Frugal, not cheap.

I’m a firm believer in the old adage “you get what you pay for”. Now, this isn’t ALWAYS true, but in my experience, it is the case more often than not.

Since I grew up “lower middle class” and spent the bulk of my adulthood in the ranks of the “working poor”, I’ve always been cognizant of every dollar that leaves my wallet. But at the same time, somehow I ended up with expensive taste and a predisposition toward high end goods. And by “high end” I do not mean “designer labels” or “luxury”, I am far more impressed with quality of materials, construction and yes, design. Esthetics matter, to me at least.

I learned at a young age that my meager dollars went a lot further by buying everything I could used. Pretty much everything of value I had as a kid and young adult, was “pre-owned”. (I still laugh at that term, sometime in the 90’s, the genuis marketing folks decided “pre-owned” didn’t have the same preconceptions as “used”. Semantics. Silliness. But I digress… ) All my bikes and sports gear and musical instruments were used before I got them. My first few cars were hand-me-downs or used. And you know what? All of that stuff worked just as well as it would have if I’d paid double and bought new. The thing is, if new were my only option, I would have had to simply do without.

I also spent time, as a young adult, living on my own starting at 19, shopping the discount stores, flea markets and other such “cheap” routes. This is the time in my life where I learned the difference between inexpensive and “cheap”. No matter how good it looks at first, no matter what kind of great deal you scored, “cheap” is not worth the cost, no matter how little it is.

For example, I used to buy socks at the flea market. There was a vendor there that sold new socks at something like $20 for a dozen pair. Screaming deal, right? On the face of it, sure. But by the 3rd wash, they had elastic popping and were getting thin. Within a few months they would be unbearable. It was like wearing sandpaper in your shoes, really terribly uncomfortable. And when you work on your feet 8-10 hours a day, uncomfortable feet turn into painful feet, which is positively miserable.

Another example is sunglasses. I used to buy whatever cheap sunglasses I saw that I liked and inevitably they would either get a scratched lens or the frame would break. I have absurdly sensitive eyes and wear sunglasses virtually year round, whenever I’m outside. I’m practically blind without them in daylight. So as a consequence I was buying maybe half a dozen pairs of sunglasses a year.

Now those two examples are both things that have plentiful options in every conceivable price range but are also things that I use every. single. day.

When online shopping became a thing, I found some inexpensive wool socks that cost a little over double the amount of the flea market socks, and it’s like the light bulb above my head burst into light! Yes, I paid double but they lasted a year – 4X the longevity of the cheap socks. And the remained pretty comfortable that whole time, which literally improved my quality of life, spending so much time on my feet.

Too many people just look at the price tag. Others only care about what other people will think. Me? I ask, how long will it last, how comfortable will it be and do I like the way it looks? Let’s face it, no matter how good the deal and how good the product – if you think it’s ugly, you aren’t going to wear it, so every penny you did spend is wasted.

With things going completely sideways here in the US, and inflation slapping you in the face at every turn, it’s more important than ever to start getting frugal, if you aren’t already.

Clothing, tools, cookware, shoes and such are things that have nearly unlimited options in price-range, but the markets are flooded with cheap garbage. Be wary of anything that appears to be too good a deal, chances are there is a reason why something is being sold at a deep discount.

And while it does appear to be true that “they don’t make ’em like they used to”, quality is still out there, you just need to wade through a lot more garbage before you find it.

And I know it’s now trendy to shop for clothes at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores (hipster nonsense), but there are still good deals to be found there on things like books and CDs, housewares and things of that nature. Is it overpriced versus a few decades ago? Absolutely it is, but its still a better deal than off Amazon or from your typical retail outlet.

With the cost of living shooting for the stars and wages stagnating at best, every dollar saved is a good thing.

Be smart. Consider more than the price tag. Your wallet will thank you later!

Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “Frugal, not cheap.”

  1. It has been my experience that Brand Name Quality is usually a lie ( at least the last 15 or so years ). Renowned German quality was crap in my electric razor, renowned firearm blew a front sight the first box of ammo. Propane heater everyone recommended puked out after only a few hundred hours of operation. I’ve heard secondhand
    complaints that domestic Yuppie winter gear is now made cheap in China. Each domestic car maker eventually embraced crap quality. The best tractors on the market have a scam going on about the inability to repair. Long before The Alternate Computer Company was scamming us over phones, they were forcing you to buy a new expensive PC as the new software wouldn’t work on the old version. The best strategy I’ve been able to come up with is to buy middlin quality, in multiples while the price is low, and hope for the best. I have no problem with your arguments, except they aren’t really applicable anymore. Or at least, it is much harder to make it work.


  2. Oh, I completely agree. I’m not a “name brand” guy, except when it’s a brand I’m already familiar with and have had a good experience. I am a brand loyalist when I find something that checks all the boxes – price, quality and esthetic. Until said brand cuts too many corners or completely abandons their core product/customer (Looking at you, Volkswagen!)
    My whole point (which I guess goes to show that my writing needs a lot of work!) is that lowest cost isn’t always the most cost effective. That putting a little more up front actually saves money in the long run by needing fewer replacement items.
    Boots for example – you’ll never find me paying $250+ for boots, but I’ll also never buy discount “Payless” ( do they even exist anymore!?!) boots. There are plenty mid-range boots that get the job done, don’t mangle your feet and will last a year or so. 2-3 years out of a pair of boots? Not anymore, sadly. But Payless, or Target or Wally boots that LOOK the same will have the soles falling off in 3 months if you’re actually working in them!
    And yeah, the alt computer company? Never once bought one of their products, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. I’ve used a few in different workplaces and circumstances and frankly I don’t understand the appeal.


    1. The Fruit Computers were the only game in town in the 80’s, if you weren’t a nerd and didn’t want to enter code, which was me. The higher costs were worth it. I know a lot of graphic designers of the same period also felt the only rational choice for performance was the alternative. But once ’95 rolled around, it was just brand loyalty, not actual performance, that kept them in business.

      Liked by 1 person

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