Don’t always scrimp
Sometimes trying to save money can actually whisk more cash from your pocket. When you have to replace something because it wears out too quickly or doesn’t do the job, a great bargain can turn into a raw deal.
On the other hand, quality and efficiency can stretch out a dollar. If you’re buying these items, the most frugal move is to pay as much as you can afford upfront.
Forking over more than $1,000 for a sofa may seem extravagant when many stores sell whole living rooms for almost that price. But a pricey sofa is the more cost-efficient investment to save money in the long run.
Before you have that bargain sofa delivered, check it for what the American Home Furnishings Alliance’s hallmarks of quality: firm arms, a heavy, sturdy frame and straight fabric seams. Interior designer Matthew Keller in Kansas City, Mo., adds to the list corner block reinforcements; joints that are glued and screwed together; eight-way, hand-tied springs; and lined-up patterns.
Keller says a “very good” sofa will cost you $1,800 to $2,000. And while the home furnishings association says you can find quality at every price point, a $400 sofa won’t likely be as durable as a higher-end version. It’s the construction of the frame and cushions, not the look of the fabric, that counts.
“Even if you were to wear out a fabric, a good-quality sofa and cushions can be reupholstered,” Keller says.
Suits and separates
If you’re looking for a good men’s suit, expect to spend a minimum of $400, “unless you find a great sale,” says Rachel Weingarten, author of “Career and Corporate Cool.” She recommends buying one or two new suits a year and finding a good tailor who can update their style periodically to save money.
“If you made the investment and bought a really good suit, maybe next season the tailor can cuff it for you or change the buttons,” Weingarten says.
For women in the office, Weingarten says to steer away from matching suits.
“I see so many professional women wearing pants that are maybe a little too tight because they bought them as part of a suit,” she says. “I would say invest in separates that you are going to get more use out of.”
Men’s dress shoes
Sneakers endorsed by superstar athletes aren’t the only footwear that can induce sticker shock. According to Adam Fox, fashion expert at Askmen.com, a men’s lifestyle website, a good pair of men’s dress shoes will cost you $400, ” but a great pair with additional handiwork can go north of $700.”
If you’re shelling out that kind of money for shoes, you should expect to get soft leather, a well-fitting sole and details like channel stitching, a brogue (decorative hole patterns) and burnishing (polishing to a glossy finish), Fox says.
You can extend the wear of your investment and save money by polishing them regularly, storing them on a shoe tree and having a few pairs in regular rotation.
In Weingarten’s view, what corporate women carry in their hands is more important than what they wear on their feet.
“If you can afford to, you should get the really great pair of shoes,” she says. “But if it’s either/or, your handbag or laptop case is what people see in a meeting … so the impact is bigger.”
To save money, Weingarten says go to websites like Gilt.com that offer specials on luxury and designer handbags for $60 to $100. Look for “really good leather, a great neutral and something that has a nice detail in the buckle or the strap,” she says.
Fox says one mistake that men make is buying poor quality belts. How much can you expect to pay for one that won’t crack or fray after a few months’ wear? Brace yourself.
“The best Italian leather-goods companies are starting to come out with lower price points on belts — just under $200,” Fox says.
Wrapping your home in the best insulation can save money on energy.
On his website, BuildItSolar.com, retired engineer Gary Reysa posted an insulation upgrade cost-saving calculator he created. The savings depend on how hot or cold your climate is.
If you live in Orlando, Fla., you would only shave off up to $136.74 over 10 years for upgrading from an R-value of 10 to an R-value of 30 if your home is heated with natural gas, and about $256.49 if you used electricity. In Duluth, Minn., the same upgrade yields up to $3,817.33 in savings over 10 years with natural gas heat and $7,160.29 with electric heat. An R-value is a measure of the insulation material’s capacity to resist heat flow.
Reysa warns that the calculator doesn’t take every heat source into account, so your actual savings may not be as high as the number you get. Areas with cold climates would have the smallest discrepancies.
Swapping your five most frequently used light fixtures or their bulbs for Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent lamps can save money — more than $165 a year, according to Energystar.gov, a U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency website.
Fluorescent lamps use an estimated 75 percent less energy, generate 75 percent less heat and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. And while a $2 four-pack of incandescent bulbs may seem like a better deal compared to $2 to $15 a piece for these lamps (for 40, 60 or 100 watt lamps, respectively), the more efficient fluorescent lamps use about $130 less in energy costs per bulb over their lifetimes, according to Energystar.gov.
Let’s say you’re lighting up 10 rooms with three bulbs each. Switching to the pricier compact fluorescent lamps actually saves you nearly $3,900 in the long-run, according to Energystar.gov.
Other energy savers
With full-size refrigerators starting at $400 and passing $4,000 for some high-end, side-by-side models, you may be tempted to hold onto your old fridge for as long as it keeps humming to save money. But according to Energystar.gov, refrigerators made before 1993 cost an extra $50 per year to operate compared to new Energy Star-qualified models. A box made before 1980 costs about $150 more per year to run.
The website also points to a potential 20 percent savings from installing more efficient heating, ventilating and air-conditioning, or HVAC, units in your home. But before you replace your HVAC system, check for air leaks, which are likely culprits for your energy dollars disappearing.
Through 2010, you can get federal tax credits worth 30 percent of the cost, up to $1,500, to install Energy Star appliances, windows, insulation, roofs, HVAC systems and water heaters in an existing home that is your primary residence. A number of states also offer rebates for purchasing similar energy-efficient upgrades.