (I guess they didn’t need the freezer like they’d thought they would??)
I did notice that the $1 dress I found at Goodwill wasn’t nearly as nice as the $25 (name brand) dress I bought at the Clothes Mentor. And that nicer dress is perfect for weddings and the rare special occasions that require such things. It should last me a couple more years (barring weight fluctuation, of course!).
I agree with you on all the above. Our 9 yr old cheap matress is still going strong. Our classy, white, $1 plates bought from the Dollar store 5 years are still going strong, and none have broken….Goes to show that not all cheap things are of bad quality and vice versa.
For me it’s dollars for output not necessarily buy it for life. For example I want kids shoes that will last the length of the kids wearing or at least when combined with a potential rebuy be cheaper then buying an alternative. But I don’t need kids shoes to last through two kids. I choose kids shoes on purpose. You can spend a fortune on shoes that last forever, a middle ground on shoes that last a season, or cheap on shoes hat last a week. The best option is usually somewhere in the middle as are most things in life.
I buy all of Babywoods’ shoes at garage sales–I can get high quality boots for 0.50 cents to a dollar!
I always had really good luck with used shoes for my boys when they were little. Now that they are older it is waaaaay tougher to find good deals on used shoes. I tend to buy my two oldest boys a middle of the road pair of sneakers for each season and I can still usually fing used “church shoes”.
The bigger a child gets, the more they will wear their shoes out–and it’s really not good for kids to wear hand me down runners–it’s not good at all for their feet. Now, for Sunday shoes or boots with little cushioning that are hard wearing, etc., hand me downs are fine, but for everyday runners, not so much. Even my mother, who raised us super frugally (no choice), would not let us wear our siblings’ runners. I will still pass running shoes down from one of my boys to the next if they were only worn a couple of months, say as indoor school shoes, but other than that, they get new. I have had great luck buying at Winners (Marshals in the USA, I believe), and have found on clearance brand name runners for as low as $16–you bet I picked up all four pairs! I guess it’s also easier for me because I have three boys, and they’ll all need indoor school shoes at some point, so there is no way they won’t be used–and I could sell them for at least as much as I paid for them if by chance they are not.
The one thing that comes to mind here to me is the Kitchen Aid mixers. For the life of me, I can’t imagine ever needing something so expensive/robust. I have always used a handheld mixer for all of my cooking and baking needs. I’m happy to say I do not make lumpy potatoes. Sure, it would be nice to own such an appliance, but it’s just not something I think is necessary for our lives. My $10 mixer (no joke) has been going strong for well over a decade. #frugalwin
My Kitchen Aid mixer was a dumpster diving find about 15 years ago. That’s the only way I’d own one because they are so expensive…well made, absolutely, but necessary to buy it for life? I’m not sure. I clearly lived without it prior to finding it so…
I have a KitchenAid mixer that I got at a church thrift store for about $20 and it works like a charm. I use it all the time–multiple times per week–and it’s one of my favorite and most beloved kitchen items. I lucked out getting it used but knowing how much use I get out of it, I’d buy it new, full price. It’s worth that to me.
I received my KitchenAid free second-hand from a friend. I was very lucky but would have scrimped to buy it new. It is fantastic. You cannot compare it to a hand-held mixer at all. If you bake a lot, it is worth the investment. It is definitely a BIFL purchase. They last forever!
I bought my KitchenAid new, on sale — but I have had it 15 years and I use it multiple times a week — sometimes multiple times a day! I bake all our bread, plus cookies, cakes — i even use it to shred chicken and mix meatloaf! I consider it well-spent money.
Totally agree on the Kitchen-Aid mixer. It was a gift that I wasn’t sure I wanted or needed, although I love to cook and bake. Some guy told my husband that I would love it and love him for buying it for me! So he paid full price 15 years ago. And I LOVE it- changed my life! It’s that good. I use it all the time and can make things I never could with the old hand-held mixer (which I use only for mashed potatoes- lol). I would look all around and find a way to not pay full price, but I highly recommend them.
Same here! In my case I was always baking cakes and cookies and bread with my Mom’s antique KitchenAid since I was a little girl. Hearing that motor strain to knead brioche convinced me that I needed a heavy-duty stand mixer when I moved out, since I actually use its extra functionality and enjoy it. Still got my KitchenAid on sale from Amazon, though.
I too have a KitchenAid Mixer (a wedding gift from several of my family members who pooled their resources) and I LOVE IT. We use it several times a week and it is a beast. A wonderfully useful beast!
I would have never purchased one for myself because of the expense, but I was gifted one and never knew I could love an appliance this much. I do have a large family and host all holidays so I use it often. I do think they are worth it now that I have used one.
I have a Kitchen Aide, the restaurant model purchased for full price 22 years ago. I use that piece of equipment on at least a weekly basis, for baking but also for grinding meats, making ice cream, making sausage. I have dragged it all over Alaska with me, sometimes as a hand carry, and have never, ever regretted the money I spent on it. I have a mixer for small jobs but nothing compares to a Kitchen Aide. The other piece of equipment I love as passionately is my Excaliber dehydrator. We use it all summer long, daily in August and early September when the garden is in full harvest. It was also very expensive but has lasted for 14 years without a problem. You know those bumper stickers about you can have my gun when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands? That is how I feel about my Kitchen Aide and Excaliber!
Kitchen appliances are worth it! All you LITERALLY need is a good chef knife…but you will save time and energy if you have Kitchen Aid (my mom found mine at a garage sale for $50) and a good food processor. Got a vintage Robot Coupe on Ebay for $50. Meal prep went from taking half a day or more on the weekend to one hour or less.
My parents gave me a Kitchen Aid when I got married in the 80’s. The marriage didn’t last but the mixer is still working great! Those things are built to LAST! And as an aside, hubby number 2 is a ‘buy it for life’, in that I expect to keep him for the rest of our lives. 🙂
I love the thoughts about passing things on to your children! My grandparents saved a ton of things none of us wanted or needed, and it was difficult to get rid of all the stuff when they passed. The argument that it was expensive does NOT make me magically want it. In fact, often by the time they were ready to pass it on, we’d already acquired something more modern or that we preferred.
I, too, thought Corelle dishes were a wonderful thing, until the first one shattered. I HATE the way they break, with all the little sharp shards, millions and millions of them. I would rather break a plain old piece of stoneware. No more Corelle for me.
Again, agree with every word you say! As a suggestion I use my oven instead of dehydrator, works fine!
Couldn’t agree more. My husband was brought up with ‘buy the best you can afford’ which does my head in!
There was a discussion about Vitamix blenders recently on the MMM forums. As one commenter pointed out, there are always tons of blenders available at Goodwill for $10 or less. So even if you burned out one every year, you could buy a “new” Goodwill blender every year for the next 60 years and still come out ahead of buying a “BIFL” Vitamix for $600+.
Great point! I love finding high-quality stuff at garage sales and thrift stores–it’s the best route!
I actually have to disagree on this one. My wife and I also used to shake our head at the price of the Vitamix because we figured they were grossly overpriced. But, we love smoothies and while we could sort of make one in a cheap thrift store blender, it was only if we used fresh fruit and put very little in it. Not only that, but we had to replace the blenders fairly often. I shudder to think of all those cheaper appliances filling up landfills. One day we came across a very cheap Vitamix for sale from the 70’s and we thought why not? Let me tell you, that thing is a beast. Suddenly we were able to blend up smoothies that rival Jamba Juice! We buy all of our organic frozen fruit at Costco and this thing doesn’t hiccup at several cups of whole frozen strawberries, a half pound of spinach, nothing. And no seeds from raspberries survive the power of the Vitamix. And unlike our old blender that chopped carrots, this thing blends them nice and creamy. And tortilla soup in a Vitamix? Divine. You can make almond flour too and yes, they can actually grind avocado pits. They are that powerful. If someone is a big fan of smoothies and has even one daily, a $10 blender will not cut it. Our 70’s Vitamix is still going strong after the eight years we have had it and we run it several times a day. But, if it ever died, I would not hesitate to buy a new one.
I totally second this. Regular blenders don’t even come close. You may be saving some money but your giving yourself a huge headache. With a vitamix blending anything is easy. With my old blender I would only use it if I absolutely had to and would avoid making some recipes because it was such a pain to use. The vitamix just works no matter what and I don’t have to worry about it. This is an instance where the price may be more but the quality is way better as well.
I’ve long been tempted to get a Viramix. We make a lot of smoothies and soups. I’m definitely on the lookout for a used one!
You got lucky and got a 1970’s Vitamix! I firmly believe that the quality then beats the quality of a similar Vitamix today!
My old Sears Kenmore vacuum from the very early 1980’s is still going strong after over 35 years– but the one I bought to replace it with 8 years ago died after only five years. Give me the quality of yesterday any day!
I always wanted a Vitamix, but when my cheapo blender broke, I never had the funds, so got another cheapo.
A few years ago, I found an old metal model on CraigList for $100. Basically, a dealer had a bunch of the old models when they came out with the new plastic version, so it was actually new when I bought it, just an older model.
I use it for a LOT more than blending. I make nut butters, smoothies, ice cream (just cream and frozen fruit). I don’t do soup, though it does that too.
I’m not sure it’s worth $600, but I’m *definite* that it’s worth more than $100. Pistachio nut butter costs nearly $30/lb! It had paid for itself in under a year.
Related to BIFL is “top-rated safety” when it comes to kids. So many people are convinced that if they don’t have the latest and greatest, their children will suffer, especially with baby gear. I don’t want to compromise my children’s safety, either, but generally speaking, an inexpensive Graco car seat that isn’t expired and hasn’t been recalled will keep your child restrained as well as a specialized one costing 5 or more times as much. I’ve also always been suspicious of the car seats that are supposed to work from birth to age 8. Not that they don’t, but after having our family’s size/needs/car seat configuration change multiple times, I don’t think our family would necessarily still be using that same car seat. It made more sense for us to keep getting a hand-me-down infant seat from a neighbor/friend and then pass it along while it was still good, thereby maximizing the use of each particular seat while minimizing our cost. It’s so easy to get sucked into anything that guarantees to keep your child completely safe and/or grow with them, because who wants to be the parent compromising their child’s health. But like everything else, there’s “good enough” and then there’s often “teeny bit better with lots of extra cost.”
YES YES YES! Thank you for bringing this up–I totally agree! We are the happy recipients of all hand-me-down baby stuff and it simply does not need to be brand new or top of the line for it to be safe, functional, and completely fine.
to add on to this– all baby stuff is #1 for lawsuits if ANYTHING goes wrong. That is why anything on the market in the US is likely to be safe. We got our cheap convertible Evenflo car seat for $50 new at Toys R Us– when someone could easily spend $199+at the store on one, thinking they have to. That car seat works great and even fits better in smaller sedans rear-facing than the more expensive Diono. And if you want new, I recommend scoping out eBay for people selling Amazon returns. I got our Diono for the second car for a bargain because it was an Amazon return with a damaged box, but brand new seat. Since it was an auction and not buy-it-now, sometimes you can do awesome on an auction that doesn’t get a lot of attention.
One point on buying used car seats: you should never put a baby in a car seat that has been through a crash. Even if it looks fine, the straps are made to stretch on impact, but this only works the first time – after that they are stretched out and no longer absorbent. The same thing happens Witt seat belts – they are supposed to be replaced after an accident. I ended up getting new car seats for this reason (reasonably priced ones with good safety stats), but I would get used ones that hadn’t been in an accident from someone I know.
Oh, I never even thought about this, but it’s a good point. Not buying something ever again ever? That’s tough to make items last longer than our own lifespans, especially when it’s becoming increasingly harder to find well-made items that aren’t designed to break (planned obsolescence). I do think we can purchase higher quality items and save money in the long run. I’ve done that with the clothes I buy (all from the thrift store), our kitchen pans (a $200 set has lasted years and does just fine), and appliances.
The best Correlle is the antique correlle likely 99c each at Goodwill. That’s where I pick mine up. I had bought a new set in 2014 and the stuff shatters. But I picked up some of the older stuff, and guess what? Tough as steel. Thanks for posting. I love your stuff.
So true! Some of our Correlle is from Goodwill and I always look for it, but it’s rare to find it used…
One of my siblings has this philosophy. Their house had the top of the line appliances, but boy are they expensive to fix when they break (and they will).
I purchased a pair of Patagonia snow boots 5ish years ago. They’re still in great shape and will last many years. I didn’t pay full price; when spending that much money I’ll look for and wait for a sale. Or when family ask about wants, I’ll mention gift cards to a store to help pay for the new item.
I agree with a middle-of-the-road approach. While I do generally select value over cheap, and will pay a premium for high-quality items, there are always alternative ways to acquire something (second hand, used, borrow/bartering, etc.). The key may be to acquire high-quality items off retail.
I’ve definitely fallen victim to the BIFL mindset before but I’ve realized that it doesn’t always have to be an expensive item. The importance is to find a quality item that fits your needs and is relatively inexpensive. The used market is a great place to find those types of items – for example, you can easily find cast iron pans or Pyrex dishes in thrift stores and at yard sales. One of the best ways to buy high quality is to do the research of what exactly to look for when sourcing an item.
With that said, I do love my Allclad pans and my Henkle knives – I use them every single day and love the quality. But I did not buy them until after many years of cooking and using sub-par pots, pans and knives. I agree with Mr. FW’s chainsaw example – it’s important to use a good-enough version for at least a year to see if: a. you are going to use it long-term and b. you like it and can just use the cheaper version long-term rather than paying more to upgrade.
Part of the BIFL is companies wanting to sell us on their higher priced products by marketing to us that we will only need to buy it once. While the quality may be there, our needs change over time so there are very few things that are actually “for life.” Good post!
I certainly agree and have only this comment. You don’t really KNOW if it was a BIFL until much of your life has passed. On that note—my grandmother bought me a top of the line (for that time) set of pots and pans (Farberware) for my wedding in 1965. The pots still look great and I use them every single day. Aside from a sewing box, hand made by my great grandfather, the pots and pans are the ONLY things that have stood the test of time!
I love my Farberware too! My mom had Farberware and when I started my own home in the early 1980s, I got the “traditional” Farberware set of pots and pans. Still have all of them, with the exception of the one-quart very heavily used pot. That was my error, forgetting and leaving it on the stove to burn! But I loved it so much I replaced it with two. Farberware was a solid purchase — and I expect to keep them for another 30+ years! The handles stay cool, not like other fancy “name” cookware I’ve tried (purchased in the clearance section of Marshalls…)
Your past suggestion to wait for a couple days before buying cleared up this whole issue for me. Buy It For Life often happened when I truly needed something and Did Not Want To Wait and explore frugal ways and means. Just taking a breath and telling myself, yes this is a real need but gain control of yourself, has saved me hug amounts of money. Also, being a senior has its perks…I won’t need anything to last for the next 50 years! Great post!
I try to keep a BIFL mentality regarding my car. I realize I won’t have it for my entire life, but I like the idea of having it for the car’s entire life. I hope to get as many miles as I possibly can out of this car. This really encourages me to take good care of it. I hated car shopping but I did take the time to decide what kind of car would be perfect for me. I am hoping to not have to repeat this experience for a long time.
We try to look at our purchases as investments. Buy quality that will last, can be repaired, maintained, etc. we invested in fruit trees, strawberry and raspberry plants this last spring. Planted them in a proper hole, mulched, etc. no immediate return on the trees this year, but did get strawberries and a few raspberries. Hubby has a Stihl chainsaw he bought 25 years ago, proper maintenance and it cuts through wood like a hot knife through butter. Very useful when you own property and a tree falls and you want it clered. An hour of your time or hundreds of dollars to pay a tree service? Hubby sharpens mower blades, chainsaw chains, axes, knives, drill bits and shears. Good quality tools last, and they last longer when you sharpen them. I have heard my mother say my knives are dull, I need to throw them out and buy new ones. My husband said that was foolish, they just need to be sharpened and she brought over her kitchen knifes and he sharpened them with his lansky sharpening kit. Afterwards the knives cut like they were new. She was surprised, but they were good knives, just needed the edges sharpened. Sadly we have become a thowaway society of buy it cheap, don’t maintain it, it gets old, throw it away and buy new, so wasteful and expensive. He cleans off hand tools and oils them before storage so they will not rust. I bought a good set of wahl hairclippers which hubby uses on my boys. Cleaned and oiled after every use, paid for themselves many times over and they last longer with proper care. My husband cuts my hair and he uses a good quality pair of high carbon steel shears that hold an edge, he didn’t spend $500, but it was not $7.99 at walmart either. He has used those shears and given well over a hundred haircuts with them between me, my mom, my step daughter, my best friend and blending the boy’s hair, he doesn’t just buzz them, and he can sharpen them at home. Sharp shears are a must to properly cut hair, so the good quality shears were cheap in comparison to the hundreds I (and my friends and family) save each year insourcing haircuts. It’s not like they are a luxury item we can do without, but we don’t need to pay someone else to do what my husband is very capable of doing with great looking results. We can do simple plumbing repairs of fixing a faucet, replace a fixture, and hubby has replaced light fixtures, added additional lighting and updated outlets in the bathrooms to GFCI units. Having the proper tools are an investment that pay for themselves many times over, when they are well maintained. My vehicle hit the point where the cost of repairs was double the value of the car, knew it was time to replace it so I researched what had the best reviews and searched the used car listings. My sister was livid! She told me don’t be cheap, get a new car, you deserve it, your husband makes good money. This from a person who had to beg from family members to cover a payment so her new car would not get reposessed. Got one that was six years old, low mileage and will drive that for the next 8 to 10 years, more or less. Buying a new car is one of the biggest wastes of money.
I found I was lured by this philosophy, until common sense re-asserted itself and I realized few things are going to last “for life” so why always pay top dollar assuming they will? I bought a $1500 dollar mattress for $300 at a remainder store — a mattress will not last me for life, no would I want it to, considering a mattress can’t really be deep-cleaned. On the other hand, I inherited an expensive set of pots and pans, which are going on 60 years and still working great, so they may actually be “for life.” They are out of style, but they cook well, which is all I ask of them, and I paid $0.00 for them. When I buy used, which is my first choice, I try to buy the best quality I can find, like the $1 garage sale 12″ cast iron skillet I found, and when I buy new, I try to find the best deal/sale on the best quality item I can get, considering it’s probable life-span and my usage projections, which may mean a cheaper or middle of the road option instead of the expensive one. This is especially true for electronics, which change and become obsolete so rapidly. Why would I pay big money for a new TV, when a far better version is almost certainly just over the horizon?
I know people often knock Ikea, but you can’t go wrong with their solid pine furniture & they are a company committed to renewable energy. Take another look at Ikea, especially their newer solid wood collections, you may be surprised.
Yes! I totally agree with this comment! We actually still have almost all of the furniture we’ve ever bought from Ikea, including an old dresser from probably 15+ years ago that is still going strong. We’ve also moved our Ikea bed more than three times and it is still in great shape.
We are the proud owners of several pieces of Ikea furniture, which we’ve happily been using for many years (and we even moved it!).
THANK YOU. I’m not a BIFL fan for all the reasons you’ve outlined. I just want to add one more thing: how long something lasts also depends on how well you take care of it. I think many people mistakenly think that because something cost them more, it should be indestructible. I do buy higher-end clothes, and I have a shirt I spent $180 on eight years ago. It still looks brand new because I wash it cold and never put it in the dryer.
A nice compromise is buying high-end items used. Example: brand-name furniture off Craigslist or secondhand designer clothes. If it doesn’t work out then the resale value will be much higher than a cheap, disposable item. To me, those are just smart business decisions 🙂
Hahahaha a Friend of mine just got cast iron pots as a wedding gift (she is very into brand new, fancy things). They damaged them after 3 uses because they didn’t bother to take proper care of them. And so BIFL was a very expensive short lived purchase 😛
I agree with a lot of the philosophy above, but specifically when it relates to clothes I have been thinking more and more about “fast fashion” and the ecological and human impact buying cheap clothes has.
There’s a ton of research out there about how fast fashion stores (Old Navy, Target, H&M, etc) are appealing because of their costs – and many of those stores have pretty nice-quality items that last a while – but the low cost is trickled down through to a criminally underpaid labor force and/or through cruel environmental practices. Buying clothes only 2nd hand or at a thrift store is definitely a way to help alleviate that in a frugal matter – while it’s likely the clothes were still “farmed” unsustainably at some point in their life cycle, at least you are helping to extend the life of the piece and keep it out of the landfill.
For me, I do research on where I am making my purchases and am slowly trying to incorporate pieces that may be a little pricey but will last for a while (probably not forever, but for a while). For example, I have a new pair of “fashion sneakers” that were not cheap (not terribly expensive either), but are sustainably made by a company with fair trade practices, and these shoes have been perfect in MANY occasions (rather than buying 5 pairs of cheaply made shoes that end up costing the same amount anyway). I’ve gotten a ton of compliments for them, too!
Thank you for bringing up the hidden costs of fast fashion! Added onto all of the adverse effects you mentioned is the fact that landfills are being overrun with discarded clothing. Breaking that cycle is crucial!
Where did you get your shoes? I have been looking for good, ethically produced shoes and have had a lot of trouble finding them.
I try to think BIFL is a bad concept because a lot of stuff will not last a lifetime. Appliances and electronics for sure, maybe clothes depending how often you use them, furniture yes. But if you think the product is good for the price, quality and longevity then by all means splurge on it. I believe to be selective on this concept like my Vitamix blender which we bought around $350 three years ago. It’s one of our best purchases because the quality is awesome, we believe it’s a long term purchase of 10+ years and we like to use it a good amount of times. Most high quality items are not worth the cost but some depending on your needs are worth a high price.
This is SO the post I needed today! We are fully into major renovations, and are fighting off the nudges of, “While we are at it…” For example, we have opted for tile and wood flooring on the main floor and then (gasp!) laminate on the upper floors. Laminat has come a long way, and I think we are going to be just fine with it. We are also putting in baseboard heaters for now with the vent work to add a heat pump later… let’s see how hot it gets in our third floor bedroom before we lay out another $10k for that heat pump!
And your BED! One of those will be coming our way from Amazon too… We bought a Tempurpedic about 15 years ago (before everyone was into memory foam and you could find it everywhere), and I love it, but I would be very happy with a generic version, thank you!
Corelle – Over our lifetimes (we’re now Medicare-eligible) hubby and I have owned several sets of Corelle, ranging back to the cornflower blue and yellow tulip versions. The earliest ones, which are now elsewhere (I don’t remember exactly) I think were made of somewhat different stuff than the current ones, and they wore like iron, though I don’t think we had them as long as our current set.
We also had some stoneware in there, until I had a shoulder problem and they were too heavy. I think our daughter now has the stoneware.
The ones that have the 3-D wavy bands around the edges, as well as our current all-white, totally plain set, do wear in a particular location – which is the edges of the item. If you have service for more people than you routinely feed on them, you should rotate the stack in the cupboard to spread out the wear. Eventually they will chip non-catastrophically on those edges, and shed little shards. It is also possible then for the edges to stain.
I’ve also broken one of those large serving bowls – smacked it on the faucet when washing it.
Kettle – I used to use a kettle on the stove, non-whistle – and let it boil down one time too many. Nothing dangerous, but cleaning them at that point is a pain. We now usually boil water for tea in the microwave, and make coffee in a Keurig, with refillable cups. However, when this one dies, we’re going the electric kettle and pour-over route. Having said that, now the Keurig will last nearly forever.
BIFL – tastes and needs change, and you have no idea how much they will change. Just something to keep in mind.
KitchenAid mixer – my mother bought me one when I got married, now 43 years ago. Still have it, had one repair on it, minor. My mother always wanted one, but lived with her old Sunbeam. Eventually my sister and I bought her a KitchenAid, which she loved until she died, and we then gave it to my cousin. She never liked the ones where the bowl went up and down on a crank, which she used in a kitchen that did communal baking for a congregation. She and I both had the largest capacity available at the time in the tilt-head model.
When our daughter moved away to work after college and she tried to make stiff-batter cookies without it, she struggled. Then someone gave one of her roommates a KitchenAid. I’m not sure the roommate ever uses it, but daughter does.
I’m a big proponent of buying the better version, but not best, if it’s something you use often, but if you can live with decent, go with decent! I am a generic brand fanatic, so this is probably why. Even high end products break, plus when it comes to consumer goods, they generally follow an exponential curve: once you are past a certain price point for a specific item, any more money doesn’t make it better or longer lasting. For instance, an $800 dishwasher will not last twice as long as a $400 dishwasher, although it might have a few more desirable options (like buttons on the top vs the front panel, or perhaps one more dish setting that you really are never going to use anyway!). But a $400 dishwasher is definitely significantly better than a $200 dishwasher (more interior space, better water efficiency, etc).
I am a bit obsessed with Aldi, so I saw they had an electric pressure cooker for $40 in store and I snatched it up (it’s Aldi’s store brand electronics). As with any kitchen appliance, it’s a waste to spend a ton of money on something I don’t end up using. And while yes, an Instant Pot with more settings might only cost three times that, for me this electronic pressure cooker is good enough, and since Aldi stands behind their products with an excellent warranty, I don’t have to worry about getting a faulty item for the price. Now a smarter thing would be to get a brand name product used on Craigslist or at a thrift store–but with electronics, especially those that involve high levels of pressure, sometimes I like getting new to be safe so I usually go that route. But I have purchased a used Kitchenaid stand mixer (an old co-branded with Hobart one that is a BEAST), and was very pleased with results.
Great post, thank you for sharing your thoughts on the BIFL mindset!
I definitely agree with you about clothes. I have noticed that clothing quality has gone downhill over the years – one wash and the item is completely shrunk, stretched out, unraveling, etc. I promise I’m not a bad laundress either! A couple years ago I started buying most of my wardrobe from a resale shop in town. These pieces have become my favorite. They’re mostly name-brand at a steep discount, I assume they have been washed and worn before so there won’t be surprises once I get to them, and even if something goes wrong, they don’t cost enough for me to fret over! If after a season I no longer want the item, I do not feel bad giving it away to a friend or donating it either. Shopping this way is great for those who do not want to participate in the fast fashion world, which we know is damaging to the people who actually make the clothes and the environment. I no longer care what the fashion industry tells me I have to buy to be ‘on trend’, because at the end of the day they’re just another business trying to sell an ideal for a profit. As a bonus, I get a small thrill whenever someone compliments something I bought second-hand – feels even better than the initial high you get when you buy something new from the store. What a boon for our wallets and our minds!
I so agree with this sentiment! I do see that we live in a very unenvironmentally-friendly, disposable culture, so buying things that can be used many times is good, ie not things so cheap that they will break after a couple of months or are disposable to start with, for example cutlery and suchlike, or sweat-shop-made clothing, BUT secondhand very neatly breaks this cycle in the vast majority of cases.
I know so many people who take up something, be it a sport of some kind or a hobby, where they spend an absolute fortune, eye-watering amounts, on paraphernalia that may well be ”the best” and may even last many, many years, but… why MUST it be the very most expensive thing ever? Would a solid, good quality, mid-priced (or even slightly pricey) option not work just as well? We do try very hard NOT to go all out on stuff till we’re really sure it’s going to be very long term, and then of course one has a better idea of what one’s needs are likely to be and to purchase accordingly. My husband runs, he enjoys it, it’s very much hobby level, he’s no endurance iron-man athlete, he just likes it, goes several times each week, does the occasional half-marathon, it’s more a stress / health thing than anything else. He also happens to have oddly large and quite pernickety feet. As we live in South Africa, footwear is all imported, heinously expensive to start with AND limited in terms of general availability of sizes and unusual ranges. SO… he starts looking at getting the new pair when the old ones have several months to go and gets the very best option, the most economical one that is comfortable and able to withstand road-pounding. Also, crucially, he puts aside a little each month towards them, so when the Great Wallet Opening Moment arrives, it doesn’t hurt, not even a little! Luxurious frugality for the win… otherwise most of his clothing and accessories are old, old, old and inexpensive as anything. So glad we are free from the tyranny of Keeping Up With the Jones’s. It must be exhausting and so insecure-making.
I have a lot of objections to spending tons of $$$ on “forever” stuff. Stuff goes out of style or becomes functionally obsolete. You move or downsize. Needs change. There’s often a way to replace stuff for free or cheap (random people give us soooo much stuff because America is DROWNING in too much stuff!).
And then there’s the economic question – does it even make sense to spend big money on something considering the time value of money. An $80 item with a 10% discount rate = $8 per year opportunity cost of money. If I can buy a $16 item that performs similarly, I can replace it every 2 years and still be just as well off. And odds are it’ll last longer than 2 years (even cheap stuff lasts for a long time). An example is a coffee maker. We go the super cheap route and spend $10-15 on a coffee maker. We broke the carafe on the first one and it was cheaper to replace the entire thing for another $10-15. It’s worked flawlessly for the past 5-10 years and shows no signs of wearing out. It’ll probably last till we break the carafe again 🙂 I just need something to dump hot water over coffee grounds and catch the resulting dark liquids in a carafe (automatically).
Such a funny post! 😂 And really interesting too, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in a “I’ll buy it top notch, then I’ll KNOW it’ll last” mentality. Having said that, I’m GREEN with envy when I read what you Americans pick up on Craigslist, garage sales, second hand shops etc. In my little corner of Italy, these options are practically inexistent 😞
We get a very different perspective here in dear old Cape Town too, obviously completely different scenario from Italy. The poverty here is… very upsetting in a lot of cases and though by most standards, my family has a very normal, moderate life, certainly no wild luxuries, certainly never turn up our noses at used furniture nor cars or whatever, but by comparison to the overwhelming majority of people, we have unimaginable riches. When disposing of virtually anything, and I mean anything (think very rusty, broken-pedal, ancient child’s bike and worn-out pans and very elderly-though-clean bedding that is not even remotely new-looking), it is snapped up instantly and with joy. The privileges we have are always clear to me and I try very hard to A/ never be entitled or greedy B/ give away what is not needed and C/ try not to feel pointlessly guilty for being so fortunate. Whenever I feel inclined to be jealous, I think very carefully about the lady hauling that hideous trashed bike home with real happiness, to fix it up for her child’s birthday.
The hubs and I live in the US. My grandparents were sharecroppers until Granddaddy got a job in the village at the cottonmill when they were middle aged. They bought a small four room house and Grandmama thought it was a dream home….. especially once Granddaddy added a bathroom (toilet and tub) off of the back porch! Their way of living was use it up, wear it out, make do or do without. I know they would be appalled at the wastefulness of our society today…… throwing things out to buy a new one instead of repairing the old one, closets jammed with clothes and shoes the majority of which don’t get worn, people buying new cars every two to four years, building 3000 square foot houses for only two or three people to live in, paying hundreds of dollars every year for the newest phone……
I think we should all be appalled at the waste we generate in this country.
When I first stumbled upon the BIFL subreddit, I was ecstatic. A list of items that were high quality, that would last forever – could anything be more perfect? Luckily, I came to my senses before procuring a pile of super expensive items. You make some great points in this article and I’ll add one more to your list. The BIFL folks don’t seem to consider is technology and progress. Would a BIFL mixer or food processor from 30 years ago still be the BIFL choice of today? What about all kinds of weather specific fabrics that weren’t even invented 20 years ago? And imagine how pissed you would be if you had bought the most expensive top-of-line BIFL phone set from 15 years ago……
I have and use often my mother’s ancient slow cooker. It is 1975-dated, a very confronting shade of orange with brown flowers and my father was absolutely livid when she went and bought it (apparently), labelling it a total gimmick and fad (the man who never cooked). My mother bought the only brand available (sanctions, South Africa) and treated it carefully and properly and it works like an actual bomb. I know it won’t last forever, of course, but she really got a lot of use and now I am using it… as long as whatever you’re buying is unlikely to be massively superseded (or you genuinely don’t care if it is – the pot is pretty basic, no timers or anything, just a very slow function and a slightly faster one… and that’s that) then it seems more palatable to get excellent quality. My rule is, if it will almost certainly last a decade or more, then it’s worth considering. Otherwise, noooo…
To me BIFL is a case by case basis, and it’s usually balances with frugality. I recently bought a new (to me, it was used) lens for my camera. Since I shoot photos as part of my profession and need to do so in a variety of lighting situations, for a number of years I’d shot on my reliable 50mm, which at f/1.8 takes in an enormous amount of light. The fixed focal length forced me to be creative, since it’s essentially a portrait lens. But there have been plenty of situations in which I needed something wider and our work provided camera’s wide-angle lens is slow enough that it’s almost useless indoors.
The workhorse lens most use in my profession is the 24-70mm f/2.8. Fast enough for low light, and a good range of focal lengths for most of the situations a news photographer would come across. The problem? Nikon’s version is $1,800 new; Sigma just released a comparable lens at $1,299 new. A used Nikon runs around $1,000.
The solution? I saved my pennies for a while for a new lens, but I was also researching. It turns out, Nikon made a similar but now discontinued lens. It’s almost exactly the same except it’s 28-70, f/2.8. And a good clean used copy runs around $700. Did it stack up? Reading both professional and user reviews, everyone RAVED about this lens. I had the money saved up, so I bought it, and one weekend of photos has me hooked.
Bicycles can be the same way. A good, solid bicycle will last decades, but most people also don’t need the carbon fiber racing bike either. And those good, solid bicycles can be found on craigslist too, with patience. In fact, we have a bike shop nearby that sells used bicycles rebuilt by the owner, as well as new but affordable quality models. They’re not cheap Walmart bikes, but they’re also very affordable.
So I guess that summarizes my thoughts on many purchases: BIFL combined with research and balanced with frugality. I don’t think BIFL necessarily means buying the most expensive thing anyway, but I get that would be a motivation for a company to sell their product. And sometimes there just isn’t a BIFL option. A friend of mine used to run a smoothie shop. She was constantly buying blenders. She tried everything from the cheapest of the cheap to the highest grade she could find — they all seemed to last a matter of months. Eventually she just bought mid-grade blenders because they functioned the way she needed them too and seemed to last as long as the others.
It seems to me that the mid-range option — good enough to have quality materials but not so much that it hits that bell curve of diminishing returns — is often the best option.
I so agree with you on bicycles! Mr. FW owned a fairly expensive bike when he was commuting every single day in the city–and, best part, we then sold it on Craigslist before moving to the country.
Thank you for this post! It makes me feel better about our decision to purchase inexpensive bookcases from Wayfair instead of investing in “BIFL” bookcases. Although I love our bookcases and they are doing an admirable job of holding up our books, part of me felt guilty for not buying solid wood that would last “forever”. Why, though? The main complaint about inexpensive bookcases is that they don’t move well and they don’t hold heavy books. Well, we don’t plan on moving for a long, long time and most of our books aren’t that heavy. Wayfair for the win!
Sometimes the best way to BIFL is used. As others have pointed out, used items have proved their durability. Granted, you can’t always find what you want used, but if you’re patient and persistent, you often can. We bought a used camper off Craig’s list and it has proven so much more durable than the newer, fancier models owned by our friends. I have a Pfaff sewing machine I bought used from a dealer and it has been a dream machine.
As for chain saws — we used a cheaper one for several years. Then we inherited a Stihl from my dad. He had used it at least 10 years (maybe longer) and we have used it 8 and the difference between it and the el cheapo we had before is night and day. My husband has cut 6 cords of wood this year with no trouble at all.
I totally agree! That’s why we buy everything we possibly can used!
First, let me say that I agree! That being said, my BIFL attitude is a bit different. I’ve noticed that in our current consumer and disposable culture most things, even the high end ones, are no longer built to last. So with this in mind, I like to buy things for life. What that really means though is that I buy old things used or acquire them for free. Older things were typically built to last a long time!
For example, I wanted to get back into sewing, but didn’t have a sewing machine. I began to research machines and realized the ones that have lasted a long time are the old treadle variety. I’ve been looking for a good deal for over a year. Then a couple weeks ago I came across a circa 1948 working vintage electric machine at a garage sale for $10. I decided to buy it instead of paying more for a treadle – those things are expensive! Now I can get back into sewing and decide later if I need a treadle down the road. The machine I bought will likely last me for years if not for life.
I do buy some things new. Our electric kettle is a heavy duty ceramic that we’ve been enjoying for two years strong and it looks and works like new. It was $30 on sale. Bella brand for any of you who are curious about a nearly plastic free metal free option.
We also, on the recommendation of the Frugalwoods, purchased the lucid memory foam mattress a few days ago. It is incredibly comfortable! Because of reviews I also expect it to last a long time.
Sometimes, read most times, buying something for life doesn’t actually mean the most expensive “top of the line” model or option.
This is exactly what I was thinking as I read the article, but was having trouble putting into words. Especially when it pertains to furniture, I don’t want to have to buy it again. So, all of our “hard” furniture (not couches, easy chairs, mattresses) are very old-and a lot of them are from family which makes them special. Couches and chairs, we just accept hand me downs because the wear and tear of 8 kids makes almost anything unlikely to last too long.
When my fairly new propane stove died, I went with a 40+ year old version free from Freecycle. That’s where I got our piano, too…but when we decided that we didn’t actually enjoy it very much we got rid of it the same way we got it.
When we were first married we purchased a new or nearly new refrigerator, upright freezer, chainsaw, air conditioner, and washing machine. As they have died, we’ve bought older, better-made versions to replace them for a fraction of the cost.
I would love to see you write a blog about your frugal buying gone wrong as an example of what not to do. I have to believe you probably have some experience with this.
Great post. One additional factor is that there is constant technological improvement in the vast majority of consumer goods that puts constant deflationary pressure on items. The $800 flashlight in 10 years may be at the dollar store as the flashlight technology relentlessly moves forward 🙂
Love this! I agree with all of your points…changing tastes and needs, stuff breaking, etc. Even with car purchases, people seem to take the BIFL approach to feel better about buying brand new. “Well, I’ll drive it forever!” Maybe…but I reckon you can almost always get just as high of quality in a vehicle that’s even 2-3 years old and save a bundle. I like your advice to try out new hobbies before committing to the most expensive gear, too.
So true about cars! New cars are, in my opinion, the WORST.
I agree! Unless we were ridiculously, endlessly rich, which seems somewhat unlikely (ahem!), the real deflation of a new car seems totally stupid to me. In my mind, a very low-mileage, possibly demo model, with some warranty if possible, is the answer to best case scenario for a car. Yes, you want a decent car that is reliable, safe and will stand up to use for many years, but the latest and greatest and shiniest with the extra cup-holders? Why? Or at the very least, why would you put yourself in debt for that reason? If you are so wealthy you can pay cash and never notice the cost, awesome, good for you, but otherwise, nope.
I’d like to add a point #6 (though it may tie into #3) that to keep in mind when you buy something for life, you have to cart it around with you for your entire life. For people like me with itchy feet, this may not be a good idea – moving stuff is a pain! And expensive! It may make more sense to buy the cheap version that will only last a few years anyway and get rid of it when you move then to BIFL and take it with you. (At least for big things.) Once upon a time someone wrote into Apartment Therapy (I think it was) distraught because they had bought a $1,000 couch on their parents’ advice to BIFL and didn’t know how to cheaply move it across the country for their new job. Obviously the parents didn’t mention that that advice was conditional on the assumption the kid was going to be staying in the same place for the next 25 years.
Though if anyone knows of a BIFL umbrella, I’d love to hear about it.
That’s a great point!!
Actually, I have found that the more expensive the umbrella the worse my experience with it. The best ones acquired through the years either broke (so much for quality) or were stolen (I’ve been many places through the years where umbrellas had to be stashed at the door of the location). I’ve never found one used, so maybe there are some solidly built older models out there, but I do the $5 cheapies from Walmart and they last as long as any other I’ve ever had.
My family will tell you that I’m the most frugal person they know. I did purchase a kitchen aid mixer on sale and with a coupon many years ago when I had shoulder and arm issues and was facing the holidays without baking for my family and friends. I consider this a wonderful investment. On the other hand, I bought a beautiful cherry dining room table and 6 chairs for 80$ at a yard sale. I then sold the table and chairs I bought at an estate sale years ago for a $150 profit. So the answer to the original question is it depends.
One comment about your old hiking shoes. They will wear eventually, not wear so much as wear unevenly. This can lead to ankle problems which can lead to knee problems and so on. (Trust me, I know. Been there done that). When that happens, if you can’t resole, then get something newer that isn’t worn. Your body will thank you eventually.
Barbara is right. I nearly crippled myself with yard sale shoes. Everybody needs to be careful with used footwear. I found out (the hard way) that my body didn’t stay 32 forever, and often the footwear makes a lot of difference as you get older and your own body systems age and wear. I’m not a proponent of expensive footwear, of course, but I think the most frugal way is to buy sales on mid-level but new shoes or boots that fit your feet well, and then wear them into the ground. (Maybe not for life, but I make clothes last a lot of years 😊)
Yep, I’m not usually an advocate for used footwear (except for kids’ shoes since they’re often barely worn). I go into greater depth on why new shoes are important in this post: How To Find Anything and Everything Used: A Compendium Of Frugal Treasure Hunting.
A podiatrist of my acquaintance bangs on relentlessly about seriously never using hand-me-down shoes UNLESS for babies not yet walking or incredibly, incredibly lightly used (as in worn for less than a month total, only occasionally). Apparently it stores up lots and lots and lots of back and knee and hip trouble that manifests itself later in life. It seems fine now, but the resulting issues can be very dramatic. His view is that you buy somewhat cheap shoes that are comfortable, go barefoot as much as possible, and replace quite often. I have 3 boys, so the temptation is there, but it’s one thing I don’t hand down.
I spent a lot more money than I usually would buying a leather version of a handbag shape that I buy all the time. It came from Fossil. It didn’t last a second longer than any of my other bags so I switched back to mock leather. (Though if you have Mia Tui bags there check them out, they are go-to brand these days for practicality !)
Great article! My husband and I say “buy once and buy well,” but that does not translate into “buy it for life.” For us that means something not shoddy that fits our needs. It’s often something off our local Facebook yard sales lists, or Craig’s List.
90% of the time the cheap stuff from the thrift stuff works find. I’ve learned to love the ugly, different and out of style stuff you find at thrift stores or garage sales.
Sure, I have enough money I could go buy any high-end version of the same thing, but why bother when a used item for a 1/10 the price will fill that same need.?
It’s an important frugal lesson to learn about ourselves — Our needs and wants are often fleeting. Underspend at first until you know your true needs.
Corelle !! We “registered” Corelle, Snowflake pattern, for our wedding. This has been our everyday dishware for 42 years and 3 children. Yes, there has been the occasional shattering of a bowl or plate but no fading or staining.
I totally agree with the sentiment.
With just about everything in life, we’re renters, not buyers. We often do better thinking of things in their cost per year over their useful life, rather than the initial cost.
that is such excellent advice, I truly have not thought in those terms, or not so clearly, yes. Totally. It’s fine to buy good quality for things that will be used a lot and will regularly improve life for the foreseeable, but that’s not a reason for the latest and greatest of every single thing ever…
Good post. I think social and environmental impact should also inform our purchasing decisions. Just about every purchase we make is a social or political statement. Exploitive fast fashion, over use (and disposal) of synthetics/plastics, cheap factory farmed foods, use of rare earth minerals in current technologies, consumer excess/bulk buying/hoarding. So many factors determine the best solution when acquiring consumer products. Buy it for Life, Buy the best you can afford, The best tool for the job – all need to be considered in the context of a zillion other issues. There is also a lot of false value in our consumer products whether very expensive or very cheap.
Totally agree, with one exception: Our cast-iron Le Creuset pot was purchased by my parents in the 1970s, and still looks brand new. We received another one as a wedding gift, and it too looks brand new. There is no motor or other components to break, and I don’t think you could destroy them if you tried. We use them every day and we certainly won’t outgrow them or ever need to stop cooking . For frugal weirdos building a wedding registry, I highly recommend them. The sticker shock is painful, but you really are buying for life!
I agree that it’s a false dichotomy. I remember reading an article in 1990 or so about the three ways to buy kitchenware that proposed that there were three options:
1) Buy the very cheapest quality, which would need to be replaced.
2) Buy the very highest quality, which would last.
3) Buy from Goodwill, which would also need to be replaced.
I remember thinking this was a flawed premise, as I was buying from Goodwill at the time (still am) but was buying cheap high quality stuff. For example, I’d just bought a dark brown Descoware dutch oven, which was a highly undesirable color at the time. However, 27 years have passed and I’m still using it. Buying used allows you to choose the tippy top of quality items while staying on budget.
For that item, quality mattered. However, other things that I buy do *not* need to be the pinnacle of quality, as they function just fine the way they are.
Yes, things break. I am almost always going for the cheapest thing, with rare exceptions. I would rather be nicely surprised by the cheap thing that lasts for years and years (this happens often) than disappointed by the expensive thing that breaks too soon. I call this the This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things rule.
For example, I own many pairs of sunglasses costing between free and $5.00. This is because I lose them or break them, so they are basically expendable. I’ve had to do the same thing with winter hats. I lost two expensive wool winter hats and can’t rely on myself to not lose any new expensive ones, so I bought several hats from Old Navy for $1.50 each. A lot of my tools were hand-me-downs or found at garage sales. They’re not great, but I’ll use them until they break and then replace them. The only thing I worry about is how wasteful this can end up being. Like, going through three pairs of $25 shoes in the same amount of time as going through two pairs of $75 shoes. But I think overall we are doing okay on the waste front.
Sunglasses are such a great example!!! We must have a black hole filled with flashlights and sunglasses around here somewhere… I swear I have no idea where they go. Best part is that we can get polarized UV blocking shades for under $10!
I agree with you on this sentiment. We really strive to abide by the “make do with what you’ve got” mentality. Case in point is when our washer finally gave out last week. I’ve hemmed and hawed about whether we should have it repaired again (it’s 12+ years old), search for a used model or buy a new model. Modern thinking – aka BIFL – crept in and had me shopping online for a new model the very day it quit working (I have 3 young sons so laundry is a BIG deal around here). I came to my frugal senses and did some looking on craigslist to see if we could find one that would work for us for the next 10 years without paying $500+. And what do you know, we found a 2 year old Speed Queen, which retails for upwards of $700 new, for a fraction of that cost at $150. I scrubbed down the interior of the washer and ran a vinegar cleaning cycle and it’s as good as new. The point is that the BIFL mentality is so prevalent that even after years of sourcing mostly used products that old thinking can easily creep back in.
Thanks you for the reminder!!
Speed Queen is, without a doubt, the best washing machine on the market! When my Whirlpool was going out, I started researching washing machines. I read thousands of reviews and was becoming frustrated. For every person that raved about a particular machine there was another that said it was garbage. And then I ran across a comment referring to Speed Queen machines. So I looked up reviews on this machine that I’d never heard of before. The only negative review that I found at the time was from a woman who was short and had trouble reaching down into the deep tub….wow! I was chuffed! The machine was just what I was looking for…..a simple machine that didn’t have a bunch of bells and whistles, didn’t sanitize or steam things or talk to me or order detergent on it’s own……it just washes our clothes really, really well. So I bought one brand new at about $650. I don’t regret a penny of it. That machine is the Sherman tank of washing machines! My appliance repair guy said that I’ll likely never have to buy another washing machine because they’re built to last. If my dryer ( which I rarely use) ever goes out I will replace it with a Speed Queen model. My only regret? Speed Queen doesn’t do kitchen appliances.
This is where I love having experience cooking in my parent’s house and then cooking in a dorm/college apartment. I now know exactly what I will really miss (bread machine, stand mixer), but also that I can (and currently am) doing without those things, so I can wait until I can buy either new or used the brand that I know I love. I put off buying any sort of kitchen appliance until I knew I absolutely needed it, and thus currently own a blender (pizza sauce/aioli/milk shakes/salsa) which is surprisingly well made for how cheap it was and an electric kettle. I plan on *someday* upgrading the electric kettle because my current one only makes enough hot water for two small cups of tea, but there’s no reason to buy a mid-step electric kettle because the current one is a fine stop-gap for a few years.
I’ve also discovered with waiting that sometimes people will just happen to be giving one away. I didn’t have a slow cooker once my roommate moved out but didn’t want to buy one because someone had already gotten me one as a bridal shower present, and it made no sense to buy a slow cooker to use for four months. Then my fiancé’s upstairs neighbors gave us their old slow cooker that they found while they were packing!
I do think buy-it-for-long-term is a good philosophy once you know you’ll use something. For example, I went out and bought LL Bean clogs because I was tired of my shoes falling apart in 9-12 months. But I have pretty boring tastes and own four pairs of shoes (clogs, casual sneakers, running shoes, snow/rain boots), so I knew it was a good investment for something I’d wear every day. One thing I’ve noticed about the BIFL site (though they have some excellent recommendations) is that their BIFL brands are more expensive than just a good alternatives. For example, some high end cast iron brand I can’t remember instead of Lodge. Lodge is great, not that expensive, and easily found at thrift stores.
Inflation and debt have grown to epic proportions and is a direct result of bad thinking. Take houses for example, the disparity between what the materials cost to build a house to what that house is priced at these days is absurd. Over the last couple of years, I’ve taken the time to learn about what makes clothing well made. The “fast fashion” industry is notorious for exploiting labor, contaminating the environment, all while making garbage under the umbrella of “trends.” These companies are the ones that determine whether or not something has gone out of style (whatever that means) and that is always profit driven. The flip side is that quality holds up vastly better, it’s classic and always worth the price even if one gets it free. Another example, furniture can be found for very little but if the quality (dove tailed joints, etc.) is there then it makes sense to invest in refinishing in order to have something that will last. The concept of trends has been built into a larger issue which has contributed to our landfill economy. Marketing, sales has contaminated our thinking but’s a fallacy. Frugality is rooted in wisdom, strength, independence and intelligence.
The mattress game is so overpriced! Our Amazon mattresses goes over so well with our guests that they think we spent a fortune on it. I bet we didn’t even spend 20% of the price they have in their head.
$80 kettle isn’t bad at all. I wish we splurged for a higher end one like yours. We use it every day and the sad thing is…ours isn’t very good. It was $25 I believe but wouldn’t last past 2 years of use.
I definitely find this interesting, as the BIFL mantra is what a large part of the minimalism community is based around. It’s true though that tastes change, and you shouldn’t use the BIFL excuse to live above your means. I can see that being an easy trap; especially with minimalism rising in popularity.
I found myself torn while reading this post. I completely agree with all of your points, but at the same time am a strong believer in buying quality items that will last. Not the most expensive, and not because I will necessarily use them forever, but high quality that will be useful to someone for a long time. The planned obsolecence (okay, I can’t figure out how to spell that one….) of much of today’s manufactured goods bothers me very much from an environmental standpoint. Buying used, getting fewer features on an item, using hand-me-downs, etc. are wonderful things to do in order to not have more cheap junk created in order for us to save money. I’d rather (and I admit I have the privilege of being able to do this) spend a bit more on an item that will last and then hand it down to whoever can use it when I no longer need it than buy a cheap item that will break and end up in the landfill shortly.
Would you share how you use the kettle to make your oatmeal? Probably a dumb question, but sometimes the simplest things elude me. Thanks!
Not a dumb question at all! Mr. FW pours boiling water from the kettle over the oats (we buy bulk, raw oats) and then puts a cover over the bowls to let the oats cook. More in this post: Breakfast: The Hidden Destroyer.
Any details on how long you cover and how much water you use? I’d love to try it out.
we do something similar and what you do is, put enough boiling water over that they’re generously covered, then quickly cover and leave to stand for 2-3 minutes. If it’s a tiny bit sloppy, zap in the microwave for 1 minute and it’s done… season to taste and voila!
Nice perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in the perceived need to buy the best whatever it is.
Speaking of underpants, I have worn Ex Officio for years, literally, but have discovered that Duluth Trading Co. has very similar (almost identical) unders for a little less, and I think they are more comfortable.
Good to know re. Duluth! We will check that out if we ever need new pairs!
Being an Exofficio convert myself since three years ago – how many pairs have lasted you 8 years? (I have 5.)
I’ve never believed that Corelle dishware is unbreakable…I broke SO MANY of those plates and bowls when I was child. *hangs head in shame* I am extremely clumsy and I swear I broke at least one of them every time I did dishes when I was a kid. Drove my parents crazy.
I don’t think you need to buy top-end to make things last for a long time. I’m not big on shopping for clothes (or anything else, really), so I keep the ones I have until they basically fall apart. And this can be a surprisingly long time, even for relatively cheap items. I have a dress that I bought for $100 for my sister’s high school graduation in 2006, around the time I turned 15, that I most recently wore again at my brother-in-law’s wedding this July. It’s a relatively simple style, so it doesn’t look dated, and it’s still in pretty much perfect condition. Unlike you, Mrs. Frugalwoods, I am totally cool with wearing the same clothes I wore in college (or even earlier!), since my life and tastes haven’t changed all that much (yet).
I agree that it’s best to experiment with a cheaper option, to figure out which features actually matter to you, before you decide whether or not you need to upgrade to a more expensive alternative. Often the less-expensive item will be sufficient to meet your needs. If it ends up being an item where your user experience is dramatically impacted on a regular basis by some lack of feature(s) (there are few items that actually have this significant of a role in our lives, in my experience), you can then confidently make a new purchase where you know that there will be a tangible benefit to you for the increased cost, and not just hope that your experience with the more expensive item will be better.
Howdy Mrs. F: I tried to send you an e-mail but it didn’t go through. I probably screwed it up somewhere. Anyway what I wanted to tell you was that I tripped over a post on how to make indoor drying racks out of old baby cribs or playpens. This looks nifty and I’m going to give it a try as soon as I can scrape up the fixings. Go to “Northwest Edible Life” and press “Start here” and look for the “list of favorites” and then press “drying rack out of play pen”. There you go for another project! It can be used indoors in a laundry room (some folks put it up by the wood stove) and in summer move it out to the porch/deck.
I think this is an important concept to know as newlyweds.
We started out with a lot of second-hand and thrift-shop items. We bought $15-$30 bookcases when we went to garage sales and thrift stores. Some of them were really cheap and have started to bow in the middle. But they have lasted us well for two years and allowed us the time and money to buy nicer shelves. This past month, we splurged on $350 worth of bookcases. (We were looking for very specific requirements: at least seven feet tall, good quality, something we could use for years.) After researching the buy-it-new option (IKEA was about the only store with bookcases like that) and the DIY option (considering materials, labor/time, and final weight), we decided to go with the third option, buy it used. Our local Habitat-for-Humanity store had two 6′ wide by 7′ tall bookcases and a 4′ wide by 7′ tall bookcase for far less than the IKEA option and about the same price as the DIY option. Plus, we were using an item that had been in the store for several months. We plan to paint the bookcases to match our décor, and then resell some of the mismatched ones we are currently using.
Your method for procuring quality items sounds the same.
1. We waited for two years by using cheap and free bookcases.
2. We considered future use, cost, and quality.
3. We looked into the three options: buy it new, build it, and source it used.
4. We bought it on sale from an organization that charitably benefits our community.
A lot of our newlywed furniture doesn’t match, or is cheap, or looks a little out of place in our recently updated rental. But spending 2+ years with this furniture has allowed us to evaluate what works, what we actually use, what pieces are really essential to replace, and what style we actually like. It’s fun for us to hunt for a specific piece of furniture when we have the money, or to revamp it ourselves. Now that we’ve started to prudently update some of our furnishings, this knowledge has allowed us to be wise stewards of our resources.
This is so great! One thing I’m wary of buying for life is clothing. There are a few pieces that I have splurged on that are basics. But even when it comes to basics, sometimes our tastes can change in terms of cut. Not every white tshirt is going to be flattering forever, etc. I definitely try to gage before hand how many years I can use an item before “buying for life”! For things like home goods I’m even more wary because I haven’t done much decorating and don’t know myself. I don’t want to end up going crazy and buying such expensive furniture pieces that are no longer my taste in a few years!
So I saw a few comments on baby car seats, as it turns out a cheap seat is just as good as an expensive one, they all have to pass the same tests in order to be certified. Used you have to be careful that it hasn’t been in an accident but if its from a friend you are fine. I have a horse rider based blog, I wrote an entire article on the fact that a $35 helmet is just as safe as a $1000 helmet (yes you read that right). They all have to pass the same tests. Getting a used helmet works the same as getting a used carseat, if it’s been in a crash, replace it, if you know who it’s coming from and can guarantee it hasn’t been compromised, then go for it.
I tend to buy cheap. I will buy used, or the lower end of something, usually. For instance, I have a Toyota but it is a Yaris. It suits my needs 95% of the time. I tend to buy as cheap as possible when I buy appliances, and so, far, I have had good success. I do buy very simple, such as a lower priced frig, with no icemaker, etc. I have been disappointed about a pan I bought from Walmart, made by Mainstay. It was under $15, but it split. I bought another one, it is starting to split. I went to the thrift store and bought another brand for $5. I think this pan will last. The only reason I usually buy pans new is because of the large amount of meth that is cooked in this area. of the country, and I did not want to take the risk with a used pan. However, after two lousy new pans, I took the risk and bought a used pan, for a third of the price of a new pan. I usually buy thrift store clothes, including what I wore to my daughter’s wedding reception. I looked great, if I do say so myself…lol. The dress cost me $30. I did buy a pair of pants at J.C. Penney’s new, but that is a rarity. However I have worn them weekly for the past three years so I guess my $15 was well spent. I use a cheap, $20 flip phone. I just do not care about phones. I can talk on it and text, so that is all I need. My house built in 1950, cost $37,000, and is a somewhat sketchy neighborhood. but, even nice houses can have lousy neighbors/crime, so I am ok with it. The house suits my needs. I got my dog and cat from the pound. I love my dog and cat, and do not care that they are mutts. I do have good health insurance, through my work. I also have good car insurance. I wear makeup from the drug store, cut and dye my own hair, do my own nails, so I guess I am not concerned about looking perfect, but I do want to look professional.
However, I should add, I really need some” new to me” thrift store picked furniture. All and I mean all of my furniture is falling apart…lol
This is great and reminds me of another popular pseudo-frugal trend that I’ve been bothered by…..minimalism (of the Marie Kondo variety). That philosophy says throw everything away since you can always buy them again in future if you need them! As appealing as it is to live in a clutter-free space, I’ve been thinking that if I had a frugality blog (hint, hint) I’d write a post about how “minimalism” is NOT the same as real frugality! Just think, it could become a blog series about pseudo-frugal trends! 🙂
Ahh yes, I agree and I actually cover that very topic here: My Quest For A Clutter-Free Life and offer my definition of minimalism here: Frugal Minimalism: Do Less, Buy Less, Worry Less, Live More.
Minimalism and frugality can certainly coincide, but you’re right, they are NOT one and the same! I find that I am naturally a very minimalist person (it makes me feel less anxious), but I also need to feel prepared for whatever life throws me. ENTER: carefully crafted storage space! Do I need 20 pens out on that shelf? NO! I’ll leave 2, and put the rest in my craft box (but sort out the broken ones first!). Do I need all the scotch tape in the kitchen drawer? NO! I’ll still buy the cheaper multipack, and put the extras packed away elsewhere. And those spare sheets? Folded neatly in a spare drawer.
I strive to have everything that’s visible in my home quite minimal; I don’t like clutter. But I just could not throw it all away until I need it again! How stressful!
Hi folks, this really struck a chord with me, especially the mattress part. Our mattress is older than I am … Grandma bought it for the guest bedroom before I was born in 1961 (do the math!) but it was only used regularly after Hubby and I married in 1985 … and used nightly ever since. Grandma got a good one … we are still using it now, flipping it religiously so it gets even wear, and have added a thick piece of plywood between the mattress and box springs because we both prefer a VERY FIRM mattress.
I was also fortunate enough to have inherited Grandma’s cast iron Griswold Dutch oven skillet – oh, the many uses in which such a marvelous implement can be empolyed! We love our wintertime stews which have been cooking up good smells and providing many and many a tasty, thrifty meal!
Grandma’s White Rotary 77 sewing machine is also mine, the same one that stitched up my mother’s white velvet wedding gown back in the 1950’s. And now, I sew pillowcases from old sheets, curtains from thrift-shop yard goods, tea towels to dry off our much-loved cast-off dishes.
I feel sad every time I see worthy, neglected articles passed by in favour of the latest-greatest misconceptions. Thanks for giving all of us something to think about in this regard.
My husband is a retired chef and needs good knives (he found them at a CHKD thrift store!); I am a “lay a pretty table” person, and I do better than my best at yard sales and the thrift shop.
We both like “nice” clothes and can find them at the thrift shop, at yard sales … or even dropped off at our county dump! There’s all kinds of ways to invest in good things … you just have to keep your ego out of the equation.
Love your postings, folks. Hubby and I have excellent discussions because of same.
I think you hit on an excellent point when you said you just have to keep your ego out of the equation. How many items are purchased because of ego and societal pressure to keep up with the Jones?
This has literally been on my mind constantly lately. Last year, we sold our tiny condo and the mostly used furniture and pretty much everything we own to live in a travel trailer to pay off the remainder of my husband and I’s student loans. WE ARE FREE NOW! And just bought a duplex and are remodeling it as an income property that we will live in owner/occupy style. Now, comes my point: we have to furnish a home from scratch!! Massive shoppers high or fragile nightmare? I plan on BIFLing pretty much nothing and using Costco, craigslist, and thrift stores to furnish my new home. So excited that others are doing this as well, I need encouragement to stay on the financial straight and narrow road!
Oh yeah, you can totally furnish a home through Craigslist–that’s what I did! The key for me was patience and not feeling the need to furnish every room immediately (case in point, we still have an almost completely empty dining room in this house 🙂 ). Things will find their way to you for free or cheap–happens to me all the time. Good luck :)!
I agree with you 100% !
Except one little side comment you threw in there that you could sell your couch when you upgrade to a bigger one. Don’t! Keep it! Pretty soon you’ll have two kids who want to jump on the couch and it’ll be wonderful to let them jump on their own. Or move it to a non-traditional room– we have a love seat in the girls’ room which is ideal for reading bedtime stories, there’s room for a parent and two kids on there comfortably, and in a pinch it could be used for a sleepover. Add a couch, but don’t subtract that one!
I don’t like the “buy it for life” philosophy too much because I know what is available used and at what cost. I recently broke a salad spinner and wanted to replace it. The nice stainless steel one I found was about $50. I checked my favorite thrift store and bought a nice plastic one for $2. So, the new one would cost 25 used ones. I doubt I’ll break that many of them. I probably won’t even break this “new” one.
As I was starting to set up my own household, I remember looking at my Mother’s cookware set that she bought when I was a baby (and used for many years after this point) and figured this was something I should not be afraid to spend money on. I love to cook and if I have to use and look at this stuff for DECADES, I want it to work well and be something I love using. 35 years later it’s still with me – no regrets. I only sprang for the vitamix after burning up one too many of the also rans. But for most things BIFL doesn’t make sense. I think as with most things there is no one right answer – every time you have to decide when and how much you should spend on something – to make you happy and reach your goals.
Many great points in your article. I would like to add that if everything in your house is expensive and you do not plan on ever replacing it, it could be stressful to have families with kids or pets visiting. Even adults might feel uncomfortable in your home, especially if they do leave a stain on your rug or a chip in your table. You don’t want to be in a position where your possessions own you, instead of the other way around. P.S. we have the exact same kettle!
Wonderful point! With a child and a dog, I can attest it would be very stressful if we owned expensive furniture that we had to constantly “protect.”
I find the mattress example really interesting because of how it ties to our current sleeping situation.
We started experimenting with floor sleeping in January and found that we were actually fairly comfortable on a carpeted floor with minimal padding – moreso even than in a regular bed. Over time we did have a few issues with our backs or shoulders (although less than we had when we were sleeping in our old bed) and decided we wanted to “up our game” a bit.
My wife borrowed a foam mattress topper from her mother, which was a bit of an upgrade but I had been hoping we would get to try out a Japanese roll-out sleeping mat. It’s basically a thin futon mat that rolls up. We’re in the midst of a “nothing new year”, so we needed to either find a used one or wait until January to purchase a new one.
We knew we were fine waiting so we decided to hold out and see if anything came up.
Sure enough, opportunity knocked – I caught an ad on freecycle where a college student was giving one away. I got a hold of her and we got it. We’ve been sleeping on it for over a week and it’s been amazing. A new one off amazon would have only been $80, but free is a whole lot better!
I actually pull the futon mattress off my Walmart purchased futon, put it on my living room rug, and sleep on it. In the morning, I put it back on the metal futon frame. My futon is the one piece of furniture I have new in my house, and it cost me $125. I do this because, for whatever reason, sleeping on a regular bed does not seem to help my previously injured back. I can get through the day without back issues if I sleep on my futon mattress.
This blog reminds me that my father-in-law’s flashlight is still inside his wall. It got put in there when a bathroom fan was being installed. It might be a time capsule now.
In another vein, as possible flashlight alternative, some trouble lights are chargeable, lightweight, handheld, maybe with hook for hanging.
I admittedly know nothing about cutting wood, but have you considered getting a crosscut saw instead of a chain saw? It’s probably just the writing, but an article I came across while regretfully wasting time (https://www.outsideonline.com/2140756/why-crosscut-saw-ultimate-fitness-tool) convinced me that it would be worth thinking about a crosscut saw for the refined design, utility, and ubiquity of used options (regardless of the fitness benefits mentioned in the title) if I ever became a person who needed to regularly cut wood.
But Mrs. Frugalwoods, what if a really BIFL item can be bought on sale? ; P I remember purchasing Copic markers, the master of all art markers, for around $14.00 for 6 markers instead of for $37 bucks? 🙂 Love me some rare 60% off Michaels coupons! Ergo, I haven’t used the markers quite yet, but I plan to! I guess you can say they were a wasted expense then, but hey, they were on sale. : P
But I totally get you on the BIFL merchandise! Why I shy away from it is because it is too expensive! Sheesh. Have you seen what they charge for some BIFL products? It’s insanity! Why would I pay that much for something when something cheaper would do? I agree with others that sometimes you just pay more money up front for the brand name, logo, or the PRIVILEGE of owning said product with a pricey logo on it. : / Frugal folks, you must forgive me, but I usually like doing the logo thing with purses, but not other stuff. But all of the purses I buy with pricey logos on them are either from discounts stores or on sale for cheap somewhere. : P I don’t pay top dollar for purses folks, haha. 🙂
Have a beautiful start to your week, Mrs. Frugalwoods! : )
I once bought an expensive Rotadent toothbrush from my dentists office. It came with a lifetime warranty, so I thought it was worth the price. But, once it breaks and you get the replacement, the replacement was only warranted for 1 year! Rip off! I have their new & improved replacement now and it falls apart every time I use it. Next time I am considering buying a pricey item, I have to remember to look at reviews online. Had I done that, I might have seen all the negative reviews online.
Great post, and not only comprehensive, but personally humorous as well, as I’ve not only lived the water kettle adventure EXACTLY as you have (including same current kettle), but also (embarrassingly enough) the underwear trial as well. My most important takeaway refutation of the ‘buy quality’ mantra? You said it; tastes change. Buying something that will ‘last forever’ becomes quite a burden when you really wish it would die, and it won’t.
A timely post for us. We are moving cross country soon and will need to shed some furniture for the move. As almost all our furniture is second hand, it is easy to let it go. In fact the only thing we were adamant about keeping was our leather couch/sofa bed, because it was expensive! We only made this purchase as our current house had no spare room, and this couch was a) leather, so durable and easy to clean, and b) has a inner spring mattress so it’s actually comfortable for guests to sleep on. It has proved its worth over the years.
I live in New Zealand, and find it is actually hard to find quality items anymore, even if the brand is supposed to be high end. I love watching a British show called Shop Well for Less, and they do blind tests on household items. In almost every case, the mid-priced item outperforms the most expensive.
I agree with most of the comments here but would like to add a few thoughts. Both my husband and I grew up in very frugal households and we strive to be frugal in our own life. Over the past few years I have been helping our frugal parents clean out basements, closets, sheds, cupboards,etc. Ugh. These are seniors who grew up on farms and during World Wars.
BIFL or ‘keep it because you may need it later’ works for VERY few things. The eventual disposal of things can be expensive as well as environmentally awful. Therefore, I have a new house rule about purchases/gifts- there needs to be an exit strategy in place at acquisition. It really causes you to think about the life cycle of the item.
We have had to pay for removal of a truckload of parental items because not even the thrift stores or “free” places would take them. The garbage company also charges for excess removal and there is no ‘trade area’ at the dump. The amount of gas making trips to Goodwill, Salvation Army and other donation spots is incredible. The cost of time and energy is also a factor. Storing BIFL items if you aren’t using them isn’t free.
Acquire less and acquire thoughtfully. Pass on what you aren’t using because there are people who could desperately use that item now.
Final thoughts- things rust and mold if not properly stored and maintained. Elastic disintegrates. Fabric gets yellow and mothridden. Technology becomes obsolete and contains toxic components. Old painted items often have lead paint. Old harder plastic becomes brittle. Storage ‘solutions’ cost money. Items with sentimental or actual dollar value can get lost in the morass of saved BIFL items.
This is a great point, Lori. Thank you for sharing this perspective!
Great points Lori. I helped clean out my frugal grandparents’ 3-car garage after my grandfather’s death and it was absolutely overwhelming. Just to give one example, he had coffee cans stacked on floor to ceiling shelves full of used nails, used screws, and used sparkplugs. As it turned out the day never came when he might’ve needed that stuff.
It was an eye-opening experience and something I vowed not to put my own kids through. Like you said, getting rid of all that stuff costs money and most of it ended up in a landfill.
We now have a rule about “free” stuff that comes into the house: there has to be a plan for where to store this free item and two similar items that we already have need to be re-homed.
Mrs. and Mr. FW: Dang, ya’ll are hard on underwear.
Very good points. I dread this same cleaning coming in my and my husband’s future.
Recently my mother asked for help in cleaning out specific things from my/my sisters’ childhood. Mostly baby and kids clothes, a few toys. I sorted through the boxes of clothes, and kept a small box of wearable things for my future children. But most of the clothes weren’t salvageable 🙁 Like you said, elastics disintegrate, and fabrics deteriorate. Many things could not be worn again. How sad! I wish my mother had donated them all soon after we outgrew them – all of those clothes could have been worn at least a handful more years before wearing out! So sad that they instead sat in storage for 25 years.
One thought on this subject : how do you decide what extra stuff to keep, and what not? I mean, we have plenty of good stuff (bought or hand me down) and we have less good stuff that serves as back up. But where do you draw the line? Do you keep and store everything *just in case* or do you make a selection and get rid of the extra stuff? Do you accept everything people give you for free? I struggle with drawing the line.
Could you please do a post about cleaning products? Your home always looks so tidy, would like the inside scoop!
I feel like I have to combat this every time I read posts by (some) other minimal/frugal writers. How many times I have heard along the lines of “get rid of the junk and replace it with something that will last!”
But that misses the point of USING what you have! It is much more frugal to use whatever you already have, and then whenever it is no longer usable, consider replacing it. And then, replacing it might not even be necessary, and you may decide the ‘junk’ option actually lasted quite a while, and buy ‘junk’ again.
I have these bathroom towels, 4 of them. They are actually old beach towels, with silly flowers, sunshines, and cartoon characters all over them. Two were the towels I took with me off to college dorm life, 2 were my husband’s for the same reason. We moved in together, and brought them along. Five years have gone by, we STILL have these towels. They are faded, they are extremely dated, they are quite juvenile and we wouldn’t choose them again. But the WORK! A towel just needs to dry my body. We’ve agree to not replace them with ‘grownup’ towels until they are truly not functional any longer. But some would say I should have replaced them as soon as I moved out as an adult. No married couple should have a spongebob towel! How silly.
So true!! I was thinking this about our bedsheets the other night–they’ve got to be at least 20 years old (hand-me-downs from my parents) and they were NOT expensive to begin with. And yet, they’re still chugging along just fine!
First, love your blog. Helps keep me inspired. I was thinking about this yesterday. I purchased (yes!) a cheap plastic toaster for $5 a few years ago. I use it frequently, and it is starting to loose it’s glamour for me. But the darn thing just works so well! Oh, I guess I will have to just keep it and use it until it finally, if ever, breaks! On the other hand, about 35 years ago I bought an Oster blender for $1 at a garage sale. I picked up an extra glass container for it for $1 at a later date, worrying that the original might break eventually. I’m happy to say that even though I moved from California to Florida about 25 years ago, the blender is still in perfect condition. Unfortunately it’s avocado green. Doesn’t really go with my carrara marble countertops, my one huge splurge, but because I want the minimalist kitchen, it stays in the pantry unless I need it. One of my best investments ever!
Such a great post! I’m so glad you shared. Lately, I’ve been a bit frustrated with the way the “minimalism” trend has been warped to embrace stuff (like spending lots of money on anything you do buy, like you talk about here) or to try and get away with the least amount of work possible (or similar things). As with most things in life, I tend to find that a balanced life is found by avoiding extremes (which sounds like such a “duh” thing, but it took me a surprising amount of time to really understand!). So, as with anything, frugality and minimalism included, it’s good to avoid extremes and realize that there is a time to spend and a time to not spend, a time to cut corners on cost and a time not to. I thought this post was so well-done! I love it.
Good post. I didn’t know “buy it for life” was even a thing. Being discerning and only making expensive purchases when they make good economic sense is definitely the ticket. Since we have been using an $80 6-inch mattress topper as an actual mattress for the past 10 years, and we generally buy everything else used or inexpensively, I think I can say that my $295 Zojirushi Induction Rice Cooker qualifies as an uber-expensive BIFL item in my current inventory.
The mattress topper we got at Walmart in lieu of an actual bed turned out to be a sweet deal because it has an inch of memory foam on the top and is very, very comfortable. But, the Zojirushi is the Cadillac of rice cookers since it also makes rolled oats, quinoa, amaranth, and pilafs perfectly, as well as stews, bread, and steamed items. We use it more than a stovetop or oven. It saves electricity and doesn’t heat up the kitchen. I had to get frustrated with three cheap rice cookers before I saw the light and bought the “Cadillac”. Now I may invest in an Instant Pot pressure cooker to help with cooking beans (among many other things), but I’ll spend a year researching it first.
If you bought the Zojirushi rice cooker and find that one of the “I’m sold on it” things for you is that it saves on electricity and doesn’t heat up the kitchen, then you’ll love the Instant Pot. In addition to those points, it also retains about 95% of your foods nutrients which is a much, much higher percentage than other cooking methods. My husband was skeptical about buying one but he’s now one of the biggest proponents for the IP. We use it multiple times a week. They recently released their 8quart model and it was at an excellent price…..we bought it to use for whole chickens, large roasts and large batch cooking. The hubs didn’t even hesitate!
Things totally get lost sometimes. – for example we recently lost one of our plates in our 420 sq ft apartment! Total mystery!
PS! Totally agree with your arguments too!
I’ve noticed that a certain very large discount retailer often has a bait-and-switch approach to their merchandise… they have both a super junky version of something and a over priced one (no middle ground). I’ve found that much of the time you won’t be getting an optimal deal.
A bit problem with the bifl philosophy is how fast things change. My father (a computer systems analyst who once worked on computers that took up entire rooms) enthusiastically spent thousands on his first home computer in 1993. It’s remarkable how quickly that computer went from top of the line to outdated.
But the same is true for even things as simple as baby gear. I tried on a tula carrier recently and the sales person mentioned that tulas really hold their value well, so I could recoup a big part of the expense selling it in a couple of years. Guess what? When my 15 year old was a baby, a Bjorn was considered a bifl carrier. Now you can pick them up for $5 at a yard sale. Their second hand price plummeted when ergos became the bifl carrier. And their second hand price plummeted when tulas became the bifl carrier, and if I were to buy a tula it’s quite likely something better will come along. So if your bifl philosophy is based on the idea that product x, which is trendy and expensive tight now, will hold it’s value better than product y, don’t count in it!
I hope we have bought our wedding rings for life :-). For the rest, I like quality but expect to not last things for life for sure..
Hello – my wife and I really enjoy your posts and she often will say Mr’s frugal Woods would be proud… Have you ever read the founder of patagonia (yvon choinard) book Let my people go surfing”. It rings true to a lot of what your saying. As I get older I find myself buying less and less. However for things that I enjoy most I try to buy the best that I can afford…. And for everything else try to buy used.
Keep up the great writing
Here are the things I wish I had bought for life:
– frying pans – Decent quality stainless steel and cheap Lodge cast iron will last a lifetime if properly cared for. And no toxic teflon to flake off in your food!
– Wrenches and screwdrivers – seriously, do these ever go out of style or improve in any way?
– plates – while it’s possible to break corelle, it’s pretty hard and it usually requires dropping it on granite. The cheap kind my mom got as bonus at the grocery store was much easier to break! Buy more than you think you’ll need too. You won’t end up with an unusable amount when you break 1 and you won’t have to run the dishwasher so often.
– Duffel bags – 30 years later I still have the one I used in college and it’s taken me around the world.
– knives – these don’t have to be the most expensive thing out there, but unless you can sharpen it with a sharpening steel, you’re working too hard.
Just my two cents.
If it’s going to last a lifetime, it’s going to be buy
Most things we can buy for life, we can recognize by the fact that people do resell them. My favorite wool cardigan was about $10 after it was owned at least once. A basic cook book with the best recipes dog eared shows up in every rummage sale. A well made wooden bookcase may outlast three owners and end up in the rummage sale after a lot of love.
There are a few exceptions, particularly great kitchen tools. It’s not hard to leave your children or your friend the best chef’s knife in the house. Beloved children’s wagons often become gardening tools.
I, too, have worn the Ex Officio undies. I have worn out the two pair purchased some time ago. The new ones don’t fit the same, so be prepared.
A slightly different perspective: Buy It For Health. Buying things second-hand can be good *or* bad for people with allergies/sensitivities. Used wood furniture can be good, if it is solid wood or has already off-gassed. It can be bad if it is moldy. Used fabric furniture is bad if you have dust, mold, dander, or fragrance allergies – especially if the previous owner has sprayed it with Febreze! Used clothes are good if they’ve already off-gassed (synthetics), but bad if the previous owner used fragranced products (detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, Febreze, dry cleaning chemicals, perfume/cologne). In fact, allergies/sensitivities can make it difficult to find *any* healthy options – used car, new car – the smells in either could kill you. I realize this affects a small percentage of the population, but that percentage is growing. Something to consider…
Help! I have that exact pair of boots on my 72-Hour Waitlist and they’ve been on there for over a year. Do you wish that you hadn’t bought them? I want want want them so badly.
Sometimes when I look at a past purchase I think to myself OK this cost a $100 I got 5 years worth of use out of this particular product. So that averages out to $20 per year that I spent on this product, For me that was a good value. I approach it at the point of sale as well thinking OK I have to work X amount of hours in order to afford this product is it worth it . This kind of helps me keep in to perspective Is this product really worth it , Garage sale, yard sale or brand new
We try to find a balance to the “buy it for life” mentality, because when I look around our home, very little of what I see is what we started out with 29 years ago. Most furniture won’t be a for life thing, except maybe solid wood pieces, and even that is only as long as they fit in your home. At the same time, the knife set we received for our wedding was rather poor quality, so after 5 years of marriage we did our research and bought a set of German-made knives that we are still using to this day, and that I do believe we will use for life.
Mostly we just aim for good enough. Well-reviewed, but budget minded. Not a fancy stainless steel French door refrigerator, but a simple top freezer white refrigerator that was a Consumer Reports Best Buy. It has an ice maker, but no water dispenser. We use that same Corelle, and also have some Fiesta place settings; both are timeless, and when one piece breaks a replacement is easily had. Our glasses are simple working glasses, easy to replace if broken and to still have a matching set, and as a bonus they have lids so we can store food in them, freeze in them, and reheat in them.
We do choose made in the USA when possible, even though it costs more. We are at a point where we can make that choice if we are careful in other areas.
We like buying used because things have usually already proven their longevity (or lack thereof) by the time they hit the secondary market. My lovely round teak coffee table was made in Denmark sometime in the mid 20th century. It had graced other homes for likely 50-60 years before I bought it for $100. New coffee tables are far more expensive, and are rarely even solid wood.
One thing we look at, is how easy it is to repair or rehab something. We don’t like non-stick, but my grandparents’ cast iron skillets don’t work for everything. We bought good enough copper saucepans than can be retinned when the time comes. Just the pieces we needed, and at under $60 per pan. A non-stick pan can’t be recoated at home, as is evidenced by the hundreds of them in thrift stores. I always like to ask myself what will happen if something breaks, Indeed, we don’t have an electric kettle because while we had one that was great, it did break (burned out from so much use?), and I wasn’t going to spend $80 for another one when I realized that there was no way I would find one that would last for decades. So we bought kettle for the stove, and with good care it should be the last one we ever buy (we chose one that has replaceable parts).
Speaking of pots and pans, I do have my own mistake story. You see, I didn’t start with basic vintage cast iron. No, I bought Le Creuset. The prices were great from an outlet (this was before the cooking channel made Le Creuset a big deal and the outlet prices went way up). I don’t really begrudge my 13 quart pot that was $100, but I have a couple of small chips on another big pan (also $100), and I know that wouldn’t have happened with bare cast iron. In this case it isn’t really the prices that were a mistake, but choosing something that had the potential to not last. I’m still using it, as I don’t think it’s unsafe yet, but a nice 17″ Lodge two handled skillet would have been a better choice.
Still in use from our wedding? Champagne glasses (and I added to the set with thrift store finds years later). A Tupperware sugar pourer, egg separator, and orange peeler. A used Farberware electric frying pan gifted to me by my grandma’s neighbor. Pyrex custard cups (also added to with thrift store purchases). A bottle opener. A Good Housekeeping cookbook. A set of Oneida salad servers. Amazingly I still have some towels, too (my dad’s advice was to not return a single towel, no matter the color). Some of what is gone is stupidly gone, from back when I thought that my design taste were more important than functionality, but most of it is gone simply because most of it was never going to last. Stoneware that scratched and cracked (my MIL didn’t want me to have “cheap” Corelle dishes, which are exactly what we use now, lol). Cheap flatware that bent and got eaten by the garbage disposer (our fault, but it happens). Thin pots and pans coated with that old brownish-red non-stick coating. Knives that were poorly constructed. Glasses, because they do break over time (especially once children start washing dishes). Kitchen towels and cloths that plain wore out, Plastic cooking utensils that warped and got beat up. A blender and toaster that both burned out. For the most part things really don’t last for life. At least the marriage has so far 😉
Great article and I couldn’t agree more! Just because you pay top dollar doesn’t necessarily mean it will last a lifetime or decades. Especially if YOU break it :). So while you might buy the cheapest possible version of a product, this will probably also result in disappointment. I run a business, yep, based on the BIFL principal, except, like you I do not subscribe to the notion that high priced products will last a lifetime. Built-in quality is what I look for. I am a retired mechanical engineer and I look at product design and materials very closely. Oftentimes good quality can be had for a reasonable price.
Generally speaking I agree that the BIFL philosophy should not be used for all purchases, especially for items with a known lifespan like shoes and mattresses. With that said, your mattress example made me nervous. Memory foam mattresses tend to off-gas VOCs for weeks or months after purchase. The cheaper the mattress, the more VOCs are likely to off-gas and for longer. Now I’m not recommending that you instead buy the most expensive memory foam mattress you can find. But I’m much more likely to err on the side of paying too much for an item than risk a cheap purchase negatively affecting my health. This applies to shoes as well. What good is it to stay in shape by using 2 year old running shoes when you’re risking the health of your ankles/knees/hips/back in the process? Even if you’re buying the best the market has to offer, some items are never meant to last a lifetime.
I landed here because someone used the term BIFL quality and I had to look it up. My husband and I have always tended to buy neither the cheapest nor the most expensive. I cracked up when you asked “are you really going to use the same spatula for life?” Apparently so. My oldest spatula and metal cooking spoon, and only cooking fork, are 47 years old, bought during our engagement for something like 59 cents each at Walmart. I’ve bought a couple of other spoons and spatulas because sometimes you need multiples while cooking, but those first tools are used almost daily and show no signs of not lasting the rest of my life.
Thank you for this. I think my lifestyle has been rapidly inflating due to ‘buying quality’. At some point, the price just doesn’t justify the supposed quality, and TBH may just be another way to get me to buy something. This was a great reminder for me to consider what is important and to remember that not everything needs to be BIFL quality. Even cheap things can last a long time when you take care of it!
There are several factors in play here. The first is the time value of money. This works against the BIFL principle because the money not spent up front could be invested. Mitigate this by maxing out your investment vehicles before your consumption impulses. On the other hand, BIFL philosophically has qualities in common with a ROTH IRA. You are paying more now, when your financial situation is a known quantity to save on unexpected costs when your financial situation is uncertain in the future. The real savings in the BIFL philosophy has nothing to do with cost of goods. It has everything to do with behavior modification. The products that interest me are not generally sold in retail stores, and the spontaneous impulse purchase is largely mitigated. In addition the research I put into a product before purchase slows consumption relative to earnings. If I buy quality household tools for the managing of daily life (cooking, cleaning, repairs, hair cuts etc), it might seem like an unnecessary expense. But the real cost/benefit is behavioral. Most people spend an obscene amount of money eating out, getting haircuts, and hiring people to fix things; 10s of thousands annually is actually not an exaggeration. When we debate the cost of pots and pans for example, we never figure out how many meals out would pay for the cookware. (hint, it’s not a lot). When it comes to tools, consider the cost of getting injured or the cost of tool failure on materials cost and time.
So the rule should be, max out your investment vehicle first. Then spend on the quality goods that help you modify your behavior to save. If your cookware encourages you to take pride in cooking, the ROI will be amazingly swift. If getting nice tools encourages you to fix things yourself, you’re on the right track. And the best part is you get pride of ownership, and less waste going into the environment as a nice side effect. The next big BIFL concept is clean energy. Just wait till we are all acting as our own utility company and power plant. It’s domestic energy that can’t be outsourced, and no more wars over commodity prices in foreign countries. I cant think of any concept more American than that.
I love the buy it for life mentality. After decades of consistently shopping secondhand for nearly everything except underwear and mattresses, I have noticed that when I do have to purchase something new it doesn’t last as long as many of the things that I have found secondhand. The useful life and longevity of items is not necessarily for my benefit. It is so that when I am done with an item it does not become trash because it is poorly constructed, but can go on to be useful or valuable to someone else. I don’t see BIFL advocating for huge outlays of money for best-of-class items in every area of your home. Rather, I see it as a means for people to be mindful about their footprint on the earth in their lifetime. The absolute best pan that I own cost $8 at a Goodwill store, and will still be useful in a hundred years if it is well-maintained. What good does a bargain backpack do if I have to replace it many times in the course of a decade because of manufacturing defects I am unable to repair? Am I actually being more frugal with either my time or my money? And all those broken backpacks? They will sit in a landfill for a thousand years. So I think there is balance to be found, especially when we think about things that cannot be repaired or refurbished and are difficult or impossible to recycle.