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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Quality, price, insanity?

Today The Bargain Queen wants to talk about shopping strategies. There are a few different strategies to living stylishly on a tight budget: some of which work, and some of which dont. These include:

Always buy the cheapest.
This strategy's pretty simple: you always buy the least expensive version available. This strategy works really well for things where quality isn't important because what you need consumable or disposable, or because everything on offer is roughly the same. For example, The Bargain Queen will never pay more for 'better' paper clips. Even with a strict recycling program, most only get used once or twice. The few that do wear out from over-use are rare.

Magazines say that trendy fashion should also be in this category. The Bargain Queen disagrees, because there's really no point in buying things she doesn't like enough to wear many times. Invariably, The Bargain Queen is 'over' cheap fad fashion before she's got $20 worth of wear out of it. So now if she doesn't like something to wear it at least a dozen times, The Bargain Queen leaves it on the rack.

Buy quality and look after it.
This is a better strategy when you're buying things where quality makes a difference, like clothes, furniture, appliances, computer gear, cooking implements and food. (The Bargain Queen puts food is in this category even though it's consumable, because eating well is an investment in health, not to mention saving money on weight-loss products later.) However, it's also a more difficult and time-consuming strategy, because you not only need to be able to pick better quality (the most expensive often isn't the best), but you also need to know how to look after things.

Here's some of the things you'll need to know about in order to buy quality:
  • Clothes: fabric quality, garment construction, how long you'll like the style for
  • Furniture: materials (wood or whatever else), construction, upholstery
  • Applicances: different brands' reputations for quality and service, plus energy efficiency since this determines the cost of running it. Reading some online reviews of the model you want can also be helpful.
  • Computer gear: reputations and service policies of various brands. Again, online reviews are good.
  • Cooking implements: materials and construction again, plus how to determine whether it'll be comfortable to use
  • Food: where to get fresh produce cheaply, what's actually in the packaged food you buy, what a healthy balanced diet looks like
Since that's just some of the things you'll need to know just to buy quality things (and we haven't even started on how to take care of things), it seems like buying good quality could be a lot of hard work. You probably won't want to put that amount of effort into everything you buy, but for some items it's well worth the effort. As a guide, The Bargain Queen buys the best quality she can if she expects to need the item for more than a year.

More expensive = better
For this strategy, you assume that the most expensive version of something is always the best. In some cases this is true, but more often, buying the priciest means half of what you pay goes towards fancy ad campaigns. For example, Louis Vuitton bags. You know those gorgeous ads in all the glossy mags, with Uma or J.Lo or Giselle looking amazing? Well, when you buy the bag, you pay for a piece of plasticised canvas plus part of an ad, which is why they're so expensive. If you can content yourself with a less-hyped bag, you can buy similar quality for a lot less. Oh, and noone will ask you if an 'unknown' bag is fake.

Stick to the middle
The Bargain Queen has met a particular kind of shopper who seems to want their purchases to reflect their middle-of-the-road status. They say "I'm just a normal person", so they don't buy luxury brands at all - which is fine for expensive things, but you have to try Godiva chocolates! On the other hand, these people also say "I'm not cheap", so they won't buy the cheapest thing available or shop somewhere 'icky' like an op shop/ thrift store.

This kind of shopping is madness. The 'middle of the road' is littered with things that aren't much better than the cheapo version, but they cost twice as much and bill themselves as being solidly middle class. If that's what being middle class is about, send me back to poverty!

Having said that, The Bargain Queen does like this strategy for buying disposable things where quality makes a difference. For example, toilet paper. Life is never pleasant with scratchy loo paper, but on the other hand, the fancy stuff is just too expensive. Enough said.

Buy cheap, pretend it's the best
This is the crazy bag lady strategy. It involves buying the cheapest thing you can find, then strutting around pretending it's the greatest thing on earth. It sounds totally nuts, but The Bargain Queen does know people who do this. She's even related to some of them.

If you do this, give it up. It doesn't fool anyone; most people can pick Italian calfskin leather from genuine Chinese plastic. Revel in your bargains! There is no shame in super-cheap shoes if they're cute. But conversely, sometimes you really do need to pony up the dollars and buy better quality (or better yet, find quality at the same price as the el-cheapos).

You probably recognise more than one of these strategies, and that's great. But if you follow one of them all the time, you're stuck in a shopping rut! The Horror! To get out of a shopping rut, The Bargain Queen suggests that you try a different strategy occasionally and see what happens... you might be pleasantly surprised.

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