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When The Cheapest Option Isn’t Always Best

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Sometimes the cheapest option isn’t always the best. This can be especially true if you are working with a lower or middle level of income. In fact, as I work on my financial independence journey I find myself spending more money on fewer items. Moving towards purposeful minimalism because I want less waste, higher quality, more freedom, and less clutter. I want to be able to pack up and go if I want to. I find myself looking for more items that serve multiple purposes. 

The 3 options: Budget, Midline, & High Quality + Value For Price 

I got this idea from Building a PC for Dummies by Mark Chambers. Mark breaks down 3 possible types of computers to build based on your wants and needs. There is the bare bones (budget) computer that is enough for basic computing, spreadsheets, internet surfing, etc. Next is the “Richie Cunningham” I believe Mark calls it. The average, middle-of-the-road PC. Some bells and whistles. Last is the “Bruce Wayne” supercomputer. This is for “power users” who need graphic processing, video editing, or high-end gaming and need high processor power. 

I like to adapt these computer types to apply to almost any purchase. Sometimes there may only be a budget option or a midline/high-quality option but the principle still applies. 

Grocery Shopping and Meal Planning

Sometimes the cheapest can be best. For food, some options for me are the cheapest and get me what I want. Sometimes, and more often, I prefer to pay more for higher-quality ingredients.

For most fruit, vegetables, and meats I buy organic and pasture-raised, and grass-fed. No, I don’t buy “value packs of meat.” Sometimes I worry about when a blogger posts another “10 ways to save on groceries” and don’t mention the possible health of effects of ingredients commonly found in cheaper, processed foods. 

I do have a handful of stores that I frequent and I do take advantage of sales prices and digital coupons. I do have a small rotation of foods I eat each week and can estimate close to my weekly budget before I even shop. 

However, when I am away from my home and visiting my significant other I have to change things. Convenience is actually cheaper. Because the stores I usually shop at are over 80 miles away, I swap out for some cheaper available options. We also make plans when we will be driving the 80 miles anyway and will stop at the other stores to get things we can’t get close by or are actually a bit cheaper. 

Dollar Stores and Discount Stores, When The Cheapest Option May Be Best

Once in a while, I can find an item that will be what I need as the cheapest option. For example, I use binder clips all around my house. I don’t need to pay more than a dollar or two for binder clips or a few other items I need. This is a rare occasion, however, because I know these are usually low-quality items that won’t last. This is when I purchase items that I know will last at least for the duration I will need them or won’t need replacing so often that a more expensive and higher quality option would be better suited. 

Subscriptions and Monthly Occurrences 

Some monthly purchases are valuable for me and some aren’t. A few things I buy every month, I have auto-deliveries or subscriptions for. I’ve tested canceling Spotify. I tried to give it up for two months and found myself missing it continue to find value in it. If you haven’t tried it before check out their website for your first month free. No referral code is necessary.

As much as I don’t like to admit, I do have an Amazon Prime account. The added benefits with Amazon Video, Prime Shipping, and finding some other items I can’t find elsewhere are too convenient. I have been making sure that I order things in time where I can wait until my scheduled “Prime Day” to not rush deliveries and the digital credits are a bonus to support others’ content. If you do shop on Amazon and wish to support me use my Amazon link here.

I recently purchased a yearly subscription to You Need A Budget (YNAB). I have been able to convince others to sign up and used a friend’s referral for a free month.

Why would I pay $84 a year for budgeting software? It’s the best tool for the job. It’s a high-quality value for the price. I can quickly see how much money I have to spend on different categories. Using YNAB, I can shift money over in a few seconds and know where my finances are almost instantly. 

I can look up and see that I am almost 30 days into “aging my money.” This means that I’ve almost been able to cash flow/save 30 days of expenses and almost broken the paycheck to paycheck to cycle. The stress that it relieves from me is well worth the yearly fee. 

Free Tools To Help Purchase Decisions 

YouTube

My favorite is “YouTube University.” Along with learning invaluable skills, YouTube is great for reviews on different products. Yes, the creator may be compensated if you make a purchase. Keep this in mind. However, watch multiple reviews. Look for patterns in products across multiple reviews. List out what “job” you want your purchase to do and look for features and other things that show which product may be best for your wants and needs. 

Often the creators have made these purchases and used the products for a given length of time and can provide a quality review. One of my favorite channels for traveling gear is Pack Hacker. There are educational and entertaining reviews of multiple products. Products are often tested for months and even years. Budget options are usually given with trade-offs mentioned. I recently used the channel to make a few budget purchases for things to use around the house that I could also use for traveling. 

Pack Hacker, along with other channels, often does comparison videos as well. If you have narrowed down your purchase selection to 2-3 items, often you can check out YouTube or blogs with comparison reviews. This can help with your purchase decision as well. This benefits you as a YouTube viewer. Because the YouTube algorithm ranks comparison videos higher, you can often find the product(s) you want to compare on YouTube and many creators will have comparison videos. Hint to YouTube creators, video comparisons are good for viewers. 

Reddit

Another one of my favorite tools is Reddit’s Buy It For Life. For the last few years, I’ve heard the term sustainability is used. More companies that create high-quality products with a high price tag will often stand behind their products. Some accept trade-ins as well as free repairs for the life of the product. Sometimes a 10x price tag also comes with free repairs and a lifetime guarantee. 

Those credit card protections and sign-up bonuses. Sometimes they cost a monthly fee, but often come with other benefits. Free rental car insurance, extra warranty protection, rewards points, etc. My credit card has gotten me a free checked bag on every flight, which has more than paid for the monthly fee, along with the bonus points for 2 free flights. 

Specific Creators

Nick True

Nick has a video on money questions you shouldn’t ask.  “If this free or cheaper option exists, why wouldn’t I go with that?” Nick instead reframes the question to “What’s the best tool for the job, based on the value it provides and how important that value is to me?” I think this is a perfect way to introduce the 3 category options I mentioned previously. The Budget, Midline, and High Quality for Price options. Nick continues to talk about the value of the purchase for the price point you’re willing to spend for the value. 

Mackenzie from Life@23k

Mackenzie posted an article about spending big money when you’re low income. The article mentions the stigma that comes with purchasing a midline or high-quality option, rather than the cheapest. The article also mentions the feeling of the purchaser when not going with the cheapest options. Purchasing about the budget category means less money for spending elsewhere, saving, or investing. Mackenzie mentions as a low-income earner, “we know the impact it has on everything else.” As a more middle-income earner myself, especially using YNAB, I agree that I’m well aware of this impact. 

The article later advocates for low-income earners to not feel guilt or shame for purchasing things in the midline and high-quality category options. It advocates that low-income earners deserve things of higher quality that “last longer than a few uses.” 

As my income has slowly increased, along with my spending, I agree with Mackenzie on longer-lasting purchases. It’s advantageous from a financial and environmental standpoint. As we push for more sustainable products and less throwaway consumption, purchasing for high-quality benefits the purchaser, the company, and the environment. 

The article wraps up with how low-income earners can take steps to remedy the feelings of shame and guilt of purchases with large price tags. I don’t want to summarize the whole article because it’s a great read and more eloquent than I could put it. Be sure to check it out even if you are a middle or high-income earner who struggles with large but long-lasting purchases. 

Even With Limitations, The Cheapest Option Isn’t Always Best

Sometimes the cheapest option isn’t the best. Income and distance limitations can cause a purchase that may be less than optimal. Sometimes convenience is cheaper due to location. But there are ways to help optimize your purchase decisions without feeling guilt or shame. There are tools and resources (often free) available to help make the best decision for your wants and needs.

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