A couple of months back, I wrote a rather self-entertaining post about the Ten Things I've Bought That Were A Complete Waste of Money. I was really hoping to start a discussion about our silly purchases, and find a little humor and education altogether. I didn't get any comments here at The Paycheck Chronicles, but my friend Nords at Military Retirement and Financial Independence wrote his own post after my post, talking about his list of things that were A complete waste of money. I found it really interesting to see another person's perspective.
Then Nords went and one-upped me by writing about things he has purchased that were Completely worth the money. I am envious that he gets to include surfboard repair kits on his list, because it demonstrates his commitment to enjoying his retirement. The man knows how to live.
In order that we be equal, I feel compelled to write my own list of things that have been worth the money. Some have been expensive, and some are pretty darn cheap. Regardless of their cost, they have high value to me because they have either saved me money, done an important job consistently well, or make my life markedly easier.
- An expensive German dishwasher. When our old dishwasher finally died, I was determined to have the most energy efficient model I could find. I tracked down a brand with great reviews and bought the second-to-the-bottom-of-the-line model. Many top-end dishwashers have a few design differences that make them significantly more economical than their low- and mid-range counterparts. They typically use a flow-through water heater instead of a heating element, which means no more melted plastic, and they use the stored heat in the stainless steel interior to dry the dishes instead of that plastic-melting heating element. They are quiet, they are sturdy, and they last a long time. In addition, the configuration of the baskets means more dishes fit in less space. There are downsides, since we live in a world where nothing is absolute. They wash best when you use dishwasher salt in the salt dispenser (sort of like a mini water softening system), they work better when you use rinse aid, and they don't have a food grinder so you need to clean the icky filter every so often. However, even at twice the price of a mid-range US washer, it was a great money saver. Both my water bill and electric bill fell by $20-$40 per month. Let's be conservative and say that I saved $20 a month on my water bill and $20 a month on my electric bill. That is $480 per year on a machine that has an average life of 10 to 15 years. Yes, I am spending extra on dishwasher salt and rinse aid, but it is offset by the fact that I am doing 3-4 loads of dishes less each week due to the good design. Did I mention that the dishwasher is so quiet that you have to stick your ear to the door to tell if it is running? I love Helga (yes, I named my dishwasher) and she has been an awesome investment.
- Time picking through thrift shops, consignment shops, clearance racks and super-duper bargain stores. With four growing girls who are often too close in size to hand things down, sourcing inexpensive clothing has been my part-time job for the last 10 years. I have spent many hours searching through racks at The Salvation Army, base thrift stores, and stores like Big Lots and Bealls Outlet. Sometimes I find nothing, sometimes I find half a winter's wardrobe for $42. Overall, it has been time well spent. I don't really like to shop, so I don't do it often, but if I'm going to have to buy clothes, I get a lot more pleasure out of scouring for the super-deals.
- A small air compressor purchased on a whim. I found a shoebox sized air compressor-flashlight combo at the auto store while picking up windshield wiper blades, and it spoke to me. Now I wonder why I never owned one before. I don't use it often, but it is super-handy to blow up bicycle tires, basketballs, car tires, even kiddie swimming pools. It plugs into my car's outlet so I can inflate my own tires if low even if I don't have electricity available. We've had manual pumps before, but we'd forever lose the adaptors, and of course they weren't strong enough for automobile tires. It doesn't save me money, but it saves me the hassle of loading the bikes in the car to drive them to the air pump at the service station, and I love knowing that I can deal with a low tire right in my driveway.
- Good running shoes. For years, I exercised in the decidedly non-helpful though much beloved Tretorn tennis shoe. As I got a little older, I moved to an actual athletic shoe but I was rarely comfortable because I have difficult feet to fit. When I decided that I really wanted to learn to run, I gave up and went to an actually running store to be fitted for running shoes. I didn't want to spend the money, but friends convinced me that it was necessary. Wow - it is amazing what a shoe can do for a girl. Running shoes are a great investment in both your health and your happiness. People who run or do other regular, serious exercise tend to be healthier than non-exercisers, and have lower health care costs. Plus, exercise helps you feel good!
- A large car. Back to the four girls again, we obviously need a reasonably large car. I drive a 2007 Honda Pilot that we purchased in 2010. Could we have a slightly smaller car? Not by much. Is the extra size (and gas consumption) worth it to me? Absolutely. Because there are six of us, we tend to drive when we travel. Having room for six people and six people's luggage is important, and the slightly extra space means that they aren't always touching each other. As any parent knows, that is priceless.
- A slow cooker. A slow cooker is an awesome tool for keeping your food budget in check. You can put meals in early in the day and you'll have dinner when you come in after a busy day. Plus, beans and less expensive meats are perfect for the slow cooker.
- A fast computer and good internet access. Even before I used my internet for work, the internet was a major money and time saver for me. I used it to comparison shop for nearly everything I purchased, I kept track of sales, and I found useful coupons online. With websites like Bargain Briana and Surviving The Stores, I found that the internet was saving me a ton of money!
- A SkipDr CD and DVD repair thingie. It goes by a couple of different names but they are the same product. It gently buffs the surface of damaged disks, removing scratches so that the disk will play well again. When my children were small, they were very hard on CDs and DVDs. This product has repaired many, many disks at my house.
- A really big, really accessible fridge. As you may have noticed, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. When you have four kids, and you don't like to eat out, the equipment in your kitchen is important. When we had to replace our refrigerator, I opted for a more expensive "french door" style, with the freezer on the bottom and two doors on the top. Not only is it ultra energy efficient, but I don't find so many science experiments lurking in the back corners. More of our food gets eaten instead of tossed. Both my electric bill and my food bill have been winners.
- Clothes that fit. I hate, hate, hate to buy clothes. I'm not longer 20, when I could wear a muumuu and look good. Now, my clothes tend to be more expensive, and less exciting, and I just don't like it. However, one good black skirt that looks fabulous is worth a bjillion schleppy cheap ones. I feel better, I look better, I get more done, and I give the general impression of competence. Not bad for a $40 or $50 investment, or $1 like I paid at the base thrift store last week.