Use It Until It Breaks?

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Jerry writes in:

I was reading on another blog about replacing things that work with better versions of the same item like clothes hangers. To me, it makes more sense to just keep using something until it actually breaks, then replace it, but that’s just my sense of wanting to get every last drop out of something I put my money into. What do you think?

Although Jerry didn’t mention the blog article he was referencing, I would guess that he was talking about “Does It Ever Make Sense To Replace Something That Is Functioning Properly?” over at One Frugal Girl.

Anyway, Jerry makes a valid point and asks a good question. At first glance, it makes good frugal sense to continue to use an item until it is no longer functional. Otherwise, as Jerry says, you’re not extracting the full value from that item. I am completely on board with using an item until it’s no longer usable.

The question, to me, really is about replacement. I do not think that the best time to replace an item is when it is no longer functional. In that situation, you ideally need something to perform that task that is functional, which means that you have a pretty small timeframe to make a purchase.

Ideally, when you’re buying a new item, you’ll take advantage of two things.

First, you’ll have a research opportunity. You can spend at least a bit of time figuring out what the best version of the item is as well as perhaps the best “bang for the buck” version of the item is. You can figure out things like that from reading Consumer Reports or other reputable publications and asking around in your social network.

This is an opportunity to really figure out what it is that you’re buying and isolate it down to a few options that will really work and solve your problem.

Next, you can look for sales and discounts for those specific items. This can take time, but it’s well worth it, especially if you’re shopping for a pricier item. If you can shave $50 off of the cost of the item you’re buying, it’s well worth a few internet searches every few weeks for a while or checking out sales flyers.

The end result is that you wind up with a quality item that will last for a very reasonable price.

The problem is that this process takes time. Although you can do the research fairly quickly if necessary, it does take time to wait on a sale.

If you’re buying out of necessity, you can’t wait for a sale. You’ve pushed yourself into a situation where an immediate buy borders on necessary.

Thus, for me, I try hard to identify items that may fail in the fairly near future, but still have life left in them. Those are the items that I focus on for the buying process.

If a sale on the right item happens to come up before I need a new version of that item, I’ll still go ahead and pull the trigger. Then, I’ll take the new item and store it for a while until the old one fails. I’ve done this with blenders, umbrellas, and pots and pans, among other items.

This works even for inexpensive items, like clothes hangers. If you’re like me, you’ll eventually bend a wire hanger enough so that it doesn’t hold an article of clothing well or you’ll accidentally break a plastic one on occasion. Thus, if I ever notice that our hanger count seems to be getting low, I’ll just simply watch for a sale on them and add them to the mix.

Occasionally, I’m still pushed into situations where I have to make a quick replacement purchase, but I don’t like to be in that situation. A little bit of advance planning, as described above, can help you avoid it most of the time.

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