Buy once, cry once.

thMy father, a constant remodeler and handyman, has always favored Craftsman tools. His vise grip got used pretty hard, especially in its last few years of life when Dad was working at an automobile factory.

One day the tool shuddered, sighed and broke – you can ask only so much of even a good vise grip.

Sears replaced it for free (store policy), and he’s been using it ever since.

“There’s an old saying with tools: ‘Buy once, cry once’,” Dad said. “Of course, that applies to just about everything in life.”

Some things you just shouldn’t cheap out on, like tools, or shoes. Or condoms.

That doesn’t mean paying top dollar, mind you. You can meet many needs through thrift stores, yard sales, The Freecycle Network, the clearance rack, and cash-back shopping sites like Mr. Rebates, Extrabux and Ebates.

A whole bunch of this year’s Christmas shopping was done with points from a pair of rewards credit cards and with Amazon gift cards I got from the Swagbucks program.

Although I like to joke that only amateurs pay retail, I also know there are times when you can’t help it – and that sometimes it’s absolutely worth it.

Examples? So glad you asked

Footwear. I have plantar fasciitis. While I can’t say for sure that it’s because of buying cheap shoes as an adult, I can state that ultimately opting for decent footwear (and orthotic inserts) keep the pain at bay.

Vehicles. Maybe you like a flashy car as much as you like head-turning clothing. Do think about reliability, though, lest you spend a lot of time driving a loaner car while your flashy wheels languish on the mechanic’s lift. Myself, I have three criteria for autos: high MPG, easy to parallel park and too boring to steal. Your own mileage may vary.

Insurance. Think you don’t need it? Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’ll never be sick a day in your life. Or you could, say, fall down a friend’s steps and wind up in the emergency room.

Clothing. For some people it’s an outward statement of personality. For me, it’s to cover the outward parts. I don’t much care about style, so I can get away with yard sales and thrift stores for 90% of my wardrobe. If you like to shop, use a price comparison website such as Pricegrabber.com or FatWallet.com.

Housing. A “good” neighborhood means different things to different homeowners, but here’s what it means to me: conveniently located, safe, relatively close to natural features as well as man-made ones and, most of all, within my price range. (It’s a moot point right now, since my new roommate already owns the joint.) Don’t overextend yourself and remember, the “perfect” place will come along again.

Food. Some of the healthiest foods are actually pretty cheap: dry beans, cornmeal, potatoes, carrots, lentils, hard squash, yams and rice. You can cut the price further by checking restaurant supply stores, “manager’s special” meat, bakery outlets, ethnic markets and, yep, the dollar store. That last may give you flashbacks of contaminated-food scares, but it’s possible to buy, say, rice that was grown in South Carolina and jars of pickled vegetables from Italy. Oh, and be sure to check the health food or bulk-buy sections in supermarkets: I just bought extra-thick rolled oats for 59 cents a pound in Fred Meyer’s health food section. (At that price, I’ll probably go back and buy more.)

Got it? Care for it

A bit of vigilance ensures optimum value for the dollars spent:

Eat well and get enough exercise and you’ll likely reduce both short- and long-term medical costs.

Garden tools left out in the rain will rust.

A spaghetti-sauce stain should come out if you treat it promptly.

My friend faithfully follows the manufacturer’s suggestions for her Acura, which she’s been driving for 17 years in Alaska, and it still purrs when it starts up. I wish I could say the same for myself – despite eating a lot of lentils and vegetables, I make funny noises when I get out of a deep chair.

Readers: What are your “don’t cheap out” categories?

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  1. pretty much the same as yours for pretty much the same reason!!

  2. Ro in San Diego

    I am with Micki and agree with your choices. When I was younger we were really poor. I ate foods that I consider substandard. I spend more money on food than I probably should but I like to eat well. It’s one of my priorities.

    I’ve always had medical and dental insurance no matter what.

    My car is a utilitarian car – no bells and whistles.

    My home is in a nice neighborhood. When we bought it it was all the money in the world to us but it’s been a good investment. Close to shopping and very conveniently located to many freeways so I can get anywhere in my city quickly.

    Shoes are a big deal for me – I have a very hard to fit foot and my brand choices are what I would consider premium – full retail for my shoes is in the $200 range. Mostly I buy these brands brand new but on discount websites and occasionally find a brand new pair or like new in a thrift store. It’s amazing what people give away – honestly.

    Since I’ve had a recent knee surgery I have been very happy I have these great shoes. I’ve been living in the Merrills I purchased brand new and at full price a mere 8 years ago.

  3. That’s why we have Dyson Vac! I’m also a big tool guy and will pay more for tools with a lifetime warrant or service agreement!

  4. I had acute chronic plantar faciitis for two years. Finally tried a pair of Birkenstock sandals and the change was almost miraculous. As soon as I first put those shoes on, my feet felt better and continued to get better. That was 20 years ago and I had to pay full retail price for the first two pairs I bought. Then the internet and ebay came along. I can wear other good shoes now but I still like Birkinstocks and get all I need at ridiculously low prices from ebay, especially since I go for the “like new” gently used ones.

    • If you like your Birks, you must try Dansko shoes! They are a little dressier, and I feel like I’m wearing my Birks to work. Not cheap, but worth every penny.

      • I don’t understand why so many people love Danskos. I have friends that absolutely swear by them, but when I wear them my feet hurt the next day. I have PF, too, and found that while having good arch support is important, I also needs shoes with good heel cushioning. Dansko soles feel very hard to me, and I think that is what hurts my feet.

        • I think the most important thing for getting rid of my pf was the deep heel cup that Birks have. It really stabilizes my foot.

        • Donna Freedman

          My niece loves her Danskos. I love the Rockport Sandy (in black). Can’t we all just get along?

          • LOL! Of course! I guess I did sound rather grumpy about the Danskos. It’s just that whenever the subject of PF comes up it seems Danskos get mentioned as the “be all end all” solution for the problem. Danskso and custom orthotics. Neither have worked for me, so I’m finding my own way. 🙂

      • I love my Danskos too. I only have one pair because they are pretty expensive. Shoes are one thing I will not buy second-hand.

  5. I pay what I must for leather shoes. Anything else hurts my feet. Yes, the uppers hurt my feet and make them itch. So far, I usually pay about $60. However, I wear shoes forever. If I find my favorite shoe on sale or being discontinued, I will buy several pairs, store and get out when needed.

    Cheap pens never come in my house unless by accident and free, like advertising. Cheap BIC stick pens are hard to push across the paper. I do not have arthritis but have injured hands and write lots. So, a $3 pen is better for my hand health. I saw a child in middle school whose cuticles had separated from her nail because she was using a cheap pen and was writing lots everyday. It made me ill to see her fingernail. Also, the callouses from the cheap pens that are hard to push can be avoided.

  6. Unfortunately, many Craftsman tools are no longer Made in America nor guaranteed for life. You have to ask or look for the fine print before shopping.

  7. What about electronics? In 2009 when I was getting back on my feet (financially and otherwise) after a divorce, I bought a new Dell laptop. I have a laptop issued by my job, but it’s best not to use it for non-work purposes (all contents of the hard drive are automatically backed up daily, and usage is monitored) and I could no longer use my husband’s desktop. So, I bought a new Dell laptop through a work program that gave me a discount. I was really tempted to buy a Macbook, but one of my requirements was that the machine have an HDMI port so I could connect it to my TV to watch streaming movies. The Macbook was not only about $200 more than the Dell I was looking at, to connect to and HDMI port I would have had to buy a special adapter for another $60. I just didn’t think it worth the expense at the time.

    Fast forward a year. By this time I was so sick of all the problems I was having with the Dell laptop. Truly it was the operating system (Windows Vista Home) more than the laptop, but there was no way I wanted to sink more money into what seemed a technological black hole. Luckily my finances were back on track by that point, so I bit the bullet and bought the Mac. I wiped the Dell’s drive and put it aside thinking I’d sell it.

    A few months later, I saw a desperate message from a friend on Facebook. She was working on a school project with a very tight deadline and her computer had completely died. I offered her the use of the Dell laptop and said she could make me an offer on it after she got through her time crunch. She picked it up, used it for a month, and then informed me that it had burnt out. Literally, the power supply had fried itself. Apparently, it was a known issue with that model laptop and there were software fixes available, but since I hadn’t been using the thing for so many months I didn’t realize it.

    Lesson learned: spend the money on quality electronics! Especially when they are important tools for your profession.

  8. ImJuniperNow

    I recently developed bunionettes on the pinkie toe sides of both feet. Their adorable name belies their evil intent. I shall never wear cheap shoes or sneakers again.

    I just had to put new tires on my car – I couldn’t bring myself to go for the top of the line at $195/each but I did go for the Internet researched next best. And since I’ve had to have a nail or giant screw removed from a tire on a regular basis, I sprang for the additional lifetime tire repair coverage.

    I have to walk and I have to drive – Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

  9. christy

    I don’t cheap out when it comes to my dogs well being.

  10. christy

    Donna, try Haflinger shoes, I love the felted wool “slippers” In 15 years I am only on my second pair of what I call “house shoes”. I only had to replace the first pair when they were eaten by my then new puppy. Now he only brings them to me without eating them. I also have a pair I leave at work, in case I want to slip into them, which is often everyday in the winter when I take my snow boots off. They are so wonderfully good to wear. I often think to myself how I just can’t wait to get home, see the dog and put on my woolen clogs.

    • christy

      I should add, there are a lot of “knock” off clogs that look like Haflingers, but they don’t last and aren’t made as well. So for a $90 clog that lasts at least 5 years (for me at least 7) get the good shoe, not made in China.

  11. We baby our cars and give them names. I think that helps keep them “alive” longer!

  12. Real vanilla essence……preferably from Tahiti.

    Re: the plantar faciitis.. Bring the affected foot up on the knee of the other leg….then pull all the toes back with the palm of your hand. Do this stretch night and morning and miracles occur. Aloha

  13. jestjack

    Similiar story to your Dad’s vice. DW bought me 1/4 inch drive set from Sears when we were going together. It’ll be 39 years old this Xmas…Sears replaced the ratchet a few years back…. no questions asked. I can’t count the jobs this set of tools has worked on. True DW could have found a cheaper set….don’t know if they would still be around….

  14. I would definitely add electronics, especially computers (as my husband and I have learned the hard way, with a horrible PC that used Windows Millennium!). I would also add purses.

    However, I do think most high-quality items can be bought on sale if you look around. At the very least, use Ebates and look for coupon codes.

    Also, if you do buy high-quality shoes or purses (or tools etc.) be sure to take care of it. I have many friends who have tons of designer purses and boots/shoes but these don’t last that much longer due to shoddy care!

  15. Agree with stellamarina’s tip above. My husband is a therapy/rehab specialist and he has said that he has never seen a case of chronic plantar fasciitis that could not be resolved (over time) with a faithful regimen of stretches and soft-tissue-mobilization (a.k.a. massage) techniques.

    Many insurances will cover the physical therapy sessions (only a few) required to established the correct exercise protocol. 🙂

  16. Agree with stellamarina’s tip above. My husband is a therapy/rehab specialist and he has said that he has never seen a case of chronic plantar fasciitis that could not be resolved (over time) with a faithful regimen of stretches and soft-tissue-mobilization (a.k.a. massage) techniques.

    Many insurances will cover the physical therapy sessions (only a few) required to establish the correct exercise protocol. 🙂


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