There’s a place for cheap goods and there’s a place for quality that lasts a lifetime. Each depends not only on the item in question, but also on individual circumstances. No matter what period in life you may be in now, eventually you will be able to replace disposable goods with quality if you take the proper course.
If you’re deeply in debt, making little money, or for whatever reason barely getting by, quality should not be your first concern. While a case can be made that you may spend more in a lifetime on cheap disposable items than if you “invest” in good quality, that kind of thinking will only help keep you poor. Buying quality things makes sense, buying things you can’t afford does not.
Keep in mind that buying consumer goods, quality or not, is not an investment. An investment is something you expect to give you a return on your money. Unless you are a professional chef, a Le Creuset cast-iron Dutch oven is not going to make you any money. And even then, a professional chef probably wouldn’t buy one for their restaurant because they’re too hard on cookware for it to be worth it. A consumer good is a consumer good. Until you can afford it, don’t buy it.
Here are the three levels of purchasing consumer goods:
- Buy the cheapest thing you can find. If all you can afford is the cheapest thing you can find, do what you have to do. In this case, you shouldn’t be buying anything you don’t absolutely need. Entertain yourself and your family for free; there’s plenty do do that doesn’t cost a dime. Eliminate junk food; there is certainly no necessity for candy bars and soda. Cancel your television subscription. If you’re at the bottom, you should be doing everything you can to get debts paid off, increase your income, and work your way quickly to the next level.
- Focus on the best value. Once you have a little room, whether you’re comfortably focused on paying off debt, or are debt-free and still just not making much money, start focusing on the best value you can afford. What you can “afford” is a subjective thing, I suggest though that you keep your expenses minimal while you get out of debt, and then make a substantial savings part of your new life (at least 25 percent of what you take home). Value is also subjective, but some ideas are to start buying organic produce, good quality shoes and clothes on sale, a decent car that you can pay cash for. Now you can afford some occasional entertainment, and a nice meal out here and there, but keep value in mind. The more you save now, the quicker you work to the next level.
- Replace with quality. You’re completely out of debt, making at least a decent income, and have your sights on continued improvement. You’re in the habit of stashing away substantial savings before you think about spending a dime. Now you’re ready to start replacing cheap goods with quality. I would start with things most relevant to day-to-day life: clothes, cooking equipment, bedding and furniture, a decent vehicle. There are no rules except that the purchase should improve your standard of living (and it goes without saying you should be able to afford it).
The lines between these levels is not a hard one. Often times you will find yourself in between two, for example, buying some things as cheap as you can find but mostly focused on buying value. And if you come across a great deal on something quality, it may make sense to grab it. Be careful with this last one though. Talking yourself into spending on something you can’t afford is exactly how you’ll keep yourself on the bottom.
What do you buy that is cheap, value, or quality?