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Cheap Is as Cheap Does: The Spending Cycle

December 7, 2018 | Daniel Dewitt

Being broke is hard. And despite what some pundits and politicians might say, most of us on the lower end of the economic scale aren’t here because of laziness or our inability to control our spending. On the contrary, much of the spending power of lower-income families go to basics like housing, transportation, and food. The little that does remain, we’re often loath to spend on anything but the cheapest items out there. And while being thrifty is an admirable trait, it can be counter-productive in the long term and trap you in a cycle of spending.

Isn’t Being Frugal a Good Thing?

Yes and no: the problem with the frugal mindset is that it can fail to take into account the vicious cycle that can kick in when you go shopping. See, the cheapest items in a given category are often the most poorly made and will be the quickest to break down. So, you may spend (hypothetically) $10 on the cheapest lightbulb in the store, but if it breaks twice as fast as the $15 option, you’ve actually lost money in the long-term.

And that example is on the conservative side of things. Buying a cheap car can be thousands and thousands of dollars more expensive than a pricier car that’s in better shape when it comes to the cost of repairs within just a year or two. Cheaper houses can also be monstrously expensive in the long-term. And this is all not even diving into more esoteric goods like health insurance or medical care where skimping on the initial purchase can destroy your bank account and credit rating from a single accident or illness.

Why It Happens

The reason is actually pretty simple: as the old saying goes, it takes money to make money. Often buying the more expensive but better made item simply isn’t an option when you’re on a budget. Going back to the car example, the difference between a junker and solid car can be a few thousand dollars, and most of us simply don’t have the savings or credit rating to pull that kind of money out of thin air. So, we compromise. We get the car we can afford instead of the one that will save us money in the long-term.

How to Stop It

Rather than the unhelpful advice to simply earn more money and thus be able to afford higher quality and longer lasting items, there are actually steps you can take from your current financial position to try and break out of the cycle.

One of the most effective solutions people have found is to take out an installment loan as a way of generating the cash to invest in items that will last cost you less in the long-term. Buying an item is an awful lot like investing, so always make sure to do your research beforehand and make sure that the long-term savings is worth the initial investment.