When you’re trying to save money on a tight budget, you spend a lot of time looking for ways to save a buck. From packing brown-bag lunches to canceling your cable, you’re always focusing on ways to spend less. But sometimes, going out of your way to save can backfire. When you scrimp on certain kinds of purchases, you actually end up spending more money in the long run.
For instance, suppose you always buy cheap umbrellas from the dollar store. The problem is that they break after one or two rainstorms and have to be replaced. Over the course of a year, you end up spending much more than you would buying one decent umbrella that holds up to use. Plus, you have to spend more on laundry because your clothes keep getting soaked.
So as you can see, there are times when you save money overall by spending a little more up front. The trick is figuring out when it makes sense to spend more and when you should pinch your pennies. To help clear up that point, here are different ways that spending more can actually be the best way to save.
1. Invest in Quality
The story above about the cheap umbrellas is an example of how you can save money by paying more for well-made goods. This idea is sometimes expressed as “buy nice, or buy twice.” In other words, if you buy the cheapest product on the shelf, you’ll just end up having to buy a new one when it breaks. You’ll be better off if you pay more in the first place for a product that’s built to last.
Mind you, this rule doesn’t hold true for everything you buy. For instance, single-use products like candles and paper towels don’t need to be sturdy, because they’re only going to be used once anyway. The same goes for anything you’ll only need once in a while, such as an air mattress for guests. If it’s only used once or twice a year, it doesn’t need to stand up to heavy wear.
The best products to invest extra money in are things you expect to use often over a long period. Here are a few examples:
- Sofas. For most of the rooms in your house, you can get away with buying inexpensive furniture from IKEA or a flea market. However, there are a few pieces worth investing in. Designer Andrew Kerr has said that a high-quality couch, with a sturdy frame and well-made cushions, typically costs at least $1,800. This is money well spent, though, because a good sofa will last longer than a cheap one. Even when the fabric starts to wear out, you can have the piece reupholstered to extend its life. That probably won’t work for a cheap couch with a flimsy frame.
- Mattresses. Another furniture piece worth splurging on is your mattress. Cheap mattresses start to sag after just a few years of use, making it harder to get a good night’s sleep. That, in turn, can make you more accident-prone and less productive at work. A sagging mattress can also contribute to back pain or other joint pain, resulting in costly health-care bills. According to sleep experts quoted in the Fiscal Times, be prepared to spend anywhere from $700 to $2,000 for a mattress that really feels comfortable.
- Business Suits. Clothes don’t really make the man – or woman – but they can definitely help you make a good impression on clients and coworkers. So if you work in the business world, it’s worth investing in quality clothing and accessories for work. Style writer Rachel Weingarten, speaking with Bankrate, says men should expect to pay “a minimum of $400” for a good business suit. (For women, she says, separates are a better deal.) However, once you’ve made this investment, you can make the suit last for years with regular alterations. A good tailor can also alter consignment shop finds to fit you, so you can get the equivalent of a $400 suit for much less.
- Footwear. Quality matters even more for shoes than it does for clothes. Clothes that don’t fit well can hurt your image, but shoes that don’t fit well can actually hurt your feet. They can also affect the way you stand and walk, eventually contributing to knee or back problems that cost serious money to fix. However, that doesn’t mean pricier shoes are always better. A 2015 study of athletic shoes at RunRepeat found that shoes in the $60 range typically get the best overall ratings from users. So there’s no need to spring for a $200 pair, but don’t cheap out on a $20 pair either.
- Tools. If you do a lot of home repairs, it’s worth investing in high-quality tools that will serve you for many years. Besides holding up better, well-made tools are often easier to use – which increases the chance that you’ll actually haul out your toolbox when something breaks, rather than calling in a pro. However, it’s only worth spending the extra money on tools that you actually need and use often, like a good drill or a circular saw. Splashing out on a fancy tool that you’re only going to use once, such as a biscuit joiner, isn’t a sound investment.
- Auto Parts. Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of the old radio show “Car Talk,” had a saying about car repair: “It’s the stingy person who spends the most.” In their book, also called “Car Talk,” they use tires as an example. A caller on the show reported that her car had developed a shimmy right after she put on new tires – which she’d bought at a bargain price. She’d invested in new struts and a wheel alignment, but nothing helped. The brothers broke the news to her that her cheap tires were “out of round,” causing the car to shake. She ended up having to invest in new tires on top of all the other work she’d already done. If she’d sprung for decent tires in the first place, she could have saved herself a lot of money and hassle.
2. Invest in Efficiency
Products that make your home more energy-efficient, such as insulation and ENERGY STAR appliances, can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars up front. However, the money you save on utility bills with these products is usually enough to cover their cost and then some.
Products that can help you save money and live green include:
- Insulation. Adding insulation to your house is a pricey project. According to HouseLogic, if you live in the Northeast, it costs around $1,500 to upgrade your attic insulation professionally, or $750 to do it yourself. However, this investment can save you hundreds of dollars each year on your energy bills. In ten years, it will pay for itself many times over. Of course, your actual savings for this project depend on where you live and how you heat your home. You can use the calculator at Build it Solar to figure out how much you personally stand to save with better insulation.
- Light Bulbs. The latest LED light bulbs cost around $8 apiece – much more than incandescent or CFL bulbs. However, the LED bulbs also use less energy and last much longer, so you buy fewer of them. Trading in just one incandescent bulb in your home for an LED could save $127 over the bulb’s 22-year lifetime.
- Appliances. An old appliance costs a lot more to replace than a light bulb, but it can save you even more money in the long run. A savings calculator on the ENERGY STAR website shows that an old refrigerator from the early ’90s costs around $186 per year to run. A new fridge with the ENERGY STAR label would cost only $46 per year, a $140 savings. So if you spend $1,000 on the new fridge, it will pay for itself in a little over seven years. And it will continue to save you money every year after that.
- HVAC. Perhaps the biggest upgrade you can make to your home’s efficiency is a new HVAC system. For instance, suppose you’re planning to add central air conditioning to your home. The ENERGY STAR website calculates that a standard unit will cost about $2,857, while an ENERGY STAR unit will cost $3,413. However, the more efficient AC will save you $165 a year on your electric bill. So even with the higher purchase price, it saves you more than $1,000 over its lifetime.
3. Get a Job Done Right
It’s often worth paying more for high-quality goods, but it’s even more important with services. After all, if you’re paying someone else to do a job instead of doing it yourself, it’s usually because you want to make sure the job is done right. So it only makes sense to hire someone who really knows what they’re doing – even if it costs more.
Here are a few types of jobs it’s worth hiring the best professionals for:
- Finances. These days, it’s not that hard to manage your own investments for very little cost. It’s only worth hiring a pro if you want to make sure you get the best possible return on your money. So it makes sense to choose a financial advisor who really can give you the best results. Look for one with experience, good credentials, and excellent referrals. Top-notch financial advice doesn’t come cheap, but it pays for itself in higher returns.
- Taxes. The same goes for hiring a CPA to do your taxes. You only need an accountant if you have a complicated tax return – one where mistakes could be costly. So it’s worth paying more for someone who has the right kind of experience and knowledge. The money you pay that person will come back to you in tax savings.
- Home Repairs. When something in your house breaks, you have two choices: fix it yourself or hire a contractor. DIY makes more sense for small jobs that you know you can handle. You only hire a pro for the big jobs – where doing it wrong could do serious damage. So since you’re paying a pro already, you should pay what it takes for one who will do the job right. Plumbers, electricians, and anyone else who works on your house should be licensed and have good references. Trying to save money by hiring a casual handyman could cost you big bucks if it results in a flood or house fire.
- Car Repairs. Just like your house, your car should be in the hands of someone you trust. You can do your own repairs if you really know cars, but if not, hire someone who does. A cut-rate mechanic won’t save you any money if they take three or four service calls to find and fix a problem. They could even end up turning a small problem into a big one that costs much more to correct.
- Health Care. If there’s one thing you really need to care for properly, it’s your body. Unlike your car and your house, it can’t be replaced. If you can find a good doctor you trust, stick with that doctor – even if it costs you more. If you learn that your health insurance plan won’t cover your doctor any longer, see if you can change plans. Your premiums might go up, but you can look at it as an investment in your long-term health.
4. Buy What You Love
There’s one more situation in which spending more can actually save you money in the long run. That’s when you’re spending money on something that you truly, absolutely love.
Carl Richards of the New York Times gives a good example. Richards was shopping for a new bike when he fell madly in love with a Moots that cost $5,000. This was way more than he’d ever spent on a bike before, but he took the plunge anyway.
Before long, he decided that this splurge was actually a really smart financial decision. Before he bought the Moots, he used to upgrade to a new bike every few years. But because he loves this bike so much, he’s kept it for 11 years – and he uses it all the time. This one purchase saved him from over a decade of shopping and spending.
This approach only works with a purchase that you expect to have for a long time, like a new car. A car you love might cost $10,000 more than one you think is just okay. But because you really love it, you’ll keep it longer and take better care of it. That saves you money in the long run. Consumer Reports found that the longer you keep a new car, the less it costs you per year.
However, buying what you love doesn’t mean springing for every new toy that catches your eye. For instance, you should not splurge on something you love only because it’s fashionable. Before long, the fashions will change, and your love will fade. Stick to purchases that you know you can love for the long haul.
Although spending more can be a wise choice, that doesn’t mean that the priciest product is always the best. For example, it’s worth spending $400 on a high-quality suit, but not $4,000 on one with a designer label. Similarly, as the RunRepeat study shows, $200 athletic shoes aren’t really better than $60 ones. So you should only spend more when you know you’re really getting long-term value for your money.
Also, paying for a better product doesn’t have to mean paying full price. If you can find that $400 suit for $200 on sale – or better yet, for $50 at a thrift shop – go right ahead! The point is to pay what it takes to get the best quality, not to pay as much as possible.
If you’re looking to save even more money of the long-term, check out 31 Ways to Be Frugal And Save Money.
What’s the smartest purchase you’ve ever made? What made it such a good use of money?