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When Settling Costs You More

This article was written by in Consumer. 10 comments.


This is a guest article by Stella Louise, editor of Blog & Save from Savings.com.

I was my neighborhood T.J. Maxx recently debating between two pairs of boots: Both were low heel, knee-high black boots, but one was a more trendy version with black stretch panel inserts by a reputable brand name, while the other pair were basic, classic and unadorned and by a more premium shoe maker. The second pair was also twice the price of the more trendy boots.

I bought the more expensive pair.

I would have saved $50 if I had based my decision solely on price, but I decided to “think outside the shoebox” as it were and factor something else into my decision. It wasn’t the fact that the more expensive boots were manufactured by a more prestigious designer and that they were actually worth 2-3 times the T.J. Maxx price, it was the fact that I’d most likely get more use out of the basic, classic style vs. the trendier pair of boots.

Here’s the thing: I already own three pairs of black boots. The first pair is a short style to be worn under pants. After purchasing them, I knew I still “needed” a pair of knee high boots to wear with dresses and skirts, so when I found a pair of faux suede boots with a pointy toe and killer stiletto heels for only $18, I thought I had it made. Unfortunately, “killer” doesn’t only apply to the look of the boots, but what they do to my feet as well.

The third pair of black boots I bought are knee high with a more moderate heel, as well as being cuffed at the top and having strap-detailing across the front of the ankle. They are easier to wear than the stiletto boots, but are not exactly wearable. They don’t zip up, which means if I want wear them over jeans I have the impossible task of trying to shove pant legs inside the boot without them getting all bunched up. And the detailing which makes them unique and stylish, also limits what they can be worn with.

The reasons I bought them: they were black, they were knee-high, they were more comfortable than the stiletto boots and, most importantly, they were cheap.

Except, when all is said and done, they weren’t because I haven’t gotten much use out of them at all. Since I had already sunk a bit of money into several pairs of boots to begin with, I let cost, rather than functionality, be the deciding factor in my decision. So I settled for a pair that weren’t very versatile because at the time they seemed to be a good buy.

Penny-wise and pound foolish,” as my Dad might say–for when you base a purchasing decision solely on price, you can end up paying much more in the long run.

Whether it’s the winter coat that falls apart after only one season, or the iPhone knock-off that doesn’t have the essential features you actually need or the gym with the lower membership fee that doesn’t have the equipment or classes that make it worth actually getting yourself to go there to work out, settling for “close enough” can have some serious financial ramifications. In the case of the cheap coat, you’d end up shelling out for a new one next season when it would have been more cost effective to spend the extra cash up front for a better-made version that would last several years. The cheap gym could cause you to eat a hefty initiation fee when you finally move to one that’s more suitable–not to mention the months of paying dues and never using the facilities. And if you’re really jonesing for an iPhone, chances are that the knock-off you settled for will end up gathering dust in favor of you splurging to get the coveted gadget.

In fact more often than not, “settling” only leads to costing you extra money in the long run. Everything being equal, it makes sense to choose the lower price–but, as I’ve written before, there are a number of situations where cheaper isn’t better. So before making a purchasing decision, make sure you take into account factors other than just price–including quality, value, functionality, usefulness, longevity, etc. Because whether it’s a lifemate or a laptop, settling can have costly consequences.

Published or updated October 28, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Stella Louise is the editor of Blog & Save, the Savings.com personal finance blog. Blog & Save covers a wide range of topics geared toward helping savvy consumers live well for less. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Penny Frugalista

So very true. I’ve been guilty of settling in the past, but I do my best not to do it any more. If I decide I need a new winter coat, I want one that will fit, keep me warm and transition well over the years. I’m no fashionista and don’t go for trends, but it works in my favor, value-wise.

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avatar moneymatters ♦357 (Nickel)

In a lot of situations, I agree. Buying the cheaper item may end up costing you more in the long run. I think shoes is one of those areas.

On the other hand, I’ve often found that buying the cheaper item, if it is decent quality, can be a big savings. For example, for a lot of electronics, the components for the high end and mid range items are actually made at the same factories. While some of the components may be slightly different, you’re essentially getting two of the same items, with different price points.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦90 (Newbie)

“Buy it right or buy it twice.”

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avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

Donna- I like that saying! It is true as well.

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avatar eric ♦1,549 (Half-Dollar)

I’m gonna have to start using this one :)

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avatar OrchidGirl ♦16 (Newbie)

I definitely agree. I was doing the buy and replace cycle with purses for awhile. Thankfully I was given a high-end, well-made purse four years ago. That purse is still going strong and just starting to show some wear – but only on the zipper pull. This summer a good friend thought it must be new. My previous purses though, well some started falling apart after only 2-3 months and the best I got out of one was a bit longer than a year (and it cost me a 1/3 of the price of the nice purse). Looking back, if I had purchased the nicer purse to start with, I would have saved money by now – and its still has a lot of use left in it.

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avatar Jenna

That is how I feel about a lot of clothes my friends buy, “check out this shirt I got for so cheap” well yeah it was cheap, but also cheaply made…So it’s going to end up costing you more.

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avatar Kate Kashman

If only I could find the magic algorithm of when to spend more and when to go with the less expensive choice! Imagine the value…

I hope that these boots turn out to be just right for you.

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avatar Stella

@Penny – I’m guilty of it as well. I’ve been working hard to go more for quality over quantity.

@moneymatters – Totally agree: all things being equal, go for the cheaper option. But if you’re dealing with something where there’s a different in quality, styling, functionality, whatever, it doesn’t make sense to base your purchasing decision solely on price.

@Donna – EXACTLY!

@OrchidGirl – If you’re the type of person who likes the latest trends, buying a cheap purse might be the way to go since you’d probably want to update it the next year. But it’s definitely more cost effective to invest money in buying a classic style, quality purse that will last many years.

@Jenna – Yup, a lot of that cheap clothing won’t make it through one wash.

@Kate – Thanks! I’m still waiting for L.A.’s weird weather to cool down. Wouldn’t you know we had a freakishly cool summer and it wait until October/November for summer weather to finally kick in? As for the algorithm, if you’re buying a trend that’ll be “out” next year or next season, you should go for cheap. Things which have a longer life span–whether it’s a classic pair of black boots or an LCD TV–it makes more sense to go for quality which may cost more.

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avatar jillianb ♦275 (Nickel)

Sooo very true!! I stopped spending money at places like H&M (no offense to people who shop there) and started examining stitching and seams in my clothing before I buy. I never thought I was the type of person to need a clothing line in my budget but now I put away money for clothing expenses every paycheck and have the cash to pay for the more premium product that lasts way more than twice as long.

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