Coffee heat rising

The Frugal Virtues of Buying Expensive Stuff

This morning a moment of chaos led to an impromptu kitchen cabinet clean-out. It’s not a large cabinet, but it’s one that holds stuff I use all the time, so it gets messy, what with all the shoving in and out of utensils and bowls. As I was setting stuff on the floor preparatory to cleaning the shelves and figuring out a better way to store things, I reflected that if I’ve been in this house for ten years—a proposition I still find hard to believe—then some of those things are really quite old.

There is, for example, a nesting set of stainless-steel strainers, which I use mostly as colanders. I don’t even remember when I bought those—I had them in the old house, and I may have brought them with me when I flew the marital nest. If that’s the case, then they’re a good twenty years old; in any event, they’ve been around for at least fifteen years. And they look and function just like new.

They weren’t cheap. I’m pretty sure I bought them at Williams Sonoma, or maybe from Sur La Table, a favorite source of gourmet cooking gear back when I could afford to buy anything my little heart desired. Williams Sonoma is charging $37 for the current version just now. But like the set of stainless pots and pans with the copper-core bottoms, they’ve lasted and lasted and lasted, through daily use and occasional misuse.

These are things that I couldn’t afford to replace today. Now, if a good piece breaks or wears out, I have to replace it with something cheaper, which about 97 percent of the time equates to something that won’t last. Case in point, the late, great cheapo percolator I bought to replace the very nice teakettle that gave up the ghost after many, many years of service. You may remember this:

Came from Amazon. See that cute little glass bubble thing at the top? That’s where coffee perks up, if you’re using it to brew coffee. It has some half-baked threads that let you sort of screw it into the lid. They’re already shot: the lid won’t stay together anymore. As you’ll recall, I bought this thing last July. Now I need to buy another one.

If I’d paid two or three times as much for a teakettle from Sur La Table or Williams Sonoma, I’d have a pretty kettle on my stove (something that happens to please me, for it makes the kitchen look like someone lives here) that would survive another ten years of daily use.

But, being forcibly “retired,” I didn’t feel I could pay twice as  much for a teakettle that may very well last longer than I will. That’s because I couldn’t. This summer, with everything in sight breaking and expensive upgrades to doors and windows installed after the notorious Garage Invasion (which came within a gnat’s eyelash of becoming a home invasion) and almost no money other than Social Security coming in, I didn’t have the cash.

I’m glad that when I had a job, I bought as much quality as I could afford—considerably more than I can afford now. The Crate & Barrel buffet, the Thomas Moser rocker, the Restoration Hardware overstuffed armchair, the leather chairs and sofa, the Stickley side table (on sale!!!), the good set of stainless cookware, the Heath dinnerware: those will last for the rest of my life, never fall apart, and probably even retain their looks up to the end. Mine, that is. Though they were expensive, they actually were frugal: I’ll never have to buy any of these objects again.

When retirement starts to appear as a speck on the distant horizon, that’s the time to stock up on expensive, well made, and sturdy housewares, tools, and furniture. While you still have an income, buy for the future. It will save you having to replace cheaper stuff several times during your (heh!) “golden years.” The gold in them thar hills, folks: it’s pyrite.

8 thoughts on “The Frugal Virtues of Buying Expensive Stuff”

  1. How did you know that I’ve been thinking along similar lines lately? I’ve almost decided I need to buy that Vitamix blender I’ve been coveting! 😉

  2. It’s kind of like when they build roads. They could put a bigger base and thicker concrete and the average road would probably last twice as long as it does today, but doing so would cost twice as much, so either you’d have half the roads able to be repaired or you’d have to double today’s budget to keep up the repairs. Even though that would reduce the costs down the line, the up front costs kill the idea, so we get roads that are going to fail in a lot less time than they have to.

    • Roads are incredibly expensive, too. And they represent the biggest barrel of pork ever dreamed up by the mind of man…uhm, person. I used to serve on the city’s citizens’ road commission. The guy who wielded the most power? He owned the company that built the I-17 freeway through town…

    • I’ve a good discussion with a person that used to do the material testing and quality assurance for our county’s road projects (our county roads are in perennially deplorable conditions). Lower-grade materials were actually be “spec’d in” by engineering, ostensibly to save money, in practice to guarantee more work down the road (!) on the pork highway.

  3. Yeah, I agree. My wife and I usually buy cheap because we just can’t afford anything more, but when we do buy something expensive (like a lot of my tools or my workboots), it’s dEFINTIELY WORTH IT. THese things last a long time and do what they’re supposed to do. Our Walmart stuff doesnt’ usually last very long. Buying expensive to be frugal, whodda thought?

    • I love thrift shops! Most of my “newer” casseroles, etc. were quite expensive for someone else to buy. My very favorite utensil is a metal colander used by my mother and her mother. It won’t go to a thrift shop, my granddaughter has already called dibs on it !!

    • @ Ellen2: That’s what happens to most of the good stuff!

      However, I did manage to score a VERY nice All-Clad frying pan, exactly the right size for everyday use, at an estate sale, for quite a modest price.

    • I’ve heard that around here estate sales are the place to go to get good quality stuff, assuming you don’t want to fork over thousands of dollars for say, custom made new Amish furniture.

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