[Zac Doege is a business strategist living in Los Angeles, California. He enjoys hip hop and restaurants.]
Should you be spending on quality?
A friend of mine works for a high-end men’s clothing store, where most items are artisan crafted. The boots, coats, and knits sold there are certainly some of the highest quality pieces of apparel available. The boots may even last you for life (with a couple resoles and proper care). The flip side is of course that a pair of these boots can run you north of $600.
This is all fine. Anyone who has walked into Barney’s once just to look has seen bigger affronts to their wallet. My friends manager commented to him that younger people (in their 20s / millennials) don’t frequent the shop because they don’t care about quality. This made me think about what my own stance is on quality goods.
I’m an investor (both in the traditional sense and figuratively). When I spend money, I always factor in the opportunity cost of not having that money to spend somewhere else. In addition, my goal is not to spend the least possible (ultra frugalism) but to derive the most value from each dollar spent. Value is subjective to everyone and it is expected that your “values” will change frequently and rapidly. This is the type of thing you should be testing and experimenting with nonstop.
A $600 pair of boots is not just losing $600 dollars. That’s the incorrect, ultra frugal way of thinking. It’s $600 for a pair of quality boots. These boots will represent value in your life. If you wear them everyday for 10 years and they hold up, that is a pretty awesome value. If you never wear them, that is effectively no value. So of course you need to weigh $600 versus the projected value of the item. You also need to weigh $600 versus all the alternative pairs of boots that might give you similar value, like a $300 pair of boots that will last you a few years. You will not even be able to accurately ascertain the value of an item over the long term but you can estimate. Finally, you need to weigh $600 versus every other thing you could spend $600 on. This is the opportunity cost, and this is where things get interesting.
With no additional investments $600 invested as a 25 year old could be worth about $3,309 in 35 years (5% interest). The specifics aren’t important, but this opens the question of whether you would have a pair of boots now or $3k in retirement. The answer still may be boots. You should also compare to other $600 items, or multiple cheaper items. You could get a gym membership for a year ($50/month) or a pair of sneakers and a summer wardrobe (tees and shorts). You could fly somewhere and stay in a hotel for two nights (depends where you go of course). You get the idea.
I would argue that twenty-somethings should not be obsessing over quality. We know that the vast majority of twenty-somethings do not have 6-12 months living expenses saved, they do not contribute to a retirement account (401k or IRA) and most have more student debt greater than their total net worth. The real kicker is that money invested in your 20s has far more compounding potential than money invested in your 40s. Following pure math, beginning investing as soon as possible can be better than investing more later (because compound interest).
I won’t say that a $600 pair of boots is never a smart move for a twenty something, but if you have debt or don’t have a cushion of savings, I would think twice. There is nothing wrong with rocking dirty Vans while you aggressively crush debt. Twenty somethings should be working their asses off, paying down debt or putting it on autopilot (I prefer paying it off if at all feasible. If it isn’t anywhere near realistic then the goal would be to earn more money first with your career or business), and trying to achieve career / business success. If you are the exception and don’t have any of these problems, then buy the boots if you want them. Compare all the other options though because $600 can get you a lot in life.
This goes for boots, watches, all clothes, furniture, even electronics. Nobody will think twice about a twenty-something wearing Vans and buying IKEA furniture. In fact if you have fancy things and can’t afford them, people will think you are irresponsible / stupid (you are). This is important to repeat because everyone is after your money, and the least you can do is not buy things that actually make you seem foolish.
This isn’t meant to be a Debby-downer post just because it mentions student debt. I am 100% against feeling guilty about spending habits. It’s irrelevant. Just survey where you are at and fix it. I will write another article on automating your financial infrastructure.
For now do this:
Find all the ways money exits your account: credit card, debit card, auto-pay, payroll deduction, cash etc. Review the monthly statements and determine where money could be spent more efficiently. Can you cancel a few things? Are you spending too much on clothes? Be ruthless about what you care about. What can you absolutely ignore (who cares) and what would it really hurt to give up. For me, I don’t care about concerts / festivals or going to the movies. I buy cheap furniture. I buy cheap shampoo. It would hurt to give up going out to eat. You want to find the easy wins (subscriptions you never use or impulse buys on shit you don’t want). It’s important to be extremely introspective here. You need to perfect the art of “conscious spending”. This problem will still exist when you have more money because you will be less price sensitive and will more easily waste money. This exercise is fundamental and remain with you throughout life.