Don’t always buy cheapest (The Walmart Syndrome)

It’s important to be frugal. However, simply ‘buying the cheapest’ is not always the best tactic. This works for some things like quick consumables, like a generic brand of yogurt vs the name brand. However, for other things- like appliances, tools, and clothing, it’s not. These commodities I refer to as durables, rather than consumables, because they are meant to be used over and over again.

Walmart Syndrome, more commonly known as planned obsolescence , is where you keep buying the same cheap products again and again- spending more money in the long run because you make the same purchase multiple times. Sadly, most people have normalized the concept of buying the same thing multiple times because there are so many disposable products- but this line of thinking is not sustainable for both consumers wallet and the environment.

The old adage: “There’s buying cheap and then there’s buying smart” is really what this post is all about.

When I was young, for example, there was a year I bought 3 pairs of flip flops in one summer. I kept buying the cheapest pair (trying to be frugal and naive) and they kept falling apart after a few weeks of normal use. I ended up spending $40 combined for the 3 shitty pairs, as well as $25 for a nicer pair which lasted much longer (years in fact). I ended up paying three times as much as I would of had I just bought the slightly more expensive version in the first place.

Note: This doesn’t always mean that there is a direct correlation between the cost of a product and it’s quality. Some products are blatantly overpriced. Some products that will last a life time are quite affordable, like this can opener

Durables can be anything from furniture to consumer electronics or from clothes to toys. When making these purchases there is either an upfront cost you must incur, or you can finance it. Naturally, whenever possible, you should avoid financing where it’s not advantageous (eg. 0.0 apr for 12 months and paid within 12 months is a good deal).

When buying durables, I think it’s best to take the total cost of the item and divide it by the number of years I expect it to work- because nothing last forever. This requires a little market research to estimate the life span of the item (there’s a way to get around the research I explain later). Although products with life time warranties still exist, they are becoming harder to find and often have many stipulations and limitations- so watch out.

A good example is a new phone or tv. How many years do you plan to use your phone/tv? How many phones/tvs have you had to buy across your lifetime? With that information, how many more do you think you will buy?

For me, I just purchased a new phone. With most phones in the past I expected about 2-3 years of life time (which I got with both of my android phones). A new phone cost about $400, so about $130 per year to use. That isn’t bad, but if I’m trying to minimize costs I can do better. I just got a Samsung Phone that is built very rugged. Albeit a little older of a model, it only cost me $100 dollars brand new and it should last me 5 years. $20 dollars a year is six times cheaper than $130 dollars a year.

In addition to thinking about the lifetime of anything you might purchase, i t’s also worth considering weather or not it’s worth buying used. There is slightly more risk, but more often than not the used item is still fully functional and you will get a good bargain.

Take advantage of refund opportunities. Many people I know think it is simply to inconvenient to go to the customer service counter and ask for a refund rather than to go to the same store and but the item again. A good strategy if you’re not so savvy with understanding the quality of a product (or researching it) is to buy cheap, and then return it if it’s not working out in exchange for the slightly more expensive version. This way you’ve mitigated your investment risk in the product.

Regardless, people need to actively try to buy higher quality commodities that will last them a long time rather than settling for cheapest. In most cases, you will find that over time you will spend more money re-purchasing the same item over and over again.

If you’re interested in learning more about planned obsolescence, I encourage you to check out The light bulb conspriacy.

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