Deciding Whether to Splurge or Save

by Emily Guy Birken on February 8, 2013

Fur CoatsMy uncle comes from a family in the garment industry. I remember once going shopping with him at a fairly low-end clothing store. Before he let me buy anything, he carefully inspected the seams and the fabric, making certain that even the very inexpensive items I was picking out had been built to last. He made me put a couple of blouses back, since they would assuredly fall apart within a few wearings.

That was an important lesson to me on how to go about saving money while shopping. It’s not enough to find a low-cost alternative—you have to also know that you will get value for your money.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the eye for well-made clothing that my uncle does, so unless I’m shopping with him, I tend to buy clothes at stores I know I can trust. Basically, I splurge on good, well-made clothes, because I don’t know how to truly save in the budget stores.

Here are some other good rules of thumb that will help you decide whether you should splurge or if you can safely save on your shopping:

Feel good about splurging on “investment” items

Many fashion bloggers will encourage readers to buy top-of-the-line pieces that will stand the test of time: the little black dress, a perfectly-cut suit, a great pair of classic (and comfortable) shoes. Considering the fact that you expect to get a great deal of wear out of these basic pieces, it’s worth the money to go for the highest quality you can find.

On the other hand, if you’re following a seasonal fad, that’s when it makes more sense to save your money. Ponchos, parachute pants, and elephant-ear bell-bottoms will never be a long-term fashion, so go ahead and buy the cheap knockoffs.

Splurge on things that can negatively affect your health and well-being

What to buy with this advice will generally be different for each individual, although there are some universals. Having a good quality mattress, for example, can make a huge difference in every area of your life. Depending on what you do for a living, investing in an ergonomic office chair or well-designed desk can help to keep you focused on work, rather than aches and pains.

Alternatively, anything that you only use occasionally is a good place to look for savings. If you’re not using it daily, it’s less likely to affect your health.

Splurge when your time is more important

One thing that the extreme couponing and other frugality television shows make clear is just how time consuming it can be to save money.

Whether you are making coupon organization a part-time job, or you are fixing the leak under the sink yourself rather than call a plumber, it’s really important to remember that your time is worth something. If you could be spending your time more productively than cutting coupons or trying to figure out which end of a wrench is up, then it’s worth the extra money.

This can be a tough rule of thumb to keep if you have made a habit out of frugal thinking.

The Bottom Line

Knowing what to splurge on and when to save your money can be a very tough call. If you know enough about your purchase to allow you to find those diamonds in the rough and you are willing to invest in good pieces, you’ll be in a good position to spend your money as wisely as possible. Remember, just because you can do something yourself doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your time.

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Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom who is passionate about personal finance. She lives in Lafayette, Indiana with her mechanical engineer husband and her toddler son. She blogs about parenting at The SAHMnambulist and about the funny side of money at Live Like a Mensch.
  • In our house we call it buying “heirloom quality” and the easiest way to explain it is how we look at tools. A good splurge for us isn’t a tool that has 1000 different features but is made of plastic. A good splurge would be one that is solidly built and likely to still be around to be passed on to our hypothetical children someday.

  • Jason @ WorkSaveLive

    I’m completely with you on the time aspect of things as well as “investing” in quality products. I believe time is the most valuable thing in the world and I’m willing to pay quite a bit to free up my time. Frankly, it’s one of the reasons I invest so much of my blog income back into the business: I’d rather outsource then spend all of my time doing it.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules

    I totally agree that it can be a very tough call. I hate overspending, but there are many things where it is necessary to buy quality products that will last. In the long run if you buy something that will wear out then you’re really not saving money. I agree too that time is the most valuable thing in the world and I’ll do what I can to get more of it.

  • Totally agreed. There are some things where cheap or frugal is not the way to go. I think that’s why conscious spending is so important. You think ahead and all the uses the item will have, and how valuable it will be to your life.

  • Jose

    In the past I’ve bought “cheap” to save money and have learned that this isn’t necessarily the best path to take. When you buy the same item several times over the course of a few years because you bought “cheap” then you haven’t really saved anything, you’ve actually spent more than you would have if you had bought a quality item to start with. That’s why we have a Dyson 🙂 (And no, I didn’t pay retail for ours)

  • I think it also depends on how much free time you have. I have no kids, no full time job, so lots of times to do things myself. While I don’t clip coupons, I grow a garden and my time investment is ridiculous for what I harvest, but I like it. Yes my time could be spent on growing passive income and going to the supermarket but this is not the life I want.

    I do splurge on quality daily items like clothing, kitchenware, mattress…

  • It can be a tough call to splurge or save for sure. I usually find out how many hours of work something would cost and find out how happy this investment would make me. Traveling for example, makes me really happy and the memories last a lifetime. Clothes and shoes however….I almost never buy them and if I do, they are second hand. I am very utilitarian about purchases like that. Totally agree about conscious spending and knowing when to be frugal and not cheap!

    • I completely agree with you. Traveling is something that makes my wife and I happy. Spending the money on a nice vacation is something I am completely ok with.

  • I’m picky about clothes as well as I don’t want to have to buy something twice. Think about it this way. If you are buying a product that is $50 and a higher end product is $100 yet the lower end product will last you a year and the other 5 years, it’s clear what the choice should be. Although for some money is a problem so they opt for the cheaper because it’s a purchase in the moment and it might be something they can’t save up for because they need it now. IF it’s a splurge, save the cash, it will be well worth it. Great post.

    • I literally have shirts and sweaters that I bought five years ago that I still wear. Because of that I have no probably shopping for quality at stores like J. Crew or other similar stores. Most guys clothes stay in style for awhile.

  • I totally agree. Once you figure out what your time is worth, spending time to save money sometimes just does not equate. Thanks for the great post!

  • Great post.
    Sometimes it’s not about saving money, but gaining value. And generally value products equate to more. For example, I like paying more for clothes and shoes. They’re an important aspect of my life personally and professionally.

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  • Great post! It’s true, it’s not about getting the cheapest thing but the best thing for the best price, meaning sometimes it may seem a bit expensive at first.

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