Over the last several months, I’ve answered a big handful of “buy it for life” questions in the reader mailbag. Because the answers to those questions have been so spread out, a few people recently have asked me if there is a single place where they can go to find all of the “buy it for life” recommendations I’ve made in the reader mailbags.
That’s exactly what this post is – a collection of the “buy it for life” tips from previous reader mailbags, rewritten a bit to include updated information as I’ve found it.
What Is ‘Buy It for Life’?
Before we dive in, it makes sense to define what exactly “buy it for life” means. In its simplest form, it means that you’re buying an item where reliability and lifespan are the most important factors. These items just work and they keep working.
Why do this? For starters, it’s not wasteful. You’re not going to be throwing away items constantly because they failed for some reason. It also means you’ll have very reliable items, so you can place a lot of trust on those items always working. You’ll also avoid having to go through many replacement cycles for your items, meaning that the more expensive purchase now will save you multiple purchases – and the time spent on each purchase – down the line.
However, price is also a factor here, too. It’s usually expected that a truly “buy it for life” item will be more expensive than a random item off the shelf. However, there are times where truly “buy it for life” items are so expensive that they don’t make sense. In that case, the best low-cost solution is usually the superior option, because even if you buy several replacements for that item over the rest of your life, it’s still going to be drastically cheaper than the ultra-expensive “buy it for life” option.
It’s also worth noting that these suggestions here are my recommendations, made up of a mix of my own experience and the experience of people that I trust who may have expertise with that specific item. There may be better recommendations, but I stand by these as very good recommendations at the very least.
The Big List
Here are the specific items covered in this article. Just click on the link to hop down to the discussion on that specific item!
“What About THIS Item?!”
If you have a specific item that doesn’t appear here for which you’d like a “buy it for life” recommendation, send it to me! Visit my Facebook page and send me a message there. I’ll get to the item in a future reader mailbag and it may also show up in a future volume of this “buy it for life” compendum.
Pots and Pans
Many baby items aren’t “buy it for life” at all because, frankly, your baby is going to grow up awfully fast. Most baby clothes only get worn a few times before that little one just outgrows them. Before you blink, they’re transitioning away from milk to table foods, too, and then they’re learning how to get potty trained.
The biggest question with “buy it for life” and babies is whether you plan on having more children. If you’re not planning on that, then “buy it for life” doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning because most of your items will be used for a few months and then passed along to a relative or to Goodwill or to a children’s consignment shop.
If you are going to have multiple children, I highly suggest cloth diapering as it will save you a mint and drastically reduce your garbage production. We used BumGenius, which are pricy up front, but if you use them approximately three dozen times, you reach the break-even cost against disposables and after that it’s much, much cheaper.
We used BumGenius for three children during their first year or two of life and we found them to be very easy to use, very easy to clean, easy to adjust, and very reliable. They’re still quite usable, even after three children used them extensively.
Beyond that, it’s still difficult to make “buy it for life” recommendations, so I’ll just suggest a few of the best things we used. We used Playtex VentAire BPA-free bottles that worked well through all three children, though most bottles should survive that. Sarah used a Medela Pump-in-Style for all three children, though we didn’t use it much with our third one since Sarah stayed home with him until he was almost a year old. It worked great all throughout, but you’d expect that. We handed down blankets, clothes, baby beds, and all sorts of items like that, but again, most should survive three children.
For me personally – someone who mostly wants a pack to take on family excursions and to the library – I love the North Face Recon. It is a great day pack for the purposes mentioned above. I can carry my laptop, a tablet computer, a notebook for writing, several pens, chargers, a few books, some sandwiches, a few beverages, a small game or two, and more in there without skipping a beat. I’ve been using this bag for quite a while now and it still looks new.
If I traveled a lot, I’d probably look at picking up the slightly larger North Face Surge II. It meets the carry-on requirements of most airlines and folds open in a unique way for airport security checks so you don’t have to dig out your laptop. This bag would probably serve me as the only bag I would need on a three day trip that didn’t require formal business attire.
For me, the North Face bags are the best bang for the buck out there. The one I’m most familiar with is a North Face Recon which barely shows wear after almost ten years of use and it costs less than $80, so that would be my pick.
I consider the typical $10-$20 belt from department stores to not be worth the money. They wear out quickly as they’re made with really cheap leather and fasteners that deteriorate shockingly fast.
On the other hand, I’ve been using a men’s Carhartt anvil belt for years. It has never fallen apart and has worn extremely well. In terms of “bang for the buck,” this blows away my experience with belts from department stores.
I have heard incredibly good things about Orion Leather (yes, you’d have an Orion’s belt). A friend of mine has one and it’s very thick; I think it would last a very, very long time, but they’re quite expensive. This would be a “10-year” belt, whereas I’d describe the Carhartt belt as a “five-year” belt, and the typical department store belt as a “one-year” belt (if you’re lucky).
We own a Blendtec that we got at a surprisingly cheap rate a few years ago. It works like an absolute champ. The only time I’ve ever had a difficult time blending anything in it was when I had too high of a proportion of solids to liquids in there, meaning that the materials didn’t shift enough for the solids to blend. This was my own mistake more than anything else and things blend perfectly when we have a reasonable amount of liquid in there.
Here’s the exact blender we own. I blend things almost daily with this item and it works exactly the same after five years as it did the day we opened the box.
I have two different friends who own Vitamix blenders and speak very highly of them. I’ve seen them in operation and they work very well.
The Vitamix blender is a bit more expensive, but the warranty on it is longer than the Blendtec. Still, I have heard nothing but positive stories about both blenders and I’ve seen nothing but excellent performance from both.
As I’m not that familiar with work boots, I asked three of my friends who have worked or currently work in construction. Two of them said that they buy cheap boots that wear out pretty quickly.
The other one gave an interesting suggestion. He said he’s owned a pair of Red Wing boots that have lasted for four years now. He has extremely steady work in construction.
I looked at some of the boots there that seemed like they’d be good for construction (8″ boots with steel toes) and they are pricy. However, there are construction workers that have claimed lifespans of ten years or more from these boots. That’s an incredible lifespan compared to my other friends who say that new boots are an annual purchase.
For the small number of Christmas lights that people hang on their home, there isn’t really a cost-effective “buy it for life” option.
If you buy residential-grade LED lights, you’re paying a little more up front for lights that will use less energy. You’ll make up the difference over a few years, but that’s roughly the life of the strand. The more you use it each year (meaning the greater the number of days and the hours per day), the better the value of LED becomes.
Having said that, residential Christmas lights are not well constructed. They’re mostly made of a fairly flimsy plastic that can last for a number of Christmases if you’re careful with them, but will never last for lots of years. They’re just not made for that.
The problem is that buying lights that are designed to last for many years – commercial-grade strand lighting – is basically cost prohibitive for most home buyers. They’re substantially more expensive than the LED strands, but they will last for a long time. I’ve seen strands of commercial-quality lights that have been around for decades.
The catch? You’ll be spending hundreds of dollars in lights and probably invest a lot of time in them, too. It’s just not worth it for a home situation for most people.
I can’t possibly speak more highly of the duffel bags from Best American Duffel. I use one for short trips all the time after I got tired of using cheaper bags from department stores. I have one that’s the #4 size, but you may want a smaller one for your needs.
If you’re looking for another option, check out the offerings at your nearest army surplus store. Again, their items might be too big for your needs.
My biggest complaint with cheaper duffel bags is that the zippers always fail on me. Cheap plastic zippers never seem to last. If there’s one upgrade I want on almost anything I buy that uses a zipper, it’s a big, fat, sturdy metal zipper.
It is basically impossible to buy electronics for life. It’s not a matter of having the “newest and greatest” thing all the time. The issue is actually complexity.
Electronics are complex devices. There are many, many points of potential failure in an electronic device. Even if you buy a very expensive device, if even one resistor or capacitor fails unexpectedly (out of many inside a device), it can cause your device to fail.
I try to buy electronics with a seven- to 10-year lifespan. If I can get seven full years out of an electronic item, I’m pretty happy with that. Naturally, I’ll keep using it until it ceases to function.
That’s far, far from “buy it for life,” but it reflects the reality of home electronics.
Gloves depend heavily on what you intend to use them for. Are you using them daily for a variety of outdoor tasks that may damage your gloves? Are you mostly looking for occasional warmth? You’re buying very different gloves for these purchases.
I asked a few people I know who do a lot of outdoor work for the glove they’d recommend for lasting a long time and two of them suggested the Ringer Roughneck. They’re a bit pricy, but they come highly recommended for resisting punctures and not wearing out for a long while.
Another option is to just buy cheap gloves in bulk from a farm supply store. You can buy dozens of pairs of cheap gloves for the same price as one pair of really sturdy gloves and the bundle of cheap gloves will probably last longer.
I’d recommend either of those approaches over mid-range gloves that wear out annually on whatever tasks you’re doing.
Here’s the truth – most blue jeans you buy have already been pre-treated both for appearance and to reduce their lifespan so that you have to buy more in the future. People often want jeans that look a certain way and thus will pay for pre-damaged jeans to match that look, even though that means a shorter lifespan.
My suggestion is to look for jeans with minimum pre-treatment. Jeans that already look worn at the store, like lighter-colored jeans, are usually destined to have a shorter life span.
Aside from that, unless you’re willing to pay a tailor or something, my suggestion is to trust Consumer Reports, who beat on denim like there’s no tomorrow. They usually recommend Levi’s. So, if you can find untreated or minimally treated Levi’s at a good price, that’s what I would get.
Consumer microwaves are designed only for occasional use. They simply aren’t “buy it for life” material, unfortunately, unless you get into ones designed to be used in a commercial environment.
Commercial microwaves are generally much more expensive for what you get in terms of features, but they tend to last a very long time and usually cook much faster than consumer microwaves.
I’ve had experience using this Sharp commercial microwave. It uses an analog dial instead of a touchpad for cooking and doesn’t have a temperature control, but the one I know of has worked well for a very, very long time. Without pushing toward the four-figure area, this would probably be my pick for a “buy it for life” microwave.
I received a Leatherman Wave as a gift about ten years ago and I absolutely love the thing. Except for a few times when I’ve misplaced it (usually due to using it and forgetting to put it back in my pocket), I’ve constantly had it around ever since. The only complaint I have about it is that some of the inner tools are sometimes hard for me to pull out with my large hands.
If you’re looking for something smaller, two of my friends swear by their Leatherman Wingman. It’s much less expensive and still has a pretty good blade and selection of tools in a smaller body.
If you’re looking for items besides Leatherman, the Swiss Army knives from Victorinox are solid items. You’d want to study those carefully and choose the one that had the types of tools you actually want. I have several friends that have recommended them, though my actual usage experience is almost entirely with the Leatherman Wave and Wingman.
If I’m just sitting at my desk writing normally, I have yet to find a pen that comes anywhere close to the “bang for the buck” of the Uniball Signo 207 Ultra Micro. I love this pen and I use it for almost everything I do. It is actually one of the best pens I’ve ever used, period, and I’ve used pens costing in the hundreds of dollars.
The best part? They’re about $0.85 a pop if you buy a bunch at once (which I do). When one runs out of ink – and it can take months – I just move to the next one. They come with little plastic dots on the tip to prevent the ink from drying out before you use them.
This is just the best pen around, particularly in terms of “bang for the buck.” Considering that I end up having to toss about half of the pens in a bag of cheap Bics within a few uses because the ink clogs and dries up, they’re not really very expensive at all.
The only problem is that most pens tend to not suffer pocket wear and tear very well, especially in the hip pocket. For those situations, I like to use the Fisher Space Bullet, which has never, ever leaked in my pocket and always writes, no matter what. I’ve run over them and dropped one in a lake without any problems.
The drawback here is the price ($18 or so) and the fact that … well … I tend to lose them. If I put down a Uniball Signo 207 and walk away, I don’t regret it… with a Fisher Space Pen, I do.
Why not an expensive “quality” pen? They still need ink refills, which kind of defeats the purpose of “buy it for life.” Pens inherently need more ink.
I have a few friends that are knife collectors and constant knife carriers and I asked them what they thought. What knives are long lasting, carry a sharp edge for a long time, and cost less than $100?
I actually got a wide variety of answers, but the only knife that they almost all mentioned was the Spyderco Manix 2. Almost every attribute was lauded: sharp, long-lasting blade, very sturdy construction, ease of folding and unfolding, and safety were all mentioned.
I’m a faithful user of my more-than-a-decade-old Leatherman Wave (it’s more of a multitool than a knife, though it does have a functional knife on it), but if I were to pick up a pocketknife for carrying every day, I’d strongly consider this one.
If I have one tip for this category, it’s this: avoid Teflon.
In my experience, the coating on Teflon pans starts to come off at around the five- to seven-year mark. You don’t notice it at first, then one day you actually witness food starting to stick to the pan or you notice a chunk of teflon in your food or you notice rust. In any of those cases, the pan needs to be discarded immediately because you do not want to ingest Teflon.
If you place a high value on nonstick surfaces, the best approach is to buy cast iron items and season them properly. I recommend the various items sold by Lodge. For larger pots and dishes where you’re mostly boiling pasta, baking things, cooking casseroles, and so on, I recommend enameled cast iron, for which Lodge is again a solid choice.
I do personally own a few Le Creuset enameled cast iron items that come with a 101-year warranty, but they’re honestly extremely similar to the Lodge items with a much higher price tag. Lodge items will likely last for your entire life, so just stick with them.
Your solution here is very similar to the solution above: Buy a cast iron skillet and properly season it.
A cast iron skillet – after it’s well-seasoned – will develop a patina that is actually an incredibly good nonstick surface. You have to clean it a bit differently – with a wire brush and water rather than through the dishwasher – but it really works well.
I highly recommend the Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron skillet. While it’s “pre-seasoned,” I still recommend seasoning it a time or two by cooking something really buttery or fatty in it at first. For example, don’t cook eggs in it the first time you use it or else you may have a mess.
A cast iron skillet will last for many, many years of home use and you can cook practically anything in it when it’s well-seasoned.
My general “buy it for life” recommendation for a slow cooker is to go to a thrift store and buy one with a non-digital dial setting, as those things are such simple devices that it’s really hard for them to go haywire.
If you can’t find one, I’d get a three quart model with a manual dial. It’s a great size for feeding two to three people and because it has a manual dial, it will have a really long life span.
If you have a larger family, as we do, I usually recommend looking for a slow cooker with a quart count that’s equal to the number of people you’ll usually be feeding plus one. So, in a five person house, look for a six quart slow cooker. If you’re single, get a two quart slow cooker.
Rather than spending a lot on a spatula, my solution was to buy a very inexpensive bamboo spatula for $1 at the dollar store. My philosophy was that if it did break, it’s going to be easily biodegradable.
It turns out that this bamboo spatula takes a beating and keeps on ticking. It hasn’t broken or even shown significant wear yet, which surprises me.
If I were you, I’d just get an inexpensive bamboo spatula like this one. You can find similar ones for cheaper at dollar stores and they work like a champ.
Underwear, by their nature, are not “buy it for life” items. To make them sturdy enough to last a lifetime would make them rather uncomfortable to wear. Instead, what you want from underwear is comfort balanced with a long life.
My experience has been that the best “bang for the buck” in men’s underwear – and it’s not even close – is the C9 brand sold at Target. It’s usually labeled “C9 by Champion.”
The cost is a little high compared to the other items sold there, but these things just last and last and last. I’m really impressed with them. They’re comfortable and they’re incredibly cheap in terms of cost per use.
Mn inexpensive analog waterproof watch is just what you’re looking for here. You can get these at any department store.
A nice watch isn’t really functionally different than a cheap watch except that it might last a little longer. They do look prettier and they can be a visible badge of affluence, but if you’re looking for that, you likely don’t care too much about buying it for life.
I’ve worn (relatively) cheap watches almost all my life without any problems and my last one lasted for more than a decade. (I eventually chose to stop wearing watches to make myself be more mindful of the moment.)
I can’t really recommend anything specific, but for me, a watch is not a “buy it for life” item.
My honest suggestion is to visit your local Carhartt store. The stuff that Carhartt makes, in terms of lasting for a very long time, giving you good bang for the buck, and keeping you warm in the coldest winter months, is going to be your best bargain.
If you live in a colder area – one that has multiple months with average temperatures below freezing – I would very strongly suggest getting an Arctic quilt lined coat and, depending on how long you’re going to be outside, some similarly-lined snow pants. You’ll also want a stocking cap – they sell those, too. You’ll also want a pair of gloves.
Honestly, the best winter clothing strategy is to dress in layers of ordinary clothes. Long underwear – both tops and bottoms – are vital on the cold days. On the coldest days, I’m usually wearing a t-shirt, a thermal shirt, and my main shirt on top, and thermal pants, sweatpants, and jeans on the bottom under everything else if I’m going outside for a long time. Sure, maybe it’s overkill, but I’d rather have my clothes wick away a bit of sweat if I’m really active than be frozen when I’m standing still.
This post is simply a collection of much of my “buy it for life” advice that I’ve shared over the years. (I’ve probably missed a piece or two, honestly.) Of course, this just scratches the surface of items that people may want to buy to last “for life,” so if you have any additional questions about specific items, please don’t hesitate to ask me via a Facebook message.