It’s hard to believe we’re almost done with week 2! How are you enjoying 31 Days To Your Financial Future so far?
Today’s topic is one I’m really interested in, because it gets to the heart of my viewpoint on frugal living. Today, we’re going to be talking about the term “quality,” and what it means for the products we buy.
Obviously, one of the best ways to save money is to find cheaper alternatives for products you use regularly. Unfortunately, cheaper sometimes means lower-quality…often to the point of forcing you to replace the product sooner than you’d like (which can actually cost you MORE money in the long run).
By learning to identify quality in the products you buy, you ensure that you get your money’s worth when you buy something. Here’s how to learn to identify quality:
Learn the lingo
Every industry has certain terms to describe the methods and materials used to create the products that industry produces. Naturally, some methods and materials are superior than others (or more suitable for your particular usage needs).
Think about some of the products in your home. Your bedsheets, for example. Are they percale? Sateen? Pinpoint? If you aren’t sure what these terms mean, how do you know if what you’ve bought is the right product for you? Which do you prioritize in a sheet — durability, or softness? Knowing these terms and understanding what they mean helps you find the product that’s right for you.
In some cases, these terms are hidden in the technical specifications of a product, not the marketing copy used to sell you on the product’s merits. Do your own research and try to learn about the product beyond what the marketers want you to hear.
Research the company
Don’t just examine the product itself; check out the company that makes it. Companies who routinely produce high-quality products often develop a loyal and vocal customer base; companies who routinely produce bad products are vilified and warnings about their products are rampant. A quick Google search is often all it takes to find out everything you need to know about a company.
Where does the company do their manufacturing? What sort of testing methods do they do to ensure quality in their products? How long have they been in business? The answers to these and other questions can help you determine if the company produces high-quality merchandise.
Find out what others are saying
The Internet is the ultimate testing ground for products. If it’s ever been sold, someone somewhere has tried it and written a review about it. These reviews are a fantastic source of information about products — they can tell you how the product compares to similar models made by competitors, for example. The best reviews are detailed reviews that discuss both the pros and the cons of the product.
Just watch out for negative bias in reviews. People are about seven times more likely to write a review when they’ve had a bad experience than when they’ve had a good one. This can make rare defects in a product seem more prevalent than they really are.
Likewise, some reviewers simply don’t understand the product they’ve bought or how to use it. This is very common in reviews of electronic products — if a reviewer blames his new laptop for failing to connect to the Internet, that might indicate a faulty part in the laptop, but it could also indicate that the reviewer is computer-illiterate and simply has no idea how to connect to a network.
Even quality products can have weak points
I’ve been thinking of buying a stainless steel water bottle lately. I love stainless steel products — they’re practically indestructible, they’re easy to clean, and I love the look. One of the models I was considering seemed like it was a perfect fit, until I started reading some of the reviews and discovered that the O-ring seal on the lid is made of very low-quality material that quickly dries out, cracks, and fails.
That O-ring (which doesn’t seem to be easy to replace) takes a really great product and turns it into a mediocre product, and makes me less inclined to buy that water bottle at the price the manufacturer is asking.
These points-of-failure tend to be secondary aspects of the product — a shoddy zipper on an otherwise high-quality bag, or thin pocket material on a pair of otherwise very durable jeans. Product reviews can be a good way to find out about these weak points.
When a quality product stops being quality
Unfortunately, sometimes a great product changes or develops into a sub-par one over time — usually as a result of the company’s efforts to reduce costs. Often, this means shifting to lower quality materials (such as replacing metal gears with cheaper plastic gears), or outsourcing manufacturing to countries with less oversight to ensure quality control. Always do some research on the current methods and materials a company uses, even if they have a fantastic reputation.
Craftsman tools were once made in the United States, but eventually shifted most of their manufacturing to China. This resulted in such a decline in the quality of the tools that a thriving market for old Craftman tools developed, especially those made prior to 1975.
The relationship between cost and quality
Most people believe that you get what you pay for, but the truth is that price often has little correlation with quality. There are countless very expensive products on the market that are shoddily made. Likewise, there are a number of inexpensive products that are very high quality.
That said, costs are sometimes dictated by material or place of manufacturing. Products made in the US will almost always cost more than products made overseas, because US workers require higher wages and benefits. Products that use metal parts are generally more expensive than products using plastic parts, because it generally takes more time, effort, and expense to shape metal parts than it does to mold them out of plastic.
If a high-quality product is more expensive than its cheaper alternatives, do the math to figure out if it’s worth it — if the high-quality product is twice as expensive as the cheaper one, then it needs to be durable enough to last at least twice as long.
I’m going to give you a bit of a break tomorrow. You’ve been busy, so it’s time to stop for a bit and relax with some daydreaming about what you want your future to be like.
Do you research products before you buy them?
Are you an impulsive buyer who just grabs the first product they see, or do you take your time and learn everything you can about a product before buying it? Tell us in the comments!