What Will a Cheapskate Spend Good Money On? With Author Lauren Weber

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Even a cheapskate has to spend money sometimes. I’ve asked various frugal folks—bloggers, writers, money-saving and consumer experts—to compile personal, totally subjective lists of the products, services, experiences, and other “things” they’re willing to shell out good money on. Because sometimes spending more is smarter, and if a cheapskate is willing to drop cash on something, you know it’s worthwhile.

Up today, Lauren Weber, author of the new book In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue, coming out next week.


1. Winter boots. I live in New York City, so I walk all the time. In the winter, this means trudging through a lot of snow and grime-stained slush. Good boots are a must. After a few years of skimping on cheaply-made models that fell apart before a single season had ended, I upgraded to a pair of Italian leather boots that cost $350. They’re sturdy and supple. They’re also gorgeous. The high cost inspired me to take very good care of them. I’ve now worn them, almost daily, through four grueling winters. If they make it through the coming season, they’ll have amortized to about $70 a year – not a bad price to pay for warm, dry, comfortable feet.

2. Newspaper subscription. I know, I know. If you can get it for free, why pay for it? But after letting my Wall Street Journal and New York Times subscriptions lapse, I was disappointed by the online reading experience. I was almost only clicking on stories that were listed on newspapers’ home pages. I missed the serendipities of opening the physical paper and stumbling on wonderful articles I might never have found on the Web site. I renewed my New York Times subscription and now relish the pleasures of reading it with breakfast.

3. Skincare. My cheapness often wars with my vanity. The jeans I pulled out of a dumpster last year are too long and a little loose in the tush: Cheapness 1, Vanity 0. But when it comes to skincare, I’m a spendthrift. I use Kiehl’s sunblock on my face ($18.50/bottle), and an obscure brand of herb-based French cleansers and moisturizers called Decléor. My nighttime skin balm alone costs $60 for a one-ounce jar. I rationalize it with the knowledge that one jar lasts about six months, which breaks down to $10 per month, or 33 cents per day. I can live with that.

4. Physical health. Even though I’m lucky enough to be in good health (knock on wood, throw salt over shoulder), I worry. So I pay $48 a month for my YMCA membership, so I can engage in the only exercise I like, swimming and yoga. And for the last few years I’ve forked over about $290 a month for the health insurance I get through Mediabistro.com, an organization that serves freelance writers. That’s my single largest expense. My premium just went up to $350, and I’m now considering canceling my policy. I hope Congress passes real health care reform soon, so that I and millions of other Americans can get access to affordable insurance coverage.

5. Mental health. A few years ago, I went through a long period of feeling hopeless, paralyzed and depressed. A friend said to me, “Life is too short to be miserable.” She’s right. I found a therapist and shelled out $100 per week for a few months. It all came out of my pocket. But the therapy helped get me back on track and convinced me that, yes, feeling happy to be alive is one of the best investments.


1. Supermarket brands. These have gotten better over the years, and now I always opt for the generic brand of foods like sour cream, chicken stock, ketchup, mayonnaise, sugar, baking soda and dried pasta.

2. Clothing. I get almost everything I wear at thrift stores and clothing swaps. One of my favorite activities everyday is to add up the cost of my entire outfit. I’m happiest when it comes in under $15.

3. Laundry detergent. I used to buy the generic store brands. Now, I go a step further: I make my own, out of borax, washing soda and grated soap.

4. Entertainment. In most urban areas and even in small towns, there’s a steady supply of free activities. New York City boasts movie festivals, music festivals, museum nights, gallery openings, lectures, readings, walking tours and other low- or no-cost events.

5. Airport transportation. I love to travel, and I pride myself on being able to arrive in a strange city and get from the airport to my downtown destination entirely on public buses and trains. I’ve used public transportation to get to city centers in New Orleans, Casablanca, Athens, Tokyo, Istanbul and many other locales. The cost is usually about 90 percent less than a cab, and you often get a nice, slow sight-seeing tour along the way.