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Know when to skimp and when to splurge

Have you ever noticed that people skimp on the strangest things?

For example, I moved into a new office complex at Blue Sky Factory and the new place had neither a coffeemaker nor a filtered water system. However, the new place has plenty of other expensive amenities like a giant office printer.

I’ve noticed this when people purchase electronics. They’ll spend thousands on a new laptop and then skimp on memory or drive space, two items that will make a giant difference in their experience with the laptop. They’ll commit to buying an iPhone or an Android and then will get the smallest, lowest cost amount of memory possible.

Photos from Washington DCI’ve noticed this at hotels, especially. Hotels will have 300 thread count sheets on the bed but will have sandpaper in the bathroom, making your stay there a literal pain in the ass.

Why do we skimp on some items and splurge on others?

I suspect it’s largely what gets our attention and what mindset we’re in when we’re making purchases. Toilet paper and coffee seem like commodities to us, while laptops and sheets may not be, at least not mentally. The more we buy of something, the less we may be inclined to pay attention to the quality of what we’re buying. The more mundane and unsexy something is – like toilet paper or laptop memory – the less we are inclined to pay attention to it.

The paradox is that some of these commodities make a bigger difference in the richness of our experiences than the highly focused items. I’d gladly take last year’s laptop stuffed full of memory and disk space over the latest and greatest machine that’s starved for operating resources. I’d gladly trade down a model of office printer for a coffeemaker or water filter on site – and I’d bet a company would generate far more productivity via the coffee machine than the copy machine. I’m more likely to stay at a hotel where the quality of experience is more even – nicer toilet paper, slightly rougher sheets (I can’t tell the difference between 200 thread count and 300 thread count, honestly) – rather than luxury sheets and a roughed up bottom.

Want to make a difference in your own life? Look at the nearly unconscious choices you make while spending and evaluate whether or not a slight upgrade could have a major but quiet impact on your quality of life. Some things won’t matter – generic , white label sugar at the grocery store is no different than Brand Name sugar. Some things will matter a great deal – a slightly better kind of coffee may taste MUCH better to you.

Here’s a relatively simple rule of thumb: the more you use it, the more you should invest in quality. If you’re buying a stereo, for example, and you plan to use it once a year, it probably won’t matter what you buy. If you plan to use it every day for 8 hours a day, buy a very nice stereo because crappy sound will make you feel worse rather than better. If you drink coffee once in a blue moon, buy any quality of coffee and coffeemaker. If you drink coffee several times daily, buy decent coffee and a good quality machine.

Look for opportunities to trade expenses as well. For example, at this office space, the employees (lacking access to a filtered water system) bring tons of bottled water and buy Starbucks every day. Rather than chew up money doing that, it makes much more sense to get a countertop pitcher that will filter water to a better quality than even bottled can deliver (you do know that 30% or more of bottled water is someone else’s municipal tap water, yes?) and brew your own higher quality coffee rather than drop $5 a cup to the coffee shop. No one loses out except the bottled water company and the corporate coffee shop.

Are you skimping and splurging in the right places for maximum quality of life on the same fixed budget?

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