When I go shopping, I usually choose inexpensive items without having to sacrifice too much of the quality.
However, I don’t always go for the cheapest or stay away from expensive things in life.
While I believe that frugality is important, certain things are absolutely worth the money and will help maximize the quality of our lives.
1. Apple earphones
I have bought about five pairs of earphones throughout my 12 years of living in America.
The first two pairs were the Sony brand. I got them for about $10 each and was generally happy with the quality.
The main purpose of earphones at the time were to help me listen to music quietly not bother other people.
One time, however, my dad asked me to get him a $55 pair of Apple earpods (it was almost 9 years ago).
He ended up not needing the earphones anymore and gave them to me.
The Apple earpods lasted for almost 7 years despite being accidentally tossed in the washer and dryer twice.
One side of the earphones just stopped working one day. I tried to get a couple more months out of the other side.
During that time, however, Mr. FAF and I also purchased two pairs of what turned out to be fake Apple earpods for $7.5/each on Amazon.
I should have known better and realized that they were knockoffs. But I was blindsided by the desire to save money and the false hope that they would last.
Those products weren’t through Amazon Prime, and the cost of shipping them back to their original seller in China would be almost the same price as the products, so we let it slide.
It was a $15 lesson about investing in a quality pair of earphones that can last for years. Ultimately, I decided to upgrade to a new $29 pair of Apple earpods after Mr. FAF got a new job offer.
2. Electric toothbrush
Mr. FAF has been dreaming about having an electric toothbrush for years. For some reason, I just thought those electric devices were screaming “Expensive!” and “Money!” to me.
I were fine with my manual toothbrushes and didn’t want to use some high-end products while having cheaper options. A $4 manual toothbrush versus a $100 electric toothbrush sounded like a no-brainer to me. I’d go for the cheaper option.
Now I just wish I had been more open-minded about Mr. FAF’s wish. After Mr. FAF started his new job, I gave him the green light to buy Oral-B electric toothbrushes. We first got two for a discounted price of $65 from Costco.
The moment I started using the electric toothbrush, I just knew we belonged together. Mr. FAF bought two more: one for himself to use at work and one for my MIL.
The electric toothbrushes are one of the best purchases and investment we’ve made for our dental health.
I have learned my lesson about appliances: Don’t buy cheap fridges for long-term use. After Mr. FAF and I bought our first home, we decided to purchase a $165 fridge to put in the basement for extra food storage. The fridge worked well for a year and three months and stopped cooling altogether.
After dropping $100 on an appliance electrician, multiple phone calls, and $80 on a replacement control board which didn’t fix the problem, Mr. FAF and I decided to spend $700 on a more expensive fridge and a three-year warranty plan.
Even if the fridge breaks during those three years, we won’t have to drop $100 on a handyman here and there to get it fixed. It will also save us a lot of headache and angst in getting our lives back in order.
4. Washer & dryer
When I was growing up in Vietnam, my mom and I used to wash our clothes by hand. We were too poor to buy a washer. My parents also didn’t want to pay extra for the electricity bill and thought a washer would use too much water.
Starting in middle school, I was in charge of hand-washing clothes for the whole family, hanging them out in the sun to dry, and folding the laundry at the end of the day. It was a task I didn’t enjoy, but I had to do it. It would take me about an hour every day to finish that chore.
After coming to America, I had the joy of throwing my clothes in the washer, wait for an hour, move them to the dryer, go do something else for another hour, and have my laundry all clean and dry.
It’s a luxury that the majority of people in developing countries don’t have. When I was little, some people in my mom’s village still did laundry in a river or a pond. The water wasn’t clean, but it was what they had access to. Our family was lucky we had clean running water at our house.
I have to admit that I sometimes take for granted the luxury of owning a washer and dryer in my own home. Given that the woman in a family usually does the laundry for the family, I can’t picture myself sitting in the bathroom and hand-washing all the clothes for Mr. FAF and Baby FAF every single day.
It would mean less time for me to spend on my blog and passion projects. A washer and a dryer might cost $300-$500, but I’d still buy them in a heartbeat.
Related: When You Are Ashamed Of Being Poor
5. Amazon Prime
Mr. FAF and I have had the luxury of having free or half-off Amazon Prime accounts when when we were still students. We just renewed our subscription in May 2017 and got 50% off of the 90$ full price.
Starting in May 2018, we will need to decide whether to get Amazon Prime membership. And my current answer is a resounding yes. We love the ease of looking up items at our own home, the two-day shipping, the easy return, and the great customer service of this amazing platform.
I know some retailers such as Payless are going out of business because of Amazon. It’s not a great feeling to see a company falling apart or people getting laid off. But seeing a large and innovative company growing fast and giving more people job opportunity is also a positive thing to take into account.
6. Work clothes
I don’t own a lot of clothes. Most of my clothes are 3-10 years old. I dress for comfort most of the time, especially when I go grocery shopping or hang out with friends. I have bought some work clothes at the thrift stores.
But I have to admit that some of my nicer business attire was bought at Macy’s. However, those were one-time purchases and will last me for years to come.
Some professions (i.e. software engineer) or work arrangements (i.e. telecommuting) don’t call for formal attire most of the time. However, we still live in a society that judges a person’s expertise, knowledge, and professionalism based on what they wear.
If you are a personal finance blogger, chances are you won’t care too much about your outfits since you can blog anywhere and don’t have to answer to any boss.
However, if you are a businessman, a lawyer, or an investment banker, a suit is probably your best bet in making a good impression on your boss, colleagues, or a new client. I can’t image a lawyer dressed in a T-shirt and sweatpants defending someone in court or an investment banker closing a deal in pajamas.
I am no businesswoman, lawyer or banker, but I do believe that dressing in more expensive clothes does pay off to some extent.
7. Plane tickets to visit family
Mr. FAF’s family lives in China, and mine lives in Vietnam. A trip to Asia to visit family would mean roughly $4,500 in plane tickets (3 people) besides other miscellaneous expenses.
We wouldn’t spend even a dollar on something if we don’t think it’s necessary. But when it comes to family, we just can’t not see them. We might choose to not visit them every year, but a trip once every two years or so is absolutely necessary.
Mr. FAF and I try to look for deals. However, we usually go during the holidays to take advantage of our days off and the low workload, so the tickets are usually expensive. We choose to save up for our trips to Asia instead of forgoing them altogether.
I had a $500 Toshiba laptop for almost five years. It worked fine for me until it became painfully slow and affected my productivity. The screen was so broken that I had to use a bookend to hold it up.
My immediate reaction was to get a new and cheap laptop to replace my broken Toshiba. However, when we talked to the sales rep at the store about a $250 laptop, he said that it had limited memory storage. Basically, we would get what we paid for.
After a lot of back and forth and lots of convincing from Mr. FAF, I decided to get a $935 Samsung laptop that is fast, light, pretty, and has a high quality camera. I have seen such a huge improvement in my productivity thanks to the new laptop.
I am not saying that we all need to get a $1,000 to make it worth our money. But I for once wanted to have a computer that’s not $500 or $250, and I paid cash for the purchase.
9. A good education
We definitely don’t need to go to college to be successful in life. There are multiple high-paying professions out there that don’t need a college degree.
However, studies show that a person with a college education is more likely to earn more during their lifetime than someone who didn’t go to college, all else equal.
You can choose to go to an in-state university or try to get a scholarship to lower the costs of attending college. Another option is to go to a community college for two years and transfer to an affiliated university and ultimately receive a degree from that university.
I got more than $160,000 in financial aid to attend college in America despite growing up in a poor family in Vietnam. I believe that luck is almost part of the equation, but hard work is also key.
Mr. FAF and I bought our home for under $400,000. It’s actually a good price for a house near the Metro in the DC area. We spent months trying to find our dream home and finally found a place that we were happy with.
One of the financial expectations in an Asian family is that a man needs to own a house and have a stable job before getting married. When Mr. FAF and I tied the know, buying a house was not a question of yes or no, but rather a matter of when.
The topic of whether someone should buy or rent a home can get controversial. For us, we believe in having stable housing and building equity as an investment.
Our house is by far the most expensive purchase we’ve made, but it’s something we don’t regret. We also plan to save up to buy a rental property while maximizing our 401(k) accounts.
After writing this post, I realized that I am blessed with the opportunity to afford all of the expensive items mentioned above. When we were in a dire financial situation, we’d just be happy with the very basic things that we have.
But when our income has increased, we also want to make the purchases that can improve our life quality without putting us at the risk of lifestyle inflation.
One can argue that all the 10 things discussed above are good indicators of our lifestyle creep, and that we should reassess what we spend our money on.
I would agree with that argument to an extent. If Mr. FAF and I have consumer debt or are trying to make ends meet, we wouldn’t buy a $1,000 Samsung laptop, electric toothbrushes, or afford to fly our whole family to Asia.
But I also believe that when we prioritize the things that are important to our relationships, health, and productivity, we can save up and pay cash for them. And we will still be in control of our finances and know what we use our hard-earned money for.