The Quality Trap – Items Where Quality Is Over-Rated


If I were to ask the average person what makes a Lexus better than a Kia, an outfit from Nordstrom better than one from WalMart or a Coach purse better than a Canyon River Blues one, the most common response I would probably get is “quality.” Now I’ve always been one to try to spend the minimal amount possible on the items I buy. If I can get a shirt for $2.99, I get excited. Friends of mine who spend more on the same item often justify it because their item is higher quality.

I can understand the draw of wanting an item that will last a while and hold up through wear and tear – nobody likes it when their stuff breaks. But at what cost is this “quality” worth it? It’s obvious that higher quality items cost more money than “average” quality items. The big draw for this is that the higher quality item will last a lot longer. The way I look at it, however, is that the money I can save and invest by spending less on an item (and multiple items) will most likely last a lot longer than that product (or my need to use or wear that product).

Here are a few things that I personally don’t think are worth paying more for “better quality” (at least at this point in my financial journey):

Automobiles: First of all, I admit that I’ve been known to drool over Lexus’s and BMW’s. They are nice cars with some very handy features. However, at this point in my life I would never consider paying $30,000+ for one of those vehicles (even if it came with a full time chauffeur!) Since our household income isn’t exactly in the 6 figures (or even close) it would be a misuse of our resources to spend a big chunk of money on a car like this, simply because it’s “better quality.” My Honda Civic is actually a great quality car for a MUCH lower price.

In addition, the initial high price of these cars, they also tend to be more expensive to fix. Luxury car parts tend to cost more than your average Honda or Toyota parts (probably because they are “higher quality”) Because they are more expensive to fix and replace, that means they are also more expensive to insure. And since car buyers in the market for a luxury car don’t tend to be worried about high prices and costs, less effort is given to making the car more economical and fuel efficient, while more effort is given to add extra features, like the ability to parallel park itself. The prices add up on these “higher quality” cars. Personally, I’d rather save the money and parallel park myself.

Clothes: It’s commonly thought that a $3 shirt will probably last you a month or two, while a $100 shirt will most likely last almost your entire lifetime. Even if that’s true, I’d still rather have the $3 shirt. For one thing, I personally can’t wear the same clothes over and over and over without getting sick of them. I like to change things up and wear new things. I don’t like my wardrobe to get stale. So for me to buy a $100 shirt that I will eventually get sick of and want to get rid of anyhow is pretty silly. Even if I didn’t get sick of the $100 shirt, chances are it will go out of style in a few years anyway and it will find its home in the back of my closet with all the clothes I never wear. Then I would get sad every time I see it because I’d think of all the money I wasted on it.

On the flip side, there are those pieces of clothing that are timeless and will never go out of style and can be worn year after year. Like the long black wool button coat I recently bought to wear to work on those cold winter days. The nice thing about this coat is that it can be worn with jeans or dress clothes, it’s black so it matches almost anything, and it keeps me nice and warm. A coat like that can easily go for $100+ (most likely a lot more). The best thing about my new coat? It only cost me $40. Instead of shopping at a department store and spending hundreds of dollars, I went to a store similar to Ross and got the same coat for a lot cheaper. Now I’m so happy that I have a nice “quality” coat that I didn’t spend a fortune on.

Electronics: It’s always nice to have the highest quality newest electronic item on the market, but that comes at a high price. Believe me, I’ve paid that price in the past. About 5 years ago I was in the market for a new cell phone. Camera phones had just come out and I found the coolest one for around $400. I love taking pictures so the idea of having a camera on my cell phone was really a draw for me. Plus, no one I know had one at the time. So I forked over the $400 and was the only person I knew that had a camera phone. Until a week later. About a year later it seemed that everyone had camera phones and they paid a lot less than I did. Plus they had extra features like a video camera and their phones were smaller than mine.

If I could go back in time I would not have bought that phone and invested the extra money instead. Had I not learned my lesson from that experience, I probably would have been first in line to buy an iphone a few months ago. But I have stayed away from that ridiculously expensive phone and stuck with my basic camera phone that works just fine. I now see it’s silly to spend so much on such a “quality” item the second it comes out.

Eating Out: Somebody really enjoy the high quality of an expensive meal. I suppose once in a while it isn’t bad, but personally I don’t want to literally eat away my money. Granted, Red Lobster tastes a lot better than McDonalds, but eating at Red Lobster all the time will really set you back financially. If you really want to eat some better quality food, considering sharing a meal at a nice restaurant or perhaps order one of the least expensive items on the menu. You can also buy quality seafood/meats on sale at the grocery store or meat market and make your own high quality meal at home for a lot less.

Then there is Starbucks – said to be the highest quality coffee there is. Granted, I’m from Seattle so I share this opinion myself. If I could go to Starbucks everyday for free I would. Unfortunately it’s not free so I don’t give myself the luxury of going there everyday or every other day. I do however brew it at home. I use Starbucks coffee at home in my Barista Espresso Machine and make my own lattes at home for a lot cheaper. And I’m not giving all my extra money to Starbucks’ bank account.

Now most of this is more directed to those younger people who are early on in their financial journeys. I belive those who are older and have been wise with their finances and have built up a nice net worth should be able to enjoy quality items. And I understand that some people may need to spend more in a certain area for quality (such as a nice car for someone who drives high end clients or nicer appliances for someone who cooks for a living, but if spending that extra money doesn’t help you make more money, is it really worth hindering the building of your financial foundation for a little extra “quality”?

Image courtesy of KB35

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4 Responses to The Quality Trap – Items Where Quality Is Over-Rated

  1. Traciatim says:

    For every item I find there is always a curve of quality and price. Finding it takes some time. For shirts I find 3-5 dollar shirts fall apart and fade and just don’t “feel right”. I usually spend 15-25 on a shirt. I’ve noticed a huge difference between a 3 dollar shirt and a 15 dollar one, but not so huge from a 15 dollar one and a 50 dollar one.

    For cars, I like big comfy cars. I needed to find a cheaper nice mix so I got myself a 2 year old Ford Taurus . . . it’s got 200HP, lots of room, and super comfy seats. It’s just the right size for parking, but big enough to drive across the country in. I guess everyones choice here will be different, but I can’t stand most seats in cars.

    I do buy a tea once in a while, but mostly these days I steep it at home and bring it in a travel mug. My GF spends lots of money on specialty coffee at a local place here. There is a Starbucks here but their coffee tastes like garbage. Kind of like US Beer, I guess US coffee just isn’t good (Canadian here).

    Electronics I wait for sales, buy refurbished gear, and stay just half a step behind. I like top notch stuff, so I just wait until I have the cash. The more you wait, the better the stuff gets and the cheaper. Once you get the urge and see the right deal, you’ll never regret it since you’ve been patient anyway.

    I rarely eat out unless there is no chance of getting home and the family is starving. Then we try to keep it simple. No fancy eating here.

  2. disneysteve says:

    Traciatim wrote: “For every item I find there is always a curve of quality and price.”

    I think that is very true. The cheapest choice is usually cheap for good reason – poor quality. The most expensive option, however, might not be that much better than an in-between choice.

    We alway strive to find the best mix of price and quality. We don’t want stuff that will wear out, fall apart or break too soon, but also feel no need to own the absolute best of everything.

    And sometimes the cheapest option is just fine. Children’s clothing is a perfect example. Why spend anymore than the bare minimum for clothes that my daughter would outgrow within 3 months? We shopped Wal-Mart and Target and clearance racks and thrift shops for most of her clothes when she was younger. The only exception was shoes. Even though we knew she’d outgrow them in no time, we felt the benefits of good support were worth a few extra bucks.

    Now that she is older and not growing so rapidly, we’re willing to spend a bit more on her clothes because she gets more wear out of them and we want them to hold up.

    So how you intend to use an item matters, too. I want a decent car because I drive a lot and keep my cars for the long run. My current car is 10 years old and I have no intention of replacing it anytime soon. But sometimes I need an item that I might use very rarely and quality isn’t such a big concern. I’d rather spend less and get something that will be functional just to serve its purpose.

  3. dan says:

    I think that the author got confused and used the wrong word. What she really means is a “luxury” trap, not a quality trap. Except for possible clothes, it seems she does buy quality, just not luxury – that makes a lot more sense to me.

  4. brian says:

    What a terribly BORING life. I hope you don’t look back in 30 years and count your money all day. There are ways to spend on nice quality items without breaking the bank. You don’t have to have all the latest items but buying them used may be a nice alternative for your lifestyle. Our sole purpose or working is not for retirement.

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