What Will a Cheapskate Spend Good Money On? Part I

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Even a cheapskate has to spend money sometimes. Today, I’m introducing a new series of posts in which I ask various frugal folks—bloggers, writers, money-saving and consumer experts—to name the products, services, experiences, and other “things” they’re willing to shell out good money on. Smart cheapskates understand that buying strictly based on cheapest price is often unwise. In the long run, buying cheap can often cost you more. Take heed of where and how these folks spend their money, because if a cheapskate is willing to drop cash on something, you know it’s worthwhile.

I’m calling this series What’s Worth Good Money, or WWGM for short, though I’m worried the acronym may be misconstrued. (“What Would God Make?” “What Would George Misunderestimate?”) I’ve asked people to name five or so things—naming brand names, if appropriate—they’re willing to spend extra on to ensure quality, or just because they’re particular. I’ve also asked people to name some of the things they buy based strictly on the cheapest price, because it’s also important to know when it’s OK to skimp out.

To start the series, I’m offering my own list.

WORTH SPENDING GOOD MONEY ON

1. Paint. I always buy good quality paint, usually Sherwin-Williams. Why? Cheap paint is all liquid-y and requires three or more coats, and even after that it can still look awful. A wall painted with chintzy stuff will also need to be retouched or repainted entirely sooner than if you’d done it with a high-quality product. So overall, the cheap route is a time- and money-loser.

2. Beer. I’d prefer plain old water over a watered-down beer. When I have an occasional beer, I have a beerSam Adams usually. I know it’s double the price of Natural Light or whatever came out of the keg in college, but I’d rather go without (and often do just that) than go with the cheap stuff.

3. Camera. Photos of my kids are some of my most cherished possessions, and a good camera helps you take good pictures. I was one of the first people I know to buy a digital SLR when models dropped under $1,000. I bought a Nikon D50 five years ago for about $600, and only bought the body. (I transferred the lens from an old 35mm camera so I didn’t have to buy a new one for an extra $200 or more.) To me, the big thing that makes SLRs worth the extra money is that there’s no lag time from when you click on the shutter to the time the image is captured. With many digital cameras, there’s an annoying delay, and by the time the camera actually snaps the photo, your kids probably turned their backs to the lens, or perhaps took the two-second lag as an opportunity to put a sibling in a headlock. There are many flashier new SLRs now on the market, but mine still works great, and I haven’t seen any gizmo or feature that’ll make me spend more to upgrade.

4. Mustard. Yellow mustard just doesn’t do it for me. I love different-flavored mustards—honey, spicy, dijon, etc. My latest favorite is Stadium Mustard, which I heard about one Fourth of July during a TV show about hot dogs (another favorite, though I’m not too particular about brands). Stadium Mustard has been served at Cleveland baseball stadiums for a half-century. The only way to get some, other than going to an Indians game, is to order a case of 12 bottles, which actually isn’t all that expensive ($32 with shipping, so under $3 a bottle). I did just that, and while ordering a case of specialty mustard is totally high-maintenance behavior, I don’t regret it.

5. Yard Tools. Think about what you do with shovels and hoes and hedge clippers. Do you think cheap tools will hold up to the pounding in the long run? Look at what professional landscapers use, and follow their lead. Or just ask your local hardware store what tools are going to last 30 years, and which ones need replacing every other summer.

WHEN CHEAP IS THE WAY TO GO

1. Wine. I like reds, but I’ve never had a $30 bottle taste three times as good as a $10 bottle. The $10 bottle (or even a $7 bottle) of Malbec or Cabernet works for me. Perhaps I have an immature (cheap?) palate.

2. Jeans. How anyone spends $75, let alone $300, on a pair of pants that once and probably still defines blue collar is beyond me. I’ve gotten perfectly good jeans on sale at Kohl’s for like $12. (Does anyone ever pay full price at that store? There’s always a sale.). A few months ago, I used an L.L. Bean gift card to secure a pair of “dress” jeans, worn at parties and such, which I just saw are still on sale for $14.95.

3. Beach Toys. Are there expensive beach toys? Who buys them? Ones at the dollar store are hits in my family.

4. Sunglasses. I once was the beneficiary of a pair of Ray Bans from a friend whose head was not a match. They looked cool. But you know what? They broke just as easily as sunglasses that cost me $2.99. The pair I wear now costs $2.99.

5. Cheese. Whatever the grocery store’s brand of sharp cheddar does the trick.

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