Saturday, September 14, 2013

Quality of life is a choice

There is another aspect to The Frugal Life that merits discussion. This aspect concerns our buying choices. For example, should we go to Walmart to pay the lowest possible price, or should we go to someplace more upscale to get better quality? There is an old adage that says, "you get what you pay for". Today I'd like to share my personal experience with that concept.

In the summer, I like to wear sandals. It's hot, sometimes muggy and when we go for walks, I want my feet out in the open, enjoying life. For 3 years in a row, I bought these sandals from Oshmans Sporting Goods for $15 a pair. I managed to wear them out in a year each time and found that a hard spot would wear through and caused pain on the balls of my feet.

On the fourth year, we were walking through a mall when my wife Alice suggested that I get a new pair of sandals, something that wouldn't wear out so quick. I relented and agreed to walk into a place that just sells sandals. While there, a salesperson helped me to select a pair on Alice's suggestion. I walked around in them and immediately noticed an improvement in how my feet felt. But they were $70.

Then again, I looked at their construction, liked the way they looked, figured that they weren't going to wear out like the other sandals I had been buying and felt really comfortable. Had I done that years ago, I would not have bought $15 sandals three times. I would have saved myself the effort and time and money, which is more than the cost of the $70 sandals. My feet are happier now. Without knowing what she had done, Alice had reminded me that you get what you pay for. As you'll see below, I get to return the favor to Alice.

From time to time, Alice wanted to go shopping for shoes. We went to places like Payless Shoesource, Shoe Carnival and even K-Mart to find shoes that she want to wear. This seemed to work OK, but a friend's voice rang in my head, telling me that we stand on our feet all day. Let's get something better. I made suggestions to go somewhere else for a better buying experience, but Alice persisted in going after the bottom dollar on shoes.

Then a few weeks ago, Alice began to complain that her heels hurt. After some discussion, she determined that it was her shoes that were causing her pain. She needed some relief so we went shopping for new shoes. But this time, she was willing to go to Dillards on my suggestion. If you don't have Dillards in your town, Dillards is a department store just a notch below Nordstroms to get an idea of what I mean.

When we arrived, Alice browsed for shoes and wanted to try them on herself, taking shoes from the displays to try on. Alice was not really familiar with how these department stores worked. I suggested that we get a salesperson to help answer questions and find a shoe that fits. Once a salesperson was consulted, I just carried our daughter Emily around while Alice worked with the shoe salesperson.

Now I felt confident that eventually Alice was going to find a pair of shoes that she liked. They were going to cost a lot more money, but they would last, they would fit, and ultimately, they would not cause her pain. We settled on a pair of shoes from Ecco and a pair of sandals from Born. I love Ecco shoes myself, so I was really happy to see her get fitted with her new shoes.

Alice loved both of them and enjoyed the experience. I told Alice that this shopping experience was something I wanted to do for her for a long, long time. I explained to her that when I buy shoes, I am making a long term investment in my feet, so I don't go cheap. I also explained to her how it pains me to see her buying cheap shoes when she could have something better and feel better about the purchase. I just wanted to roll my eyes every time she wanted to go to Shoe Carnival. But one stop in Dillards has brought great relief to Alice and relieved me with a sharp decrease in the frequency of our trips to the shoe store.

We live in a throwaway society. When we buy cheap, we buy again, over and over. What I've learned over the years is that the return on investment is better than proportional with the quality of the item we buy. And some of the benefits are intangible.

For example, when we moved into our home, we bought a new refrigerator that cost about $700. It worked and worked well for what we needed to do, but it was noisy and small. This year, we bought a refrigerator for $2000 that is plenty big enough for our growing needs with one growing kid. But it also has a linear compressor that is warrantied for 10 years and is very quiet. We also learned that these days, water filters are pretty standard on high end refrigerators, and we had a water hookup that connects to the cold water line on our sink in the kitchen. We installed the filter and opened the valve to have filtered water for drinking and ice. Very cool. We won't be buying another refrigerator any time soon. That's an intangible benefit.

I don't expect to be seeing a repairman, either. Why? When I went shopping for a refrigerator, the salesperson at Home Depot was only pointing me to the LG refrigerators and I asked why. She said that they weren't being returned by customers, they just run. I liked that and bought one. That refrigerator may be expensive today, but over the years, it will just run and provide plenty of space while keeping our food cool or frozen, with cool filtered water for drinking. The intangible benefit for me is that the sound of the compressor won't wipe out the consonants in the dialogue when I'm watching a movie.

Buying on the cheap leads to a mind of scarcity and leads to buying over and over again. Buying a quality item when you need it leads to a life of abundance because you won't have to buy that item again anytime soon. Paying with cash means that you aren't on the hook every month to pay for someone else's summer home. Abundance is not an action, it's a state of mind that you choose to have.
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