Buying the best – My favourite counterintuitive frugality principle

Buy the best version of what you need.  How does that square with saving money? Well the second, unstated part of that is: buy only what you need, take amazing care of it, and keep it for life.  If only I could go back 10 years and redo my entire purchasing history.

This is an idea that I first read about in “Early Retirement Extreme” (blog and book).  One of his approaches to limiting one’s consumption is that if you are buying something new, the author advocates buying the best that you can afford (and if you follow his principles about consuming very little, you will be able to afford the best, natch).  This is because ERE proposes that you treat your possessions like business assets which suffer depreciation year after year and that you limit your exposure to depreciation.    I want to elaborate somewhat on this because it is something that I am strongly considering implementing in my own life, especially as I ween myself off my compulsion to shop (I just bought some popsicle molds. Popsicle molds! I am sick, I tell you, sick).

For example, if you buy a $600 knife secondhand for $400, and care for it properly, you would likely be able to resell that knife for around the same price.  If you buy a $80 mid-range version, it will likely depreciate to $0 after several years.  In the former case, you can not only recoup your purchase price should you no longer need said item, but you also get to enjoy the finer quality of the $600 knife for the length of time that you own it.  Those are principles that I can definitely get behind!  My favorite purchases have been thrifted high end clothing. I have a beautiful Dolce and Gabbana silk shift from the 60s or 70s (going by style) that I purchased in Sao Paulo for about $20 – $40 Cdn (which was actually a significant layout for me at the time).  However, this is not an invitation to run out and drop $1200 on a set of copper pots.  Here’s how I think one would incorporate this into one’s life:

1.  Use what you already own before buying anything new.   I think it goes without saying that anything that you already have and that isn’t causing you a great deal of trouble should remain cared for.  Spending nothing is preferable to spending anything.  That means no new winter jacket, because I already own….oh….about a dozen. No kidding.  Most are thrifted and some are extremely nice, like my tan wool calf-length Benetton jacket with fur collar, which I bought for about $30.

2. Consider buying the best only for goods that you will use frequently.  Don’t buy ‘the best’ food processor if you only use a food processor 4x/year. (Confession: I use mine VERY frequently and I bought it as a second hand refurb).   Jacob would further counsel that anything you do not use frequently (as in at least monthly) is a superfluous possession that you should not own.   This is why buying clothing for babies is a complete waste.

3. Forget about variety.  “Variety, they say, is the spice of life.”  I think the desire for variety must be a trap perpetuated by the Gods of Consumption on us mere mortal fools.  It may even be a deception that undermines the most basic moral values, such as steadfastness and loyalty.  Why sleep with only one man when there are so many out there?  Why own only 2 dresses? Won’t these “limited” choices impinge on our freedom? Won’t we be “bored” without endless recourse to several cheap dresses and several revolving relationships?   Don’t we need several versions of every object we own to confront the miniscule changes in weather, situation, temperature, lifestyle? Instead of variety, why don’t we treasure durability, history, workmanship, timelessness?  Instead of searching for varieties of people, things, experiences, let us cultivate flexibility in our own minds to deal more easily with every kind of situation.  Why do we frown on routine and equanimity and idolize passion when routine can free our minds to focus on higher things?  Lately I even read a proposal that marriage should last only 10 years, at which point we should junk it and find a new 10-year partner. My inner small-c conservative shuddered.

4. Buy it secondhand if possible to further reduce depreciation.   Self-explanatory innit?

5. Save for your purchase if necessary and do without until then.

6. Find out what the “best” version of the desired item is. 

Yep, this last point is actually the most difficult, in my opinion because marketing ensures that *everyone* wants to tell you their product is the best. Googling ‘the best’ (or as I call it, appealing to the Great Brain) does not actually yield ‘the best’ item…and just because something is expensive or has a popular brand doesn’t mean that it is ‘the best’ per se.    One way to find quality manufacturers is to frequent those who offer a lifetime warranty on their goods against defects.   A quick google search revealed three clothing companies: Marmot, The North Face, and Spyder (but there are many, many more).  Going to a sports clothing company for your outerwear generally means your clothing is designed for higher performance. That’s an ERE tip.

These days you cannot suss out quality from either brand or production region. Production may be in China is no longer automatically crap made in shitty sweatshops and many high end lines are actually manufactured there.  It behooves one to do research on the product and what to look for.

In the coming months, I’ll do a little research into  what ‘the best’ version of certain products are according to the following:


  • Long-established company
  • Lifetime (or multiple lifetime) quality
  • Able to refurbish/ care for
  • Performs substantially better than comparable goods
  • Life-time warranty

Hopefully I’ll find some goodies.




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