Stop Paying So Much For Quality

I’m currently typing this post on the cheapest laptop I could find back in 2009. It was $449, and came with decent specs, the only thing I really sacrificed is my screen is only 14 inches, while the standard screen is 15 or 17 inches. It’s a good machine, it’s served me well over the years, even after I’ve filled it up all all sorts of junk and pictures of scantily clad ladies. Sorry about that, old girl.

Let’s take a look at what it would cost for me to replace this current laptop, since I’ll probably feel forced to do it at some point next year. I live up in cold, cold, Canada (so cold) so laptops are a little pricier up here. I just took 5 minutes and looked online, and I found a Lenovo laptop for $370. Future Shop (one of Canada’s leading electronics chains) will even ship it to me for free. That’s a decent price.

Meanwhile, you could buy the Apple MacBook Pro, which is the laptop all the kids seem to have these days. I’ve played on one for a few minutes, and don’t really get all the hype, but let’s just assume they’re awesome in every way. Buying one will make all of your non-sexual dreams come true. All the ladies (or fellas) will be so impressed. It’ll definitely be worth the $1200 price tag, and that’s just for the cheap one.

Wait, what?

You’re willing to pay more than triple the price for a perfectly functional laptop just so you can upgrade to a better brand name? But wait, you’ll argue, it’s totally worth it because the experience is 3 times better. Uh huh. And how exactly do you quantify that? Oh that’s right, you can’t, meaning arguing the point is moot.

But wait, there’s more. Ever bought a new car? You probably have, because you like throwing away money. Why not do what I do – buy a car that’s several years old with hardly any miles on it? (Shameless plug: go check out my car buying guide. You’ll learn something, I promise.) Sure, you might pay a couple of thousand bucks more in repairs as compared to a new one, but you’re not the one who has to pay the $10,000+ depreciation bill.

We scrimp and save and work so hard at getting ahead, and then we waste thousands of dollars because we feel we deserve something nice. What’s better for your finances – buying store brand macaroni and cheese all the time or saving $800 on a laptop? How about buying the cheap toilet paper or upgrading your perfectly functional iPhone? When it comes to your finances, the big wins are by far the most important.

What makes it even worse is that most people aren’t really in a position to pay for quality in the first place. If you have consumer debt, or student loan debt, then why are you buying the top of the line anything? Let’s do a little accounting:

Extra cost a MacBook compared to the cheap alternative – $800

Financing rate – 6% (because you could be using that extra money to pay down your debt)

Actual extra cost – $848 (assuming a 1 year payback)

Not only did you pay $800 for extra quality in our example, you also paid $48 extra to finance that extra quality. It’s compound interest, but working in reverse. And you don’t want to be on the other side of the compound interest equation.

I’m going to bold this next sentence, because it’s important. If you are sitting on any significant debt, you do not deserve the top of the line anything. You cannot afford it. In fact, I’d argue that you need to cut back on just about everything until you get your finances back on track. Debt is a financial emergency, it’s time to take emergency tactics.

I get it, you work hard. You’re busting your butt at work, and your boss probably even gets mad at you sometimes, so you deserve nice things. But, unless your last name is Gates, you do not have unlimited resources. You have to prioritize. You have to make the choice of whether you’d like nice things or a fully funded retirement account. Or what’s worth more – an iPad, or the extra $500 in your emergency fund. Is that vacation really worth the extra year of student loan payments?

Sometimes, getting ahead financially requires a little sacrifice. A reasonable step to take is to just buy the basic model of things you need, and use that extra cash to upgrade something where you can actually quantify how it’s worth the extra money. Sometimes, you just need something that’ll do the job.

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9 thoughts on “Stop Paying So Much For Quality

  • Hold on….not everything cheap is a good value. I drive a used car, but I spend $$ on good tires because of the miles I commute and my safety is important. Good bath towels will last 15 years and cost about 2x as much as cheap ones that last 2 years if you’re lucky. Ditto for sheets.

    Value isn’t always about price. I’ve always looked for value–that’s how I got to be debt free before most of my friends who either bought top-of-the line, to impress or “cheap” to save money.

  • I dislike spending money but we all have different values. I drive a 14-yr-old car; looks so-so but runs & drives great with good gas mileage. Cheap to run and insure and although it would be a paid to replace if stolen, I won’t cry over it. My computer is a different story. I’ve had non-Mac laptops/desktops and found that constantly crashed or froze and every stickin’ program I wanted/need on it cost me more dollars. That nice little $400 price ended up at $900 out the door. Nothing ever happens to my Mac – nothing. It’s 4-yrs-old; I never worry about it because of its proprietary system; that’s the key to its quality. My husband yells at his laptop every darn day while I quietly smile! In this case – peace of mind is worth every penny since I don’t know how to fix computers. Furniture? There’s no point in buying top-of-the-line because taste and use changes over the years. Same with decor. Cars? I totally agree with you. Dishes/glassware? Buy used! Your tastes will change in a few years. Clothing – only buy the ‘good stuff’ if it has classic lines and you wear it a LOT and have to look really nice everyday. Shoes? Buy good quality if it’s something you wear almost everyday; in the end, a good arch and good leather protect your feet, your back, and your sense of happiness. Few things wreck a day faster than sore feet or back.

  • I agree that you should pay off your debt first and make sacrifices while you are in debt. Once you are out of debt though I think you can buy whatever you like as long as you can afford it!

  • I agree that you should pay off your debt first and make sacrifices while you are in debt. Once you are out of debt though I think you can buy whatever you like as long as you can afford it!

  • I completely agree with this post! The purchasing manager at my old job used the phrase “fitness for purpose” i.e. buy only as good of quality as is necessary to do the job. Sometimes it does make sense to pay more for better quality, but a lot of times it’s just not necessary. And a lot of times you shouldn’t be buying anything at all because you already own something that will get the job done just fine.

    Of course there’s a balance, and priorities will be different from one person to the next. But like you said, if you have any sizable amount of debt (especially consumer debt), you really can’t afford anything but necessities, and you need to be able to discern what a necessity really is.

  • I bought a mac laptop in 2004 that still does everything I need it to do. I do need to replace the old girl though. In my business, a crashy run of the mill laptop won’t cut it. I need a machine that can have hundreds of days of uptime with no need for a reboot, and not a single crash or hiccup.

    Paying down debts as fast as possible is a very narrow view. Money doesn’t make the world go around… DEBT makes the world go around.

    I use borrowed money to make money since I get a better return then it’s costing me.

    Also with cars: leasing is a HUGE tax advantage for self-employed individuals like myself (in my tax jurisdiction) so it SAVES me money to lease and it COSTS me money to buy outright. I save on taxes, and I keep my capital working for me. I need a reliable vehicle since my reputation is completely dependent on my ability to get to the gig on time.

    I am a STRONG advocate for the beautiful combination of form and function and having the right tool for the job. You can’t fix a computer with a pipe-wrench. Nor should you buy the bare-minimum POS tool that will barely get the job done and then explode. Then you have to buy it again, and again, and again, and again, etc. every time that job needs doing.

  • I bought a mac laptop in 2004 that still does everything I need it to do. I do need to replace the old girl though. In my business, a crashy run of the mill laptop won’t cut it. I need a machine that can have hundreds of days of uptime with no need for a reboot, and not a single crash or hiccup.

    Paying down debts as fast as possible is a very narrow view. Money doesn’t make the world go around… DEBT makes the world go around.

    I use borrowed money to make money since I get a better return then it’s costing me.

    Also with cars: leasing is a HUGE tax advantage for self-employed individuals like myself (in my tax jurisdiction) so it SAVES me money to lease and it COSTS me money to buy outright. I save on taxes, and I keep my capital working for me. I need a reliable vehicle since my reputation is completely dependent on my ability to get to the gig on time.

    I am a STRONG advocate for the beautiful combination of form and function and having the right tool for the job. You can’t fix a computer with a pipe-wrench. Nor should you buy the bare-minimum POS tool that will barely get the job done and then explode. Then you have to buy it again, and again, and again, and again, etc. every time that job needs doing.

  • This is a good article and I enjoyed reading the comments. I agree that computers are different and some things it is best to look at quality instead of the hefty price tag. I have had my PC since 2006 and it is time to upgrade due to constantly freezing and crashing (sorry Windows doesn’t always act right). My laptop (because I work with computers on and off work) is doing good after I upgraded the hard drive and the RAM I am good to go. As for towels and bed sheets, I feel the same as the person in the previous comment. 🙂

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