Old laundry bags, frugality, and nice stuff

photo-181When should we splurge, and when should we save?

Money Saving Mom recently ran a guest post from Abby at Mother on a Mission about how she’d wanted to buy a nice laundry hamper years ago. But she realized it was a want, not a need, and she’s survived just fine with her husband’s old dorm-style laundry bag. It’s a standard frugal story, though as Abby answered comments, it became clear that she isn’t against spending on nice things, particularly when they are priorities. The question is when that might be.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve been making a list of when I look beyond price. Four major categories:

If it will be used daily. Kids carry backpacks daily and bang them up. It’s nice to find one that lasts. If you cook, you want good pots and pans. If you’ll just hang clothes on a treadmill, it doesn’t matter what you buy, but if you’re a serious runner, you want one that works. For some families, a good laundry hamper would fall in this category, particularly if you’re doing 5-plus loads per week.

If it’s a tool to help in your profession. My MacBook Pro was not the cheapest laptop on the market, but it’s now lasted through four years of hard use (knock on wood!). I’ve worked at a kitchen table or even (oh, the ergo nightmare) hunched over a laptop on the floor and I definitely prefer my current suite of office furniture. Clothes aren’t assets, of course, but looking pulled together at work can make people think that you’re pulled together — and worth doing business with. Quality childcare could go in this category too.

If it’s about a value. Maybe you support buying local produce, or patronizing local businesses, even if their prices aren’t always cheapest. Maybe you refuse to buy from certain companies because of labor practices or environmental records. If so, you’ll likely pay more for some items, and you’ll be fine with that.

If it’s a real source of pleasure. As a work-from-home sort, I’m not near coffee shops daily that might tempt me with fancy beverages. I am not particularly into designer shoes. I’m fine with the $15 bottle of wine rather than the $150 sort. On the other hand, I love the few pieces of art I have chosen and bought and hung in my house. There is nothing frugal about original art, but that’s not really the point.

What categories would you add?



16 Responses to Old laundry bags, frugality, and nice stuff


  1. gwinne says:

    Perhaps “if it will relieve anxiety or solve a problem.” i.e. I just spent about $150 on a consignment carseat/stroller (half the retail price but still not cheap) to be used on an upcoming trip. We’ll be in a major city, in cabs, and I’ll need to get my 2-year-old places without stressing about his safety or worrying about the logistics of lugging his enormous carseat from home

    • Laura says:

      @gwinne- solving a problem is good. (And yes, lugging a car seat is no fun).

  2. ARC says:

    Maybe this falls under “daily use”, but one of the big considerations for me is whether it will save me time/help me avoid tasks I don’t care for. (168 Hours was a nice push to help me rationalize it better, too.)

    Since we are lucky enough to not have to squeeze every penny, we made the decision to use disposable diapers for both girls instead of laundering our own cloth ones. I did not want to deal with all the extra icky laundry.

    Same is true for having two sets of carseats permanently installed in each car. In theory we could have swapped them as needed, since they can only be in one car at a time and they mostly ride in my car anyway, but not having to hassle with re-installing is awesome.

    Most of the baby and kid stuff is easy to re-sell at work to other parents (or just give away) so I don’t feel terribly guilty about it.

    • Laura says:

      @ARC – come to think of it, we could use an additional booster seat around here. Maybe I should spring for that right now…

      • ARC says:

        At one point we had 4 of those Fisher Price boosters – two at home, one for my parents’ house and one at my in-laws house.

  3. Carrie says:

    I read that post and thought, that hamper wouldn’t last a month in my house. Hampers like that tear easily. Different strokes. ..

    • Laura says:

      @Carrie – when we lived in an apartment building, we used a canvas bag to haul stuff around. Some versions were sturdier than others. But yep, some tore.

      • Carrie says:

        On the other hand, I have several of those huge .79 blue IKEA bags and they are virtually indestructible. Ha!

  4. Alexicographer says:

    Yeah, I’d include safety, e.g. I do think (with @ARC in a sense) that having car seats well installed and always available makes them safer (and closer to 100% reliably available). I’m not of the costlier-stuff-is-safer-stuff school, inherently, but I am willing to pay for safety either by buying gear that contributes to it and/or buying certain things (helmets) only new.

    I find that spending on kitchenware is worthwhile because I don’t like to cook but do appreciate the cost and health benefits of home-cooked food. Anything that saves food prep time or cleanup time is worth it (unless it’s for something we hardly ever make or takes up too much space).

  5. Annie Kate says:

    If it will increase your health.

    This is not true at all costs, but it is something I keep in mind. Strawberries versus ice cream, a treadmill versus a new couch, that sort of thing.

    Of course, it’s not really either/or, but sometimes it’s easier to set it up that way.

  6. Eric J says:

    While admittedly subjective, things for convenience and/or time saving. For instance, I know it’s cheaper to buy the jumbo bag of chips and portion it out into baggies for lunch, but I’m willing to pay a little more for the pre-portioned snack bags (bought in bulk to save as much as I can).

    Something else would be travel: yes, it’s “cheaper” to drive most places than to fly, but if it takes two 10+ hr days of cross-country driving — one-way! — and I only have a week off, I’m willing to pay the higher price of flying to give myself at least two extra days to enjoy/rest on the other end.

    And while it doesn’t garner the same “level” of premium, flying out of the city closest to us is a factor even though it’s generally more expensive than if we drove 2 hrs each way to fly out of another city… For one, it’s 1.5 hrs total driving versus 4 hrs; which means it’s ALSO a lot more likely we’ll be able to find someone to give us a ride and pick us up (which then helps us save on parking costs).

    And this may be more to your point on a “tool” for your profession, but I will pay for services to be done when my time is more valuable — and/or it’s important that it be done right the first time. For instance, we are blessed to have over a half acre yard, but with the equipment we have and the landscaping, etc., it takes me ~4 hrs to do the lawn by myself and make it look nice. But if I can be meeting with clients for even as “little” as $20/hr, it’s worth it to pay a lawn company $45; they come in with a team and it’s done and pretty in under 45 minutes.

    Or re-wiring the entire house: I’m not afraid to install a light kit on a ceiling fan, replace a bad outlet or swap out a light switch for a dimmer, but when you’re talking about pulling out the existing wires and putting in new ones throughout the house and connecting them all to the circuit breaker in just the right way, I’d just as soon pay a professional to do it and make sure it’s done right. (And if it’s not and fries my stereo system when I plug it back in, then they’re on the hook to replace it and not me.) ;)

    • Laura says:

      @Eric J- I think I’d pay to outsource major re-wiring as a pure safety issue! You’d hate to try to save money and wind up electrocuted…

      • Eric J says:

        *heh* That thought had also crossed my mind… ;) It was just one example… Re-roofing the house is another one (perhaps also safety related). Or perhaps less safety-oriented: replacing the broken drainage pipe… Or re-grading the yard.

  7. Mary says:

    Perhaps this falls into the ‘values’ category… beautiful design. A piece that is both functional and beautiful is worth spending a little more on. I am reminded of the book ‘Not Buying It’ where the author reduces her purchases to necessities exclusively for a year. I often think about the bit where she wonders if her summer annuals are wants or needs. It’s been so long that I can’t remember what she decided, although I seem to recall that she decided on herbs, which provided both beauty and function. I might scale down the number of annuals I have but would never eliminate that beauty altogether.

    • Laura says:

      @Mary- Beauty is a good in its own right. Function is fine, but function alone is just part of pleasure. I’d buy the plants too :)

  8. From a feng shui perspective, you get the most value for money when you invest in items that marry form and function, so it’s worthwhile keeping an eye out at home for objects that cause you to curse because they’re awkward to use, or to sigh because they’re ugly to look at, since anything that drags down your mood on a daily basis can also eventually drag down your productivity and health. Being more consciously aware of which household items you’d like to replace with others that look nicer and/or function better will make you more likely to notice better options that cross your path.