Buy Nice or Buy Twice

Carl Richards is a Certified Financial Planner™ and creator of the Sketch Guy column, appearing weekly in The New York Times since 2010.  The following article is reproduced with permission from his weekly newsletter and his website can be found here.

Greetings, Carl here.

For the longest time, I’ve had this sneaking suspicion that buying high-quality stuff, which perhaps initially is more expensive, actually saves me money in the long run.

Turns out, I’m right.

At least, according to Terry Pratchett.

The other day I came across this quote from Pratchett’s “Men at Arms,” part of the Discworld series. In the book, Sam Vimes, a police officer from the fictional city-state of Ankh-Morpork, gives us a very compelling financial reason for buying higher-quality, rather than cheaper, things:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned $38 a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost $50. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of O.K. for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about $10. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford $50 had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in 10 years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes “Boots” theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

Awesome. You can actually spend less by spending more.

At least in Ankh-Morpork…

But if you think about it, I’m sure you’ve experienced the same phenomenon here in the real world. I sure have.

In the early 2000s, a few years into my marriage, we were living like poor college students. She was working as a ski instructor, and I was going to school full-time. We had just had our first child. We didn’t have a lot of extra money, but we loved to ski, and we needed new ski pants.

I had my eye on this pair of ski bibs from a high-end company called Moonstone. At the time, Moonstone was making some of the best ski gear that money could buy, but these bibs were expensive. I don’t remember exactly how much, maybe just over $300. I knew that, according to conventional wisdom, I should have been buying the cheap pants at Walmart instead. Without even knowing about Sam Vimes, I had this gut feeling that I should buy the Moonstone pants. So we saved and saved and saved, and finally, I bought them.

Guess what… I still have them.

In fact, at the time of writing this (2023), my kids are using them because they are still the best ski pants we own!

I can almost guarantee if I had bought the $50 pants from Walmart, they would have been gone before the end of the first season.

At one pair per year, I would have had to buy those $50 pants at least 20 times by now for them to still be functional today. That’s more than three times what I spent on the “expensive” Moonstone pants! And on top of that, I would have had to deal with all the cognitive, emotional, and logistical drain of perpetually having to replace the old pants.

The obvious retort to this is, “But Carl, I don’t have enough money to buy the nice thing.”

What I’m trying to tell you is that you can’t afford the cheap thing because you’re going to have to buy it 20 times!

So save up until you can buy the nice thing once. I know it hurts at first… but trust me, in the long run, it’s worth it.


P.S. As always, if you want to use this week’s sketch, you can buy it here.