Sometimes Cheap is Really More Expensive

When you shop for clothes, shoes, and accessories, do you always try to find the lowest price?  Are you always on the lookout for a “good deal”?   While bargain-hunting is common for many shoppers, I’m here to tell you that “cheap” can actually be more expensive.

A Tale of Four Purses

What do I mean by this?  I’ll illustrate my point by sharing a tale of four purses.  Two of the purses were “expensive” (over $200) and the other two were “cheap” (around $50).  The expensive purses were made by Brighton and were purchased in August 2008 and December 2010, respectively.  I have carried both bags for at least 300 days, yet they are still in excellent condition and scarcely show their wear.

I bought the “cheap” bags late last year.  I carried one for approximately three months (I’m not one to change my bags all that often) and the other for only about a week.  I did not stop carrying these bags because I grew tired of them.  I stopped carrying them because they lost their shape, began to fray, and started looking terrible.  Yes, a $50 bag only lasted for a week!  I wish I could return it, but I purchased it months before I began using it and have no way of proving that it started to fall apart after such a short period of time.  So I can’t get my money back, but I can learn a powerful lesson and share it with my readers.

Cheap Purses vs. Quality Purses

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

I spent $100 for two purses which lasted for a combined period of just over three months.  Had I purchased two similar purses of additional price and quality, I may have gotten six to nine months of use from all four purses combined.  Compare that to my two Brighton bags which have been carried for approximately two years total and will last me for at least that much longer until they will need to be replaced!

When I wanted a new purse last year, I should have saved up for another Brighton bag.  Instead, I bought two cheap bags which ended up being a waste of my money.   Why didn’t I wait to buy a high quality bag?  I can think of a few reasons:

  1. I shop too much and am always living at the edge of – or beyond – my budget.
  2. I aim for immediate gratification and want something new NOW, so I buy what I can afford at the moment instead of holding out for something better.
  3. I love the thrill of a deal and get a rush from being able to buy things at low cost.
  4. I’m caught up in our culture of “fast fashion” and continually changing trends being touted in magazines, online, and in stores.

More Isn’t Always Better!

Like many “shopaholics” and consumers in general, I have favored quantity over quality. I thought more was better.  Why buy one purse for $200 when I could get four purses for the same price? Why buy a shirt made from natural fibers and with quality workmanship when I could purchase five shirts for the same amount?  Adhere to that philosophy and you end up with a closet full of low-quality, mediocre pieces that you don’t love and which won’t stand the test of time.  Wash a low-quality top a few times and it starts to fall apart at the seams, while a high-quality garment can be laundered a hundred times and still look great.

I’ve learned the hard way that it’s actually more expensive to buy cheap clothing, shoes, and accessories.  Cheap shoes hurt my feet, cheap clothes made from flimsy materials don’t feel good or wear well, and cheap accessories fall apart.  All of these items need to be replaced regularly, so they end up costing more money in the long run.   In addition, the manufacture of these items overtaxes the environment and leads to worker abuses in the Third World (I will write more about this in a future post, but if you’re curious, I highly recommend reading the book “Overdressed” by Elizabeth Cline).

Consider Cost Per Wear

While I won’t make a hard-fast pledge to never buy “cheap” items again, I’ve decided to aim for higher quality when making my clothing and accessory purchases, especially for key wardrobe pieces.  I consider the cost per wear ratio for what I’m looking to buy.  For example, if I carry a $300 Brighton bag for a total of three years (1095 days), my cost per wear for the bag is only 27 cents!  I’ve worn a favorite Skagen watch that cost $140 at least 500 times now, so its cost per wear is just 28 cents. Contrast that to my $50 bag that lasted just one week, for a cost per wear of $7.14!  It’s clear to see that it’s far better to purchase high quality items.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  Some expensive pieces don’t stand the test of time, while other low-cost items surprisingly endure.  But in general, it’s better – and actually cheaper in the long run – to splurge on quality when shopping.

Do You Go For Immediate Gratification?

I’ll close with another story.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, researchers at Stanford University conducted a series of experiments on delayed gratification with children.  They put each child in a room with a marshmallow and said they’d give him two marshmallows if he could wait fifteen minutes without eating the one in front of him.  In follow-up studies, the researchers found that the children who could wait longer for the reward tended to have better life outcomes.

I wasn’t one of the kids in the study (although I’m the right age since I was born in 1966), but I know for a fact the marshmallow would have been in my mouth within five minutes.  I’m not sure what other positive life outcomes I’d have at this point, but I do know I’d have better clothes – and better purses!

Next Time, I’ll Hold Out for Quality!

My next handbag will be another Brighton or something of similar quality and workmanship.  No more Nine West or Jessica Simpson (sorry  Jess – love you on “Fashion Star,” but your purse was crap!) purses for me!  I’ve learned my lesson the hard way… Next time, I’m holding out for the quality!

24 thoughts on “Sometimes Cheap is Really More Expensive

  1. Perfect, you just proved what I keep yelling about on my blog, quality over quantity every time. I have never had such a concrete example but it’s nice to see that my hunch was right!

    • Just saw this, Erin (was stuck in spam folder for some reason). Thanks for chiming in and agreeing with me! I’ve had to learn the hard way about buying quality, but it’s finally sunk in. I just bookmarked your blog and I look forward to reading it!

  2. I was thinking along these lines as well lately, in the terms that for the $ I have spent, I could have a really spectacular albeit smaller wardrobe of higher quality items had I been more careful and more… demanding?… when choosing what to spend my money on.

    • Having the restrictions I gave myself on shopping this year (limiting the number of items as well as budget) has led me to buy some more expensive items without belaboring it as much as I used to. I am really working on moving in that direction!

  3. In general, I value quality over quantity in most items. I tend to go for mid-range, not the cheapest and not the most expensive. I’ve only once paid $200 for a purse (a handmade leather sling bag in Canada), but I have paid $50 – 100 for several bags that have lasted for years.

    My policy is to buy less expensive items for trendy purchases that I won’t be wearing for years to come. I also buy mid price or lower price t-shirts for every day wear, because I’ve found even the best will end up stained, or worn. I shop sales & replace the t-shirts as needed so they always look fresh.

    Shoes & pants are worth paying top dollar to me, because I want comfort, quality & long use.

    • Diana, Thanks for your comment! Like you, I usually buy things in the mid-range and pay the most for shoes and pants (as well as handbags). If you’ve found great bags that cost $50-100 and have last for years, more power to you! Maybe I had a run of bad luck, but at this point, I’ll stick to the higher-priced bags.

      If I want to participate in trends I don’t think will last long, I try to find things on sale or at lower-priced stores. My aim now is to only buy A FEW of such items, as I used to go too “hog wild” with buying cheap things.

      For t-shirts, I’ve had luck with various price ranges. My current favorites are from the Caslon line at Nordstrom and cost a little over $20, but I’m willing to spend more if I need to.

  4. I like buying Coach bags,timeless and durable.I have found them resale and still in very good condition.

    • Elsie, Yes, Coach is one of the good ones. I’ve owned several Coach bags and have been impressed by the quality and durability. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. I stumbled across your blog a couple of weeks ago, and have truly enjoyed reading it. It amazes me how many interesting writers can be found on the web. Anyway, I have gotten my shopping pretty much under control by a) not shopping more than once or twice a year. This helps me to focus on the things I need rather than wanting instead gratification. Its’s not always easy, but, and this leads to b) I focus on buying quantity over quality. I have always preferred purchasing a more expensive bag because the leather and dye simply holds up so much better (case in point: a 10 year old Cole Haan bag is sitting next to my desk. Not a scratch and the leather seems to get more subtle each year.) Same with shoes. While I cannot spend $1000 on any single item (except my belovevd Burberry Trench) , I know a higher priced garment or accessory will look good much longer and also support fair wages for the worker manufacturing it. And I guess, with age comes wisdom and I am quite happy to leave trendy items to women much younger than I.

    I do enjoy your blog and will keep reading it, if for no other reason as to remind me to keep to keep myself in check.

    • Oh, and I forgot to add something I learned from Janice of the wonderful Viviennefiles.blogspot: You don’t need it because it is on sale if you did not need it at full price. Wise words, indeed.

      • I love Janice and her blog! Yes, those are truly wise words. I’ve made my biggest shopping mistakes at thrift and consignment stores and plan to blog on that topic soon. The allure of the low price (the siren song of the sale) can really get us into trouble!

    • Cornelia, Glad you like my blog. Thanks for taking the time to comment. It sounds like you are where I want to be in terms of shopping. I am moving in that direction but still struggling (hence my blog). I would like to get to the point where I shop much less frequently, buy what I truly need and love, and make fewer mistakes. I would like to use my brain when I shop more than my emotions. I believe I will get there eventually.

      I’m happy to have you as a reader and I welcome your comments in the future!

    • Word of warning, I would research brands before being sure the higher price is paying better wages. Burberry has been in the headlines multiple times accused of using sweatshop labor.

      • You are so right! Price is not necessarily an indicator of good practices in terms of employees and the environment. I wish there was a reference site out there that reported these kinds of things (like Charity Navigator for charities). Maybe someone will create something like that soon – hope so!

      • Love this, Janice! Thanks so much for sharing. I have bookmarked the page and will refer to it often. I will also include it on a “Resources” page which I will include on the site soon.

        Thanks for your support of my blog and for taking the time to comment!

    • I agree that it isn’t easy, but we can find some brands that work well for us in terms of quality and longevity (like I did with Brighton bags). Of course, brands can change their practices over time as well and the quality can go up or down. I think the important thing is to not just look at price when shopping. I think many people look too much for deals and overlook other characteristics such as fabric and workmanship (often evident via the type of seams, seam allowance, etc.). I am not an expert on quality by any means, but I definitely aim to learn more and shop smarter!

  6. I totally agree with you on this and have preached it for years to my friends.

    As I sit here writing today, I am gazing fondly at my black Coach briefcase which I purchased for an astronomical $180. at the time, in 1983, as I was about to begin my first professional job after the birth of my son.

    I have carried that briefcase every day for 30 years. In the beginning, it held my papers and personal items, for awhile it was also my handbag. For the past three years, it has been my computer bag, and fits my laptop plus all its accessories as though it was custom made.

    Over the years I have cared for the bag, polishing and cleaning it regularly. I use Lexol products. The leather is beautiful, the straps have never broken or frayed, even the corners are not worn. My cost per wear on it as of February 1 was .016 cents per day (10,950 days).

    • Deborah, Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing the story of your Coach briefcase. A cost per wear of .016 cents is amazing! I doubt I’ll ever beat that one! When we find brands we trust, it can be worth it to spend more money and get things that last.

      In response to some of the other comments, I agree that we can’t always tell quality from price, but we can learn what works best over time or through word of mouth and online reviews. For trendy, fun pieces, it may be better to buy more inexpensively, but for staples like a handbag or briefcase, I feel that it’s best to spend more. Your Coach story is definitely a testament to that!

  7. I have to add another comment here about handbags because I am a professed junkie in this area. And I don’t go for the cheap stuff either. For years I have haunted department store sales and outlet stores in pursuit for my special honeys on sale and had amassed an impressive collection. Notice I said “had”. They are gone now, to new homes where they will hopefully be loved as much as I loved them.

    Always went in for big bags, but as I began to carry more stuff for work, I became a “bigger bag” girl. Pretty soon I couldn’t find a high quality bag big enough to suit my needs. It was frustrating. I was flummoxed. I kept buying bags and trying them out, but nothing was really working for me. I wondered, why couldn’t these handbag manufacturers make something that I liked? Did I have to design my own?

    Then one day in spring 2012, I saw my dream bag online: the Celine Mini Luggage Tote in classic black cowhide. It cost more than any other bag I ever remotely considered buying in my life. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I thought I was insane for considering purchasing it. I studied it from every angle and ultimately concluded that not only was it perfect for me, but that I had to have one, AND to have it I was willing to give up the other winter bags. That’s commitment.

    So over the course of a few months, I sold my most of my bag collection (except for a few really special ones) and that’s how I raised the money to pay for the dream bag. I carried that bag every day from August until early April and never once tired of it–and it doesn’t look any different now than it did the day I brought it home. It even still smells like luxurious leather.

    When spring came this year, before I ever heard of Project 333, I decided that I wanted to do the same thing: have one “perfect” summer bag in a lighter color, one that echoed the functional aesthetic and size of the Celine, but wasn’t quite so pricey, because I couldn’t afford another one!

    After a lot of research, I found the perfect summer bag, the Coach Large North South Saffiano City tote in Camel/Coral color block. The leather is substantial yet not too heavy, and the texture is an embossment like linen–very unique in a sea of croc textures that you see in leather today. It coordinates with literally everything and cost a fraction of the Celine. Even better, I got a smudge on it yesterday and the leather has such a wonderful finish, it wiped right off. Kudos for being a light color bag!

    And, once again, to finance the new summer Coach, I sold my 4 summer bags that were great in their own right, just not great for me.

    Now I am happy–I have two bags that I love, one for winter and one for summer. And I don’t miss the other bags at all. In finding a bag that I really love (not just to make do with), I find that I am no longer moved to shop for something else, because the need has been fulfilled.

    • Deborah, Thanks for sharing your wonderful handbag story! I’m glad you now have two high-quality bags that you love and which serve you well. Like you, I don’t switch out my bags very often. I don’t necessarily change them seasonally like you do, but I do like to have a few that I like that I can switch out from time to time. Within the next few months, I will get another bag (probably Brighton, as I really like those) and will get my other bags refurbished so they will last me even longer. Now that I’ve had good quality bags, I really don’t want to buy the cheaper ones anymore, as I can really see the difference!

    • Sadly, you are right, Cierria. Price should never be the only gauge as to where something is a quality item. I have some inexpensive items that have lasted longer than some pricier pieces. Price is one area to consider, but we also need to look at fabric, workmanship, and other factors.

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