Cheap people pay twice.
A student loan lawyer told me that. He was trying to convince me that it’s wiser to pay higher attorney fees if it gets you one-and-done service.
Then it dawned on me.
I’ve paid twice on all sorts of occasions. I’d meant well trying to save money, but I only ended up paying more in replacement costs.
4 times being cheap cost me $100 or more
When you take frugality too far, it comes back to bite you.
The upside is that with each costly mistake, you’re less likely to repeat it. That’s because the regret sticks with you. These four mistakes are stuck in my memory.
1. Smartphone cases
To protect my shiny new iPhone 7, I bought a soft, plastic case for the back and tempered glass for the front. The purchase cost less than $20 at an AT&T retail shop.
A couple of months later, I was moving an IKEA bed into my apartment when a piece of wood whacked the center of the phone’s screen, shattering it.
Trusting my handiness, I bought a $25 screen repair kit on Amazon. Unfortunately, the poor quality of the kit (and, OK, my overconfidence) only damaged the phone further. I nearly disconnected the home button for good.
Finally ready to eat the cost (and swallow my pride), I took the phone to a repair shop in my neighborhood. The technician quoted a flat fee of $160.
All told, I spent $205 protecting a phone screen that would have gone unscratched if I had originally sprung for a better case — like the $46 waterproof and drop-proof case I eventually bought.
Lesson learned: iPhone repairs, let alone those for other smartphones, represent a multibillion-dollar industry, according to a study by SquareTrade. After all, 49 percent of users have cracked their screens. You can prepare for the high probability of cracking your screen by buying a better case.
2. New and used tires
Not long after I assumed shared responsibility for my girlfriend’s decade-old Toyota Corolla and its literally squeaky wheels, I had my first flat tire. I slowly rolled the car to a walk-in mechanic and was quoted a cash-only price of $100 to fix it.
A month later, we were readying to drive back to New York from Montreal when another tire lost its air.
By this point, every tire on the car had been replaced at least once since my girlfriend owned it. Yet, at no point did we think to spring for four new tires to stop the bleeding.
At Costco, where we’re members, we could have bought four new identical tires for less than $400, receiving a warranty on the entire set. If Costco installs your tires, the warranty covers inflation pressure checks, tire rotations, and flat repairs. My girlfriend and I estimate we have paid at least $700 with no end in sight.
Lesson learned: If you can’t live without a car, paying more up front for maintenance might not just save you money later. It can also give you peace of mind, or at least a better chance at avoiding roadside mishaps.
3. Lower-quality furniture
My girlfriend and I rationalized our way into this poor decision. We might move again in a year, we reasoned, so let’s just go to IKEA. This way, we could take our bed frame apart if we want to keep it for our next home.
One thing I know for sure: If I ever take that bed frame apart, I’m doing it with nothing but a pair of safety glasses and a sledgehammer.
Pretty quickly, we regretted spending $379 on an IKEA bed instead of, say, $500-plus on a comparable style elsewhere. Unfortunately, it was already constructed.
Within three months, the bed started to show wear and tear. Paint has chipped, and one drawer doesn’t close properly (and not because of our carpentry skills).
Lesson learned: Finding good furniture can be tricky, but pick something out that will last. Take its longevity into account if the price tag puts you off.
4. Bargain laptops
The downside of leaving my job in California is that I had to return the MacBook my employer gave me for work and personal use.
To replace it, I went browsing at Staples. Immediately, a $150 red tag caught my eye. The smallish Google Chromebooks were on sale. They stood out in a crowd of PCs approaching $1,000 and Macs surpassing $1,000.
It seemed like the best option based on the price. I was between jobs, looking for a low-cost option to hold me over.
But I was motivated by the wrong factor; I should have focused on storage. Despite my best efforts at using very little space and keeping the Chromebook secure from digital and physical harm, its 32 gigabytes of storage has not aged well.
I know because I compared it with a new MacBook that I recently purchased for a new job. Using my identical home internet hookup, the higher-quality laptop loads webpages in half the time. I counted.
Lesson learned: You get what you pay for. I got a cheaper laptop and a lower-quality user experience. Yes, it was only $150, but it was $150 I should have spent elsewhere — like toward a higher-quality laptop.
Avoid paying twice by investing once
My mom used to say that when you buy something, you invest in it. But we’re all bound to make unwise investments from time to time.
And it’s easier to say, “Don’t be cheap,” than it is to live it, especially when you have a student loan to repay or credit card debt to erase. Just remember that spending wisely now will help you achieve those more important goals later.
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