The Cost of Tossing That Item


When people ask me about ways to save money, I give them the usual answers. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need, look for the best deal on what you do need, be conscious of your spending, etc. But I also throw in one more simple piece of advice. Don’t throw stuff away that you know you’ll need again.

This may seem pretty obvious. Why throw away something that’s perfectly good, only to buy a new one next year or next month? Surely people don’t do that, right? Wrong. I know many people who buy needed items (and even unneeded items), use them once and then throw them away, only to repurchase the same item the next time they need one. I’d love to survey these people one day to find out how much money they’ve spent buying the same items over and over again. I’m sure the amount would boggle my mind. Here are but a few examples:

We live in hurricane country. Every time there’s a storm alert, people rush down to the hardware store to buy plywood for their windows. They then spend the better part of the day cutting the wood to fit the windows. What happened to the wood they bought for the storms and cut last year? Or last month, for that matter? I know these people. It’s not like they just moved here. They’ve lived here for years and know it’s hurricane country. Yet after each storm, they toss their plywood, only to have to buy new for the next storm.

Before moving to hurricane country, we lived in snow country. As with the plywood for hurricanes, a snow shovel or blower is essential during storms. Yet it’s the same scenario. A storm is forecast, people flock to the hardware store for shovels and blowers, only to toss them once the season is over. Repeat next year. It happens with tools, rakes, lawnmowers, and generators, too. Buy one, use it for one job or season, give it away or sell it (at a loss), and then buy a new one next year.

A neighbor buys a new fake Christmas tree every year. Not a real tree, a fake tree. At the end of the season, she throws it away. Then she buys a new one next year. It’s not like she’s looking for a different size, style or color each year. Her trees always look the same. They’re just new.

Another neighbor is famous for buying appliances and kitchen gadgets to use for one party and then throwing them away or giving them to Goodwill. Then, when it’s time for the next party, she’s out buying all new appliances and gadgets, again.

Not only is this practice expensive, it’s wasteful. These perfectly good, hardly used, items are ending up in the landfills unless someone has the sense to donate them to charity or sell them. True, if the owner sells the item it doesn’t end up in the landfill, but they only get a fraction of what they paid and it’s not enough to buy a new one. A waste of money.

I’ve asked some people why they do this and I haven’t been able to get an answer that I fully believe, yet. Some say they have no storage space for their generators, plywood, or snow shovels. That may be true for some people, but I’ve been in these people’s houses and I’ve seen that they have plenty of space in the garage or basement. The Christmas tree lady told me that trees don’t store well. I can’t say I’ve ever had that problem, and I’ve been using the same tree for fourteen years. The kitchen gadget lady told me that, by the time it’s time for another party, the appliances on the market are much better than those she threw away. I could believe it if her parties were three years apart, but she throws parties every two months or so. I don’t think appliances improve that much in that short period of time. I suspect that these are feeble excuses that cover the real reasons people do this.

Why would people do this? I think there are three reasons (some people are probably a combination of two or more). The first is because they can. They have the money (or the space on the credit card) to get away with tossing aside so much stuff. They aren’t concerned with buying another shovel or tool set because it’s not big enough to register on their financial radar. They can always get a newer, better one when it’s needed again.

The second reason is because they don’t have a financial radar in the first place. Some people have no idea how much they have to spend or what things cost, so they just go through life blindly tossing stuff they’re “done with,” never considering the financial ramifications of having to buy it again when they need it again. These people are often in financial trouble, whether they realize it or not, and spending on the same items again and again is part of the reason.

The third, and most shallow, reason is because they cannot stand to be seen with anything less than the newest and the best. It may seem odd that a blender or a Christmas tree can be seen as a status symbol, but that’s exactly (at least in my area) what these items are. A new tree says that this woman can afford the best each year, whereas last year’s tree would simply be a tree. A shiny new blender is there on the counter at a party for all to see and admire. It doesn’t have any chips or dings in it that a well-used blender might have. It says, “See me, I’m new and my owner is somebody.” At least that’s what these people think their objects say about them. I think they just say, “My owner has no idea of the importance of money and chooses to throw it away on the same stuff she just bought last year.”

Just for reference, I found a fairly nice, middle of the road snow shovel at Lowe’s. It was $30. Now, if you bought a new one every year at $30 (we won’t get into inflation) for forty years of your adult life, you’ve spent $1,200 on show shovels. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you had saved that $30 every year in a tax deferred account at a conservative 8%, you would have accumulated close to $8,500 in those same 40 years. The more expensive the item, (think generators, power tools, and Christmas trees), the more you could have saved if you had just kept the item for a few years rather than buying a new one each year.

So when people ask me how to save money, I give the usual advice, but I also tell them to keep things they know they will need again. Or if you don’t want to keep it, rent or borrow the item when you do need it. You’ll save a lot of money and help save the environment, too. And if you aren’t the sort of person who throws things away like this, you can save big money by moving to a neighborhood full of people who do. Shop their garage sales and cruise by their curbs on trash day and take your pick of some very fine, barely used stuff.

Image courtesy of Wess (Gathering in Light)

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14 Responses to The Cost of Tossing That Item

  1. Carolina Bound says:

    Another reason they do it — it’s easier than storing it. Dump it and forget it!

    I don’t think those people would ever visit this website, though.

  2. Karen says:

    This is a dilemma for me, because I live in a small apartment. I’m always wondering if I’m better off saving money by keeping something I use infrequently (but still need a couple of times a year), or saving space by getting rid of it. (I’ve tried asking friends with houses if I can borrow bulky items like a drill or shovel, but they’re always “too busy” with their kids and families for me to come by and pick it up.)

    So sometimes I end up tossing things to save space, and then rebuying them a year later when I realize I need them again – but I console myself by looking at the smaller amount I spend on housing, compared to what I’d pay for a house with more storage space.

  3. Traciatim says:

    Hey Karen, is it possible that renting a storage space would be cheaper than replacing items you throw out? Maybe you should call around, or ask someone with a shed or basement if you could arraneg to have a key and pay them a small fee to store things you need only a couple of times a year.

    I store my In-Laws Christmas gear in my basement since they have a smaller place. Then a few weeks before Christmas we start taking it back every time we go over. It works out pretty well.

  4. Crystal says:

    I have honestly never seen this, must be my area. Most of the people I know keep things that they plan to use “someday” which is usually 5 to 10 years down the road. My rule is, if I don’t use it once per year, then it gets tossed. Course the second part of this rule is don’t buy things that I only use less than once per year!

    The only replacement items I buy are for the things I break, use up, or wear out.

  5. Karen says:

    A storage space is one solution – I actually have one right now, because I decided I’d rather live closer to work (in a smaller apartment that was slightly cheaper) than further from work (in a larger apartment that cost more) and use the difference in cost to rent a storage space. But at $65 per month, or $780 per year, you can buy a lot of replacement items! I wouldn’t be spending the money if I hadn’t inherited some sentimental items from my parents that I don’t have room to store. I can replace a shovel or a drill, but not the homemade Christmas ornaments passed down from my grandparents.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any family who could store these for me, and it’s difficult to depend on friends for this, when they’re super-busy with their own families.

  6. Karsten says:

    And you don’t even know how much good you do for the environment by not throwing things away but instead keeping them until you need them again.

    We live in a strange place at strange times where and when it is easier to throw stuff away and buy it again than not having it in the first place because you do not need it often enough to warrant the purchase.

    Is it a sign of decadence that buying-disposing-buying is acceptable and common? Is it decadent to throw away perfectly usable products? Is it decadent that we can buy things so cheaply that it is less expensive to throw them out than keeping them? Is it decadent to let society pay for your personal money saving habits? Are we that rich?

    At least, give away the stuff you do not need. Put it on websites for other people to see that it is available for free.

    Easy or Right – Your responsibility, your decision.

    Practical Advice to Pollute Less

  7. Shannon says:

    I’d love to go trash picking in your neighborhood!

  8. Kitty says:

    I do find that happens in my area at times, but not in my house as a I have enough storge space to keep things for myself and all the family keepsakes. I do store all the worktools for my son, as I do have the workshop at my place. The only downside is if my stuff goes to his place it can take years for me to get it back. 🙁

  9. Allsub says:

    This is one thing that drives me nuts, everywhere I look advisors are using a “conserviative” tax-deferred gain of something like 8%. Where can I find this guaranteed 8% gain?

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  12. Canadian says:

    I live in a one bedroom apartment with only one closet, so I am ruthless about purging unwanted items. I do not throw them away though; I donate them to thrift stores, offer them on Freecycle, etc. I don’t think I’ve yet had to repurchase something that I got rid of, but if I did I would certainly look for secondhand first. I just don’t want to live in a cluttered home, sorry. We do keep a few things at my in-laws’ place, but if it ever got to the point where I was renting a storage unit I think that means too much stuff.

  13. Savvy Frugality says:

    This is one of the reasons that you can often find great stuff while “dumpster diving”. I once found two perfectly good futon mattresses this way!

  14. Koppur says:

    My problem is this: I hate to throw things away because “what if I need it again? What if I regrent getting rid of it?” As a result I have way too much clutter. Now that we are moving to a smaller apartment, I have to get rid of about 1/2 the clutter I have. And while I am excited about the new place and excited about not having a cluttered messy place anymore, I’m also having trouble letting go of thing.

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