Ethical Frugality Week: Lifetime Guarantees

Over the upcoming week, I’ll be posting a series of articles on the ethics of frugality. How far can you take things without crossing an ethical line or diving into seriously socially unacceptable waters? I’ll be recounting some of my own stories – and some stories from readers – along the way.

“Megan” writes in:

A friend of mine had a sweater from Land’s End that she’d had for about fifteen years. It was getting pretty old and beat up simply because of normal wear and tear. A few weeks ago when she unpacked her winter clothes, she found that one sleeve had finally worn off the sweater. she called up Land’s End and complained, invoking their lifetime guarantee. They sent her a replacement one – not exactly the same, but pretty similar. She was quite proud of this “free” sweater. I was less than impressed. What do you think about this?

As always with these types of things, there are two sides to every story (at least two sides). Here are two ways of looking at it.

Lifetime guarantee means lifetime guarantee. As long as I’m the original owner of that particular item, then I should be entitled to get it replaced if it wears out. It says right there that if, for any reason, you’re unhappy with the sweater (and you’re the original owner of it), you have the right to return it and request a replacement item. This is your right, no matter the circumstances.

Fifteen years of wear on a sweater is a little over the top. If you manage to get fifteen years of wear on a sweater, then the product has been exceptionally good. Instead of trying to get another “free” item of similar quality, just buy another sweater. It’s pretty obvious that the reason for the “lifetime guarantee” is not to give you freebies if you wear a sweater to death, but to protect against a weak seam discovered after several wearings over a few years or something like that. By trying to squeeze a free sweater through this loophole, you’re basically taking advantage of a good company that puts effort into producing quality products – the kind of company we need more of, not the kind we should push out of business.

My take on this is somewhere in the middle. If I had an item that had worn out from regular use, I would not use a lifetime guarantee to try to get a free replacement. However, if I had a sweater that suddenly failed after a few years due to a weak seam or something along those lines, I’d unquestionably call in that lifetime guarantee.

To me, a very well-made item that simply lives out a long, natural lifetime is a very good product, while lifetime guarantees are there to protect you against faulty products. I have quite a lot of respect for companies that produce material with a high enough level of quality that they can provide a lifetime guarantee on it – that means that, under normal wear and tear, it’ll have a long lifetime.

If something goes wrong in the middle, I expect that lifetime guarantee to hold up. But if my long-loved sweater winds up being worn down enough that it becomes the padding on my dog’s bed, I don’t feel that I should be awarded a free replacement. The product did exactly what was advertised and did it very well – I’m deeply satisfied with it.

I guess that my impression of the situation in the question comes down to the sweater itself. If it had only been worn five or ten times in that fifteen year period and the sweater degraded enough that the sleeve fell off due to such little wear and tear, the lifetime guarantee should be invoked. However, if that sweater had been worn several times a year and was obviously nearing the end of a natural lifetime, it’s not frugal to demand a replacement – it’s cheap.

What do you think? Would you demand a replacement item if your item had a lifetime guarantee and you used it frequently to the end of a long natural life?

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