What's worth the money (and what's not)


There is a ton of talk right now about belt-tightening and money saving and the altar of frugality. I follow quite a few blogs on those subjects. They are full of tips, from cutting out unnecessary expenses to re-using to cash-only budgeting. That's all good advice. I have nothing to add to it. And yet, I wanted to contribute something to the growing body of frugality knowledge. So, with that in mind, I give you my lists of what is worth extra money, and what is not.

Worth Extra Cash

  • Coffee: if you start your day with a cup or a pot, you depend on it. Things on which you depend to get you started should not suck. Life is too short to drink bad coffee. And yes, if it comes in a metal can already ground, it is bad coffee.

  • Eyebrow waxing: If you get your brows waxed, don't cheap out on it. I did, once, getting them done for $5 or $8 at a cheap nail salon. It HURT, and I ended up looking like someone had punched me in the face. At my beautiful, wonderful Aveda salon, they charge me $20, but it barely hurts, it looks great, and I get a cup of tea.

  • Pet food: Don't feed your pets cheap chow. Just don't do it. It's bad for them, and it will end up costing you more as they develop more health problems. Plus they'll need more quantity to eat, since it's mostly filler. Pay for the good, protein-rich, healthy stuff.

  • Direct flights: Flying is expensive. Flying is uncomfortable. Flying is a general pain in the ass. Direct flights are a much smaller pain than connections. If it's possible to get one, I will pay more (though only to a point) for a direct flight. (What I will not do, however, is pay to check a bag, upgrade to a seat with 3" more legroom, or eat nasty airplane snacks.)

  • Your own domain name: If you want to use your websites in any serious way, it's really worth it to buy your own domain name(s). It isn't expensive, and it makes you look way more professional. Plus, then nobody else can buy them and use them to host porn sites.

  • Nice soap: Anybody who reads WINOW for long knows I am a sucker for bath and body products. There is a reason for that, though. Showering is something we have to do every day (or I do, anyway). It's a forced opportunity to take just a few minutes out to relax. Having nice products that make you feel good and smell good helps a whole lot with that. So it's worth it to me to pay more for those products.

  • Cable and DVR: Cable is something that a lot of people suggest cutting out of your budget. I disagree. We use our cable, and our DVR, and I think we use it well. We watch what we enjoy, on our own time schedule. We don't spend a lot of time staring at a TV with nothing we want to watch on it.

  • Tattoos: If someone is going to put permanent ink into your flesh, you don't want a discount. Seriously, this one is a no-brainer. You want the expensive tattoo artist. And then you want to tip really, really well.

  • Laundry detergent: On a whim, I recently bought Mrs. Meyer's Clean day lavender laundry detergent. It's not cheap. However, given that the $14.99 64 oz jug will do something like 100 loads in my HE washer, it's not exactly breaking the bank. And it's SO nice--smells great, the clothes come out clean and soft, and environmentally friendly. My All Free days are over.

  • Underwear: For a long time, I've been a proponent of discount underwear. I just wore whatever was cheap at Ross. Then I happened upon a pair of Aerie panties. And now I am in love. They are made of thick, soft, cotton. They stay in place and don't ride up my prodigious behind. And they hold their shape, don't stretch out, and look cute. They aren't super expensive (5/$25), but they are more than what I was wearing. Totally worth it for an ass that is comfortable all day.

OK To Cheap Out On

  • Books, movies, and CDs: Really, wise up and learn to use the library. If you have a decent branch, you will be able to get a large portion of what you want to read, watch, or listen to for free from them. Also, learn to use the RedBox in all its free code goodness.

  • Furniture: There is no reason I can see to buy new and expensive furniture. All that leads to is having to worry about what will happen to it. Our furniture is 75% hand-me-down or thrift store and 25% Target and Ikea, and it's done just fine. You can even have a cute house with this type of furniture--just focus on "eclectic" as your decorating style, rather than anything too specific.

  • Air conditioning: People here pay out the nose to have their houses at icebox temperatures in the summer heat. It makes no sense to me. Sure, we use our AC, but we set it at 79 or 80 during the hottest part of the summer. Is our house perfectly chilled? No, but it has air movement and it's not an oven. Gives us more incentive to be naked that way.

  • Baby clothes: Thrift stores are full of barely used kids' clothes, especially in the smallest sizes. Often, they are new with tags on them. In my moral universe, those are prime gift material. I do not buy presents for friends having babies at regular stores, I buy them at the thrift store. And, should we have a kid in the near future, it's going to be Goodwill model baby. There's just no reason not to.

  • Multiple cars: Mark and I have been a one-car household the entire time we've been together. It's really not that hard to do, with a little bit of flexibility and planning. And it saves us a lot of money--not just another car payment, but insurance and gas and maintenance. Plus we have to be more efficient with our car use this way, which is both an environmental and an economic good.

  • Landlines: Why do people still have landlines for their phones? Now that everybody has a cell phone, and most of us have a lot of minutes on that cell phone, what's the purpose of a landline? We haven't had one for years, and I've missed it exactly once (when stuck at home with a dead cell phone). I've been happy not to have it countless times, though, especially since I get no telemarketing calls now.

  • Glasses: I posted a while ago about the amazing cheap glasses I got from Zenni Optical. I am now kicking myself for having spent so many years paying $200 and more for glasses. Never again.

  • Mascara: At this point, I've tried just about every expensive brand of mascara there is, as well as a good many of the cheaper ones. I see no substantial differences. Next time I buy mascara, it's going to be at Target.

  • Cleaning products: Lots of people will tell you that all you really need to clean is baking soda, vinegar, and Dr. Bronner's. Add a toilet bowl cleaner and something for pet stains on the carpet, and I'm one of those people. There is no need for expensive cleaning products. They smell bad and hurt the planet and cost a lot.

  • Bras: I've worn cheap bras, and I've worn expensive bras, and the conclusion I have come to is that bras are uncomfortable no matter how much they cost, so may as well still with Target. If I splurge, it's to buy Jockey. No Wacoal for these ta-tas.

Clearly, I know that my lists don't apply to everyone. The real point is about knowing your priorities and spending in line with them. If you are anything like me, there are things you are currently spending extra money on that you aren't getting any extra value from, and there are also things you are spending on and feeling guilty about when they really are worth it to you. So, it's worth taking the time to think about your spending, cut the areas in which you aren't seeing value, and stop feeling guilty about the things that really are worth it.


I will use my last red cent for a/c. It's not worth it to sleep poorly if I could just turn on the A/C and sleep well.

Where does one by Aerie panties?

Re: bras, I would point out sports bras are a totally different animal which i will pay a lot for. Expensive bra companies don't make bras in my size, but I think really well made (as opposed to marketed) bras would be worth it.

I disagree about the bras. In my size (triple OMG), the difference between a moderately-priced bra and a high-end bra is about a year's worth of wear - or more. I recently paid $50/per at the fat ladies' store for bras, only to have the underwires poke through the casings within three months. The bras I'd purchased at the fancy-shmancy lingerie store lasted well over a year before succumbing to general malaise.

I can't always afford the high-end bras (hence the $50 jobbies), but I've never been disappointed by the high-end versions. By comparison, every other bra I've purchased has had serious defects within a scant few months.

Oh, for a lingerie line item in my budget.

I agree with most of your list. Of course, I can't make myself spend a lot of soaps, but I should... and we don't have cell reception at home, but I'd love to cut out the landline. Also I don't drink coffee...

For us, landline works out cheaper than cell phones. We have triple play and we don't use contract phones.

We also used to be 1 car. Then we moved to suburbia and my husband changed from taking the train to driving. If you have kids, being stranded at home all day is not really an option.

As for furniture, I divide it into 2 groups: Worth spending money on, and not worth it. Beds and sofas are worth it. Bookshelves are not. But the new book about the true cost of cheap would disagree with me.


AGREE: Coffee, clothes, cleaning supplies.

DISAGREE: Cars (we need two, and we actually have four that can serve as daily drivers), books (if I like the book, I want to keep it), furniture (what Alexis said), land line (have to to get Internet service), underwear.

This is SO interesting, to see other people's priorities. I will say that an expensive bra is worth it for me, but only because the cheapos don't tend to make my size. I also will say that a WELL-FITTED bra will *not* be uncomfortable for most people.

I completely and totally agree re: books. Even if you want to own them, most "popular" (ie not academic niche books) are quite cheap on the internet. There is no reason on gods green earth to buy them full price, unless you need one NOW for some reasons.

My latest favorite cleaning product is kosher salt. I use vinegar plus a heavy layer of kosher salt to scrub the crap out of my bathtub...it works pretty well on hard water stains.

Its funny that you mention baby clothes - one of my favorite podcasters was just talking about how he doesn't believe in buying new clothes for children. Makes a heck of a lot of sense to me!

Oh, and one thing I would add? Good food. Totally worth the price, especially for organic meat and dairy.

i respectfully disagree on the AC, but then again we have hellish allergies and skin problems. so our house is at 73 in the summer and 71 in the winter.

and yes, i am a pussy. why do you ask?

I love this post! The comments are also facinating - I love knowing what other people's priorities are.

I just wanted to add my 2 cents on the bra issue. I agree with Jess that a bra has to be well-fitted but not necessarily more expensive. One of my favorite bras was a Ross purchase, but the others I have paid dearly for and would do so again because they give me very good support every day. (I am another big-busted reader, so we may have different perspectives.)

I gotta agree with Jenny re: A/C. For those few months out of the year when we need it, it is SOOO worth it to be able to live and/or sleep properly.

I am kind of a book-buying junkie, and I gotta say that I tried buying used books but probably never will again, unless I can find ones in really mint condition. I am just one of those people who like my books new and untouched by others. I know that it is completely irrational, but it REALLY bugs me when I pick up a used book and its beat up, or has writing in it, or the pages have been dog-eared, etc. I sort of feel the same way about CD's and DVD's, although I'm willing to be more flexible with them. My only issue is that I don't see the advantage of buying a used CD/DVD that is all scratched up because it won't play well, and then what's the point?

The one thing I wanted to add to your list, though, was medication. I strongly believe in buying generic drugs, and really don't see the point of buying brand names. Granted, I don't take regular prescription medication, and I know that some people have very strong (and justified) preferences for some drugs that they have to take for specific medical conditions, which is fine and totally legitimate. I'm talking about everyday over-the-counter drugs. The one drug that I take a lot (and carry around everywhere) is ibuprofen for everyday aches and pains. I refuse on principal to pay extra to buy Advil just for the candy coating when generic Target brand ibuprofen is half the cost. After my bout with the flu last May, I also discovered that most cough syrups are a complete waste of money when compared to simple antiseptic mouthwashes like Listerine. Gargling with Listerine relieved my sore throat and coughing just as well as (if not better than) Robitussin, and is way less than half the cost. The one exception I make is that I keep a bottle of Extra-Strength Tylenol around just for emergencies, because I find that it works best to reduce my fever if I have one, but that's it.

re: Zenni optical

In January I ordered 2 pairs of glasses from Zenni. Shipping took 5-6 weeks (slightly longer than expected.) After wearing one pair for a week or so, I developed a slight rash above my ear. I tried different things ... maybe my new hair band was causing the rash? After about 10 weeks of trying various things, I had oozing uncomfortable areas above both ears. I finally had the Zenni ear covers replaced. Almost overnight, the rash went away and has not returned.

The Zenni glasses are a good deal even if you factor in possible ear piece replacements... but don't expect the same quality you would get from your local optician.

Always so interesting to see these things. Fun to see differences and similarities.

I'm jealous about being able to save on cars and bras (my SO and I both work 40-60 minute commutes in opposite directions; my boobs and chest size make it so only pricey bras are my size - why?????).

I do save on coffee (don't like it), cable (don't want to watch as much tv as I would if I had it), and soaps (recently going through the ginormous hotel soap collection after realizing it was kind of silly to have about a bazillion of them and keep buying soap...).

Another possibility on the car situation is one "good" car and one "go to work / backup" car.

That's what my husband and I have done throughout most of our marriage. We've never been in a situation where both of us had to commute out of town - one of us always worked close to home.

We can't go to one car on a permanent basis, however, because our work schedules can be a bit unpredictable.

I love the list, and everyone's comments! For us, the AC at night is a must - though we'll do what we can to have it warmer in the apt. during the day.

Cars. Ugh. Husband and I both work in the same city, mere blocks from each other, so we share a ride in. But we're going to be looking at a 2nd car soon [still saving], especially after our current one quit in a parking lot late last Friday.

One thing I will never cancel so long as I own a car [besides insurance, of course]: AAA, or some similar roadside assistance. It's been my savior on the roadside in multiple occasions [popped tire, broken down rental, dead battery, the aforementioned incident last Friday]. I will go with the least expensive plan if I must, but it will always be there!

Good article, seeing how others prioritize with their money always fascinates me.
AGREE: Coffee, AC (we live in New England and 80 would be wonderful right now), mascara, furniture (craigslist, baby)
DISAGREE: Glasses (they are on my face for goodness sake!), brow waxing (I do it very well myself), baby clothes- with sales and coupons at Old Navy and Children's Place, new is often cheaper than used, cable (I wouldn't mind if I never turned on the TV again)
Confused about the underwear- Aerie IS my cheap undies
Lastly, what was with that P---y comment??? Ouch! Manners please.

I'll go halvsies on your list, but give you props for putting it out there.

We have no tv, but there is zero chance I'd go without my own vehicle. I don't care about coffee (a habit I broke when I quit Marlboro's), but I certainly agree about thrifting. Detergent--i make my own cheap, but I buy nicer furniture (think sofa, mattress)---b/c a comfy house is priority for this Cancerian.

Keep posting!

Ooo. Here are a few of my strong thoughts.

Baby clothes: Seriously! I always say my babies will live the first year of their lives in a one-color sack, Maggie Simpson style.

Direct Flights: So, so, true. Even the most remote chance of missing a connection or lost luggage is worth at least $100.

Domain Names: Agreed. They're so cheap, why the hell not? I tend to buy another one or two each year.

Cable and DVR: Strongly disagreed! The basic plan in my area is $64/month. This is a straight up waste of cash, and it's impossible to rationalize it as otherwise. The need to stare at the TV is a cultural myth, as is the need to find shows to enjoy. There is no reason you can't consume current events online, watch most shows on Hulu or similar, and wait for marquee shows to hit DVD rentals. All of that costs $0, you can convert the time into getting things done, and $64 a month is a nice dinner date or four local concerts.

Furniture: Mixed feelings here. When you need a piece of heavy furniture it's worth it to spend - either new, or used and well-maintained. Ikea is great for futons, coffee tables, and sets of drawers, but not for bureaus or china closets. E bought a mid/high-end entertainment center that was about twice what I would have paid, and despite my objection at the time I now acknowledge it's value - it's a tank, it's attractive, and it's put together well.

Landlines: Mixed feelings. The money I'm saving on not having a high-minutes plan on my cell is effectively paying for the landline, so it's six of one or half-dozen of the other. Bonus: I don't ever give my cell number out to arbitrary requests for phone contact.

Interesting that you are pro on underwear and con on bras - since bras have a structural component, I'd think the expense would be more meaningful there.

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