In the world of personal finance, you’re usually trying to do one of two things. The first is finding ways to make your money go further when it comes to buying things and paying bills. The second is making sure you have enough money to either fix or replace things you need. Sometimes the belief is that items of good quality will always outlast things that cost less money. Unfortunately, that’s not close to being true.

Creative Commons License Darien Law via Compfight

Things like clothes and cars come in different categories of quality. With clothes, you can go anywhere from something costing under $10 to something costing as much as a couple hundred thousand dollars. Cars can go anywhere from $2500 up to $1 million. For these two items, some believe that you should be willing to pay for better quality and that the more something costs the better quality is and the longer it’ll last. That’s both true and false at the same time; let’s take a better look at this.

We’ll start by looking at clothing.

It’s easy to say there’s no doubt that a $20 pullover shirt is better quality than a shirt that cost $3.99. It’s probably true as well. You’d probably wash both shirts the same way, but a less expensive shirt will probably shrink quicker and have its colors fade quicker. Yet, at $3.99 you could buy five shirts that last as long as one $20 shirt, which might make it more economical, while allowing you to buy multiple colors or the same color of shirt.

This is an experiment I undertook on my own. I went to a store in Memphis and purchased 3 shirts at $35 each. I then went to Walmart and bought 7 shirts at $4 each. I made sure the $4 shirts were at least one size larger than I normally buy to account for possible shrinkage. Whether it’s because I had other shirts already or the lower cost shirts were a better quality than initially believed, I still had all 10 shirts 3 years later. All fit perfectly fine and none of them had faded. The only difference between spending $28 for 7 shirts against $105 for 3 shirts was the savings I achieved… because I went back and bought more of the lower cost shirts… and no one was the wiser.

What about a $40 dress shirt and compare it with a $100 dress shirt? On the surface you might believe that the $100 dress shirt would be more durable because it’s the cost means it’s supposed to be a better quality shirt. This is another experiment I did, only I bought 3 dress shirts at $100 and 6 at $40 (this time I didn’t spend my own money; the hotel I was staying at lost my clothes when I came home for a long weekend and reimbursed me when I got back lol).

Once again, the case for the more expensive shirt being better turns out not to necessarily be true. I can wish my $40 dress shirts in my own washing machine, iron them and they look crisp and new. Each of my $100 dress shirts needs to go to the dry cleaners. Because of that, I rarely wear the more expensive shirts when I’m at home.

However, when I’m on the road I can wear all of my shirts because I take them all to the dry cleaners (too much work trying to iron shirts while being in a hotel room), and with a bit of starch all the shirts look great and last a long time. At this point I’ve had all of these shirts for at least 3 years. The only difference between the two shirts is the feel of the material; the more expensive shirt does feel pretty good, nice and silky. No one but me knows the difference in cost, but I still saved $60 and got twice as many $40 shirts as $100 shirts.

Citroën CX Cabriolet Orphée 1983
Thomas Bersy via Compfight

Now let’s take a look at cars. Once again, a car that cost $50,000 is going to be better quality than a car that cost $5000. Without equivocation you’re right on track here. However, as with shirts there are some differences.

A $50,000 car is going to have a lot more luxury features inside the car, as well as a much better engine. The ride will be smoother, and acceleration much easier. As a matter of fact, everything inside and outside the car will be made of better quality materials, which means the car should be better across the board.

It turns out that’s not necessarily true. Cars with smaller engines are normally more energy-efficient. You get better gas mileage with a smaller car, mainly because they’re 4-cylinder vehicles as opposed to 6-cylinder luxury cars. Most people who buy smaller and less expensive cars don’t use them for long trips, but if they do they’ll get better gas mileage overall. If they don’t it means less stress on the engines.

Another thing to look at is potential external damage to both cars. The more expensive the car, the more it costs in repairs to fix. It’s easier and more cost effective to make the exterior of a less expensive car look new than it is for an expensive car. You might think that it’s harder to damage an expensive car but that’s not close to being true. That’s why most people who buy more expensive cars park them away from other cars. 🙂

One other thing to look at is that there are fewer things that can go wrong under the hood of an inexpensive car than an expensive car. This is another thing that drives up the cost of repairs on expensive cars. The layouts are often more direct and up front in less expensive cars also, which means everything is easy to get to. That shortens the time of repairs and keeps the maintenance fees lower.

Once again, I have some experience in this realm, but from the other side. I have a luxury car, although now it’s 12 years old. My wife has had 4 cars in the time I’ve had my car. Each car was brand new, 4-cylinder and she never had a serious repair issue; the costs for my car normally start around $300.

She’s barely paid more for all of those cars than my car cost. I love the quality of my car and the smoothness of the ride, but I’ve never gotten more than 23 miles per gallon, and that’s only on the highway; she’s always gotten at least 30 miles a gallon. Quality gives me more comfort, but it’s not more economical by any means.

These concepts are important to think about. Too many people get caught up in thinking they need to buy the most expensive thing on the market to get the best quality without realizing that their needs might require them to pay less for things and yet actually leave them with a better or equal quality product. If you take care of anything you buy and use some common sense you can have quality at any price.

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