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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 8:16AM
Perhaps, I also should ask you how to go to bed, how to breath, how to walk, what to think and so on.. After all this is what you want me to be without my functioning brain, are you?
Nov 11, 2012 8:05AM
Nov 11, 2012 7:42AM

Footwear is at the top of the list.  Buy a cheap, low-grade pair of shoes and you are guaranteed to have all kinds of foot problems.  Blistered feet become infected feet; wet feet becomes debilitating foot fungus.  For athletic footwear, I'm partial to trail shoes because of tread and traction; the best trail shoes I've ever worn are the New Balance 476.  They're pretty easy to find at a good price; picking up at least two pair at a nice price is a no-brainer.  For boots, I look for Thinsulate and Gore-Tex, with a Vibram sole as a bonus.  I also look for something that is very light on my feet.  My current pair of boots are a pair of Gore-Tex/Thinsulate Redheads from B****; the only pair of shoes I own which are lighter on my feet are my wrestling shoes. The reason why I mention the Vibram sole is quite simple:  Goodyear welt soles can be counted on to fail.  They are multi-layered, meaning they will shear away along the length of the sole.


The other item on the top of my list is a backpack.  Everyone should have a bug-out bag.  If you buy a $5 backpack from a jobber, you will get exactly $5 worth of backpack.  You can count on it to fail; straps will rip away or seams will blow out.  Your gear does you no good strewn all over the ground.  I only recommend tactical packs with plenty of MOLLE attachment points  Only one manufacturer meets my criteria:  5.11 Tactical.  I prefer the Rush 72 because of its greater capacity and greater number of attachment points; I got mine on discount for around $135, which I would consider the bargain of the century.  Condor makes a fantastic shoulder bag attachment which is easily compatible with  5.11 Tactical product; when you can find it in stock, it retails around $20 and adds an insane amount of capacity for a small price.  If you're thinking about a bug-out bag and want to follow my recommendations, I would jump on the Condor attachments the minute I see them in stock or see a definite in-stock date because they usually sell out within 10 days of being in stock.

Nov 11, 2012 7:41AM
Never buy condoms at a resale shop!!!!
Nov 11, 2012 7:40AM

"exterior painting" Not only because I am in the business but I see it all the time, I get outbid by thousands on jobs and here are a few risky reasons why:

1 Workers Comp Ins. You have 5 guys running around on oops and they can sue YOUR insurance.

2. General Liability Ins. I seen it before more than a dozen times. Ladder fell on a porsche, industrial light tipped on the wood floor (burnt down the whole house)

3. Many painters are in business for profit so they hire people with no skill, use the cheapest box store latex primer and paint. There is NO SUCH THING as primer and paint in one or one coat coverage.

4. OIL OIL OIL though I hate to fund the Oil Cartels Prep is key in any project and painting is the easy part. I seen latex primers  not make it one year of adhesion especialy on older wooden homes. Many people dont like to use oil as it is not too forgiving when you make a mistake or have an accident, it cost more, smells, difficult to work with and kills your brushes. But I have put my victorian projects to the TEST aginst the slap and go compition. I have gotten 8-10 years with a little maintaining and the compition 1-3 years. If your looking to flip it HAVE AT IT.... but you do the comunity no justice or your buyers and believe me... word gets around and in this day and age reputation is KEY.

Nov 11, 2012 7:38AM
Good footwear (shoe & socks) and a good mattress! Both should be considered investments in your health!
Nov 11, 2012 7:23AM
#1-3 are just stupid. You SHOULD look for bargains on food and clothing. In fact, that will save you tons of money every year. I used to splurge on food and eat like a king. Then I lost my job and obviously, things had to change. I started looking for sales and reduced prices every time I went to the grocery store, and I am eating just fine. I also changed my diet, due to medical reasons and it has been the best thing to ever happen to my wallet. 
Nov 11, 2012 7:05AM
I go along with this article and onr thing I highly recommend along with good shoes is good socks. This may sound insaine what I pay for socks but I buy mine at a Red Wing Boot Shop.They are Thik and comfortable and last for ever, They Are Pricey! I spent $25 for a pack of 6 over two years ago and bought more later. I have yet to have any of these socks to wear out yet!! You can buy just one pair to try if you want. This one pair will spoil you thou.
Nov 11, 2012 6:47AM
Amen. . . sums it up. Good article!
Nov 11, 2012 6:42AM

do all of these and your helping with the fundamentals

that make it posible for everyone

Nov 11, 2012 6:33AM

She asked, so here it is. I will NEVER buy cheap toilet paper!  Just kidding, not really, no I am kidding.. No I'm not, no sandpaper in MY house. 


In all seriousness, I do without sometimes, but I have good health insurance. So important, and I'm not taliking about Obamacare, you'll end up dying while they figure out that mess. And the shoes, you  must buy good shoes! I used to sell them in an athletic store, and if you have $40 junk on your feet, you'll pay for it later. I've worn skate/casual sneakers most of my life, and hate myself for it. Buy a good pair of Asics, Brooks or Rykas, and stay away from Nike, unless they are Bowermans, those are pretty good.

Nov 11, 2012 4:55AM

I think furniture is a good thing not to cheap out on.  You use you couch regularly and you can buy something decent and have it looking and sitting good for 10 -15 years or cheap and have it looking ratty in 3-5.


Nov 11, 2012 4:45AM

never, ever buy cheap condoms.....


Nov 11, 2012 4:25AM

Confy shoes, confy bed,Beautiful woman and good foor are the things you have to have to have a beautiful life..

Nov 5, 2012 2:22PM
I always think about the simple question 'how often am I going to use this?' to help prioritize where my money goes.  So, for housing, this is a pretty simple answer - I use the house all the time so I don't mind spending money on it.  Same for food, some clothing, etc.

Conversely, regarding tools, I often buy a lower-priced tool for something that I know I will only use once a year (Harbor Freight is still the best place to go).  Also, I make sure the tool will pay for itself the first time I use it.  I've done well with less expensive tools, as they are fine for a non-professional.  
Nov 2, 2012 4:10PM
Signning up on some websites gets you free underwear (victorias secret, sends out coupons like 10 times a year).  Sign up at and get a $5 off coupon (I used mine towards a package of socks) Kohls also sends me $10 off $10 coupons once a month snail mail.  I use them on socks, panties or towards bras.
Nov 2, 2012 3:38PM
I am in agreement with this article, but especially about housing.

 When my husband and I were younger and he was retiring from the Navy we chose the cheapest, smallest home in a very nice subdivision.

When we bought our home the sales price was all the money in the world. There was even a short period of time that he and I were both unemployed! We went without a lot of things during that period.

Fast forward 17 years and we'll soon own this great home. We were able to provide our son with a comfortable, safe home in a good neighborhood and access to good schools and great teachers.

 Ours was the house that all the kids came to after school which is priceless now that I look back on the fun we had when he was small.

I grew up in an NYC housing project and know all too well the issues surrounding growing up in an unsafe, violent environment. Carrying pepper spray and a switchblade at 12 wasn't what I wanted for my child.

Nov 2, 2012 12:12PM

I don't cheap out on underwear/socks/bras - cheap stuff never lasts and creeeps where it shouldn't or it fails to hold up the "girls" properly !

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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.