We get it: everything feels pretty expensive these days. Want to know what’s worse than spending $35 on a t-shirt though? Having to do it twice in 3 months because the first one may as well have been made out of tissue paper. As much as it may feel counterintuitive to spend more money on something when you’re trying to be frugal, there are certain purchases where a larger initial investment can lead to long-term savings.
Here’s a list of five types of purchases worth spending a little extra on because you’ll never have to buy another one again (assuming you take care of it, of course).
Once upon a time, clothing was made to last. When your grandfather bought, for example, a wool sweater, he expected to wear it from this winter until his last winter, patching and repairing it as necessary along the way. This is, of course, why we see so many millennials running around in flannels from the 1940s — those shirts were made to survive the nuclear apocalypse.
In the era of fast fashion, however, many brands are pumping out garments that are basically designed to fall apart well before they go out of style (let alone become stylish again decades later).
Recently, however, there has been a return to the days of yore, and companies that make high-quality, durable (and stylish) clothing are popping up like daisies after a rainstorm.
Spending $228 on a sweater from, say, Faherty or Finnistere might seem like the last thing you’d want to do if you’re pinching pennies. After all, you could get one for under $50 from H&M right? Well, not really.
Not only is a 100% wool sweater going to be much, much warmer than a 5% wool, mostly acrylic counterpart, but it’s not going to look like it’s been through a world war after wearing it for one season. In fact, if you take care of it properly, a quality garment will continue to be both functional and stylish long after you’re neither of those things.
Here’s some quick math to help make the point:
Let’s say I buy a Uniqlo sweater. It may last two years, if we’re being generous and I care for it well, before it starts to look like something the cat dragged in. That means every two years, I’m going to need to spend $50 on a new sweater (assuming prices stay stagnant for the rest of my life, which they won’t). Without giving too much away, let’s just say I plan to live another 50 years at least. That means that by the time I go where no sweater can follow, I’ll have spent $1,250 on “cheaper” sweaters.
That’s quite a lot more than the one-time cost of $228 for a quality sweater that will last me the rest of my life (and my kids’ lives if I ever have any).
Don’t believe me? As I type this, I am wearing a 100% wool sweater I inherited from my uncle who inherited it from his father. I don’t really know how old it is, because the tags are all gone, but it’s certainly much older than I am and still looks great.
Everybody has to eat. You don’t have to cook, though if you’re trying to save money you probably should — it tends to be quite a lot cheaper than eating out. (We’ll save that math for another article though.)
If you are cooking at home, and you’re buying bargain-bin cookware, you’ve probably taken a new, nonstick pan off of the drying rack and noticed scratches, or melted a plastic spatula trying to scrape eggs off the bottom of a pan they were reluctant to part with.
If you’re tired of throwing away $20 pots and pans and having to rebuy cookware all the time, you’re in luck: spending a little more on quality cookware will net you quite a lot of savings in the long run.
The even better news? You can get restaurant quality pots and pans for a whole lot less than a nice, wool sweater. And, if you take care of them properly, they’ll last just as long.
The secret here isn’t necessarily in choosing the right brand (though, don’t worry: we’ll share some of our favorites), but in choosing the right product. Nonstick pans are like the no-iron shirts of the culinary world: coated in chemicals which will inevitably leach away leaving them useless at best, dangerous at worst (where do you think those non-stick chemicals go when you cook in a scratched pan?).
Cast iron cookware is great for so much more than hanging on the wall of your log cabin and bludgeoning intruders. It’s actually highly versatile when it comes to its intended use: cooking food.
A properly seasoned cast iron pan heated to the appropriate temperature will be just as non-stick as your non-stickiest of pans. Maintaining a cast iron pan isn’t even all that difficult, and you can get a high-quality, pre-seasoned Lodge pan for the incredibly reasonable price of $40.
The best thing about cast iron is that if you accidentally scratch off the seasoning (that’s what makes them non-stick), you can simply re-season it yourself; all you need is oil, a paper towel, and an hour.
If you’re too weak to handle cast iron cookware (though, if this is literally true, you should probably consult a doctor or perhaps a trainer of some kind) you can always go for carbon steel.
Carbon steel is the high-performance material of the culinary world: it has all of the same properties as cast iron, but it is much lighter and easier to maneuver. Professional kitchens tend to use carbon steel pans for exactly these reasons.
You season them just like cast iron, and they will be similarly durable if well cared for (though considerably less functional as a bludgeoning weapon). They are a bit more expensive than your standard cast iron pan, however. (Made-In, for example, sells a pre-seasoned carbon steel frying pan for $129). With just a little bit of effort on your part, though, this really will be a one-time cookware investment that will very likely last longer than you do.
Given how easy it is to shop for furniture online these days, it’s likely you’ve become enamored with an item that’s so cute and so cheap you just can’t possibly say no. If this has happened to you, it’s also likely that, just like buying a fast food hamburger, what came out of the box did not meet all the promises of the ad.
Before clicking “buy now,” be sure to double-check what your new dining room table is actually made of. Lots of cheap furniture these days is made of Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), and it is about as far away from a quality building material as a chicken is from a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I know from personal experience that you don’t want this garbage in your house. Unfortunately, we’ve welcomed far too many pieces of furniture made of MDF into our home because they were cheap and looked cute: bookshelves that arrived broken, TV stands that bowed under the weight of the one thing they’re literally designed to hold after a week, shabby chic tables that were far more shabby than chic.
All of these items were purchased at a discounted rate and ultimately ended up costing us twice as much (at least) to replace.
The moral of this story is basically “don’t buy anything if it’s made of MDF.” Just like synthetic fibers tend to be poor replacements for natural ones in clothing, it’s also true that manufactured building materials tend to fall short of their natural inspirations.
It may literally pain you to spend nearly $500 on a coffee table at West Elm when you could get what appears to be basically the same thing from Wayfair for under $100, but trust us. The solid wood coffee table will last forever if you treat it right (you can even refinish it if your guests fail to use the coasters you keep badgering them about); the MDF knockoff will be lucky to last a year before it looks like literal garbage.
This is not to say you can’t get high-quality furniture from bargain sites like Wayfair; you can. You should, however, always be skeptical: if the price of a piece of furniture seems like it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
PRO TIP: Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace can be amazing sources of real, quality, often-antique furniture. You could even end up spending less than you would buying new, cheap garbage because people just want to get rid of the stuff they don’t want. However, make sure you do your due diligence to ensure you’re actually getting what you think you’re getting.
We know: jewelry certainly is not the thing that’s going to top the list of necessary purchases when you’re being cash-conscious. However, if you’re going to be buying it anyways, this is the kind of item that rewards thinking outside the box store.
When you buy, say, a set of gold hoop earrings from Target for $7.99, you are not actually buying gold anything. What you’re buying is “gold tone metal,” which is, essentially, some form of stainless steel with a gold coating, which will, inevitably, no matter how careful you are with them, start to chip away, probably faster than you’d like to think about, even for the low, low price of $7.99.
The thing is, 14 karat gold hoops aren’t actually as expensive as you might think. Etsy, for example, has a whole slew of gold hoops available for under $100. Not only are these actual gold that won’t chip away ever (like, the kind of jewelry your grandchildren might one day fight over), but there’s the added bonus of feeling warm and fuzzy because you’re supporting a small business artisan and not some shadowy billionaire.
Now, we understand you’d have to go through a heck of a lot of $8 pairs of earrings before you get to the point where you’ve spent $100. But, when you consider the “gold” coatings on a lot of cheap jewelry could start chipping at any moment, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where your investment pays back after a year or two (as long as you don’t lose them).
The difference in quality between real leather and bargain-bin knockoff pleather is astronomical. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of pleather belts, wallets, purses, and jackets we’ve ended up donating (or shamefully tossing) after using once or twice because whatever coating used to approximate leather’s texture started chipping away, or they ripped, or the straps broke.
On the other hand, the one actual leather belt I own, I’ve had since the early 2000s and it looks exactly the same now as it did then. The excellent thing about this is that real leather doesn’t have to be all that much more expensive than the crummy alternative: I think I spent $15 on my leather belt when I bought it, and you can acquire quality leather belts from, for example, Village Leathers for under $40. What’s more, they come with a 25-year warranty, so you know this really is going to be a one-time investment.
If you’re concerned about the cruelty of the leather industry, there are also quality “vegan leather” options available on the market today. They tend to be indistinguishable from their “real” counterparts, both in price and quality. Matt & Natt, for example, offers a variety of stylish, quality vegan leather crossbody bags starting as low as $60 that will last long enough for your children to inherit (again, assuming you care for them).
If you want to save money in the long run, you should consider spending a little bit more on goods that will last forever (or close to it), rather than having to buy the same thing over and over because it keeps breaking. This is especially true when buying clothing, cookware, furniture, jewelry, and leather goods.
However, price does not necessarily determine quality. What a thing is made of is going to determine how long it will last. Wool is more durable than acrylic; wood is stronger than MDF; any coating that can chip away, will (whether on your nonstick pans or your “gold” hoop earrings).
So, before you buy anything, make sure you check what it’s made of. It’s also a great idea to do a little research on the company you’re buying from. Many of the companies mentioned in this article list sustainability as a value, and so durability of their products is a part of their whole ethos. They legitimately don’t want you to have to rebuy their goods.
Bombas, for example, offers a wildly comprehensive (and hilarious) warranty on their socks, underwear, and t-shirts. It covers anything that could possibly happen to your garments, including them becoming your “dog’s favorite chew toy” or falling victim to “hungry washing machines.”
If a company is willing to back up their goods with a warranty, it probably means they expect them to last forever, and spending more initially will likely save you money in the long run.