Zen and the art of buying quality

Knowing When to Buy Quality and When to Save

The rolling suitcase felt unstable as I rolled it along at the airport last week. When I looked down, I discovered that a wheel had fallen off. I got my luggage to where I was going and a few days later set out to buy a new suitcase. I went to a local branch of a warehouse store I frequent and found a high quality replacement for the inexpensive one that really hadn’t served me well.

What a difference! The new suitcase had compartments for everything, a solid feel, and its trollying feature for carrying other suitcases that made it a pleasure to use. It rolled more easily and had the feeling of quality. The new suitcase was a high-quality model that I saved on by buying it at a warehouse store.

How much more did the quality suitcase cost me than a poorly made one would have? Probably not a red cent. As a matter of fact, it probably will be less expensive in the long run than a cheap model. That’s because it will last longer

As I was driving from the airport, I did a little figuring. The suitcase that broke was a large one that I only use on long trips. I had bought it for $35 several years ago when wheeled luggage first started becoming popular. My only options then were extremely overpriced models or cheaply made knockoffs. This knockoff probably lasted me six trips at the most, a cost of about $6 a trip. I have a rolling duffel that I use quite regularly. It is of much better quality. I picked it up at a sale for $25 (it retails for $100) and have already used it for at least 10 trips. Even if it broke tomorrow, it would still have cost me less per trip than the cheaply made one.

Over the years I have learned that buying quality products at good prices saves a lot of money over buying mediocre products at normal prices. I also find that I so much more enjoy using quality products that often I’m willing to pay a few more dollars because over the years, I enjoy using them more.

So how do you do quality on a budget? Here are some tips:

Know the Traits of Quality Merchandise in the Item You Are Buying

For several months I knew I was going to be replacing that suitcase, so I started looking into the traits of quality luggage. I learned that nylon was the best material to use and to look at the warranty. I knew that certain types of compartments were worth having to protect my belongings and to look at the quality of the wheels. Knowing all that, I was able to find a product relatively quickly to meet my needs.

Consumer Reports rates just about everything. Sometimes specialised publications rate specialised products. Use these resources to learn the traits of merchandise you are considering buying.

Know Where Quality Merchandise Is Sold at Good Prices

In my area, I find the best quality merchandise at two fairly upscale closeout stores, a major department store that has frequent sales, and at a warehouse store I like to go to. When I visited friends in a different town they told me that the warehouse store was readily available and close to their home. We went there and I found a case to my liking.

You may like certain national or local chains that have quality merchandise with an outlet in your area. You may be able to find local offerings with the help of your newspaper, friends, or local shopping experts.

When Possible, Buy Pre-Need

It is always better not to be in a hurry when you buy. That way you can look for a good item at a good price. Let’s say your refrigerator is just starting to show signs of wear. Rather than waiting until the end is upon you, it is better to start researching refrigerators and look for sales. Then, if you can afford it, buy a good refrigerator at a good price.

If you wait until the refrigerator actually blows, you may be forced to pay top dollar or get a box you really don’t want. You may also lose a lot of frozen food.

Searching leisurely for a good deal on a good product will give you the best chance of finding an item you will be happy to own for many years. Higher end items go on sale frequently and some of the markdowns can be quite dramatic.

Buy Out of Season When Possible

I have been thinking of buying some good quality patio furniture. Winter may be a good time to look for loungers because people don't want to sit outside in the cold and rain. The end of a model year may be a good time to buy cars and spring may be a good time to buy winter coats.

Consider Quality Used Merchandise

On large items designed to last a long time, quality used often beats low quality new for value in many areas.

Automotive experts say that a person who buys a three-year old car can save 40% on car costs over the years. Buy a good quality used car and you’re better off than buying a lesser quality new car.

Good quality furniture can give you years of use and ultimately may be less expensive than lesser quality new furniture. The same may be true for musical instruments, sports and exercise equipment, and a host of other purchases.

Click here for an article on buying quality used merchandise.

Know the Difference Between Quality and “Gingerbread”

Quality materials and construction contribute to the value of an item. Sometimes, however, features that drive up the price may not really add to the value of the item you are buying. Sometimes what drives up the price is brand name. Knowing the difference between value and gingerbread can help you make a better buying decision.

The quality suitcase I bought cost me $72. I could have bought a similarly sized suitcase for $400 at a local store. The more expensive suitcase wasn’t four times as good. It did have a more prestigious brand name, but looking at both items, I couldn’t see any significant increase in quality. Most of the extra features didn’t matter to me and the possible higher quality was so marginal that it didn’t make the extra expense worth it.

Many times it is extra features, not quality, that adds to the price. Decide if the extra features (which often add complexity and therefore need for repair or replacement) are ones you really need. Are the extra cycles on a washing machine ones you really are going to use? Are an icemaker and dispenser really important to you in a refrigerator?

Know When You Really Need Quality and When You Can Save

Recently I saw paintbrushes for a dollar a piece at a local dollar store.If I were painting my house, I wouldn’t even consider those brushes because I may be stuck with the consequences of poor quality for a long time. I would have no problem, however, buying inexpensive paper goods for a two-year-old’s birthday party in the park because there wouldn’t really be any benefit that I can see in paying premium prices for more attractive paper plates.