When is it cheaper to buy a more expensive product? That’s what the BIFL, or “Buy it For Life,” philosophy is all about. Sometimes buying a premium product is cheaper over a longer term than buying the “cheap” version of the same item.
Let’s start with a personal example of mine, sunglasses. I was in the habit of buying cheap sunglasses from Wal-Mart. There were plenty of options in the $10 to $12 range. You could get either UV protection, or polarized. The problem is that they didn’t last very long. After about 8 weeks or so, the surface coating would start to wear, or something would come undone. Not a good situation because it seemed like most of the time something was wrong with them. Finally, I broke down a bought a pair of SunCloud Navigator glasses for $50. These had both UV protection and polarized lenses. Frames and hinges made from spring steel. They are super light weight and the lenses are great. I’ve had them for 2 years now, and they are still like brand new. Compared to shopping at Wal-mart, the break even period is a year. I have been using the expensive glasses for more than two years now, so for the last year, having these great glasses has been essentially free. So over time, they’ve turned out to be cheaper, and vastly better quality.
How to tell if the product is BIFL quality?
One of the first things to look for is the simple, “No BS” lifetime warranty. That means simple language that clearly states you can return the product at any time, for any reason, for replacement or repair. SunCloud sunglasses have this, so does All-Clad and Lodge cookware.
Check on-line reviews and if possible, people who have actually used the product. Be sure to do your research. These are products you expect to use for several years, it’s worth the time to understand the materials and manufacturing methods used to produce the product.
Brands that have been around for a long time are often good, but do your homework. Eddie Bauer was once a high quality product line, but they were taken over by another company and the quality turned to crap, even while prices remained high.
More expensive is not always better.
A good example of this is dinnerware. You can easily spend $200 or more on a four place setting. Personally, I use Corell, which goes for $26. Mine is more than 15 years old and just starting to show a little wear. I hit it with come ceramic cooktop polish, and it looks brand new. I like the frost white, but color and style are personal taste. It’s the food that’s supposed to look good, the plate is a bare canvas to display your work.
Another example would be cables for electronics. Generics are just fine, even for high end audio. So long as it’s the right size, resistance, and adequately insulated, there is little to zero value in buying expensive cables.
Electronics are a category that never qualifies as BIFL. They often become obsolete before they wear out. The higher end products almost always offer more performance than you will actually use. Some products are not really products at all, they are a device to give you access to subscriptions designed to keep you poor for life.
Some expensive Items that are worth every penny.
Shoes in general and especially running shoes. Shoes wear and are never going to last forever, but it’s your health we’re talking about here. Buy from someone who knows what they’re about. Not at the mall. Where I live we have Run For Your Life, a shop staffed by serious runners and tri-athletes. Bring your old shoes when you shop so they can see the wear patterns.
Tools of all kinds. A poor craftsman blames his tools, the best craftsmen buy high quality tools.
A lot of kitchen products. Cookware and kitchen knives are at the top of the list where BIFL makes sense. These are products you use several times a week throughout your life. The good stuff makes the experience more enjoyable into the bargain. Health is also a concern, so avoid Teflon and aluminum.
Backpacks and other hiking gear. Not products you use every day, but there is always the chance that a situation may develop where good gear might mean the difference between living, or not.
When “Buy It For Life” works
Items that you use frequently. It’s all about wear. If you cook on a regular basis, a kitchen knife that will hold an edge is important. Otherwise, you waste time buying new ones or sharpening old ones. Sunglasses, as we’ve already discussed.
Items where reliability is essential. I put tools in general, and power tools especially, in this category. You’ve got all your materials ready, maybe hired a helper, and your saw or drill breaks. The $5 or $10 you saved by buying a cheap tool does not look so smart now. Leatherman multi-tools and X-acto knives are other good examples.
Where the Long Term Cost of Ownership matters. Our consumer and disposable economy is working hard to suck as much money out of your pocket as possible. Think about disposable razors compared to the traditional straight razor. High quality straight razors last a lifetime. Not to mention that good steel can be honed to an amazing edge, and the razor edge reduces skin irritation. Works just as well for women.
Or how about glass for storage? Ball, Mason and Fido all make wonderful glass storage. You can clean it in the dishwasher, or use an autoclave, wash with bleach, plus it lasts forever, and it’s recyclable. Over a lifetime, it could save you hundreds of dollars.
Finally, there are a few products that are hard to categorize. Take a cast iron skillet for example. They are relatively cheap, especially compared to a high end item like an All-Clad stainless skillet which can cost five times as much. Both will last 100 years if you take reasonable care of them. The cast iron needs to be seasoned, and that seasoning needs to be maintained. Putting cast iron is the dishwasher will destroy the seasoning. Hand washing is absolutely required. The lower price has a cost in time.
In the end, this is a personal choice. If cooking is a joy for you, the extra maintenance may not be a burden. If cooking is a chore, the extra bucks for high-end stainless might be a bargain. Either one can qualify as Buy It For Life even though the buying equation is totally different. My choice? I have a 8” All-Clad and a 10.25” Lodge.
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