Continued from blog post Coupons, Clubs, & Clearance: The Birth of Excess – Part 2
Part 3: “On The Cheap”: How Low Should You Go
The word cheap gets a bad wrap. The actual definition of the word cheap is purchasable below the going price or the real value. However, cheap also describes when something is poorly made or has been done or gained using little to no effort.
I find this unfortunate because, for most people, there is not much that is effortless about living within your budget. As I use this word in my writings, I want you at home to understand that there is nothing inherently bad with buying something cheap. BUT, you should be conscious of a couple of factors that play into deciding when it’s important to invest, and when it’s important to be like Queen Elsa and let it go.
So… Is Cheaper Better?
This question should really be broken up into two different questions: “When is buying cheaper better?” and, “What should I look for when buying something cheaper?”
Depending on what you are looking for, the answer may surprise you.
When is buying cheaper better?
Brand-name products confuse me. Not the products themselves, of course. I get that people really like certain foods or branded items like Apple. What confuses me is that people often pay more than necessary for basic living staples.
When I go to almost any store, I always have at least two choices: the brand-name products and the store-brand (or generic) products. Both products have to meet certain regulations in order to be sold in stores, so is there really a benefit to buying brand-name over generic?
The average shopper believes that brand-name merchandise is of better quality than the generic. But sometimes, the price is the only difference. Many generic food products (such as flour, sugar, corn starch, pepper, and even some cereals) are manufactured by the same companies that make their brand-name counterparts. What you end up paying for is the brand recognition and advertising that goes along with it.
One of my majors when I was in college was communication and mass media. I have studied many aspects of the advertising industry, and from my experiences I can tell you this: brand-name products are only as good as their advertising campaigns.
If Cheerios didn’t advertise their product as the leader in heart-healthy cereals, no one would be eating them because no one would know that they existed or that they were “good for you”. Cheerios have been advertised for ages and hence become an established staple of many American’s morning routines.
Cultivating trustworthiness of a product and brand recognition are two of the primary goals of advertising. This way, when you go to buy paper towels, you instantly think of “The Quilted Quicker Picker Upper!” and head for the Bounty. Or if you need exercise clothing, you think of your workouts and purchase the Nike clothing designed to “Just Do It”. Or if you want some new make-up, you decide on the L’Oreal “Because You’re Worth It”.
There are many consumers that still blindly trust advertising, but the game has changed in recent history. If you want to read more about how younger generations are getting wise to the game and changing the playing field, check out this article from the New York Times.
So when you next visit your local grocery or department store, do yourself a favor and check out the generic products. Many times, generics are just as worthy of your hard earned money as the brand-name.
What should I look for when buying something cheaper?
So now that we’ve determined when buying something cheaper is better, let’s discuss what to look for.
NOTE: Everybody has personal preferences, but there may be no particular reason for why you purchase a brand-name product over a generic. So when it comes to your preferences, take my buying suggestions with a grain of salt. Never sacrifice quality for quantity: poorly made products get worn out quickly and need to be replaced far more often, thus forcing you to spend more money than you need to.
FOOD + BEVERAGE PRODUCTS
When you are shopping for food and drink, compare the labels. The FDA’s Nutrition Facts Label will tell you what your body is getting from your food. Once you are familiar with the label, you can easily make comparisons between brand-name foods and their generic counterparts to ensure that the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are the same.
The ingredients list is also important so that you know what (and how much of it) is in your food. Ingredients of the largest quantities are listed first while trace ingredients are listed towards the end.
MEDICINE + DRUGS
Medicine and drug labels are easier to buy generic because there are only active and inactive ingredients listed. When you are comparing a brand name medicine to its generic counterpart, compare the active ingredients. If they are identical, then you can buy either one: they will work the same.
If you have a dollar store near you, please go and investigate. They have countless treasures from seasonal decorations, to kitchen and cooking supplies, to arts and crafts needs, to back-to-school / office supplies, to cleaning products, to greeting cards – and everything in between. Here are just a few of the finds that I encountered recently on my latest trip:
It is important to remember that some of the products you find may not be of the same quality as their brand name counterparts (and they most likely won’t sell organic or other specialty products that cost more to manufacture). But for $1, it is worth the trial and error if it ends up saving you money in the end.
CLOTHING, SHOES, + ACCESSORIES
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but clothing is clothing. A designer or other brand label doesn’t make the material that the clothing (or shoes, jewelry, purse, etc.) is made from magically more durable or fashionable. Of course, everyone has a different clothing preference and fashion sense. But when it comes down to it, being smart about purchasing these products is a great way to save money.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m looking for a new piece of clothing or accessory is to visit my local thrift shop. It isn’t just because I like to find a good deal, though. Each year, the world consumes 80 billion new pieces of clothing – and sends 26 billion pounds to the landfill. Every time one of those t-shirts goes to waste, so do the 700 gallons of water that went into creating it. By purchasing recycled clothes from secondhand, consignment, or thrift stores, you can help your wallet AND the planet at the same time.
Clearance merchandise is marked down because the store wants to get rid of it to make way for the newest version of a product. There is (almost) never anything wrong with purchasing something on clearance: what you need to be careful of are “best-by/sell-by” dates and “as-is” merchandise.
Sometimes if a “best-by/sell-by” date is fast approaching, the product will be discounted to ensure that it gets sold quickly: it doesn’t mean that it isn’t still OK to eat or use.
“As-is” merchandise is products that may be broken or missing something, which would cause them not to function properly. In general, don’t buy “as-is” merchandise unless your goal is to upcycle/restore it.
The most important thing to remember is that you are buying things your family needs to survive and thrive. But just because something is cheap or on clearance doesn’t mean that you have to purchase it. Sometimes people end up buying things because they are cheaper and not because they are necessary. This can be just as harmful to your budget because you end up buying things that you don’t need (which then cause useless clutter, excess, and waste).
The key is to be a smart and savvy consumer.
You got this. =)
So there you have it: the final installment of my Birth of Excess series. I do hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. And hopefully, you’ve also learned a little bit about yourself and your spending/buying habits along the way.
If you have questions or comments, please share below!