A Look at the Startup Cost – And Why It’s Usually Good to Go Cheap at First

Lara from Coffee Can Cash left a very intriguing comment a few days ago on my post about minimalist kitchens:

I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with the idea “when in doubt buy it cheap”… If you want to save money for the long haul, buying cheap on one occasion isn’t what’s going to do it, it’s the fact that you’re cooking at home as opposed to going out.

My cheap (read: not frugal, but CHEAP) ex boyfriend had these disgusting old pans and cookie sheets when we first got together. It was quite clear to me that they were dollar store finds from 3 or 4 years ago and they were flat out gross (you could see the burn marks from cookies past). I’d rather have the $4 airbake cookie sheet that’s going to last me 20 years than have to buy $1 pieces of crap that burn stuff every 3 years.

Let’s say you’ve never baked a cookie before in your life. You’re at the store, buying pans. You don’t know how often you’ll bake cookies – it might be once, it might turn into a weekly thing.

You have a choice between a $1 pan and a $4 pan.

You’d be an absolute fool to choose the $4 pan.

The time to choose the $4 pan is when you’ve cooked a lot of cookies on the $1 pan, know you like making cookies, and know why the $4 pan would actually be better.

Why? Because there’s a pretty good chance that this is a “fling” activity and you’ll never touch the pan again, and it’s far better to have a $1 unused pan than a $4 unused one.

Here’s a good rule to think about: any time you’re trying to get into a new activity, don’t throw cash at it. Whether it’s something like cooking at home or a new hobby, it’s usually a mistake to spend a significant amount on equipment until you’re sure that you’re actually going to use the equipment and it’s clear why the higher-quality version is actually better.

josh rouse:directions by visualpanic on Flickr!Here’s another example from my own personal situation. Over the last couple months, I’ve been putting significant effort into getting into better shape. I’ve been working on my diet and adding to my exercise routine by using Wii Fit and jogging.

When I first started jogging, I considered getting running shoes. They’re useful equipment to have if you’re out there pounding the pavement every day. I did the research in Consumer Reports and found the best model – the Nike Air Zoom Vomero+ 2, which was their top shoe in their most recent running shoe roundup. But the cost was ridiculous – $120? (Please, don’t litter this thread with running shoe recommendations! I have a mountain of ‘em already!)

Instead, I decided to just use my old cross trainers that I’ve had for a couple years at first, just to see if I could get in the flow of jogging. I held off on buying the Vomero+ 2s, even though that was the “investment” equipment to buy.

After jogging pretty regularly for about a month and a half and reading up on beginning and intermediate jogging messageboards, I began to realize I had two problems. First, my crosstrainers were about a half size too big for my feet. For playing pick-up basketball, this isn’t a big issue. For jogging regularly, it is. Second, I was beginning to feel some semi-regular pain in my arch. Again, this was related to the fact that I was using old, beat-up shoes to run in.

At this point, I now have established a regular jogging pattern and, more importantly, I have identifiable reasons why it’s worthwhile to invest in solid equipment. Not only do I know this is something I’m likely to stick with for a while, I also have compelling and specific reasons that I understand for buying good running shoes.

If I had purchased the $120 shoes when I was starting out, I would have started off with better shoes, of course. But jogging was a new hobby for me, something I didn’t know if I would like and didn’t know if I would stick with.

Here’s the flip side of that experience: my fielding glove from high school. I was all hopped up to play baseball one year, so I went out in the early spring and dropped about $100 of my saved-up money on a baseball glove. It smelled wonderful and fit my hand majestically. I showed up to try out for baseball, knowing I was going to wow the crowds with my glove.

I stunk up the joint and quit after one practice when I quickly realized that I was much more apt to enjoy baseball as a fan than as a player.

That glove sat on a shelf at my parents’ house for about eight years, untouched, until I gave it to one of my nephews a few years ago.

If you’re trying something new, keep the startup costs low. Figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Figure out if you’re going to actually follow this passion, or you’re dabbling.

Going cheap at first keeps you from having a $100 baseball glove rotting under your bed or $120 shoes in the closet – or a $4 air bake pan in your cupboard, unused. Going cheap at first keeps you from throwing your money away on a fling, and it also teaches you what you actually need.

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57 thoughts on “A Look at the Startup Cost – And Why It’s Usually Good to Go Cheap at First

  1. Kate says:

    How true this is…my first “big” purchase was a bike because I “wanted” to start bike riding. I probably used it 25 times? It was an expensive way to find out that biking is not my thing.

  2. In principle, this is a good rule of thumb. The drawback I can see is if/when saving a few bucks means that the experimental stage of your new hobby is unpleasant enough that it discourages you from going further. I could easily see this happening with jogging. Say you have a really bad pair of shoes and your feet hurt to such an extent that you give up the idea of jogging altogether, unaware that with a modestly good pair of shoes it would a much better experience.

    Also, with kitchen start up costs, some people just *know* they’re going to be doing a lot of cooking. I started stocking my own kitchen when I got out of culinary school. There was no question I was going to do a lot of work in the kitchen. So saving a few bucks by buying cheap stuff that would fall apart or ruin my dishes made no sense for me. That’s not to say that I got myself a set of top notch knives or a Bron mandoline right away. But I bought the best stuff I could afford, or asked for the good stuff for birthdays and Christmas, and gradually built up a beautifully equipped kitchen. Young people do often have start up costs when they already know how committed they are to a hobby or activity.

  3. Anne says:

    One neat trick is to reward yourself for doing something good for you, like jogging or cooking at home instead of dining out. Every time you run, you pay yourself a few bucks. That goes into a kitty that you use exclusively to buy new running equipment. Or for every meal you cook at home that you otherwise would have eaten at a restaurant, you put half of the difference into a kitty to be used for new kitchen equipment. This way, you are guaranteeing that you will be spending money on the activity only if you actually are regularly doing the activity.

  4. Caitlan says:

    Maybe she meant that when you move from your parent’s house but have already made food of various kinds you should buy decent quality supplies.

  5. Lauren says:

    On the flip side, though, you don’t want a cheap purchase to hinder you. For example, with knives. My fiance bought a dirt cheap set of knives from IKEA and absolutely hated struggling with them whenever he cooked… so he stopped cooking. When I stepped up and bought him a $20 chef’s knife (the victorinox fibrox, cook’s illustrated’s top rec), he was amazed at how much nicer cooking could be with equipment that actually served its function.

  6. ANOTHER OPTION:
    Buy the good or great brand on Craigslist gently used for 50% of retail. If you do an activity and it turns out to be a “fling”, just turn around and sell it again on Craigslist for exactly what you paid for it. Your out of pocket nothing and once you get good at Craigslist, you may even be able to make a few bucks on the activity.

    If you go the cheap route and what you are buying is critical to the experience’s performance, you may just sabotage that experience. If the time turns out bad, you will always wonder if it was the experience itself, you or the equipment that made it so bad…

  7. Lori B says:

    Don’t overlook the value of buying used cooking equipment at the thrift store. Buying quality used items that will perform properly (as opposed to that cheap pot that scorches every time you use it) for the same price as a new low quality item is definitely a better way to go. This may not be true for every new hobby, but for cooking, I believe it is. 20 years later I still use my hand-me-down and/or thrifted cookie sheets, pyrex bakeware, and dutch oven. Well made kitchen equipment really can last a lifetime, or three (as in the case of my grandmother’s cast iron dutch oven, which I use weekly).

  8. Jules says:

    Very much agree with all this.

    @ Anne–that’s an awesome idea.

  9. jtimberman says:

    Ha!

    I should have known better when I “got into” mountain biking. See, I liked riding my bike as a kid, and thought I’d totally get into it. Turns out that mountain biking was far more involved than I anticipated.

    Of course, I had bought a $1000 bike (full suspension, a MUST you see!), electric spedometer, repair gear, riding gear, etc. All told probably another $500 in ‘stuff’.

    $1500. Now the bike is hanging on a hook in the garage barely used in the last 5 years. Only slightly used in the 2 years I had it before that.

  10. Doug W says:

    Following on 6, I think resale-value versus cost is also an important consideration, especially for higher priced items. The difference between cost and resale value of the cheap item should be less than the difference between cost and resale value of the expensive item.

    Since this thread is littered with anecdotal examples, I’ll offer my own. A number of years ago I wanted to start drumming and bought a drum set. I went with a cheap $300 one, and ended up deciding I didn’t like it. However, because of the poor-quality of the set, I couldn’t find a buyer for very much money, and ended up just giving it to a cousin. If I had bought a higher-quality set on the used market, I likely could’ve sold it for exactly the same as I paid.

    On the flip side, I once bought a pool-table, used it for a year, then turned around and sold it for more than what I had paid for it. That may not apply to shoes or cookie pans, but it’s an important consideration.

  11. Mollie says:

    I sympathize with Lara concerning her comments regarding the cookie sheets. It sounds like there may be somewhat of an underlying emotional influence about the ex driving that thought process, and I can certainly relate to that. I do concur, however, with the principle her anecdote serves to highlight. Here’s a personal example of my own.

    My husband and I discussed and agreed that he should enroll in a class for home inspection/appraisal/real estate certification. The military paid for the course, so it was really no skin off our noses, and we were just coming off our first home purchase. This experience lit a fire in him to go get certified and maybe turn it into a side business for our family.

    Halfway through the course (well past the drop/add refund deadline), he lost steam and total interest but didn’t know how to tell me. The course would have to b paid back, and he’d get no certification from it either. He felt he’d let his family down.

    I reassured him that wasn’t the case. We tried something (expensive), learned a hard lesson, and won’t need to learn it again. All was not lost, but that $3000 (from the sale of my beloved paid-for sports car–i was 6 months pregnant and it was no longer practical to keep) was supposed to help us prepare for the birth and care of our new son.

    The advice posted here concerning start-up investment is so important, especially for those who are just getting started carving out a life together. Enthusiasm for a new undertaking doesn’t have to translate into compulsive spending. Thank you for this timely wisdom.

  12. Jenzer says:

    When I was curious about inline skating, I found a friend who split the cost of a few hours of private instruction with me. The instructor brought skates for us to wear. This gave us the “trying out” experience we wanted without having to make a major financial commitment at the outset. The lessons were enough to convince me to invest in a quality pair of skates, which were well loved for several years and worth the expense.

    Conversely, when I took a few jewelry-making classes to satisfy my curiosity, I walked away with a few pieces of jewelry and the sure knowledge that jewelry-making was not My Thing. Thus, no equipment purchases turned themselves into clutter over that one.

    The moral of my story: try a class or lesson first if you’re wondering if a new hobby will appeal to you.

  13. KC says:

    Any shoe from Nike was rated #1 in anything? Really? Every pair of Nike’s I’ve had – running, tennis, softball cleats, trainers, were junk – usually the cardboard box offered more support. Nikes are just fashion shoes. Shame on Consumer Reports.

    But you are right about using another shoe if you are just trying something. I play a lot of tennis and you can wear out some shoes on the court (try 4 pairs a year). I’m not a serious runner (in which case I’d have some Mizunos, Asics or Brooks), but I do occasionally go out for a jog or workout at the gym. I use my newest court shoes and use the jog or gym to break them in for the tennis courts. It works out great and I dont’ have any damage cause, like I said, I’m not a serious runner. I’m still dumbfounded over the recommendation of Nikes – I’ll never trust CR again (that and they steered me wrong on an Acura, too, and, unlike tennis shoes, a botched car purchase is serious money lost)

  14. Kim says:

    Trent,

    Where were you when we decided we were going to make our own pasta and shelled out over $100 for a really nice pasta maker? Or when I bought the best backpacking equipment out there to use probably 8 times? Actually, you were probably in grade school, but you get the point. :-}

    I think your repsonse is right on the …. money.

  15. Ramit Sethi says:

    This is a great post.

    I completely agree — it’s not about the tools, it’s about us discovering if we have the interest and discipline to consistently do something new, whether it’s running or baking cookies. And trying it out cheaply is key.

    I like to force myself to prove that I’m really interested by setting a specific goal: “Ramit, if you actually run 30 times in the next 2 months, you can buy those expensive running shoes.”

    Combine a detailed measurement of that with a savings plan (e.g., $20 each week), and you’re using psychology against yourself in a surprisingly powerful way: To be honest, most of us won’t achieve the goal, but this is good. It lets us fail fast and move on to the next goal. (Failing is fine, I just prefer to do is quickly.)

    Or, if we DO persist and achieve our goals — despite the barriers that we set for ourselves — we know that we really love this hobby and it’s worth the money.

  16. Colleen says:

    Sounds like wise advice! I have often had the problem of overestimating my commitment to a new hobby and sinking too much money in upfront. I have a ton of unused dress patterns. Of course, part of the problem there could be that I don’t own a working sewing machine, hehe! Thanks for the reasonable argument here.

  17. marta says:

    @KC (#10)

    I think that, with running shoes, you go with the brand & model that fits *you* best, period. I started running seriously with a pair of New Balance shoes — they were generally fine but when I had to retire them, that model had been discontinued. I tried Adidas next (I was somewhat fitted for that), and it was miserable, I’d get awful blisters after just 5 miles. Then I went to a proper running store where I had my stride looked at, etc, while running on a treadmill, and I left the store with a pair of Nikes –incidentally, the brand I was the most prejudiced against. I tried other brands, like Asics, but they weren’t right for me. Almost one year later of running with those Nikes: no blisters AT ALL, no shin splints, and good cushioning. Go figure.

    My point? I would never get a running shoe just because of a CR type of review. Feet are different, as well as running styles. There is not a case of “one model fits all”.

  18. OCD in the Kitchen says:

    Thank you very much for this article. Me, I see both sides of it–and agree with Lauren’s comment as well (comment #5). In the kitchen, quality does matter. More importantly, though, price and quality do not go hand-in-hand. I do feel that many very good quality kitchen items are inexpensive, compared to their name-brand counterparts. I think the formula that is missing in all this is “research.”

    Spend a little time seeing what you like and what is worth it. Sometimes this research can help you decide if it’s a passing fling, or something you are genuinely interested in. For me, if I love it, research is enjoyable. If it’s a fling, I get bored while doing the research, which inevitably saves me from the unnecessary purchase. ;) By already knowing what you need, a salesperson won’t be able to sway you with the unnecessary bells & whistles, causing one to spend more for something they don’t need. Again–quality isn’t hand-in-hand with cost.

  19. Katrina says:

    I think the one problem with your example that doesn’t necessarily prove the point is that you already had a pair of sneakers that you could use to start with. If, however, you did not have a pair to use, you would have been in the position of deciding whether or not to buy a $60 pair of sneakers or the “best” $120 pair. You might still decide at that point to go for the cheaper option, but the choice is significantly different when you are choosing between a cheap option which is free and an expensive option which is $120, and a cheap option which is $60 and the expensive option. Again, this holds true when you are making a decision where the cheap option is $1 and the expensive option is $4. The calculation is different, because the economic impact is different.

  20. Mike says:

    Another good example of this idea comes from my teen years. I wanted a guitar badly, but as much as I wanted to rock on an instrument from the upper echelon of axedom, my parents bought me a inexpensive acoustic guitar to see if I would stick with it. I’ve been playing for almost nine years now and I have a Fender Telecaster that I adore. Imagine how crazy my parents would have gone if they’d bought it for me in the beginning, and it became nothing more than a dust collector!

  21. Lael says:

    I think you’re right on the mark here. I’ve also overspent many times on a new activity that never panned out. Nowadays I try to look for used equipment first and buy as little as possible to “get by” to start out with, until I’ve proven my interest. Plus your point about not buying the expensive choice until you know enough to know what you need is right on as well. Speaking of cookie sheets, I bake cookies maybe once a year – on the “$1 pieces of c*&p” no less – and I’ve bought a more expensive cookie sheet in my spending days, only to find out that it baked cookies less well than my cheap sheets. There’s no doubt in my mind that I bought purely based on advertising/coolness factor not because I knew anything about it. I can see people’s point about having a bad experience with the wrong equipment but if you don’t know enough to know which piece of equipment to buy, or how to decide which to buy then you’re probably going to be spending a lot of money on something that won’t help your experience anyway (re: running shoes, going to a “running” store is what got me into the right shoes – before that I’d bought expensive shoes purely on reviews and had all sorts of problems)

  22. Lynn says:

    Also if you buy the inexpensive version 1st(preferably used), then you can look around for the better version @ yard sales, Craigslist, etc… No need to spend top dollar on the premium item unless you know you want it and need it and cannot find it lightly used. Example: I decided I would take up running as an inexpensive workout. The week following an annual 10k here in town, there was a rummage sale with *many* pairs of running shoes worn only for the race, and donated by runners to the charity hosting the rummage sale. They sold the shoes for $1. That’s right, $1. I got a pair of Adidas Supernovas(new =$85) in my size that had been worn once. If you give yourself some lead time for the items you want, you can generally find the stuff you are searching for within a reasonable amount of time. I live in a college town with a high median income and yard sale season is *amazing*. We buy almost everything secondhand.

  23. silver says:

    Why not buy a medium quality product?

    If you buy the cheap one, and find that your cookies are always burning, maybe you’ll decide that you’re a bad cook and give up on baking cookies.

    If you buy the cheap quality shoes and wind up getting some kind of injury from poorly made shoes that don’t support or fit right, the pain and/or medical bills might make you wish you had spent more on a better shoe.

    You don’t need to buy top-of-the-line items for something that you’re just starting out in. But you shouldn’t sabotage yourself by going cheap.

  24. Funny Trent, I did buy a new pair of shoes after gettng a Wii fit and doing the jogging, but I got them on clearance for $15.

    Anyway, I was going to say that i learned my lesson about this with knitting. I decided to take up knitting a few years ago and I bought and bought and bought. I mean every pattern requires new needles etc. I ended up making a pair of socks that did not fit my toddler, a shirt that did not fit me, a hair scrunchy that was too tight to use, and my saving grace… a baby hoodie as a gift which came out beautifully!! I have no idea how much money I wasted on all that stuff, but I was just thinking about selling it all in one lot on Ebay yesterday!!

  25. Dave says:

    “Absolute fool” is a little harsh to describe someone picking a FOUR-DOLLAR pan, no?

    An absolute fool is a person who drives down 35 MPH Main Street at 85 with an empty 6-pack in the passenger seat.

  26. justin says:

    I agree, “Absolute fool” is harsh.

  27. Faculties says:

    My cookie sheets are inherited from my mother; they’re about sixty years old and practically black, and I’m sure the woman in your example would disdain them. But they’re free, I use them all the time, and I’ve never burned a cookie on them yet. I think the zeal for having pristine cookware can cost you a lot of money. If you have the money to spare, fine, but if you want that money for other things, it’s helpful to remember that things don’t have to be bright and shiny (and more expensive) to work just fine.

  28. gr8whyte says:

    No, “absolute fool” is a guy who, when the light goes green and his car won’t go, crawls under his car and begins beating on the transmission which kicks into gear and …

  29. Danny says:

    I have to agree with some of the posters. If your $1 cookie sheet sucks and you know nothing about baking, you are just going to think baking sucks.

    Another thing that struck me was that consumer reports rated running shoes. Strange, because everyone needs different things in shoes. Go to a running store that has experts that will watch you run and tell you which shoe will help you run with better form.

  30. Margaret says:

    Hee hee, some of these comments are turning into the Darwin Awards.

    I see the point of going for the cheapest, but perhaps the point is more to not throw money at a new hobby. Maybe you can borrow equipment, or, as suggested, take a class or buy used. There are a lot of hobbies where the difference between the cheapest and the best isn’t going to break most budgets (e.g. the cookie sheets), but where you can trap yourself is in buying EVERY piece of equipment — e.g. several cookie sheets, mixer, multiple measuring spoon and cup sets, cookbooks, spatulas, etc etc. I like to decorate cakes, and I do it for my family. There are all kinds of nifty little gadges and doo dads and it is the kind of thing where it is useful to have more than one of things. So although you could start out with a very basic set of equipment, you could also go out and spend hundreds of dollars easily. So with the runners, I would say get good shoes (I mean, they are shoes — you don’t want wrecked feet and it’s not as if you can only use them jogging), but maybe you don’t immediately need high tech jogging clothes and a pulse tracker or whatever accessories are being pitched at joggers. Personally, my problem is never so much whether to get the cheapest item or not, but that I go overboard and want EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW!

  31. tiffanie says:

    i wish i would’ve had this advice when i started scrapbooking 3 years ago. i threw tons and tons of cash at it, got into it for about a year…and now i have roughly $400 worth of scrapbooking supplies sitting in my office. that reminds me…i should totally throw some of that stuff up on ebay! haha. thanks for the advice :)

  32. Sam H. says:

    To Jtimberman whose mountain bike is just hanging in the garage: why not sell it?

  33. sara says:

    A tip a friend of mine gave me: when buying stuff like screwdriversets or kitchen knifes, first go for a reasonably priced, not too fancy option. (Something that will work, though. Not the ultra-cheap screwdrivers that will break in your face if you put a bit of pressure on them). Then, as you find out wich item of the set you use most, you can replace that item(s) with a high-quality high-price durable one.

  34. reulte says:

    I somewhat agree with Lara and Katrina (comment 14). Everyone has to cook – even if its just pouring a can of soup in a pan on a sick day – and the relative difference in cost between poor quality cookware and excellent quality cookware is generally minor while the difference in quality is oceans apart. When it comes to the basics of life, a good quality item is usually worth the extra cost.

    Said the woman who just paid $44 for a garlic press . . . and has no regrets about it.

  35. Kim says:

    I disagree about the shoes. I did the same thing and ended up with some very regular pain in my arch which lasted 6 months. I will never run again but maybe if I had started out with better shoes I could have avoided a lot of misery.

  36. I agree. If you end up loving the activity, you’ll be more than happy (and knowledgeable) to upgrade. I bought my first (and current) golf clubs for $99 shipped from Amazon! I also got a new guitar for $70 from Guitar World. Not too shabby!

  37. Maggie says:

    Here’s what I recommend, and it’s not a shoe: Hit up a specialty running store managed and run by runners. They’ll look at your running and walking stride and fit you with proper shoes. However, if the pair you pick are too much, ask for a cheaper alternative. Better yet, visit Ebay, Craigslist, Overstock.com, Zappos, etc., even the website of the shoemaker, and see if the shoe is on sale. You’re on your feet every day. Why sacrifice your health? Haven’t you always said to invest in quality items that will last a while? Why not apply the same reasoning to that great pair of sneaks that you apply to purchasing new cooking gadgets? After all, did you truly believe or know you would love cooking that much?

  38. KoryO says:

    Put me down for a vote for getting mid-grade equipment instead of the cheap stuff (and that goes double for shoes….more in a bit).

    Lots of cheap equipment is priced that way for a reason. Namely, it’s usually not that good. Why get sabotaged by faulty workmanship when you start out? Get the mid-grade stuff and give yourself a chance to find out if you really enjoy it or have a talent for the new activity. At least if you find out you don’t like it, you will have a decent chance of getting some of your money back on eBay or selling it to a friend who enjoys that stuff. No one wants the cheap garbage.

    I’m glad Trent did ok with his shoes, but starting out running with cheap shoes is begging for trouble. Sure, you’re going to save money at first…..until you count in the more-than-likely doctor appointment costs, the splints and wraps, the painkillers, possible time off work, etc. Go to a running specialty store and get the right shoe for you and your foot.

  39. Jeremy says:

    I’d recommend you find out why and where you are saving money when your health and safety are on the line.

    To use your example of an athletic shoe, I actually hurt myself running on pavement with cheap poorly cushioned shoes (made by a major US athletic shoemaker).

    This example could easily be related to beds, cleaning agents, food, batteries… the list goes on and on.

  40. Marie says:

    Great Rule:

    Procrastinate when it comes to spending!

    This rule keeps me out of trouble and it is the only procrastination I indulge in. I am a very cheerful giver, very slow spender.

  41. Red says:

    I completely agree with this.

    I started biking to work, 20 miles round trip, and I wanted to buy a bunch of expensive stuff initially, but held off.

    After my first ride I figured out some necessities:
    1) Gloves with padding (otherwise: ouch)
    2) Biking shorts with padding (indeed, ouch again)
    3) Panniers (carrying stuff on your back makes you unnecessarily sweaty)

    I still wanted to get an expensive light setup and clip on pedals with bike shoes. I told myself I could get those after riding 500 miles (5 weeks)

    Before I reached that 500 miles, I discovered I hated carrying anything extra, and so I really didn’t want to bring another pair of shoes and then switch at work. Saved me probably ~$180 in shoes+clip on pedals.

    On the flip side, I finally came to realize that for riding at night, the only acceptable lights are really the top tier, so I returned my already expensive (and well reviewed) $120 light and put out the money for a Jet Blast HID light for $350, which I’ve been very happy with.

  42. Frugal Girl says:

    I was thinking “absolute fool” was a little harsh too. If we’re talking $4 baking pan vs. $95 baking pan, ok. But a three dollar difference is just not that big of a deal, and like someone else said, a $1 pan is not going to make good cookies.

  43. Carlos says:

    Hey Trent-

    Congratulations on your decision to get into better shape. In the spirit of this post, I have suggest that you purchase something, but use a free tool with it :-)

    The “purchase something” is a Garmin Forerunner 205: http://www.amazon.com/Garmin-010-00466-00-Forerunner-Wrist-Mounted-Computer/dp/B000CSQJ8C/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1215453236&sr=8-1. You may a first balk at the idea, thinking this is only for semi-pro athletes or marathon runners. Indeed, this GPS is awesome, because it not only tracks your distance, but estimates (based on parameters you input), the number of calories you burn per workout. The GPS only works outdoors, and is 10x more accurate than a pedometer.

    The best free software tool to use with it is: Sport Tracks http://www.zonefivesoftware.com/SportTracks/.

    Sport tracks creates a logbook of your activity and lets you handily review it – hard to explain in a post, but, it’s the best tool out there.

    Emotionally, to be able to look at a month, and see the number of times you’ve worked out, and the number of days you didn’t, helps keep things in perspective.

    You’ll need to burn 3600 calories per pound you wish to lose (assuming you keep your current caloric intake similar to what it is now).

    I needed to lose 25 pounds; doing the math, that’s = 90,000 calories!!! Using the Forerunner and Sport Tracks, I tracked everything I did outdoors for several months (I hate exercising indoors, anyway), and, it proved to be pretty accurate. I’m now on to losing the next 35…

    The forerunner tracks calorie consumption for biking, running, kayaking, etc. The thing I learned early on is that minute-for-minute, biking is the best exercise you can do. If I ride hard, I can burn 3600 calories in a bit under three hours. Ride three times a week, and you’ll drop 12 pounds in a month. Figure out how much you have to jog to lose that much weight (about 1 million miles, and it’s way harder on your knees)…

  44. BonzoGal says:

    Red, good idea on the purchase of the bike light- $350 may seem high, but it protects your life! I’d say don’t cheap out on things that affect your health (good shoes, bike safety equipment) but it’s okay to “cheap out” on some cooking equipment at first.

    A cheap cookie sheet doesn’t guarantee burned cookies, nor does a cheap knife make things all THAT horrible. I cooked with cheap stuff for years and turned out fine meals. Now that I can afford good equipment, I buy that because it makes cooking more pleasurable and lasts longer, but using cheapo stuff wasn’t too bad, really. I figured out good pans and knives make sense for me, but “good” baking equipment doesn’t because I rarely bake. (And a good martini shaker is ESSENTIAL!) ;)

  45. Vince Laurent says:

    I used to think this was but then I had too many experiences where the crappy equipment would turn me off going further in a hobby/interest. I would by the $4 pan and make myself make enough cookies to make it worth my while. THEN, if after enough I might buy a better one or chuck it. When I buy better starting equipment I make myself use it. Don’t have time/will to use it? Don’t buy it in the first place. Buying a crappy something is only going to help you fail.

  46. Borealis says:

    I used to work in a bicycle shop. You wouldn’t believe how many couples decided to take up bike riding for a hobby, even though they had not biked in a decade. But they usually bought brand new $800 bikes, which probably get used once a year or less.

  47. Lianna says:

    Buy a sport-specific shoe for the fit. Period. Messing around with someone else’s review of something that is very specific to YOUR body geometry is a waste of money. Maggie’s advice (above) about visiting the store specific to your sport is very sound. I just don’t want you to throw your money on some bling shoes that aren’t right for your feet.

  48. Betsi says:

    While I agree with your theory on larger ticket hobby purchases I still disagree on the $1 cookie sheet vs. $4 cookie sheet. Spend the $3 extra dollars and keep yourself from burning your cookies. Besides, you can make many more things on a cookie sheet than just cookies…

  49. BonzoGal says:

    I think we’re getting stuck on the “$1 vs. $4″ amounts- I’ve never seen a $4 cookie sheet. What if the difference is actually a $10 sheet vs. a $25 sheet? I’ve read enough issues of Cook’s Illustrated where they rated a low-priced sheet as the best over all the “air cooled” cookie sheets that cost $20 and more.

    I think Trent’s real point is if you are pretty dang sure that you might use something a lot, then try to buy quality; if you’re NOT SURE that you’re going to, then try out a cheaper piece of equipment first, either by buying cheap, buying used, borrowing, etc.

  50. Charles says:

    “You’d be an absolute fool to choose the $4 pan.”

    First of all, I think that’s a little harsh seeing as we’re talking about a difference of $3. Maybe it wasn’t the right choice, but I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely foolish. Even if the cookie sheet was $20, it can be used for many other things besides baking cookies.

    Second, I consider it absolutely foolish to blindly follow Consumer Reports’ recommendations for every purchase – especially for something as personal and custom as running shoes. Even if the pair of Nikes that you bought had a 100% positive review in CR, you should not base your running shoe purchase on other people’s reviews. To avoid foolish behavior in this case, you’d go to a professional athletic store and have them evaluate your run to determine your amount of pronate. Everyone has a different running pattern which is why you shouldn’t base your purchase on what Consumer Reports tells you (which you, Trent, seem to do A LOT).

    Don’t get me wrong, I think CR is a good resource. But I think it’s “absolutely foolish” to use it as a purchase bible in the way that you do.

    Just my two cents.

  51. Erin says:

    I agree the “absolute fool” characterization is extreme when talking about a difference of $3, but I understand the underlying point.

    Even better, though, would be to seek out someone who DOES have experience with the hobby you’re interested in and ask if they can give you some pointers, perhaps give you a lesson or two, and maybe even lend you some starter equipment so you can see what works for you – that way you not only don’t waste money on crap, you also turn your interest into a bonding experience by giving someone the opportunity to share their passion.

  52. Ocean Skater says:

    Great points! I did the same thing recently when I started running again, but I only ran in the old shoes for 3 weeks due to some knee pain I was developing. I also recently decided to start making green smoothies. The price for the fancy blender that chops your spinach & kale to pureed perfection? $400! So I started with a Walmart special, about about $40, and hope by the time that one burns out, I’ll find a used Blendtec on Craig’s List :)

  53. Lara says:

    Well I’m glad that some of you don’t see me as an “absolute fool”! LOL

    Seriously, I was referring to the example used in that post I commented on. There’s a huge difference, in my mind, between shelling out three extra dollars for something that makes a HUGE difference in quality and experience than spending an extra $20, $50, $100 or more on something I’ve decided upon at whim.

    Face it, there are tons of people who have gone to the gym twice since beginning their monthly payments a year ago. THAT, yes, is foolish.

    Buying $120 sneakers when you’re just getting into jogging, especially when you either have a decent pair of sneaks that fit and are comfortable, or can buy a pair for $30? Yes, that too, would be foolish.

    But the difference between a small salad and a large salad isn’t detrimental to your pocket when you’re really REALLY hungry. That was my point.

    And um, whoever it was that psychoanalyzed me up there? Yeah, I don’t have psychological issues over a blackened cookie sheet, nor my cheap ex-boyfriend. I just think that in order to do a job properly, it’s not okay to cut a corner THAT much is all. I love baking and cooking and I love doing it on shiny, airbake stuff because the food comes out better and *I know* that it was cooked on a very clean piece of bakeware.

  54. Marie says:

    What makes me laugh is that most folks have 3-5 of every spatula, spoon and knife and complain that the kitchen is too small. Drives my friends crazy that I refuse to have more than ONE of most items in my kitchen. That is where the extra $3-4 savings goes…more stuff that takes up space and is rarely used. I am so glad frugal is becoming the style-some of us are tired of being the oddballs!

  55. NIUiceprincess says:

    I agree with this article…I think you should give it a “go” first with a cheaper item rather than going for broke. My sister has a friend who went snowboarding ONCE with them and the next week, he went and bought a high level (not beginner) snowboard, new boots, professional jacket, goggles, the works. I think he ended up spending close to $1000. Guess what, that winter he only ended up going snowboarding again once or twice at most. And last winter they didn’t even go once!

    When I decided to take up figure skating again 3 yrs ago for fitness and pleasure after having taken lessons as a kid, I decided to get cheaper beginner skates at $100 (I never liked rental skates, the rentals at our rink are in such bad condition that i think it’s a waste of money on lessons if i used them, since the rental skates would have clearly hampered my progress). Anyway I liked it so much and I progressed through the levels. Finally when I started spinning again my coach noticed that I kept ending up on my toe picks, and she looked at my skates. She said that if I wanted to go further I will have to upgrade since i have “outgrown” my current skates level-wise. I thought about it since higher level blades and boots cost hundreds of dollars but my love for skating has never wavered, I never found myself saying “bah wish I didn’t have to go skate today”. So I used my next tax refund to buy boots and blades that totalled $600, and I am back doing salchows and toe loops again. I am so glad I made the splurge, thinking this purchase is not so much materialistic but it is good for my body, physically and mentally. I have even moved on from group classes to private lessons which cost more…my husband is all for them though he said he’d rather see me spend money on exercise rather than a new purse that I will tire from a few months from now. I have felt guilty buying new purses and shoes in the past but not my skates.

  56. Something to add more specific to buying running shoes:

    You should also think about increments or jumps in quality.

    With running shoes, the $20 ones are going to be poor quality and make your feet hurt.

    However, there is actually little difference between the $60 shoes and the $120 (unless they’re custom made to your gait characteristics)–even for experienced runners.

    On top of that, the running shoe for a runner with average mileage should be replaced every 6 WEEKS–regardless of the price of the shoe.

    The structure of the shoe simply doesn’t last much longer.

    So in this case, it makes more sense to buy the $60 shoe that you’re going to have to replace in a couple months anyway if you’re a serious runner.

    Hope this helps.

  57. Becky says:

    I have to agree with those who are complaining of your overstating the case with the cookie sheets. It is hard for me to believe that a $4 cookie sheet is overpaying.

    Maybe it’s because I have 5 cookie sheets and can make a batch of 90 ccc in 30 min. from start to finish including clean up with my 5 cookie sheets!

    Very well worth it. I love my more expensive cookie sheets!

    I can’t imagine someone not making cookies or not needing a cookie sheet….kind of shows my lifestyle, huh?

    As far as knives. My mom got us a set of decent knives as a wedding present, as well as showed us how to keep them sharp. Chicago Cutlery. I’m still happy with them 25 years later! Seems like a good deal to me. I’m not a gourmet cook but with 5 kids and lots of company through the years, they’ve gotten used and used.

    But I totally get the point. I was a bit frustrated when my husband paid a couple hundred for a double kajak and has used it 3-4 times. grrr!!! I thought….why not borrow or rent one?

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