When you buy cheap, you get…longevity?

I am wearing flip-flops that I bought at Rite Aid when my daughter was two years old. Abby will be 32 in August.

Granted, these zoris didn’t get a whole lot of use during my 17 years in Alaska. But I’m still amazed how well they’ve held up. I’m also grateful: They kept my feet off the ground for three days straight when my broken toe convinced me not to put on a real shoe.

Abby has her own cheap-but-dependable anecdote, which she detailed in a blog post called “Unexpected quality.” Her favorite pair of shorts, which she’s been wearing for 11 years, cost $10. It amuses her how “some of the cheapest things turn out to be so ridiculously durable.”

Those shorts don’t owe her a thing. The flip-flops and I are square, too. But it’ll be interesting to see how much longer these items last.

When “cheap” doesn’t mean “shoddy”

As an illegitimus frugalis, I’m delighted by cheap things that last a long time. Reading her post made me think about a few other inexpensive items in my life:

  • A winter coat from the clearance rack at a mid-price department store in Anchorage lasted me at least 25 years.
  • I make iced tea every day in a plastic pitcher my sister passed along to me in 1980. I don’t know how long she’d been using it.
  • Abby bought a couple of Ani diFranco T-shirts at a concert nearly 15 years ago. About five years ago she gave them to me. I wear each one at least once a week because I don’t own very many clothes.
  • My 99-cent clock radio from the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop is from the 1970s, I think, because its numbers are little cards that flip over. Wakes me up just as well as an expensive alarm clock.

Clearly, the old adage “When you buy cheap, you get cheap” doesn’t always apply.

Naturally it helps to shop at thrift stores, yard sales and clearance racks. Best-case scenario: Good-quality items at low prices, such as the 100% wool sweater from Eddie Bauer that I got for a quarter at a yard sale.

Then again, those drugstore flip-flops cost practically nothing way back in 1980, and I bet my sister bought that iced-tea pitcher from Kmart or Woolworth’s.

How about you, readers: What “cheap” items in your life have showed surprising longevity? Go ahead, brag a little.

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  1. Ooo this one’s easy for me! I have a set of Corell plates/bowls and serving dishes, some plain white and some patterned, that my college roommate gave me when she moved out to get married. They had belonged to HER mom when she was in college, more than 30 years ago. I think I’ve broken one plate in the past 7 years. What’s more, my mother-in-law gave my husband her set of Corell dishes, also from the 70s, when he moved away for grad school, and they’re the same pattern as mine. We decided to ‘go with it’ when we got married, and now as I find dishes and bowls in thrift stores, I’ll pick them up and donate the plain white ones back. He’s a youth/young pastor so we do a lot of casual entertaining, and our goofy vintage dishes make a fun story.

  2. My clock that my grandmother bought me just died. She must have bought it in the mid 80’s. She died in 1989 so she would have been proud that she was with me every morning.

  3. Elizabeth

    Those free drinking glasses they gave out at the theater, I believe in the 1930s or so? Used them as a child at my grandparents house. Inherited them and use them daily, as they are the only glasses I own. Actually, never bought a dish or pot in my life and doubt that my immigrant grandparents paid much for any they bought, which have been passed down.
    Any time somebody in my family gets married or receives something as a gift, the “old stuff” goes back into the family pool, ready for whomever needs to outfit a post-collegiate apartment next.

  4. Clothing swaps have provided all of my favourite clothes: a leather jacket, a soft soft soft long-sleeved tee, two excellent bias-cut skirts. They cost me my time and the bottle of wine (which had been a gift) I brought along to the party — I can’t imagine anything cheaper!

  5. Nothing as glamorous as Rite-Aid flops, but I’ve been using the same nail file that I probably bought for 50 cents at the Woolworth’s 35 or more years ago. I still use it regularly and would be very sorry to see it go. I still have the vinyl sleeve my file came in, too–it hasn’t held up as well as the file. I also still have and use a Goody comb I bought about that time, again for supercheap.

    Stuff I got free that’s vintage but still works great include two TVs–one’s at least 30 years old, the other slightly newer–and aside from having to buy converter boxes for both of them, I’ve not put a penny into either one. When they go, I’ll use Hulu.

  6. I have the flip clock from the 70’s as well. I have brand new Ann Klein sweaters that cost $1 each from the Salvation Army. I have bright orange Tupperware flour/sugar/etc canisters from the 70’s that look amazingly new (and super cool) in my kitchen. Come to think of it, lots of things I own were previously owned by someone else, and I think that’s kind of cool.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Trina: I’m using two Tupperware bowls that my mom got in the early 1960s and, like you, own a ton of “previously owned” items. The only new pieces of furniture I have are the bed (bought a place called the Mattress Depot) and the dining table (an RTA model that was on sale at Kmart). I’m typing this from a desk that cost $5 at a rummage sale, in fact.
      Oddly, I don’t feel deprived.
      Thanks for reading.

  7. Deedee

    My fruit bowl in the kitchen was a wedding gift my parents received in 1953, according to my mom it was from a “five and dime” store. My mixing bowls are a stainless steel set that I remember my mom using with her counter top mixer when I was growing up. And I have the aluminum canisters my mom used in her kitchen (another of their wedding gifts). Each canister is imprinted with what is supposed to go in them i.e. coffee, tea, flour, sugar – and my favorite – grease!? All of these things were considered “cheap” when they were new in the 1950’s, but have held up beautifully and are so cool today!

  8. OMG! Does anyone remember Timex watches? Back in the analog days, I bought a Timex at a drugstore to use while I was riding around in the sticks at the ranch. Figured to throw it away when it crapped out, which I expected would happen within a year. It ran and ran and ran and ran. It outlasted three much fancier watches, one of which was pretty expensive.

    The Evan Mecham Television — a tiny TV set purchased to watch that worthy governor’s antics while I was at the office (no one wanted to miss a minute of the ongoing sideshow…Arizona is famed for its hilarious politicians) — cost all of 40 dollars. I found it at the back of a now-defunct supermarket. Mecham was impeached in 1988. The television was still going strong when the damnable digital change struck. Mightily resenting being forced to buy junk to watch TV that ought to be free, I never got a “box” and an antenna to share the top of the refrigerator with the little guy. But…it’s still in the closet. I may yet try to revive it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Funny About Money: I remember the Timex — it was your big-deal gift when you graduated the eighth grade. Only then were you considered mature enough to own a watch. Nowadays they let 3-year-olds have ’em. Of course, they’re $2.99 POCs from Wal Mart.
      Thanks for reading.

  9. Bagel Girl

    I’m still using my parents Kirby vacuum cleaner, (an upright), that they purchased in 1954.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Bagel Girl: That sucks. 😉
      Thanks for reading.

  10. Maharani

    I have a dozen cotton dish towels that I bought for $5 at Trader Joes in 1988! For 22 years they have withstood weekly washing, regular bleaching, and hard use (I cook from scratch), and other than slight fading, are as good as new! Thats real quality. I never buy paper towels. I also have an electric clock/radio I bought at Fedco in ~ 1983 0r 4 and it is not only going strong but, despite the fact that its plugged in, WAY WAY more dependable than a celphone……I dont have to remember to recharge it, pull it out of my bag, take it to work,blah blah blah. Same for my vacuum cleaner-Fedco, 1986. Some things last forever.

  11. Maharani

    I also still have a heavy cotton single bedspread my Father purchased in Bhutan when I was ~ 15. It was one of a pair that my sister and I had on our beds growing up. Hers was lost years ago, but I still have mine and use it as a throw. It has a very striking and unusual woven pattern on a black ground and probably cost less than a $1 at the time, pure cotton, only slightly faded as I washed it a couple of times. If I had dry cleaned it, it would probably be good as new. As I am now 55, that puts it back 40 years.

    On the side of NOT cheap, but made to last for a lifetime, my mother just gave me all her Kanjeevaram silk saris, hand woven, heavy silk brocade. They are worth a fortune now. I wear them when I go out. I have to attend a lot of events as pat of my job and I need pm wear.

  12. Adrienne

    I have a winter scarf that was left in the lost and found at a restaurant I worked at when I was 19. It was never claimed, so I “claimed” it. I’m still wearing it every winter. And I’m now 56!


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