Updated on 08.06.08

The Cost Of An Item Is More Than Just The Sticker Price

Trent Hamm

I’m a big believer in the idea that buying a quality product (by quality, I don’t necessarily mean the most expensive – keep reading) is worth the extra money you put in versus finding the absolute cheapest deal.

A couple months ago, I discussed looking at the total cost of ownership when buying an appliance. While TCO is a great tool to use when figuring out a purchase, it is far from the only tool you should be using.

Take, for example, diapers. I’ve been criticized on here before for spending far too much on diapers because of our loyalty to Pampers Cruisers (and their infant version, Pampers Swaddlers). We often pay roughly a quarter per diaper for these, which really adds up over the two years your child is in diapers considering you can get many generic brand diapers for ten cents a pop (or occasionally less than that).

So why do we pay so much extra? The Cruisers simply do not fail, period. We’ve never had a single one break or bust open on us. With the exception of periods of heavy teeting, they have never caused our child to have any diaper rash at all. The only leakage we have ever seen was in cases of intense diarrhea when he was ill or when we were keeping him in a small size for too long and he would urinate in the night (our own fault for exceeding the weight on the box). They’re very easy to put on, the tape never fails, and the elastic works quite well for ensuring a snug fit. We tried other diapers (we actually asked for a wide variety of them as baby shower gifts) and they all had problems of various kinds except for the Swaddlers and Cruisers. Even with just that narrow price difference, it costs an extra $876 to use those diapers over a period of two years (8 diapers a day).

We pay the extra $0.15 per diaper to cover other costs. The cost of extra time invested when a diaper breaks open. The cost of frustration when these things happen just as you’re trying to get out the door to go on a trip or get to work. The cost of the occasional diaper that would be thrown away with a break on the tape. The cost of additional laundry and wipes when his diaper leaks all over the place.

These are costs, too, and to us, they’re an important part of being frugal. When you include all of the costs, buying these diapers makes our lives simpler. Diaper disasters simply do not happen, and that has saved us countless incidents of frustration and cleaning.

The same principle applies to any consumer purchase. As I mentioned in the earlier article about total cost of ownership, even though I was spending much more up front on a more expensive washing machine, over a long period, it became much cheaper. This only discusses money – by buying a known reliable washing machine, we incur many fewer incidents where the washing machine is on the fritz or it needs replacing, which means less frustration, fewer repair calls, and fewer trips to the appliance store to pick out a new one. These are real costs, too – they may be harder to quantify, but they have an effect on your life.

How do you know what to buy? I turn to a well-known consumer publication – they may not be perfect, but they are impartial and their resources for investigation far exceed mine. I trust their word for consumer goods and appliances and I fanatically use their online archives that are available to subscribers.

This doesn’t mean I don’t look for great, cheap solutions. I’m a big believer in my homemade laundry detergent, for example; I tried it side-by-side with some of the Consumer Reports choices and mine did just as well, even with highly stained clothes. For me, looking at all of the costs (and not just the money ones), making my own batch of detergent in a five gallon bucket is the best option.

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  1. Erin says:

    The concept that the cost of something is not just the moneyin your article reminded me of trying to save money on the trash bags we are required to use here in our town to contain our garbage for pickup. I tried the cheaper, generic brand, but the frustration of the bags ripping and having to rebag or place one bag inside another was just too much cost. Not only having to use the second bag, but cleaning the mess up when they busted. I have gone now to a more expensive, but better quality trash bag and it is well worth it.

  2. Mike says:

    We made the exact same choice about diapers. We’d seen many friends go for the cheapest diapers, yet they frequently had leaks and blowouts. This can obviously ruin an outing. Also the expense and discomfort of a child with more rashes cannot really be measured. A baby’s discomfort and irritation can easily lead to parents being frustrated and irritated as well. Good to hear someone else feels the same way. Good choice.


  3. David says:

    Why not just use cloth diapers, which both save money and help the environment? A few couples I know do that and they say it is so much better for the baby (no plastic and chemicals) and better for their wallet. We plan on going this route as soon as our first comes along.

  4. Aaron Kulbe says:

    This makes me think about Mac vs. PC.

    As a long-time sysadmin of Windows networks, I was a Mac basher.

    Then I used one for a month. I never looked back.

    The user experience has been *SO* good, and I spend more time *using* my computer, rather than working on it.

    All of this has already been talking about on a million other sites….

    There is a bit of price premium, but you get what you pay for. It’s worth the extra money.

  5. kim says:

    I completely agree with the cloth diaper post above. However, if you must go with disposables, a roll of duct tape is an essential item. I think it’s funny that you would rather spend an extra $1.20 per day than deal with the major catashrophe of tape failure. If the tape comes off, then just attatch the diaper together with a little piece of duct tape. Your son is quickly approaching the stripper age and those diapers are coming off no matter what you do! I put a piece of duct tape across the front to cover both tapes. This helped cure the stripping. For the “I sleep in the nude” two year old phase, try PJ’s with zippers in the back! Your estimates of the length of time in diapers is also way off the average child is about three years old when they potty train. That brings you up to over a thousand dollars thrown away on premium diapers! The one thing I take issue with in your blog is your rigidity. You religously adhere to things like consumer reports and strict lists and procedures. A lot of time I think your inflexiblity inhibits your efforts to be frugal. Frugality is as much an artistic endevor as a financial one. You need to think outside the box more!!!

  6. Dorky Dad says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Trent. Value for your dollar trumps price every time.

    I never thought a $100+ vacuum was worth it until I realized I was burning through $60 vacuums every 4-5 years (+ the cost of vacuum bags). My Dyson DC07 has made me a customer for life.

  7. Tyler says:

    What the people above said about cloth diapers being better for the baby because there is no plastic and “chemicals” is complete RUBBISH! You guys actually think the ingredients in the plastic is going to leak into a baby’s body?!?! Are you kidding me? I am now dumber for reading something so obtuse. Yes, cloth may be cheaper, but there are some things people must do to keep the parent’s sanity, as well as a baby’s, and diapers are one thing I would not skimp out on. Environment? Again, are you kidding me? Stop driving your car and live in a box – even then, you’ll still pollute the Earth. The Earth was here before us, and it will be when we go – there is no stopping pollution.

  8. SJ says:


    never pay full price for diapers (even name brand)
    we prefer the cruisers too.

  9. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Kim, when I talk about a diaper bust, I’m not just talking about tape – though a pain, that’s fixable. I’m talking about the material inside ripping to shreds while he’s wearing it, liquid spilling out, and so on. This happened a lot with other brands. Plus, I don’t typically want to deal with these issues when I’m trying to get to work in fifteen minutes. Thus, reliability is a very important cost factor for me.

    The point of it was to find the costs for you – everyone has different cost factors that they take into account. If you have the time to regularly deal with split diaper tape, leaks, and such things, then you should buy cheaper diapers. That’s not a rigid approach at all.

  10. David says:

    Wow Tyler you sure are angry about this. Why is that? It’s a fact that chemicals in goods we wear can have an effect on our bodies, and besides that, the diapers all end up in landfills where they never biodegrade…they just sit there for years and years and years. It’s ok if you prefer plastic diapers for your baby, but to be actually angry about people trying to do better is odd.

  11. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    David: cloth diapers require a significant time investment, which is a cost, or they require the cost of a cleaning service. For you, the environment is a larger cost than for, say, Tyler. That’s the point of this article – there are more costs in a purchase decision than merely the money involved, and those costs are different for different people.

  12. David says:

    Hi Trent…I understand the cost vs. time argument and I can appreciate it. As for a cleaning service, you can wash them at home like my friends or my mom did for us. Either way, I like the article and it makes sense, I just wanted to throw another option in the fire. As for Tyler, I can understand not wanting to take on this additional “cost”, but I was making a point that he was angry about it instead of just making his argument, that’s all. Thanks Trent!

  13. Monica says:

    Tyler, some of us care about keeping our home planet in good condition. This doesn’t mean we “live in a box”. It means we keep the environmental factor in mind when we make decisions. (Sometimes cheaper cost and environmentally good go hand in hand. Sometimes you may only be able to pick two of: environment, cheap, easy/quick.)

  14. Laurie says:

    I have to say I believe that everyone should use what works for them. I love whitecloud diapers from Walmart. When my daughter was born we also tried every brand of diapers out there. All of them, including pampers, luvs, huggies leaked or left red marks on her legs (yes they were the right size) We finally tried whitecloud and they worked great. Sometimes you just have to try everything until you find what is right for you no matter what the cost. Right now she is potty trained during the day but, we are still working on nighttime. She wears only pullups for night, no other brand works for us. What ever it takes to keep your sanity is worth the extra money!!

    Also I agree with Kim about the two years in diapers being off. My oldest was a little over 3 when she was completely out of diapers. My youngest is 2 and she has no interest in potty training at all.

  15. Michelle says:

    I’ve been a nanny for 6 1/2 years, taking care of many infants/toddlers and changing hundreds and hundreds of diapers of all different brands. Pampers Swaddlers/Cruisers are absolutely the BEST diapers out there. In fact, when I started reading The Simple Dollar months ago, I literally cheered when I read Trent’s original diaper article. I’ve seen parents switch from Pampers to some store brand to save some money…their son had a diaper explosion SO bad that he was covered from neck to toes with poop! It took 2 of us to hold him, our arms outstretched, and hose him down in the bathtub. I knew another family that bought cheap diapers and had to put their sons in 2 diapers every night to sleep to prevent leaks. Is that really worth it? I’ve NEVER had an issue with the premium Pampers. I’m years away from having kids of my own, but my husband has already been informed that we’ll be using Swaddlers/Cruisers exclusively. After hearing my horror stories, he’s more than happy to agree.

  16. Sick of Debt says:

    We have the same mindset with dishwasher detergent. We recently installed a dishwasher in our house and were using the Aldi brand to save money, but the problem we had was that our dishes weren’t getting clean. We ended up trying different brands and found a generic at a higher-end store that worked great for us.

  17. Adam says:

    Yeah, we went with cloth. We got our stuff on eBay, washed it our selves, air dried it. Our three kids didn’t seem to mind – no diaper rash. We saved thousands over the time we diapered, both from the re-usability of the diapering equipment, and from the early toilet training – when kids know they’re wet in a cloth diaper, they’re more receptive to learning the toilet skill.

    Another benefit of cloth diapers is you don’t have to pay someone to throw them away after a single use. That garbage fee costs a lot over time, in the form of higher per-bag removal fees, and higher taxes as the landfills fill up with human waste filled disposables (which are #3 in terms of volume of landfill space consumed), and new ones must be established – this takes money too.

    Disposable diapers are good for traveling, but when you are home, cloth diapers are, at least for me, the clear economic choice.

  18. When making large purchases, after doing all of the research footwork, I’ve always purchased just above the level I’m comfortable at. I’ve never been unhappy with my choices, even though initial costs may be higher. Those times when I haven’t followed my own advice, I’ve often been sorry to get poor quality stuff.

  19. Tyler says:

    I am not angry at all. Just using stern words to express my view. No anger though. David, we have to bury trash anyway so what is the matter with diapers (fact: diapers degrade in 100 years) when they are in the ground where we can’t see them?!? For me, I’m an avid outdoorsmen and hunter and do care about the environment greatly – God created this Earth and I want to keep it clean just like you. I just don’t want to see pollution. If it’s kept in a controlled landfill, I see no problems with it. All I am saying,

  20. Diana says:

    Financially and practically speaking, Trent, (putting the environmental opinions aside) I couldn’t agree with you more regarding the quality of the diaper being a huge factor in deciding what brand/type to buy.

  21. Kathy says:

    Before we switched to cloth, we used Cruisers. I had friends who used the generics who always talked about how much more they “saved” than we did.

    Then I asked one of them to keep track of how many diapers they used and I would do the same, then we would compare the costs. (Our kids were born within four days of each other, so age differences were minimal.)

    They used so many more diapers than we did, because of blowouts and just because they are simply not as absorbent. We still spent a small amount more on the Cruisers than they did, but it wasn’t the 15 cents that it might appear to be on the outside. Between coupons and a sale that brought the price of the Cruisers down and their increased use, they saved about 4 cents per.

    They also did nastier laundry than I did (poo blowouts) and spent more time and trouble than I did.

    Even so, we switched to cloth soon after, and we’re much happier with that.

  22. Jim Lippard says:

    Dorky Dad made almost the same exact point I came to the comments to make, but I’ll make it again anyway. We go through a vacuum cleaner every couple of years or so, and have two at all times because one often needs to go in for repair–probably because we have three dogs, and they do a lot of shedding. We’ve always used $150-$200 vacuum cleaners, but after my mother-in-law’s experience with Dyson, we picked up a DC21 Stowaway (we got 20% off via walletbuddy.com). Her Dyson has gone 5 years so far without a problem–if we can make it to four, we’ll be ahead of the game.

  23. 60 in 3 says:

    Tyler, the point is that even landfill has costs. It’s not some endless hole in the ground that things disappear into. You pay taxes to keep landfills running. You pay taxes to keep garbage services running. You pay garbage fees to keep the garbage trucks running to your house. All of these fees add up.

    Also, landfills are not invisible objects that have no effect on their surroundings. Landfills emit gases, they emit smells that decrease property value and they can leech chemicals and pollution into groundwater and nearby creeks or rivers.

    These are all called hidden costs. They’re costs you don’t associate with the item you’re buying but are still indirectly caused by it. So keep them in mind next time you’re making a purchasing decision.


  24. Rachel says:

    Trent is right about factoring in your time, comfort level, etc.. I am a huge fan of Amy Dacyczyn, the Tightwad Gazette. Her books were what first got me into frugal living. Amy grows most of her own vegetables and cans them. She highly recommends this as a way to cut your food costs, but lets take some things into consideration. She lives in Maine where the summers are mild. I live in Florida, grew up here and spent a lot of my childhood summers with relatives in Alabama. I picked vegetable everywhere I went. I shelled peas and beans until my fingers were sore. Is the taste superior? You bet!! But fast forward thirty years, I am no longer 10 years old and this Florida heat gets to me. I also have some problems with my joints and laboring in a garden would not help that condition at all. I do not have free well water, I live in a small town, and I have to pay for the water usage. Also we are in draught conditions at present. so I look at it this way, I can pay $1.00 for a can of green beans at Publix, .50 for a can at Wal-mart, or .37 for a can at Save-A-Lot. They all taste the same to me, Del Monte, Green Giant, and the save a lot brand. So this is pretty much a no-brainer. Whenever I am in Save A lot I buy several cans. Now that summer is here, I do enjoy stopping by the local fruit and vegetable markets for some fresh things, it is a real treat. But gardening at this point in my life is not really an option. I’m sure I could do it, after all it is something I am familiar with, and one day I might. But for now I am sticking with buying the best deals I can get at the supermarket.

  25. My daughter just got potty-trained this week. She took to it really well actually, and I certainly won’t miss the cost (or the changing, which actually wasn’t too bad until she was learning to swing and “legs out, lets in” became the changing mantra). We were determined to use cloth diapers too, being Frugal and all, but that never really took for some reason. I think in the first couple of weeks we were just so exhausted that we sort of fell into a “some thing are just worth the cost” mode.

    When you start to put it into terms like $800 over two years though… ouch.

  26. Lisa says:

    When mine was in diapers we used disposable. I remember parents having preferences then and I hear people at work passionately discussing which is better even now 13 years later. I came to the conclusion that babies bodies are built slightly different (fat, skinny, chubby, ect.). These differences contributed to the success/failure of different brands. When mine was tiny I mostly used pampers, but as he got older I tried a Kmart brand for free and they were just as good for a lot less so I switched. However, if I had had problems at night as discribed by others here I would have bought a bag of pampers for night time use and Kmart for day use. I have little brand loyalty and am/was always open to possibilities. Blending approaches can save alot of money, it doesn’t always have to be either/or.

  27. Mardee says:

    I had to laugh at this – my daughter is in her late 20’s now, but when she was little, as a single parent, I had very little money so I scrimped and saved. Right after she was born, I was on a diaper panel at P&G and received them for free. However, when the panel was over, I couldn’t afford Pampers so I bought the cheaper kind and was perfectly happy. Looking back, there were very few blowouts and/or diaper rash incidents – she was totally breast-fed until she was 10 months old, which may have had something to do with it. Sure, there were some – but if someone had asked me at that time to pay almost $900 so I could avoid them, I would have laughed hysterically. I guess this post is in keeping with your other one today – about how money is relative. :)

  28. Vince says:

    We, my wife and I, have tried and tried and tried to get this point across to my sister. Sometimes you pay more up front cause the darn thing will last! Argh! We also grew tired of another friend who was always complaining about thier car (won’t mention brand so no flaming) having this problem and that problem. And when they got a new one (same brand) more of the same problems. Now they traded in – for another of the same brand! They ask us about our cars (um…no brand here) which we have had for nearly 300,000 miles together but cost about 30% more than thier problem cars. They said they can’t afford to put that much out. I said we couldn’t afford as much downtime.

  29. Ted Valentine says:

    We buy the least expensive diapers. We very rarely have problems with rashes or blowouts. Both of those problems are almost always a product of not changing your kid when they’re dirty, not the diaper.

    The only real difference in the Pampers and store brand diapers is the cartoon characters are cooler on the Pampers.

  30. MrsC says:

    For all you cloth diaper proponents: even though I am a disposable diaper customer, I have always assumed that cloth diapers were more environmentally friendly than plastic. Turns out, that’s not entirely true. Increased energy consumption to run washers and dryers and the tremendous amount of water you use to wash cloth diapers, not to mention the quantities of detergent (whether “natural” or not, they are all a chemical of some kind) makes cloth diapers as much of a drain on the earth as disposables. So if that’s your only reason for using them, I’d reconsider.

  31. Jimbo the Great says:

    I would have to agree on the diapers. I’ve tried buying small packs of other, less costly brands and they just don’t hold up to the same abuse that pampers do. In fact the only problem I’ve ever had with them was when our baby was on an antibiotic and was having really bad BMs. A garbage bag and duct tape couldn’t have held those things.
    Jimbo the Great

  32. Gene says:

    I don’t know what is wrong with all of your kids! We have used cheap diapers with all three of our children, and haven’t had the kinds of experiences described here. We find name-brand diapers to be a huge waste of money. Guess we’ll just count our blessings (and our dimes–one every diaper change at least!).

  33. Yvette says:

    Pamers are the BEST diapers but if you have a couple of kids in diapers at the same it’s just not feasible. I find that Walmarts Parents Choice diapers are just as good as Luvs (not Pampers)which was good enough for my boys. They did have a few “blow outs” but after I went up a size that problem was eliminated. I think many of you are being too hard on Trent. If he feels that Pampers are the best for HIS family, then who are we to say otherwise? We should all do what’s best for OUR families.

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