Living Frugally: Quality and Consistency

Practicing Frugality

Unfortunately, practicing frugality is too often translated as buying the least expensive products or services. Particularly in difficult economic times, there may be a tendency to make every effort to spend less no matter what. Blindly spending less is not frugal…it’s cheap. Being frugal means spending money wisely in an attempt to get as much value from selected products and services as possible.

Living Frugally Piggy BankThere is no doubt that discount stores and other low-cost options can be attractive; however, you have to be mindful of the fact that you often get what you pay for. It makes no sense to spend your hard-earned money on products or services that will not hold up, that will not stand the test of time.

Does that mean that you should look to brand name products first? Not necessarily. Too often people overpay for products and services, basing their buying decisions on flashy advertisements and name recognition instead of thorough research and evaluation.

Quality and Consistency

When conducting your research and evaluating different products and services to spend your hard-earned money on, you should consider these two factors first, quality and consistency.

qual•i•ty [kwol-i-tee] noun defines quality.

1. An essential or distinctive characteristic, property, or attribute.
2. High grade; superiority; excellence.

con•sist•en•cy [kuh n-sis-tuh n-see] noun defines consistency.

1. Steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.

Quality is a more important factor than cost. If you pay $50 for a pair of jeans that last you two years, that is better than paying $20 for a pair of jeans of questionable quality that only last six months, after being washed a handful of times. Does buying the same pair of jeans four times ($80) over the course of two years make much sense when you can buy one pair of jeans for $50 that last as long? Of course not!

QualityWhen you spend your hard-earned money you want to be certain that the quality will be consistent from purchase to purchase. One potential benefit, one reason to consider name brand products and services, is that you can generally count on consistency.

Whatever you think of McDonald’s and its food, you can have a high level of confidence that a hamburger and fries purchased in November, in St. Louis, is going to taste the same as a hamburger and fries purchased in July, in San Francisco.

Getting the Most Bang for Your Bucks

Put it all together and what does it mean? Being frugal does not mean automatically buying the least expensive good or service. Also, it certainly does not mean only considering name brand products or services, even though you might have a better idea of what to expect in terms of quality and consistency. Practicing frugality means taking the time to do your research to determine which products and services will give you the best bang for your buck; constantly evaluating if the products and services you normally buy are delivering quality on a consistent basis.

There are times when that will mean buying the least expensive product or service and there will be occasions when that means buying a more expensive product or service that just happens to be a well-known brand.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. I wrote a post like this over a year ago, I think there’s a misconception that people use the word cheap and frugal interchangeably when they’re not really synonyms when describing a person. Frugal means what you say, it’s being price conscious but for a quality you’re happy with. If I buy a anything: toilet, tools, flooring- you buy a quality level you’re happy with because we hate wasting money and we know if we’re back buying that same item again in the near future (like your pants story) It’ll waste more money, and possibly just as important, time.
    If you just flat out out look for the cheapest things or never maintain anything, always trying to get out of paying for anything, that is being cheap, not frugal. If you look for quality at a good price, spend the money and DIY time to maintain equipment or your house and plan things out to hopefully not have to redo things in the near future, that’s being frugal, not cheap.

  2. One of the everyday products I find can either cost you plenty or save you plenty are shoes. I can chose to buy branded everyday-wear sports shoes from a flash shop for $200 to $300 a pair or I can buy them at K-Mart or similar for $40.

    I have only ever bought one pair of branded shoes as they were on special and they were no better than my cheap ones from a discount store. In fact, I reckon that they’re all made in the same factory anyway.

    If wearing brand name goods for show is your thing, then it proves the adage, “a fool and his money are easily parted.” Would you agree?

    • Thanks for stopping by, my friend; however, I would mostly disagree with your assessment regarding shoes … at least those beyond basic ‘tennis shoes.’ And even for basic everyday shoes, I’m willing to pay a little more for Nike or New Balance shoes as those provide me recognizably more comfort than ‘basic’ shoes.

      As someone who is active in numerous activities – running, biking, hiking, and general fitness (e.g. lifting weights) – that require footwear, I know that there is a difference between quality shoes and $40 K-Mart specials.

      Does that mean I pay more than I need to? No. I am still price conscious and look for quality at the best price possible.

      To simply assume all footwear is basically the same and only focus on price is not just cheap, it’s foolish. Just as an individual that spends more than necessary for show is foolish, so is the individual who is physically active and fails to note the comfort and support provided by higher quality footwear. Foolish indeed. They will likely pay with hip, knee, and ankle ailments as they age.

      Thanks for stopping by and providing some food for thought, my friend.

      • I completely agree with you that higher quality, specialised shoes should be worn for physical sports however, my point was regarding shoes for everyday wear. It has often been reported how much mark-up companies like Nike place on their footwear and a pair of brand-name sports shoes that cost you $200 are often very similar in actual quality to non-branded at $40.

        Tell me the sense in paying a lot of money for a pair of shoes just so to impress your mates.

        I guess I’ll be foolishly saving my money for something else.

        • Agreed that you shouldn’t spend just for the name. However, even for everyday shoes, I have found that certain brands, Nike and New Balance work for me, provide more comfort and support. Now, would I pay $150 for some everyday walk around shoes? Nope. However, I would spend $75 for a pair of Nike instead of $45 for basic, generic tennis shoes.

          • I’ll tend to agree with James on this one, I think one difference is you could argue some of those “no name” brands Martin is talking about could be considered name brand, just not the most popular of name brands. Something that I wear every day for months I think most of us are pretty particular on, I mean if you had to wear one shirt or one pair of pants for months straight, would you buy some cheap thing you didn’t really like. I stick to Sketchers because I like the style, comfort and they seem to not fall apart like some other brands, but I look for deals on them when I’m ready for a new pair.

  3. There are certain items I will not buy on the cheap side: automobiles, furniture and certain electronics to name a few. What is the point of buying something if you will have to replace it numerous times and end up costing you more than the amount of a quality item? I do find that discount stores something offer a better bang for your buck though, I do not need the latest fashion and I hardly shop.

    • “There are certain items I will not buy on the cheap side: automobiles, furniture and certain electronics …” Exactly!

      Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

  4. James, I like how you moved the series to your sidebar. It looks much more important. Great job.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I am very satisfied with the recent changes and the feedback has been really positive.

  5. I don’t mind buying cheaper things if I can find them. Sometimes I’m even willing to settle for worse quality. I don’t need to best quality wrenches for the 2 times a year I need them.

    I do make an exception when, whatever it is we buy is nailed/glued or screwed onto the house. Then I tend to spend a little more for quality. It not only has to last longer, it will also play a factor when trying to sell your house. Great post, Thx.

    • “I do make an exception when, whatever it is we buy is nailed/glued or screwed onto the house. Then I tend to spend a little more for quality. It not only has to last longer, it will also play a factor when trying to sell your house.” Considering that the primary residence is not only the place that keeps a family safe, warm and dry, but also the most significant investment many will make, it only makes sense to give the highest priority to quality when considering home improvement and maintenance.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your voice to the conversation, my friend.

  6. James, I buy store brands because name brands are marked up to offset the marketing cost.

    Piggly Wiggly products taste better than name brand and they guarantee their products.

    I have their corn chips right now and they beat out the name brands for sure.

    • Great point. There is no doubt that generic brands are often equal in quality to the name brands. In fact, they often share the same manufacturer.

  7. Great post, James. When less expensive=flimsy I try to avoid. I also look for solid reviews when purchasing out of my comfort zone, which I’m about to do now. Do I buy an IPad mini 2 or 4 ($269/$299), a similar priced Samsung, or a cheaper Android? Never had a tablet and will probably keep it at least 3 or 3 years. Many variables to consider.

    • “I also look for solid reviews when purchasing out of my comfort zone … .” Indeed. I often combine reviews with feedback from friends, family and co-workers who might have experience with a product or service to help in my decision-making process. Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

  8. A Google+ reader states…

    “Couldn’t agree more…not a good deal if you have to keep on replacing something!”

  9. Unfortunately I learned this first hand. We had bought a table saw and it was a “less expensive” one. We lost a lot of money because this cheaper table saw could not cut a straight line! We wasted a lot of time and wood because of it. I returned it and went to buy a table saw that had the strength to cut a straight line. It was more expensive in the beginning, but made up for it in the long run.

    • A great case of a lesson learned through experience.

  10. I think an important point is that sometimes higher quality doesn’t necessarily mean higher price. I recently bought a new beard trimmer. There were several cheap off brands that I’ve never heard of, and reading some reviews, I found that many of them were poor quality.

    Instead, I bought a Wahl trimmer, a brand commonly used by professional barbers — the last one Wahl owned lasted me 12 years, so I don’t doubt this one will do the job for a long time. Even better, it was only about $10 more than the cheap off brand.

    • “…higher quality doesn’t necessarily mean higher price.” Absolutely agree, Adam. When you can find a product or service that offers higher quality at a reasonable price – only slightly more than one of poorer quality as you note – you have hit a true sweet spot. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and add to the conversation.

  11. Living well frugally means finding the right balance between cost and quality. Like many people, my husband and I feel that we’ve learned through the years to not shop for items based solely on price. We learned this especially well when we bought and remodeled our home. We tried to cut corners cost wise by purchasing some fixtures at a discount store. The fixtures did not last 5 years. When we replaced we made sure to consider the quality a little more carefully.

    • Great point, Kay. Finding the right balance is key. Like you, I have been burned trying to cut corners and save a few dollars, only to have to spend money later to repair or replace something. Thanks for dropping by.

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