The following is a guest post by Mike Collins. Mike founded DadSense.co to help families learn how to manage their money and make smart financial decisions.
I’ve been writing about personal finance for years, and one of my favorite topics is how people choose to spend their money.
Some people believe you should never spend a penny more than needed for anything.
When they go shopping their only goal is to find the “minimal viable” option. They don’t care about bells or whistles, or even how long something will last. They just want the cheapest option possible.
Others land on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. They absolutely “must” have the newest, most updated, most advanced, and feature-packed option. Money is no object.
Like most things in life, I find balance is key when it comes to spending.
Let’s face it:
Few of us have unlimited money to spend. We all must make individual decisions on where to spend our money, particularly in times of high inflation and economic distress.
Sometimes that means sacrificing a little quality and settling for something a little less expensive. Sometimes paying more is just a giant waste of money anyway. And sometimes you really do want to invest additional money upfront to ensure you’re getting a quality product that will last.
For example, I’m really into grilling, barbecuing, and smoking meat. A few years ago, I was looking for a good smoker for beginners and there were inexpensive options for less than $100.
But the reviews weren’t great, and I knew I was going to be hard on whichever smoker I bought so I didn’t want to buy a piece of junk. Instead, I spent a little more and got a smoker I know will last for years.
So how do you decide when to spend more for quality?
Well, it’s a question you should ask yourself before any purchase, but we can’t cover them all here. Instead, let’s look at some specific examples and discuss whether it makes sense to spend more for better quality.
Keep in mind these are general guidelines and your opinion might differ based on your lifestyle and priorities.
You only get one body and it’s important you take care of it. Healthy homemade meals made with fresh ingredients will help you live a long and active life.
But if you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you’ve seen that prices have gotten crazy. I recognize many of us have had to adjust our food budgets and shopping habits. But in general, I find spending a little more on high-quality food is a wise decision.
Whether you’re an iPhone or Android user, smartphone manufacturers are constantly battling for your dollars. They regularly roll out new models with a slightly better camera, a little more storage, or a bigger screen and they know people will be lining up to trade in their old smartphones for the newest model.
But if you just need a reliable smartphone and you’re not interested in using it as a status symbol, choose an older model that costs far less. And remember, just because you’re eligible for an upgrade it doesn’t mean you can’t stick with your old phone if it works.
This one depends largely on your needs and what you’ll use the computer for. If all you plan to do is check your email and browse Pinterest for a good chicken casserole or fried rice recipe, go for an inexpensive Chromebook.
But if your livelihood depends on it (say you’re a food blogger or graphic designer) you obviously need to invest in something more powerful.
It amazes me that people will spend so much money on a car and get every upgrade possible, but when it comes time to buy new tires their wallet suddenly seizes up.
Car tires aren’t sexy or exciting, but they’re literally the only part of your car that touches the road surface. Your life and the life of your family depend on those tires doing their job, and a good tire could be the difference between a close call and a tragedy.
My daughter recently started college and though she’s staying on campus she does have her car and can travel the hour and a half home when needed. But one of the last things we did before she started school was bring her car in for a tune-up, oil change, and new tires.
Imagining my daughter driving on the highway in bad weather, I didn’t even consider the cheapo $50 tires.
With an irreplaceable part of my life relying on those tires, all I cared about was safety and quality ratings. This is one area in which paying more for better quality is not even a question.
As long as a pair of sunglasses offers 100 percent UVA/UVB protection, they’ll protect your eyes from the dangerous ultraviolet rays in sunlight. That goes for a cheap $10 pair of sunglasses as well as a $1,000 designer pair.
If you want to spend more for the brand name and a status symbol, that’s up to you. But you’re not getting any additional eye protection.
Sunglasses are also notoriously fragile and easy to lose. I’ve lost sunglasses in the ocean, broken them by sitting on them, or left them behind while out with the family.
If you don’t care about the status symbol part of it, you’re better off buying several inexpensive pairs instead of one very expensive pair.
Most people already have smartphones with a camera that can more than meet their needs. Even an older model smartphone is fine for taking pictures of the family vacation to Disney World or your daughter’s school concert.
But some people do need to invest more in a dedicated camera with more features and better-quality photos. If you’re trying to earn money with photography, you’ll probably want to consider something more powerful and adjustable than a smartphone.
There are good wines and bad wines, and you can’t always tell the difference just by looking at the price.
Spending three times the amount on a bottle of wine doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy it three times as much.
In fact, many wine experts will tell you that the sweet spot where you get the most bang for your buck is between $15 and $25 per bottle. Sure, you can drop $100 on a bottle if you’d like, but most people wouldn’t even tell the difference in a blind tasting.
You spend literally a third of your life sleeping. Don’t you want to be sure you’re not spending all that time on a substandard mattress?
Poor sleep can have serious effects on your health including memory issues, trouble concentrating, a weakened immune system, and increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
You should be willing to spend more for a quality mattress.
While some mattresses may cost thousands of dollars, you can often find deals or sales where they cost just a fraction of the retail cost. Costco and Amazon have also become well-known for producing quality mattresses that last for years and won’t break your budget.
There are many times when paying more is just a waste of money that would better serve you elsewhere. But for some items, it truly is worth spending a little more if it ensures you get a quality product that will last for years.
Here’s a good rule of thumb to help you tell the difference:
Pay more for items that you will use frequently, that influence your safety or health, or that are critical to your lifestyle and income. These are areas where spending more can be considered an investment in yourself.
And don’t forget that the “best” option isn’t necessarily the most expensive. Be sure to shop around, read reviews, and do your research to determine if paying more is worth it.