Posted on Wednesday 15 April 2015
Sometimes, buying the cheap option can cost you more in the long term. Consider the following example. You go out and buy a pair of winter boots for $50. They last their first winter, but during their second one the leather is cracking, the soles are worn down, and you end up replacing them. Meanwhile, your rich friend buys himself a new pair of boots for $200. They last ten years, by which time you have spent $250 on boots.
The realisation that you can spend less by spending more has spawned a philosophy of “buying it for life”. Its adherents seek out durable, high-quality goods, with lifetime warranties whenever possible. Unfortunately, it has also become a marketing term, so you will still need to do your research.
Unfortunately, dropping a whole lot of money all at once isn’t an option for everyone. Someone on a low income might have almost nothing left in the budget at the end of the month. While the obvious answer is to save money until you can afford the lifetime guaranteed item, sometimes that just isn’t the right option. Sure, you could save up for your new winter boots for six months, but snow is falling right now and you don’t want your toes to turn black and fall off. You also need to weigh spending decisions against, say, your need for an emergency fund.
There are options. Windfall income can be put to good use upgrading to durable items, your credit card can help you to spread payment over the next few months, and short-term finance can be a great option. Still, as a frugal spender who makes smart decisions with money, you should figure out when buying it for life is a good idea and when it isn’t. This guide will help.
How often do you use it?
Usually, the more often you use something, the more sense it makes to buy it for life. We often talk about things in terms of how many years they last, but engineers prefer to talk about Mean Time To Failure, using the amount of time that the system was actually in use. The more often you use it, the less time there will be before it stops working. If you only have one barbecue a year, you might as well buy the cheapest grill in the shop because it will probably last a lifetime, so long as the rust doesn’t get to it. On the other hand, if you can’t get out of bed in the morning without your cup of coffee, it makes a lot more sense to buy your bean grinder for life. This is where lifetime warranties really come into their own. Using almost anything daily will dramatically shorten its lifespan, but with a lifetime warranty you can just send it back for a brand new replacement.
How much will it cost over a lifetime?
It’s easy to get drawn in by promises of lifetime warranties and near-indestructibility, but make sure to compare how much the cheap alternative costs compared to the expensive buy-it-for-life model. Sometimes it is genuinely cheaper to buy the cheap, disposable option and replace it every now and then, and often the cheap version is just as usable as the expensive one right up until it stops working.
Take maintenance costs into account here, too. Many buy-it-for-life products are aimed at real enthusiasts who want that product for its own sake as much as any savings. Sure, it will last for life, and the ticket price will be cheaper than a succession of cheap alternatives. However, it might require expensive maintenance, or it might need special treatment to stay useable. Cast-iron cookware is more or less indestructible, but it needs seasoning regularly and you can’t clean it easily.
In short, buy-it-for-life can save you money, but it won’t always. You’ll need to do your own research and examine your own lifestyle to tell the difference between a good investment and an expensive gimmick. Just like every other topic in personal finance, then.