Over the weekend, my wife and I visited an appliance store where we were looking at potential appliances that we may have to purchase when we move into our home. We are doing such things now so that we can quickly order such items when the actual rush of moving in and getting settled happens.
Anyway, while we were shopping, we were also perusing some materials we had printed off that discussed the various features of the washers and dryers we were looking at. Of particular interest to us was electrical use, water use, and reliability. In the end, after looking at a lot of different models, we came to an agreement on exactly which model to buy.
Afterwards, we sat around the dinner table with my parents and we told them about the washer we had decided on, including all the features and other caveats. When we told them the price of the washer, however ($1,200), my father almost spit out his food. “We’ve never spent more than $400 on a washing machine,” he said proudly.
However, under further discussion and inspection of their washer, I discovered that it had been replaced roughly every five years, it wasn’t Energy Star compliant (in fact, it used a ton of electricity) and it also used a lot of water. So, together, we sat down and ran the numbers over twenty years, assuming the same amount of laundry in both machines. Given the average front load washer lasts about twelve years, I figured in one and a half machines for myself at $1,200 a pop and four low-end top loaders for himself at $400 a pop, giving me a total of $1,800 in upfront costs, while he spends $1,600 up front.
Then it got interesting. When we looked at the cost per load for water and electricity, we found that his machine was costing roughly six cents per load more than my machine. If you figure six loads a week for fifty two weeks over twenty years, you end up with extra costs of almost $400. That means that his “cheap” machines have a total cost of ownership of almost $200 more than mine over twenty years. That’s also assuming that, even though I’m buying the most reliable one, it only has the “average” washing machine lifespan, plus it doesn’t include the additional headaches of buying as many new machines, having them delivered, etc.
When you are about to make an expensive purchase, it’s important to estimate how long you’ll be using the item. Will you be living in the same house in twenty years? Ten? Five?
With that in mind, it’s worth your time to calculate the total cost of ownership of an item. In other words, if you use this item normally over your timeframe, which is really the cheapest item? Factors always worth looking at are the reliability of the item (I use consumer publications and reviews to gauge this), the cost per use (electricity, water, miles per gallon, etc.), and also maintenance costs.
When I first started doing this regularly, I was often shocked to find that the best value price point was very rarely anywhere near the low end and was often near the high end. If you’re looking for the “best buy,” don’t just go for the cheapest item when making a major purchase, no matter what the item is. Spend some time figuring out what the total cost of the item’s use will be over a longer period of time, then compare the items based on that period.