Check the Value, Not Just the Price

As I continue to work through my family emergency (more on that in an upcoming post), I wanted to share with you a blast from the past. Below is one of my favorite posts from my former Classy Frugalist blog. I wrote this post four years ago while I was preparing for my wedding and getting acclimated to my new job. While many things have changed since I wrote this post, I find that the guidance shared below is just as true today.  

How many times per week or even per day do you stop to check the price of something? You might stop to compare prices between two different brands of paper towels at the grocery store. You might surf the internet for a good deal on a vacation flight. You might compare the price of a book on Amazon between the new and used selection. You might scan a toy at Target to see how much it costs before you step up to the cash register. We spend a lot of time checking prices and searching for the best deal. But how often do we step back and check the value on an item or experience before we purchase it?

While checking the price tag is a seemingly simple and straightforward process, checking the value is not always as easy. If you put “definition of value” into Google the first response that you get is: “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.” When I use the word value, I am speaking not of an item’s monetary value, but of an item’s importance, worth, and/or usefulness. Not just what the item costs, but what it means and will come to mean to you. Frugality isn’t just about checking the price tag, it is about stepping back to consider the value of this purchase.

I come from a family that struggles with hoarding. On the surface, hoarding can look very frugal. Often hoarders, like crazy coupon ladies, meticulously check price tags hoping to get the next best deal. When they find a good deal on a seemingly useful item like grocery or bath products – they buy it even if it is in an inconceivably large bulk quantity. They are getting a good deal on the items that they purchase; they are getting more for their money. Isn’t getting a good deal what being frugal is all about?

However, what hoarders normally end up with is a house over-stuffed with items that they purchased for a good price. They focus solely on the price tag and forget to ask the bigger questions – is it useful? Is it important? Do I or someone I know need it or want it? Or, is it just being purchased for the price tag? Do I really need to buy the 1 gallon jar of mayonnaise when it takes me a year to go through 22 oz squeeze bottle? Do I really need to buy the neon green tank top that was in the clearance section for $1, when I know that I will never wear it? The price tag alone is never a good enough reason just to buy something.

This past weekend, I took my fiancé on a surprise weekend away to a little town not too far from the Twin Cities. It was one of the least frugal things that I have ever done (at least by most people’s definitions). We stayed at a cute little bed and breakfast, went out to a nice dinner and spent the next day wandering around the small town shops, eating lunch, and going snowshoeing. We capped the day off with takeout and a movie. Looking at just the price tag, this trip was expensive (at least for me). Why would I choose to stay at a bed and breakfast when I could stay at a hotel for a lot cheaper? Why not just have a stay-cation rather than a vacation weekend?

You see, I planned this trip because wedding planning has gotten a little stressful for both of us. I wanted both of us to get away from the things that worried us and have 24 hrs to relax and enjoy one another. To do that we needed to get away. A few weeks ago, as I was perusing the various places to stay, I decided I wanted to go somewhere that was highly rated and had some amenities that we would enjoy. I wanted to make the trip special and memorable. I wanted us to have time to focus on our relationship, not the quality of the restaurant or hotel. Plus, every once in a while, I think it is a blast (and incredibly valuable) to splurge a little on the person you love. The price might have been high, but the value was even higher. When we think back on our engagement, I hope that we will remember those relaxing moments that we spent together that weekend where we got to be just Grace + Tyler not a bride + groom.

While not every purchase you make is going to stand up to the “value” test, it is especially important for larger purchases. The values test also works well when applied to saving and giving decisions as well. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Will this transaction be of use to me or someone I care about? Will I/they use it and enjoy it?
  • Does this purchase have enduring value or, will it just satisfy a short-lived craving?
  • Is this purchase important to me? Does it reflect my values?
  • Is this purchase worth spending my hard earned money on? Even if it is small, is it deserving of my money?

Just think, every time you deny a low value purchase, you are saving your money for something  of higher value. Let every large purchase be a reminder to return back to your values - will this purchase help you to create a more fulfilling life?