When It Pays To Be Cheap

cheap-shoes

I consider myself frugal in most ways, but not really “cheap”.  Sometimes I approach that thinly drawn line between frugal and cheap and dip my toe over the line to the dark side of cheapdom.  Last week an editor from Business Insider contacted me and asked me to highlight a few specific items where it makes sense to be downright cheap.

The question was specific enough that I knew they weren’t looking for advice on saving money generally, otherwise I would have mentioned buying only the house that you need, keeping auto costs low, and being your own insurance company to slash insurance costs.  Those categories can be big budget killers without necessarily enhancing your quality of life or happiness.

The editor was looking for tips to save money in areas where it pays to be cheap.  I took this to include areas that were personal to me, but might not apply to everyone.

 

The Interview

Here is the original “interview” response I sent by email:

Toothpaste – Buy the cheap stuff unless your dentist recommends a specific brand or Sensodyne for sensitive teeth. Fluoride (the active ingredient) is what you need and the under-a-buck toothpaste is full of it just like the $5/tube Ultra-whitening-fresh-breath-minty-with-baking-soda kind.

Store brand foods – No coupons required, sometimes half the cost of name brand, 100% money back guarantees are common (but rarely used)

Generics for medicine – Same active ingredients, half the cost. If I can find a $4 bottle of cough syrup at the $1 store, I’m buying a couple of bottles.

Toilet paper – Skip the ultra-thin Scott’s but get the next least expensive kind. You only use it once.

Coffee – I get zero value out of “fancy coffee” so I tend to go for the $5-6 big cans (~2 lb) of store brand or whatever is on sale.

Wine – Same thing – the $3-4 stuff tastes as good as the $10 stuff (to me)

Electronics – I tend to go for the low end stuff. Most tech toys are obsolete after a few years anyway, so longevity or durability isn’t too important since you’ll likely want to upgrade before your device dies. Who’s using an iphone 1 today (even though it’s only six years old)? Low end tech today was high end tech 2 years ago.

Closing thoughts – It’s really about finding “enough” quality at a very low price. Take what you save and spend it on something fun (or save it to fund your eventual financial independence/retirement).

The Business Insider editor had one follow up request.  “Electronics” are apparently the sacred cows of their readers and she preferred not to include electronics in the list of things to buy on the cheap (per the editor above her).  I offered “tools” as a substitute:

Tools – For most infrequent users of tools, going cheap makes sense. The end goal is to fix something yourself, and if a $2 screwdriver set gets the job done as well as a $20 set, why pay more?  Power tools with batteries might be an exception (and an area where I might choose to spend more on a mid-range cordless drill, for example).

Here’s the full story at Business Insider (also featuring some smart tips from Kristen Cross from The Frugal Girl).  The article was picked up by Yahoo! Finance, Time Warner Cable’s various news outlets, and Business Insider Singapore.

 

My thoughts on the article

It was awesome!  While the tips won’t save you thousands of dollars instantly, it’s a good way to sharpen your spending skills and cut out wasteful spending where it doesn’t really bring you value.  I still stand by my assertion that you can go cheap on electronics and still end up with some awesome gear.  But we’ll keep that secret between me and the Root of Good readers.

I don’t know exactly how much we save by going the cheap route in the areas I outlined.  I’ll venture a guess that we save at least a couple hundred dollars per month by buying store brand foods, cheap paper goods and toiletries and going cheap on wine, coffee and a few other grocery items.  Over the course of the year, that’s a few thousand dollars in savings.

I understand that oenophiles and connoisseurs of fine coffee find my suggestions leaving a bad taste in their mouth.  And that’s okay.  I personally don’t get any more enjoyment from a “good” cup of coffee than I do a plain old cup of the cheap stuff (with a little sugar and cream, of course).  I’m a pretty boring wine drinker, and couldn’t tell a $100 bottle of wine from a $3 bottle.  I just can’t do it.

It would be like asking me to distinguish between “good” abstract art and finger paintings carefully smeared on a canvas by a four year old.  I just can’t do it.  Sometimes the “real” stuff is appealing to me, other times it’s crap.  Sometimes the four year old makes beautiful compositions, other times it’s obvious they would be better served skipping the preschool art class and having a second helping of recess or science.

Modern art or a 4 year old's doodling?  Note the composition and use of lighting.

Modern art or a 4 year old’s doodling? Note the composition and use of lighting.

To the coffee lovers and the oenophiles, I say indulge yourselves.  If the $12/lb coffee is four times better than the $3/lb stuff I buy, go for it!  If the $30+ bottle of wine is all you can stomach, and the idea of drinking Three Buck Chuck next to us proles makes you queasy, then pay up and drink on!

I don’t buy a lot of tools these days.  But when I do, it’s usually a special tool I won’t use a lot.  An air conditioner manifold gauge set was my latest purchase.  At $40 new from Harbor Freight, it feels like a really solid piece of equipment and the online reviews are excellent.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to fix my car’s air conditioning, but at least I know it’s low on refrigerant and I can refill it to the recommended level using the tool I bought.  I may use the manifold gauge set only a few times in the next decade (or maybe annually to check my own home air conditioning system!), so I didn’t need a professional set of gauges.  The $40 version works well enough for my needs.

 

Comments from readers at Business Insider and Yahoo! Finance:

There were hundreds of comments at Business Insider and Yahoo! Finance.  Instead of jumping into the fray over there, I figured I would select a few comments and compose my response to those comments here.

Store brand foods

When shopping the dollar store, you need to be careful that the product IS overstock or damaged carton and NOT expired or a knock off made in another country.  Shopping store brands and sales is a good way to save. Buy enough to last until the next sale. Store brands are made by a company that also makes a name brand, it is just labeled as a store brand. – Merav

About ten years ago, I swore off buying food items from dollar stores.  Since then, I’ve returned to buying select items from dollar stores.  Thanks, Merav, for pointing out you have to pay attention to labels, conditions, and expiration dates.

Make sure you’re getting what you think you are getting.  I saw “sour kreme” at one dollar store that wasn’t a dairy product at all.  It was “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” with sour cream flavoring (that’s why they couldn’t use the word “cream” in the name).  Gross.  I can pay slightly more than $1 for the real deal at Aldi’s or elsewhere.

Generic medicine

 Generic medicines are inspected by the same procedures used for branded, so they are safe. They are also just as effective, except when they are not. If your doctor is good, they will know when to give you generics and when to dispense-as-written (that little DAW box on the prescription pad is there for a reason). My doctor, for example, gives me generics for everything I need except one drug, which he says he has found works slightly better than the generic counterparts. – “Commenter”

The generics work just as well as the name brands almost all the time.  But when in doubt, follow the advice of your doctor or pharmacist.  They are generally more right than wrong.  Some of the name brand prescription drugs have a very similar generic version with the only name brand difference being a different kind of coating or formulation to extend the time release of the active ingredient.

Drug companies can get another 17 year patent when they add something simple like “extended time release” to a previous drug that has lost its patent protection and has thereby entered the generic realm.  Sometimes you need the new and improved name brand version, but often the generic will work just fine.

A lot of name brands are sold at the Dollar Store (Colgate, Crest, Campbell’s, Progresso, Sargento, to name just a few). For other stuff, it depends of your taste (food and drink) or what your using it for. If you need aluminum foil for decorating or a school project, then the Dollar Store brand is as good as heavy duty Reynolds. For covering a Bar-B-Q grill, not so much! – Chicago

I have noticed a lot more name brands showing up at the dollar store, too.  I just bought a few cans of artichokes that were “Progresso” brand.  They aren’t expired or dented.  Just regular artichokes.  For $1.

As for your other comments – the quality of items at the dollar store can vary a lot.  If it’s way cheaper than a regular store, I’ll give it a shot.

Toilet Paper

 He’s wrong about Toilet Paper, wine and coffee…there IS a difference…the fact that this guy can’t tell means he has no taste – JackR

So far, I have never tasted toilet paper.   You use it once and then you throw it away.

As for toilet paper, where exactly could one find cheaper yet just as effective toilet paper? If it’s too flimsy you will be using more of it. – OobieDoob

Walmart.  The big package with 24 rolls in it.  Cheap, yet effective.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually manufactured by the Angel Soft or White Cloud people, but packaged as Walmart’s store brand.  It’s no triple quilted Ultra Supreme TP, but still effective.

Coffee / Wine

Um. With an exception for the Trader Joe’s variety, there’s pretty much no $3 wine that’s even drinkable much less anything I would want to serve for guests. Buying a NICE bottle of wine is still a bargain compared to going out and making pre-made cocktails, plus the company is usually better. And isn’t that the point??  - hannonymousAZ

Trader Joe’s makes a  great $3 bottle of wine.  That’s about the most we spend on wine.  Drinking at home is definitely way cheaper than drinking out at a bar or restaurant.

If you are buying $3.00 bottles of wine, you might as well just give up wine. – Dennis C

$3 Buck Chuck.  Tastes great, won’t leave your wallet with a hangover.  Good thing I don’t have to give up wine since there’s a $3 wine that’s worth drinking!

Please note the number of times you see the phrase or something similar to “To me…” If it is something important to you, the price may be just a number. Perhaps that $10 coffee is the one indulgence you give yourself…perhaps your tools are used more frequently…The last sentence is the most important: may be more cost effective to buy “cheap,” but you need to decide it’s worth for yourself. Don’t buy something just to have it or because it is new. – Tripper

Well said, Tripper.  I hope the folks drinking the $10/bag coffee and $10+ bottles of wine choose the more expensive types because they taste far superior to the $3 alternatives, and not because they are afraid their friends might find out they went cheap or they would be embarrassed when snobby acquaintances see a store brand can of coffee in the pantry.

If you have to have the absolute best of everything in life regardless of the price, you’ll likely be working forever and permanently indebted to “the man”.  I’m glad Tripper picked up on the nuance of the article – find those things that bring great value to you, and spend a little extra on those areas.

Wine …………….2 Buck Chuck !!!!!! – Heywood Jablowmee

Funny name, funny guy.  Serious wine suggestion.  I just wish it was still $2 here in North Carolina.

Tools

A good tool can last for generations. A cheap tool not so much. Craftsman use to have an unconditional warranty on many of their tools. Now that the money boys have pretty much destroyed the company I have no idea what their policy is. – Onemoretime

Good tip on Craftsman’s lifetime warranty – I’ll have to check that out.

Don’t go cheap on your flat head screwdriver, phillips head or a starter socket set (all of these can be had for under $50 at the Home Despot) because that stuff will fail just when you need it–like when you’re trying to screw in that new cheap-ass door handle and the screws strip on your cheap ass at the same time the handle on your bargain screwdriver comes off in your hand. Purchases that need to be repeated due to shoddy construction or workmanship are anything but a bargain. – Biff

Under $50??  Those things are $3-7 at Harbor Freight!  And what are you people doing to your tools to smash and destroy them so often?

Cheap tools = broken knuckles and damaged material, which isn’t so cheap after all is done. – Freedom4all

I’m still not sure how you guys get injured so often on inexpensive tools?  And damaged materials?

More accidents happen with cheap tools. Most everyone has experienced this. Where as good tools come with a lifetime warranty, meaning a dutiful owner only need buy one as long as that company is still in business (and that company has a vested interest in ensuring their tool doesn’t break). I have had “generic” screwdriver handles break, cheap shovel or broom handles snap. These situations are dangerous. Again the author favors chancing your health to save money without concern for the likely increase in your cost for healthcare. – Jeff Ray

Snapped broom handles?  Seriously?  I don’t think I put more than five pounds of force on the broom when I sweep.  How can that crack even the flimsiest broom?  Amazing.

“More accidents happen with cheap tools.  Most everyone has experienced this”?  I’m still waiting to suffer calamities from buying inexpensive tools instead of the really good ones.  Maybe it will happen some day.  As some of my tools approach the 30 year mark, I’m starting to think I’ll be okay after all.

The screwdriver I got when I was six.  It's doubled as a hammer, chisel, pry bar, sewer snake, and paint scraper.  "Made in Taiwan" almost 30 years ago but still not smashed into tiny pieces.

The screwdriver I got when I was six. It’s doubled as a hammer, chisel, pry bar, sewer snake, and paint scraper. “Made in Taiwan” almost 30 years ago but still not smashed into tiny pieces.

Other interesting and helpful comments

Except that frugality needs to start at the top, not the bottom. IOW, houses, cars, education, vacation… the big things before I start skimping on toothpaste. – RayO

Right on.  Housing and cars are usually the top budget items (perhaps after groceries) and are the best place to lock in long term low costs by buying what you need and not a status symbol.

You don’t have to buy cheap toothpaste, saline, tools & wine to save money. Stop buying a $4 cup of coffee every morning and eating lunch out everyday. Paint your own fingernails and mow your own grass. That will save you a LOT more. – Linda

You can actually do both!  Buy the cheap hygiene items, tools, and wine to save some money.  Then make your own coffee at home and pack a lunch to save even more money!  I’ll skip the fingernail painting (and I would advise most guys to skip it as well, though not for monetary reasons).  Mowing your own grass is another great way to save money, great exercise, and it can leave your yard in awesome shape since you notice problem areas.

Interesting but not very helpful

Fried farts in garlic are very good too. Very low cost and nutrient filled. – Big D

Thanks Big D.  Although I’m not sure they are nutrient filled.  The garlic will at least ward off vampires though.

Nothing is cheap any more, everything is very expensive and if you buy cheap stuff in the end it will cost you even more. – Brad J

No, Brad, cheap stuff is still inexpensive, expensive stuff is still expensive.  It’s kind of how you define cheap and expensive.  At the dollar store for example, it’s all a buck.  Sometimes less. That’s cheap.

 The water, prescriptions and Cell phone plans are great ways to save, but realistically the other options listed here are a joke, maybe that will save you $20 a month. Not exactly enough to make you financially independent. – Ben

I don’t know – saving $7 by buying a $3 bottle of wine and saving another $5 by buying the store brand coffee can add up to way more than $20 per month unless you hardly touch either one.  As for tools, I’ve already saved over $100 this month alone going cheap.  I’m way past $20 in savings!  You are right in your final thought, Ben.  Saving a small amount on the items mentioned in the article won’t make you FI by itself.  It takes saving on the big ticket items like houses and cars, making smart tax choices, and investing wisely.

The dollar store or for that matter, Walgreens or even Target, often have house brands made in China. Frankly, I don’t trust putting something in my mouth that was manufactured there. They simply have no standards and there have been a number of cases where materials were adulterated. Look for sales or bulk purchases at Costco and you can stock up on items like toothpaste and save some cash. – Pat R

They have “no standards”?  I saw a lot of China-hate and in the comments and randomly picked one to stick on a spit for public display.  Look, I love to drape myself in the American flag, too.  But just because something is manufactured overseas doesn’t mean they can’t follow standard quality control and quality assurance procedures.  The people in China and elsewhere overseas actually have a brain inside their heads and a heart inside their chest.  They are just like us here in the states.  Don’t let xenophobia block the path to cost efficient shopping.

And the China-hate is really misplaced at times.  I pay attention to where things are made, and I rarely see “made in China” on medicine and food items.  More common is “Canada”.  Tools and manufactured goods do seem to come from China or elsewhere in the Orient, but that’s okay.  Those people in China need jobs, too.

Oddly enough, the Chinese have also figured out how to add carbon and a few other elements to iron in order to make steel.  They also figured out how to turn the steel into useful objects!  These amazing talents lead to reasonably high quality manufactured goods (like cheap tools!) that are very cost competitive with goods of US origin.

 

 Closing Thoughts

The Business Insider and Yahoo! Finance articles sent a lot of traffic this way, which was cool.  I hope the tips help people realize that it’s best to go cheap on some purchases if differences in quality don’t make a big difference.

 

 

What things do you usually “go cheap” on?

 

 

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46 comments

  • Great post! The question of when to look for quality vs. when to buy cheap is ongoing! A couple of years ago santa decided to bring us a new digital tv because our 20-year-old set with the 14 inch screen could no longer pick up over the air signals (analog vs digital), and family members were starting to complain about the small screen. Santa invested in a well-known asian brand (at one time known for great quality) for about $250 on sale, which seemed way cheaper than everything else being offered for a similar type TV. Guess what? It was “cheaper” meaning the mother board had to be replaced after about 3 months, AND there was a 6 week wait to get the part at the service centre! THEN, once that was fixed (under warranty), it failed again a couple of months after the warranty ran out. Maybe if we used the set often I would not feel so bad, but this one is used roughly 1-2 times a week to watch a movie – that’s all! Guess Santa, should have looked a little farther up the price/quality range…….

    • As a counterpoint to your experience, I’ve heard of people buying the expensive sets and then having the same experience with quality. Unfortunately, with our complex “toys” these days, things can break. I’ll usually check out the online reviews to see if there’s a serious quality control issue. Otherwise, I think it’s a crapshoot and price and brands don’t mean a whole lot anymore (unless you’re paying top dollar).

      Many goods have components from other manufacturers. My cheapo Toshiba laptop had a Samsung LCD panel in it, for example. The same quality of lcd panel that is in laptops 3-4x the price of the one I bought.

  • I HATE it when people talk about small, specific habit changes and say that it won’t help; it won’t move the needle. “It may save you $20 and that isn’t gonna lead to FI”. Fine, yes, it is a small monthly amount, but what if you are doing it with your wine, your beer, your electricity, your coffee, your clothing… on and on. That is hundreds of dollars a month, thousands of dollars a year and potentially HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS over a lifetime. Ridiculous.

    Anyway, rant over – thanks Root of Good! Fun article and good read.

    • It’s like they are wearing blinders or they live in a world without multiplication and the fourth dimension (also known as “time”).

      If you can save $20+ per month on a handful of things without a significant burden, it adds up. Multiply that times 12 months per year and the dozens of years many of us have left, then compound the savings with investment returns, and you’re talking about some significant savings.

  • Hey Justin,

    One thing I wanted to mention is with toilet paper. We’ve had problems at both houses we’ve lived at with tree roots. After the third or fourth time of having the sewer dude come over and clean our main line out after a messy backup, he asked what type of toilet paper we were using.

    Turns out there is a simple test to see if your toilet paper will break up easily. Fill your sink with cold water, put a couple sheets of your toilet paper in the sink, then swish it around gently to see if it breaks up. If it does, it obviously will once it goes down your drain. If it doesn’t, it’ll get caught and may eventually lead to problems in your line.

    Obviously just fish the toilet paper out of the sink and throw it away when you’re done.

    • If you have sensitive pipes or a septic system, the really thin stuff like scott’s might work better. A neighbor said his plumber recommended scott’s after the second or third service all due to toilet paper clogging the pipes. I think the store brand stuff we use dissolves easily enough that it won’t get caught in our pipes.

      I don’t know how that triple ply quilted supreme soft stuff ever goes down a pipe. It’s like a thick paper towel.

  • Glad to hear what you’ve been up to during the long duration between this and last post. And I REALLY appreciate you clearly using the words frugal and cheap to mean different things, I had a mini-rant on my blog about the over-use of the word frugal. Luckily I’ve still got my day job, so I can indulge in a rant now and again, at least I feel much better afterwards :) Also, interesting insight about ‘electronics’ and sacred cash cows.

  • When I am making any big purchases, I shop around and try to find the best deal.

  • My mom unfortunately uses the cheap Scott’s TP (claims it flushes better). Hubby and I sneak in our own rolls when we go to visit.
    I generally will not skimp on anything with a scent that touches my skin (deodorant, detergent, shampoo). I’m apparently extremely allergic to scents (or whatever is used to hold the scent in the product), so I stick with the brands and specific scents that I know won’t cause a reaction – not worth skimping on – I just use coupons and look for sales to get as good of a deal as possible.
    Food – I go for the cheapest option that looks safe (ie, not rotting vegetation or punctured packaging!). Sometimes we like the name brand better, but I always require us to at least try the store brand once :)

    • I’m not a fan of the Scott’s either, but it does apparently flush better. It might come as no surprise that it breaks up very easily as soon as it touches water (and sometimes before it touches water).

  • First of all, 3 Buck Chuck is AMAZING. Our favorite wine is about $5 and it is still amazing. No need to spend a ton on alcohol!

    Secondly, the little things do add up. Haters gonna hate.

  • Auto Parts!

    I drive a Mitsubishi and of course the ‘stealership’ charges outrageous sums of money for their ‘Genuine Mitsubishi Parts’. A lot of people think getting parts from the stealership is best. While I do avoid eBay, there’s a cheaper way than from a stealer.

    Find out who manufactured the parts for your vehicle. For instance, Gates made the timing belt for Mitsu. Mitsu. sells this part for around $300. NAPA sells the exact same thing (minus the Mitsu. box) for around $100. Same exact part.

    Ah, saving money while sacrificing nothing…

  • Here are a few changes I made 3 months ago, and have stuck with b/c they are awesome!…

    1.) Coconut oil in lieu of expensive/toxic deodorant. Works better, better for you, and save you some cash. No kidding. Try it!

    2.) Hang dry clothes instead of the using the electric-bill-fattening dryer.

    3.) Homemade HE laundry detergent. Add to a food processor 1 bar of Ivory soap and the equivalent in weight of Washing Soda. Process into a fine powder. Done!

  • I am very cheap when it comes to clothing (43, male, I do really not care much). I only get new clothes as gifts. (I wish people would stop giving me gifts, but that is another topic)

    We have a really nice thrift store about 3/4 mile from our house. I find great items for $2-5. North Face, Columbia, all the “brands”. I love cool t-shirts with beer logos and that type of thing. Basically socks and underwear are my only exclusions. I buy those new.

    I love paying $4 for a $75 shirt or $6 for a $90 jacket. People must change sizes often to donate such nice items. Good for me.

    My goal (and I am close) is to have everything in my wardrobe from 1) thrift store or 2) a running shirt garnered from running a 5k, 10k , 1/2 marathon or full marathon.

    I realize that paying for a 1/2 marathon isn’t “cheap”, but running is one of my few hobbies left (thanks kids). The shirts are a “bonus” for the effort.

    Be cheap where you don’t care. Splurge on items you really get enjoyment from (I like my Keurig)

    • We hit up the thrift store occasionally, too. Works well for kid’s clothes. I haven’t had as much luck for adult clothes (although I rarely shop for clothes anyway). I still wear a couple of old work polos too. Free shirts, right?

  • When did 2 Buck chuck become 3? Good points on your post. Generic drugs are just as good. The active ingredients must be the same, but the fillers can be different. A few people can react to that. I always recommend the generic. There are like 4 drugs l never recommend the generic on..never, no matter how much l was penalized at work for not meeting the conversion quota! My patients first, their profits second!

    • Maybe 6-7 years ago here in NC the Charles Shaw went from $2 to $3. It’s good to hear your thoughts on generics. That’s what I’ve always heard, too.

  • I admire your ability to deal with some asinine comments. That is why I can never have a blog or write commercially.

    With the wine I guess its all relative. I’m not a big wine snob, but some of my favorites are in the 20-40 dollar range (Of course I like more expensive ones too, but I’m talking about ones I would actually buy.) When I found 2 that I like for 8 and 10 dollars I was very happy. I’d rather have those a couple of times per week than the cheaper ones more often. But, 3 buck Chuck is very good for sangria.

    • I have some thick skin! :)

      I’d say half the wine in our house ends up in sangria. That may be why we don’t usually pay up for wine and enjoy the 3 Buck Chuck. Oak Leaf is another favorite $3 wine (available at esteemed retailers like Walmart and Food Lion – I think). Maybe we’re spending too much and should switch to boxed wine?

      And on a related note, we rarely buy top shelf liquor, since most of the liquor ends up in a mixed drink.

  • who knew you were such a good writer,buddy. Very clear and informative. I just bought a $25 bottle of shampoo for myself and then read your article and felt guilty-on the the other hand my hair feels great!

    • Thanks, Adam! Glad you stopped by my little sandbox on the internet!

      I didn’t even know they made $25 shampoos. Does it have gold flakes in it like Goldschlager? Then you could show everyone your gold dandruff. :)

  • I have to disagree with 1 point completely and argue with another.

    First, I’m allergic to fluoride so I’d have to argue and say that that ingredient is not the necessary active ingredient you need, otherwise my teeth would have rotted out of my head decades ago.

    Second, there is a lower bound to the toilet paper argument. Yes you can go cheaper than a lot of the stuff out there, but have you ever been in a public restroom where they have the toilet paper so thin that you can’t unroll it without it breaking? It’s a hassle to get it unrolled, you have to use more because it’s too thin to get the job done with a little, and it can be irritable on a sensitive part of your body. I consider this one a quality of life kind of purchase. I’m not saying buy the most expensive out there. But there is a lower bound do this one.

    • I’m pretty sure fluoride is an effective anti-cavity agent, and helps keep tooth enamel strong. I’ll defer to dentists though. The benefits of teeth brushing don’t stop with fluoride application though. Brushing removes some bacteria in your mouth that “eat away” at the enamel. Brushing also removes plaque build up, preventing cavities from forming where the plaque resides as well as keeping gums healthy. So even if you can’t use a fluoride toothpaste, you can still benefit from brushing with non-fluoride toothpaste.

      Agreed on the toilet paper issue. That’s why I called out “Scott’s” and said to avoid it. So we don’t go the absolute cheapest route on toilet paper because the cheapest per sheet isn’t always the cheapest overall. And there are the comfort issues. :)

      • Oh, I wasn’t saying that toothpaste wasn’t necessary or that fluoride doesn’t do what it’s advertised to do. I was just saying that fluoride wasn’t a “necessity” of toothpaste since you pointed out that it’s the active ingredient that matters. I think brushing is the one thing that matters the most.

  • I agree with you when it comes to buying store brand substitutes, in most cases they are the same exact quality for less price. Or in some cases the store brand may even be a larger size and cheaper. But I do agree with the comment that says you need to be careful in dollar stores and make sure you are actually getting what you think you are getting! Generic medicines I agree with too, especially seeing the cost of some of the brand names. I’ve also found that Costco brand toilet paper is cheap, but still good quality.

    The one thing I somewhat disagree on is with electronics, and that is that higher end stuff can pay off. Now you don’t have to go out and buy the latest and greatest, but I believe in buying something better and making sure you take care of it. I have a 3rd generation iPod touch that I believe is going on 5-6 years old now. You can also buy a better laptop or build a higher quality PC, and as long as you aren’t trying to play games at super high resolution or doing intense graphic/video design there’s no reason they can’t last you 5+ years as well.

    • That’s good your ipod touch is still running. We have a set of mp3 players that are six years old and still run flawlessly. They weren’t high end – in fact they were only $20 or so. But still going strong.

      My thoughts on electronics are that I can buy the lower end item more often and keep up with the latest technology easier that way. And if my device gets messed up or stolen, it’s not as painful as it would be if I had a really nice (expensive) device in the first place. I think there’s a sweet spot where you can get too cheap though.

      And please don’t ask about my off-brand tablet purchase from a couple years ago. I should have waited six more months to buy one and by then the prices came down to the amount I spent on a tablet that died quickly. Oh well. Live and learn right?

  • All very good ideas. There is a fine line between being cheap and being smart-frugal. I did try 2 buck Chuck once and can’t say I liked it at all. However, I have to totally agree with you regarding paying less for electronics. My frugal story is about TV purchases. In 1985 I bought a floor model RCA stereo console TV. Top of the line in 1985 but significantly less money as it was on the floor playing several hours a day. Well in 2010 it finally gave out and I needed to buy another TV. You can say I don’t replace what isn’t broken and it didn’t bother me to have that huge piece of furniture as our main TV. It had a great picture and sound. All of the mocking we took was kind of a badge of frugality honor. Anyhow, I decided to try the same thing. They had a very nice Flat screen on display at Sears and I just thought the price for a new one was far more than I was willing to pay. I asked the sales associate when it was put out on the floor and the hours it was on each day. I then made some calculations regarding buying the display model vs. a lower end, less expensive model and asked for the manager. The set had been on the floor for less than 60 days and the manager agreed to sell it to me for 30% of the new cost. Timing was in my favor as they were about to change out to new models soon but you never know if you don’t ask. It’s still going strong.

    • Awesome! We’ll take risks on things like floor models when the discount is steep enough to compensate for the off chance that the purchase doesn’t work out. So far so good. And when you buy a floor model, at least you know the thing works!

      For appliance failures, there’s an initial window of a few weeks when new devices that are defective tend to fail rapidly. Even though you could return a defective item, it’s a pain in the butt. Buying a floor model bypasses that “initial failure” since you have an extra few weeks (or months) of QC testing built in.

  • Electronics – don’t ignore refurbed items. Have had great success with big screen TVs and PCs, while saving a boatload.
    Clothing – we have great places here in TN like Dunham’s, Burke’s and others for casual clothing – things like Under Armour competitors for a 1/4 or less of the price, etc. I retired recently at 60 so no longer need any dress clothes, saving a boatload.
    Food – we shop at Kroger’s and get our gift cards there which accrue towards gas points. While they always double the points for card purchases, they often quadruple them, translating into a saving of $14 for every 35 gals of gas you purchase, for every $100 in cards purchased (and their starting list gas price is competitive as well). If you buy cards for stores you frequent anyhow, you’ll wind up saving a boatload.

    • Great comment about refurbished electronics! I’m a big fan and won’t hesitate to buy refurbished items. So far I haven’t been disappointed.

      I used to shop at kroger’s when I was near there, but the only kroger gas stations where you can redeem for more than $0.10 per gallon are on the other side of town 25 minutes away. And my tank only holds 10 gallons so the savings are even more limited. Great idea though if you can take advantage of it. I’ll still save a buck or so when I happen to get enough kroger points to take off 10 cents per gallon. Nice benefit, but not nice enough to make me drive the extra mile or two to kroger.

  • Hilarious! I’m not sure you’d be allowed in Seattle with that attitude toward coffee, however. I won’t buy wine for less than $10 because I’ll just end up pouring it out due to its nastiness. My cut-off is usually around $13 or so with a max of about $20. When I can, though, we drive out to Yakima (about 90 minutes) and load up on wine by the case. I can load up for less than $10 out there if I buy in bulk quite often. Downside is I usually drink it too fast because it’s so handy to just open another bottle.

    • Ha ha, do they administer a Seattle citizenship test at the city border. Blindfold you and make you taste a local roaster’s blend vs. last night’s gas station swill? And if you can’t tell the difference you’re barred from entering? ;)

      No love for the $3 Buck Chuck? We like it and many folks swear by it. But again, I’m the opposite of a wine connoisseur. Except I can tell the really gross wines that taste like vinegar.

      I know what you mean about buying in bulk then drinking it faster. I loaded up on some champagne (of some dubious label) to get the case discount at the grocery store. It seems to get gone rather fast compared to buying and consuming one bottle at a time. False economies?

  • To play devils advocate. What items will you not “go cheap” on? For the Grumps it’s shampoo, bedding and reliable cars. I agree with the full assessment of what to “go cheap” on except the toilet paper! Way to risky!

  • OrganicFoodLover

    So i assume that you dont buy organic food. Do you think that there is a way to buy cheaper even if you do want to buy organic food? I am from europe and the variety of stores that you can go to is higher than in the US for example (dont judge me for that comment i have been there). So far i buy organic food that is in season and care most about veggies, fruits, shampoo and products from animals because i do see a difference (any non organic shampoo makes my hair ugly because of too much alcohol, parfum and sodium laureth sulfate). I buy very inexpensive products apart from that section, but of course food takes away a lot of money so if you have more advice it will be appreciated.

    • We don’t pay more for organic and it’s never a criteria when we are shopping (although some of the stuff happens to be organic). So I’m probably of very little help in that regard since I know I’m no professional organics shopper.

      I shop at Aldi’s a lot and they have a very small organic section with prices that aren’t much higher than the non-organic section. For example, bananas are $0.55/lb and apples $1.30/lb I think.

      See if you have a local “CSA”. That stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The business models vary, but you basically subscribe to get local produce and other farm products. Pay monthly or by the season. That might be a cheaper way to get a lot of fresh organic agricultural products compared to shopping the organic section of the grocery store.

      I’m not sure if the weekly produce box places are in the same category of CSA’s, but you might find a place that delivers big boxes of fresh produce and farm goods weekly for a reasonable price (in Raleigh it’s ~$20/wk for big box full of whatever is in season).

      Check out your neighborhood. In our neighborhood in the city we have lots of people that have chickens and therefore fresh eggs. Some also grow their own produce. I bet you could work something out with neighbors that have a surplus at harvest time. You’d have to rely on their assertion that they produce organically I guess.

      Farmer’s markets are another option.

      Hope that helps!

  • Good points. The biggest thing I try to be careful with is going out with friends. A lot of them enjoy going out to bars/clubs/etc. I do as well, but on a recent trip out in NYC came across the “receipts from last night”. Let’s just say, the hangover was the good part of it the next morning. $90 on drinks!

    I remember having a good time, and every now and then it’s okay to splurge a little, but if I did that every two weeks, I’d be spending >$2,000 per year on just drinks!

    It really is a bit nuts, but I don’t blame anyone but myself. It’s not really a big deal, as it’s not going to send me to the poor house any time soon. It was just a little sticker shock, and a reminder that more often than not, it pays to be frugal.

  • I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious what all is needed to get set up?
    I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a
    pretty penny? I’m not very internet savvy so I’m not 100% positive.
    Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Appreciate it

    • I use Hostgator for hosting (check out my Recommendations page for 25% off hosting fees). For me, a new domain plus a year of hosting was $87. A “host” = a server somewhere on the internet where your blog is stored.

      After that, it was easy to get a basic blog set up using WordPress (the software behind this blog).

    • Mistakes are made all the time. Google any major pharma manufacturer (like GSK) and you’ll see a lot of recalls.

      I’d say the article you link to is an example of the system working. Fraud was detected and it sounds like the company is now producing much more reliable products (the occasional recall notwithstanding). After hearing about nonsense in pharma right up the street (from friends that work there), I understand how mistakes happen at any company (name brand or generic).

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