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Cheap is Not Necessarily Frugal

Written by Nickel - 11 Comments

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This past week I was reminded on two different occasions that the cheapest option is not necessarily the most frugal option. As a reminder, here are the dictionary definitions of the terms frugal vs. cheap:

1. economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful.
2. entailing little expense; requiring few resources; meager; scanty.

In contrast…

1. costing very little; relatively low in price; inexpensive.
2. stingy; miserly.

Now, back to the story at hand…

Scenario 1: The Watch

While on vacation, our son’s watch strap broke. He’s ten years old, and he loves having a watch. The trouble is, we’ve been buying him cheap ($10-$12) “kid” watches. After all, he’s just ten — he doesn’t need a good watch, right? Wrong.

In the time since he’s started wearing a watch, he’s worn out at least three or four of these kid watches, at a total cost of $30-$40 (possibly more). Unfortunately, replacement parts for these cheapo plastic watches aren’t easy to come by, and even if we could find them we’d be looking at nearly the cost of a new watch just to replace the strap.

This time around, we wised up. Instead of spending $10-$12 on what is effectively a disposable watch, we picked up a nice little Timex Indiglo Expedition watch with a durable nylon strap that should last forever. This is much smarter decision in the long run. Too bad it took us three or four tries to get it right.

Scenario 2: The Sandals

While strolling along the beach on vacation last week, I was struck by that fact I bought my Teva sandals the week before my wife and I got married, and yet they’re still in great shape — nearly 12 years later! At the time, we weren;t making much money, so dropping $40-$50 (in mid-1990s money) for a pair of sandals seemed pretty outlandish. But we were about to go on our honeymoon, and I didn’t want a pair of crappy, uncomfortable sandals so I decided to pull the trigger. In retrospect, this was a great decision. I’ve gotten tons of wear out of these things, and they still have a lot left in them. On top of that, I’m not filling up the landfill with one pair of crappy sandals after another.

What about you? Have you made any cheap buying decisions that you regret? Or any frugal buying decisions that you’re particularly proud of?

Published on July 1st, 2008 - 11 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. From a fitness perspective, if you ever make a buying decision on workout shoes or athletic shoes strictly on price, you will be sorry. Your feet are so important when it comes to active lifestyles, that having bad shoes and socks will come back to haunt you.

    On a hiking trip to the Smokies, my wife bought some really cheap hiking shoes for herself. They gave her blisters on a long hike and my life was MISERABLE dealing with it. I would have paid ANYTHING to avoid that time.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 1st 2008 @ 2:52 pm
  2. I would have to disagree with that- at least as far as running shoes goes, can’t speak for hiking boots. I always buy $15 CrossTrekker running shoes from Payless (for running) and they’ve been fine. I run about 10 miles a week.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 1st 2008 @ 3:00 pm
  3. Think of shoes as any another piece of your wardrobe. You need to be aware of your needs and how often you will use the clothing, and justify the cost when necessary.

    I can get away with $5 flip-flops, because I only wear them around the house. They last about 3-4 years. Heels and sneakers are name-brand only, because I put some serious standing/walking time in when I work and workout. I’ve tried inexpensive shoes, but they just aren’t comfortable.

    I also broke down and bought a nice watch! (Nice being relative.. it cost $20.) I also learned the hard way, after drowning five $8 watches between high school and college. If you’re going to use any product regularly, buy the least expensive quality product.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 1st 2008 @ 3:35 pm
  4. I have always bought Huggies for my son. He’s almost 3. Recently we thought he was nearly potty trained, so instead of restocking on the expensive $21 diapers, I bought the store brand. Every night (3 nights we did this) he wore the cheapie diapers, his diaper leaked all over his bed. We had to toss them!

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 1st 2008 @ 3:53 pm
  5. I bought a pair of Nike sandals a long time ago and they lasted me FOREVER. Was probably one of the best things ive ever bought in my life as far as getting my moneys worth. they must have lasted at least ten years.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 1st 2008 @ 5:23 pm
  6. I bought a pair of $100 brooks sneakers. Turns out I no longer have an ache in my foot which I broke 5 years ago. I was trying different inserts as well until I went to the podiatrist who reccomended the speciality sneaker store and fixed me inserts.

    Cheap was not paying for expensive shoes that fit right.

    Frugal is buying 2 pairs so in case they wear out I have a second set which I use daily!

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 1st 2008 @ 9:43 pm
  7. I used some old scooter tires that I cut up and cut to fit all my shoes. I then bought a gallon of industrial glue and combine the two. What I wind up with is a solid shoe that lasts on the order of 40-50,000 miles give or take a few, and costs me next to nothing.

    I recommend this to anyone looking to tone up those calves and get those quads and hams in shape as well.


    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 2nd 2008 @ 12:07 am
  8. I learned that the cost of something is the price divided by the number of uses.
    This means that something that appears to be expensive may actually be cheap.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 2nd 2008 @ 1:57 am
  9. Oh this is so true and i wish i had wised up years ago too.

    I have never had much money and so with the little i have got i was alsways going for the cheapest option and yep just like you say, what ever it was would either break or in the case of clothes loose their shape and color in no time, forcing me out to buy even more.
    Now i am much smarter, i don’t go for top buck but i do go for quality as it will last me far longer and save me big bucks in the long run.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 2nd 2008 @ 6:55 am
  10. Quality of product versus quantity also comes into play. For example, I would rather have 1 really good bottle of wine per week (at 40 bucks) than 1 cheap bottle of wine per night (at 8 bucks). I don’t get any enjoyment from cheap wine or beer, so I simply drink less and enjoy a really good product rather than more of a crud product. Same goes with food. I would rather have a smaller, well cooked home meal with quality ingredients than a boatload of cheap, boxed or fast food.

    Sometimes less is more.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 3rd 2008 @ 3:28 am
  11. Steve: I couldn’t agree more, see below…

    Comment by Nickel — Jul 3rd 2008 @ 9:08 am

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