Most of us don’t have a problem spending money. We have a problem spending money the right way.
Wait, what does that mean?
A common piece of financial advice is to "save more, spend less." But what if spending less wasn’t the problem? What if you’re spending money on the wrong things?
We’re often looking for the cheapest item or the best deals to pinch pennies where we can. But you might be surprised that for certain items, it can make sense to spend more up front and reap savings down the line.
Here’s how to know when – and on what – you should splurge a little to save a lot in the future.
Why spend big on specific items?
It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s sometimes cheaper to pay more for certain items.
Confused? Let’s let the late, great Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, explain with his "boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness" with the help of the character Vimes:
The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
Essentially, it can be more cost-effective to spend money on something that will last for a longer period of time. It’s the subtle-but-important difference between price and value: You’re paying more but also getting more, so you’re getting a better value.
Of course, there’s the issue of being able to afford something in the first place. That’s what Pratchett means by the the rich being able to afford spending less money. In Scenario A, you pay $100 for a pair of boots that will last you ten years. In Scenario B, you only pay $20 for your boots, but you have to replace them every year. At the end of those ten years, you’ve paid $200 for boots because you couldn’t afford to pay $100 up front.
Buying higher-quality items can save you money, but it can also have a non-financial impact. BuyMeOnce is a shopping site that makes "buying things that are built to last easy." But they also have a focus on sustainability, which helps the environment by cutting down on the sheer number of things we make, and they also "encourage people to buy just a few great things they love rather than huge amounts of clutter." Living with hoarders can lead to anxiety, so buying fewer things that last longer, as opposed to buying a lot of replacement items that clutter up your life, can make you happier, too. That’s the definition of a win-win.
It’s easier said than done to spend money responsibly. But once you realize that it can make sense to spend the extra dollar every once in a while, you have to figure out how to do it in a way that makes sense for our financial plan, even far into the future.
How do you know what to spend more money on?
Obviously, the things that are deemed worthy for splurging will vary from person to person. So how do you know if you’re spending money on the right things? Here are three points to consider:
Spend more on items you’ll use a lot
The comfort principle has a simple premise: Spend your money where you spend your time.
If it’s something you’ll use often, you want something you’ll be happy with. Use something daily, or for long periods of time at once? It makes more sense to spring more for it than it does for something you’ll lose only a few times a year.
It’s one of the ways you can justify spending more on a top-of-the-line smartphone. You probably use it daily to make calls, answer emails, browse the web, play games, use apps, listen to music, and more. You can apply this to a desk chair or a bed or anything else. Spending more for an item that you’re spending most of your time with can make you happier than something you "settled" for.
It also makes financial sense, because the items you use the most will likely suffer the most from wear and tear. Spending extra on that laptop bag you carry to and from work, every day, in the elements, means it’ll last longer and you’ll pay less in the long run than you would if you had to constantly replace it – a classic example of Pratchett’s boots theory.
Know when to buy private label instead
Generic items have somewhat of a bad rap, even though in most cases they’re good enough.
But for a lot of private label, aka store brand, items, you might be getting better than good enough – you might be getting exactly the same.
Most store brand items are made by the same manufacturers of name brand products. This commonly applies to grocery store foods, but clothing, cosmetics, and diapers can also be made from the same companies, in the same ways, just with a different name slapped on the front for a fraction of the cost.
The goal is to spend more on items that will serve you better over time. It doesn’t make any sense to spend more money on literally the exact same item, when you can get at half the price.
Know your budget
Pratchett’s boots theory is an important economic anecdote, but remember: It’s called the theory of socioeconomic unfairness. The key part is that it’s a good idea that can be difficult to fulfill. If you have to spend more, make sure you stay within your budget. If you’re able to, plan ahead; put aside some money every month until you have enough to cover whatever it is you want to buy. That way you don’t overspend and put yourself in debt.
There will always be situations where you don’t have the option to save up – RIP your refrigerator – and that’s where an emergency budget can come in handy. If you do have to dip into your emergency account, though, make sure to replenish it as soon as possible.
Items you should spend money on
So, keeping in mind that your situation won’t be the same as everyone else’s and you should use the guidelines above to see if a particular splurge is right for you, here are some common items that are often worth the extra expense.
Shoes and clothes
It’s hard to talk about the boots theory without talking about...well, boots. Shoes in general, actually. Shoes naturally get a lot of wear and tear, and you notice when they’ve worn out – it’s hard not to when water is suddenly seeping into your socks. A cheap pair of shoes will get worn out in no time, but quality, well-made shoes can last you years. Even better, find quality shoes with a good guarantee; Doc Marten, for example, provides repair or replacement services over the life of their shoes.
Clothes are the same. You don’t want to be buying a new pair of jeans every six months because worn spots become holes all too easily, or the stitching starts coming out after only a few washes. You may buy clothes more often than other items thanks to fashion trends, but for items that you know won’t go out of style or are more about practicality, like heavy winter jackets, jeans, and sturdy boots, spending more will save you more in the long run.
Mattresses and furniture
A classic example of the comfort principle. You (ideally) spend a third of your life asleep, so why shouldn’t you spring for a mattress that you’re comfortable with – literally? Since you’ll be spending so much time on it, you want something that will stay in good shape for as long as possible. If you’re wary about dropping a lot of money on something you’ll not sure you’ll like, look to brands like Casper, who offers premium products (queen-size beds starting at $950) but with a 100-night trial so you’re able to find out if it’s the mattress of your dreams.
Furniture in general is good to spend money on. Sure, there’s a time and a place for Ikea items you put together yourself, and for some things that might be good enough. But bed frames, couches, tables, and more are worth the splurge. Again, it’s about usage: You probably use your couch fairly often, so you want something that will stay together, and stay comfy, over the course of years.
Also consider how long you’ll be living in the same place when you’re furniture shopping. If you’re in a short-term rental and just need pieces to fill out the place, you might opt for more affordable pieces that will only be in your life for a little while. But if you’re going to be in the same place for the foreseeable future – at least five years – make it a home with some real furniture that will last even longer.
Knives, pots, pans, even silverware – spend more on these, and it’ll take a lot of hassle out of your life. BuyMeOnce has an entire section just for kitchenware, and a section that’s just for knives. What goes into your kitchen is important.
Now, you might be thinking that you don’t use your kitchen that often, so you don’t need an expensive cast iron skillet that will last forever. But what if you started spending more time in your kitchen if you had better items to cook with? That’s a real chicken-and-egg scenario. Not only will quality kitchenware last longer – a set of pots that won’t get scratched or have lingering flavors fused into them are invaluable – but it might make cooking more enjoyable than it is with your flimsy knives that make it feel like it’s not even worth your time to cook that steak.
And what happens when you cook in? You save money and you eat healthier compared to eating out. Plus, BuyMeOnce is full of stories of people receiving cookware from their parents and grandparents, so it’s one more thing you can leave in your will.
Energy efficient appliances
Appliances are big expenses no matter what. You want to make sure you have top-line appliances, because we use them so often. Whether it’s washing your clothes throughout the week, running the dishwasher, cooking with your oven, or the ever-running refrigerator, your appliances go through a lot every day, which means it falls perfectly into the "if you use it, pay for it" category.
When you do buy a new appliance, look for energy efficient models. According to the Department of Energy, Energy Star-model fridges use 20% less energy than required by federal standards. That means that by spending a little more not only will you get a product that will hopefully last you a decade or more, but you can make up the difference even further with annual energy savings.
At the end of the day, spending more on certain items depends on what’s important to you and what you can do with your budget without hurting your overall financial plan. But by figuring out when and on what you want to spend that extra money, and looking into quality items, you can end up saving big.