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The Simple Dollar

A reliable purchase is a smart purchase

From washing machines to televisions, from kitchen knives to media players, reliability is an incredibly valuable feature

By Guest blogger / January 15, 2012

A 2012 Ford Focus Hatchback and other sedans are lined up at the Salem Ford dealership in Salem, N.H. Reliability is the most important feature when buying a product you’re actually going to depend on regularly in your life, like a car.

Charles Krupa/AP/File

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Far and away, reliability is the most important feature when buying a product you’re actually going to depend on regularly in your life. From washing machines to televisions, from kitchen knives to media players, reliability is an incredibly valuable feature. To be honest, I put reliability first with almost everything that I buy.

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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The catch is that reliability is boring. It’s not a gee-whiz feature. It doesn’t walk your dog or make you an omelet for breakfast. It doesn’t manage your music library or allow you to watch content from seventeen different streaming services.

It just sits there and keeps working, day after day.

It means far fewer trips to the repairman. Every single time you have to have an item repaired, you start off by finding yourself in a situation where you’re doing without an item. This itself can cause a hassle, often causing you to spend time, energy, and money just to make do without the item.

It means far fewer repair costs. You also have to invest time and energy into the repairs themselves. It takes time to take an item in for repair or to contact someone to come to your house to repair the item. It takes money to pay for the repair service.

It means a longer product cycle. If the product is highly reliable, you’re not going to be replacing it for a long time. It will last longer than other products, which means that you have many more years before you need to replace it than with less reliable products.

Each of these things saves you money, time, and effort, and they’re all thanks to the most important element, reliability.

I’ll give you an example from my own kitchen. I’ve mentioned before that I’m slowly replacing all of my kitchenware with enameled cast iron pots from a reliable manufacturer (Le Creuset) and cast iron skillets from Lodge.

These items cost more than the pots and pans I used to buy, which were mostly Teflon-coated low-end pots and pans from the local department store.

Let’s say that I would spend $25 on a six quart pot from the local store versus $200 (!) for an enameled cast iron 5.5 quart pot from Le Creuset. The six quart pot comes with a three year warranty, while the enameled cast iron pot comes with a 101 year warranty.

I’ve owned two of the low-end pots over the years. With one of them, the handle snapped off at about the six year mark, and with the other, the coating began to come off at about the five year mark.

So, I had to buy two of those pots over an 11 year period. That cost me $50 in pots alone. The unreliability of the pots caused two meals to be ruined, easily $10 per meal. There’s also the time and energy lost to the two failed meals (cleaning up the mess and preparing something else – an hour each, let’s say), plus the time invested in buying new pots, plus a small amount of money spent buying the new pots. Let’s say $65 and two and a half hours lost over eleven years.

With the enameled cast iron, if it manages to fail within 101 years, I just call the manufacturer, read off the number on the bottom, and it’s replaced quickly. Because it’s made so well, it’s likely not going to have a catastrophic failure. So, assuming I paid for a 100 year lifetme for the pot, that’s $2 per year. Over 11 years, I will have essentially incurred a cost of just $22 (and no hours lost) on that enameled pot.

By paying more for reliability, I’m actually saving a lot of money over time.

You can go through countless different items in your home and repeat this type of calculation. You’ll find that, time and time again, reliability saves you significant money, even if it means a bigger sticker price up front. Reliability is boring, but it’s a money saver over and over again.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

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