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8 things you shouldn't cheap out on

Frugal goes only so far. Some things are worth the money (even though you may not have to pay retail).

By Donna_Freedman Nov 1, 2012 1:25PM
Logo: Senior woman (Corbis)My dad has been building and remodeling ever since he was old enough to help out his own father, a carpenter. When he wasn't working on our home he was out helping someone else, or tearing down old buildings in order to re-use the wood on projects. (Clearly, the apple doesn't fall far from the frugal tree.)

He's never bought cheap equipment.

"There's an old saying with tools: 'Buy once, cry once,'" Dad said. "Of course, that applies to just about everything in life."

I've heard it another way, too: "Buy it right or buy it twice." In other words, frugality has its limits. Some things are worth the money.

Usually there are ways around paying retail. Among them: cash-back shopping, price comparison websites, clearance sales, online swap sites, thrift stores, yard sales and the Freecycle Network.

If not? Spend the money, for heaven's sake. Some things you just shouldn't cheap out on. The following list isn't comprehensive, but it's a start.

Creature comforts
1. Shoes.
Be kind to your feet or you will regret it. Buy well-made shoes with good support, and don't wear them so long that your soles are scraping the pavement. A lack of support can lead to back issues as well as foot problems like bunions, hammertoe and heel pain. All are painful, and it's cheaper to prevent them than to fix them.

2. Clothing. By all means shop secondhand, but don't buy things only because they're cheap. Select items that are comfortable, durable and, yes, flattering. This is especially true of children's clothing. Jeans with bleach spots and a worn-out "Hannah Montana" T-shirt would be fine for weekend wear, but don't subject your child to ridicule by making her wear them to school.


3. Food. Not everyone can afford an all-organic diet, but get the best food you can afford. Don't subsist on presweetened cereal and frozen dinners just because you had coupons for them. Items like dry beans, lentils, oats, rice, cornmeal, carrots, dried plums, potatoes and winter squash are cheap, and they pack a lot of nutritional punch.

You can further stretch your dietary dollars by checking out ethnic markets, restaurant supply stores, bakery outlets, "scratch and dent" food markets and even dollar stores. Items from bins in the "health food" section of some supermarkets often cost less than what's on the shelves. I bought extra-thick rolled oats for 64 cents a pound last week.

Home, health and more

4. Tools.
A cheap tool makes the job harder, and will probably need replacing. (See "buy it right or buy it twice," above.)

5. Housing.
Like the home shows say: It's better to have a substandard house in a good area than the other way around. (You can fix a house, but you have to wait for a neighborhood to fix itself.) Buy with that in mind, but never buy more than you can afford.

6. Health care coverage. If you can afford insurance, get it. Some people skip coverage because they feel pretty good, but they're fooling themselves. You can't predict accidents or sudden illnesses, and either one could bankrupt you faster than you can say "intensive care unit." (No coverage? See "Can’t afford health insurance? Your options" for tips.)

7. Professional advice.
Don't choose a lawyer, physician, psychotherapist or financial adviser based solely on how much it'll cost you. Even a few minutes of online research could indicate anything from indifferent attitudes to past criminal behavior.

8. Automobiles.
Buy the safest and most reliable car you can afford. Yes, I said "safe" and "reliable." Your wheels do not define you. They merely get you from place to place. Besides, the cooler/more head-turning your car is, the more expensive it will be to insure and maintain -- and the more attractive, maybe, to car thieves and jealous vandals.

What’s your "don't cheap out" item?

More from MSN Money:

Nov 11, 2012 11:33AM

I am reading your money ideas - we are having to tighten belts over the holidays and finding everything interesting.  Especially am considering back to school and any savings can be found.  Home saving and shopping advise great too - thanks Donna

Nov 11, 2012 11:25AM
Lawnmowers, you can get one for 150 bucks and will last 3 years or spend 300 bucks and get one that lasts 20 
Nov 11, 2012 11:23AM

don't bargain shop for tattoo artists either.....


Nov 11, 2012 11:22AM
 Car tires and auto service are the best examples I've seen in a long while. If you expect you car to give you great service you'll have to service it properly. Same with home appliances and air conditioners they must be inspected annually or they'll disappoint you at the worst time possible. Buy economical, not cheap,and you wont be disappointed.
Nov 11, 2012 11:22AM

That is especially so for shoes and clothing. Nothing looks as bad as worn, cheaply made shoes. Not only that, they will literally fall apart on your feet. At all cost, avoid synthetic "pheather"

boots and shoes. Once they become worn and beaten up, no amount of shoe care product can save them.

And, don't get me started on cheap clothes. I personally avoid buying women's suits, and dresses, that have no lining, or internal support such as shoulder pads. Thus, I refuse to buy from companies online and in brick and motor stores, that specialize in cheaply made women's clothing. Poorly constructed clothes have no body, make you look frumpy and they wrinkle easily.

Because I can sew, and when I've had the time to make my own clothes, I pay special attention to the internal construction of garments. I can't stress enough how important that lining is included in jackets and skirts. It gives the garment great body, and makes the item look and fit well.

Nothing's sharper than a well-tailored garment. I love to sew well-tailored clothes. That way, I can control the quality of my clothes by including lining, French seams, bound button holes, etc.

I likewise, demand this quality when I shop brick and motor stores, and browse online. I've driven sales clerks crazy while turning garments inside out to check out the structure of the item(s). I won't settle for anything less than top quality clothes at affordable prices.


Thank God, that there are many online and brick and mortar stores that let me do both.



Nov 11, 2012 11:19AM
Along with not going too cheap on purchases, also don't "cheap out" by avoiding or scrimping on maintenance for long life items.  For example, by taking great care of your car and always using ASE certified oil during all scheduled oil changes (with filter too) you can drive your car for over ten years (and maybe more) instead of replacing it every four years.  Don't let little problems fester because they'll become bigger (expensive) problems later. 
Nov 11, 2012 11:16AM
Nov 11, 2012 11:14AM

quality products at a market price.. give the middle class that.  we have overpriced name brands and option b is came apart stuff.. * might as well make it edible so at least we can save on groceries too..

Nov 11, 2012 11:14AM
Carpeting, Its expensive even if  you spend a lot of money! You get what you pay for, a Medium priced Carpet is often a good buy, but also DO NOT hire a cheap installer! pay the man with experience and one that stands behind his work !  25 years in the business I should know. I had many calls from people who asked me if I could "Fix" the screw ups the under bidder made, after I was turned down for the bid. needless to say, I hung up on them, often over a lousy 25 cents a yard savings to them. Bottom line is, Be careful who you hire, And dont be a CheapSkate !
Nov 11, 2012 11:10AM
i never cheap out on **** lubricants. it's just not worth it.
Nov 11, 2012 11:10AM
Buy good quality toilet paper. The cheap stuff is never fingerproof.
Nov 11, 2012 10:57AM
Useless article.  "Balance quality against price" sums up the entire article, doesn't this apply to everything?
Nov 11, 2012 10:56AM
Dentists too. I have friends who go to the dentists who offer coupons. Usually they regret it.
Nov 11, 2012 10:52AM
I spend money on shoes, bras and glasses.  I don't go cheap with any of those.

Nov 11, 2012 10:46AM
Thank you for that informative article.  I will print out a copy for future reference.
Nov 11, 2012 10:31AM
I agree with most of this article with a couple of exceptions.  First of all, organic food has not been shown to be better for you that food grown with traditional methods.  It's more expensive, not better, and even has some additional bacterial risks associated with it because organic produce is grown in manure.  Secondly, I don't believe health insurance is optional.  If at all possible, do without something else and buy health insurance.  Health issues are the biggest single cause of bankruptcies.  If you don't have health insurance, guess who foots the bill for you in case of an accident or major illness?  That's right.  It's all the people who do have insurance who pay higher premiums because of the people who don't.
Nov 11, 2012 10:27AM
Don't cheap out on Lube too. The generic  is nowhere as good as Astroglide! :)
Nov 11, 2012 10:22AM

I agree with buying good long lasting tools.  If it is something you need for a project once,  check out renting it .  Most lumber yard's rent tools or can tell you where you can rent.  Same is true for some auto parts stores.


 NOW under tools I have to add cookware.  I was given a good set for a wedding gift and have used it for over 30 years.  The same is true for small  appliances.  I don't know how many mixers, food processers, and irons I went through untill I bought good brands.  Makes a big difference in doing the job and last for ever! 

Nov 11, 2012 10:22AM

Hey Donna Freedman forget the eight tips you have explained. In today's time when people aren't working and afraid that they are going to lose their job people have to be "cheap". Even people who are working are being "cheap". I'll bet you "cheap" out on a lot of things because they are too expensive. When was the last time you went all out a bought something that was beyond your reach in spending money. Where was it made? So giving people 8 tips for not being "cheap" is something you should look at your self. The next time your in front of the mirror ask you self can I really afford the item you want to get most likely your inter-voice is going to tell you "NO"

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.