Buy Once, Cry Once

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My father, a constant remodeler and handyman, has always favored Craftsman tools. His vise grip got used pretty hard, especially in its last few years of life when Dad was working at an automobile factory.

One day the tool shuddered, sighed and broke — you can ask only so much of even a good vise grip.

Sears replaced it for free (store policy), and he’s been using it ever since.

“There’s an old saying with tools: ‘Buy once, cry once,'” Dad said. “Of course, that applies to just about everything in life.”

Some things you just shouldn’t cheap out on, like tools, or shoes. (Or condoms.)

That doesn’t mean paying top dollar, mind you. You can meet many needs through thrift stores, yard sales, The Freecycle Network, the clearance rack, and cash-back shopping sites like Mr. Rebates, Extrabux and Ebates.

A whole bunch of this year’s Christmas shopping was done with points I got from a pair of rewards credit cards and with Amazon gift cards from the Swagbucks program.

Although I like to joke that only amateurs pay retail, I also know there are times when you can’t help it — and that sometimes it’s absolutely worth it.

Examples? So glad you asked

Footwear. I have plantar fasciitis. While I can’t say for sure that it’s because of buying cheap shoes as an adult, I can state that ultimately opting for decent footwear, orthotic inserts and a program of gentle stretches keeps the pain at bay.

Vehicles. Maybe you like a flashy car as much as you like head-turning clothing. Do think about reliability, though, lest you spend a lot of time driving a loaner car while your flashy wheels languish on the mechanic’s lift. Myself, I have three criteria for autos: high MPG, easy to parallel park, and too boring to steal. Your own mileage may vary.

Insurance. Think you don’t need it? Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’ll never be sick a day in your life. Or you could, say, fall down a friend’s steps and wind up in the emergency room. If you can possibly afford health care coverage, get it. (And if not, see “Can’t afford health insurance? Your options.”)

Clothing. For some people it’s an outward statement of personality. For me, it’s to cover the outward parts. I don’t much care about style, so I can get away with yard sales and thrift stores for 90% of my wardrobe. If you like to shop, use a price comparison website such as or

Housing. A “good” neighborhood means different things to different homeowners, but here’s what it means to me: conveniently located, safe, relatively close to natural features as well as man-made ones and, most of all, within my price range. (It’s a moot point right now, since my new roommate already owns the joint.) Don’t overextend yourself and remember, the “perfect” place will come along again.

Food. Some of the healthiest foods are actually pretty cheap: dry beans, cornmeal, potatoes, carrots, lentils, hard squash, yams and rice. You can cut the price further by checking restaurant supply stores, “manager’s special” meat, bakery outlets, ethnic markets and, yep, the dollar store. That last may give you flashbacks of contaminated-food scares, but it’s possible to buy, say, rice that was grown in South Carolina and jars of pickled vegetables from Italy. Oh, and be sure to check the health food or bulk-buy sections in supermarkets: I recently bought extra-thick rolled oats for 59 cents a pound in Fred Meyer’s health food section.

Got it? Care for it

A bit of vigilance ensures optimum value for the dollars spent:

Eat well and get enough exercise and you’ll likely reduce both short- and long-term medical costs.

Garden tools left out in the rain will rust.

A spaghetti sauce stain should come out if you treat it promptly.

A friend of mine faithfully follows the manufacturer’s suggestions for her Acura, which she’s been driving for 17 years in Alaska, and it still purrs when it starts up. I wish I could say the same for myself. Despite eating a lot of lentils and vegetables, I make funny noises when I get out of a deep chair.

Readers: What are your “don’t cheap out” categories?

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