When it’s Okay to Not Own the Very Best

by Katy on February 17, 2010 · 45 comments

Part of how I feel good about following The Compact and that by only buying used, I’m able to choose much higher quality items than I would be able to otherwise afford.

My family’s Goodwill clothes are Nordstrom instead of Target, and the boys wear Vans brand sneakers instead of Payless Shoe Source. This may sound elitist, but the higher price usually translates to higher quality, which means that our stuff lasts longer.

But what about when it is okay to settle for less than the very best?

I have a friend who feels that it’s very important to buy the very best for her family. Her tricycles are Kettler, her vacuum cleaner is Dyson and her son’s clothes are Hanna Andersson. She would sooner shave her head than load up a cart at Goodwill.

My instinct is always to strive for the higher quality item, but I’m also aware that a lesser quality item will often do the trick. An example of this is my washing machine, which I bought for $45 from Craigslist around ten years ago. In my dream world, I own a high efficiency front loading washer in metallic apple green with hot rod-style flames that lick up the sides. In reality, my washing machine has been a boxy white number, which was most likely manufactured in the mid-1970’s. (The faux-computer-style lettering is clue #1.)

But this make it do washing machine is completely functional, even though I’m fully aware that it uses more water than a high efficiency model would. Unfortunately, the closest approximation of my dream model is currently on sale for $1222.49. (I do have a recent model clothes dryer though, as current ones are far more energy efficient.)

My mother owns three guest cottages, which translates into a lot of sheets and towels to wash, and her washing machine was simply not heavy duty enough to keep up with her needs. So she went to the appliance store and bought a high efficiency metallic red set and offered up her old machine to me. Hmm . . . it wasn’t my dream machine, but it was certainly newer than my Carter administration era washer.

So out went the old-old machine and in came the new-old machine.

The new machine is great! It may be twenty years old, but it spins the loads much drier than my old one which means less time to dry in the dryer or on the line. (An important factor in our damp climate.)

Maybe someday I’ll own the washing machine of my dreams, but until then I’m completely content to wash my family’s clothes in a perfectly functional white box of a washer.

I don’t have to own the very best.

Are you are able to be satisfied with less than the very best, or do you strive for the best-of-the-best? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl February 18, 2010 at 3:22 am

I totally agree. My washer is pretty darn old, but it gets the job done, and I’d rather spend my money on something else, thank you very much.

I did have a twinge of envy when I looked inside my mother-in-law’s new washing machine, which has no internal agitator. Oh, the space inside that machine!


Melanie February 18, 2010 at 4:39 am

Love this post! We bought a lower-end washer/dryer from HHGregg when we bought our house. It doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles..it is one of the energy star ones, but it’s only got hot, warm, and cold, and small, medium, and large (and the delicates setting). There’s no “steam” setting or anything like that, and it’s not pretty…just two plain white boxes. It works fantastic and I’m sure it’ll be with us for years and years!!


Emily February 18, 2010 at 4:47 am

We feel this way about cars. Our cars are 15, 19, and 21 years old (the last inherited from a grandparent – and likely to be donated for a tax write-off this summer). The cars aren’t pretty, but they get too good gas milage to have qualified for Cash for Clunkers, don’t strand us (more than once a year or so), and I certainly don’t have to worry when the kids bash their backpacks (or bikes) into the cars!


Brenda February 18, 2010 at 6:02 am

My first washer and dryer I bought for $25 dollars a piece. They had to be from the early 70s. They looked old when I bought them and I had them for 18 years. I then moved, bought myself a brand new set, though nothing fancy, box white still. It has been 10 years since I bought them and they still work just fine. I too have admired the colorful front loading, and tried to reason that the washer would use less water, maybe it would be a good purchase. But in the end, I can’t get past the big price tag. My set still works just fine and I will use it until it dies a natural death.


Kayla K February 18, 2010 at 6:20 am

I so agree with you! I went to a department store yesterday to spend a gift card and couldn’t find a thing that I liked. The clothes are poor quality at a high price. I thought the Compact would have me scrambling for the chance to buy something new, but I have never been so turned off by retail.


Carla February 18, 2010 at 6:30 am

Wisdom from my Mother: when buying appliances seek the middle range of a good, basic brand. Not so many bells and whistles that something might break and plenty to do the job well. She and Daddy discovered Kenmore (which is actually Whirlpool under the Kenmore name) and typically bought it with great success. I think this philosophy translates into many things we buy. Often the cheapest is, well, cheap, but the most expensive is truly unnecessarily so.

I am envious of you gals who find Nordstrom clothes at your Goodwill. I find very well-used Wal-Mart stuff at mine. Sigh. That’s the difference in where you live and where I do.


Marianne February 18, 2010 at 5:24 pm

They had a story here in Massachusetts about the housekeepers who work on Marthas Vineyard. They didn’t make much money but were able to dress in designer clothes because they went to the town dump! All of the rich visitors and residents would throw out clothes and accessories that were out of style or maybe had a small stain. These ladies would scoop them up for free! Who’s up for a road trip?


This Thrifted Life February 18, 2010 at 7:27 am

I agree with Carla’s advice–something basic and middle-of-the-road is usually the way I go. Our (used) washer and dryer were wedding gifts that came from my relatives’ rental home, and they are going on 5 years for us. They are basic models that do their jobs just fine. My husband drives a 13-year-old Ford that he bought used from his grandparents. Eventually, we’ll buy a vehicle that works better for our lifestyle, but not until we have the cash in hand! Lots of people poke fun at some of our older possessions like the car and appliances, but they are PAID FOR. No way would I give that up when they still work for us.


Heather February 18, 2010 at 7:34 am

I am absolutely able to live with what society considers to be second, even third best 🙂 I find it humorous that you mention Hannah Anderson clothing as an example because I am always able to score that brand, as well as Gymboree, Gap, and tons of other very high quality brand names a my local thrift stores. We have actually been asked how we can afford our things by family members…when we tell them they usually shutter with thriftstore heebie-jeebies….but then stop when they realize that our family is better dressed, with better quality clothing than theirs is…most of them wear Walmart or Target and those clothes are much more wrinkle prone (I hate ironing baby clothes!), and fall apart much sooner!!!


Jean February 18, 2010 at 8:14 am

It seems that when I have in the past spent money on the very best I never use all the bells and whistles and that they go out of style and are replaced with something newer and better shortly after I buy it.

Just the other night I got a used coffee table free. It is out of style, but then any new one I could have bought would have been out of style soon anyway. It didn’t cost me money I don’t have right now and my grandson loves it because it is bigger than my old one and has more room for toys. I also wonder if I would have been comfortable letting him drive his toy tractors on a new table? What is more important, my much loved grandson having fun or keeping a new table looking good? I for sure know the answer to that question!

Someday, I hope, my husband will build me a new one, and then I will have the best, but for now my free one works just fine.

Much of having the best seems to me to be more about ego and showing off than any real need for the product.


Cate February 18, 2010 at 8:49 am

I feel the same way about our washer. It’s so old, I don’t even know how old it is, but it does have the trademark 70s faux-wood. The pull is even broken, so I use a mini-wrench to turn it on and off, but hey. It works for us. We got it for free from my mom and stepdad, and while it uses more water than new washers, it has a handy water-level adjuster so I can attempt to cut down on our usage.


Katy February 18, 2010 at 9:05 am


I’m not as careful with water conservation as I could be because I live in Portland, Oregon, which is an extremely rainy city. I think it would be different if I lived in an area with droughts.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Laura February 18, 2010 at 1:40 pm

There’s probably something to that. There’s nothing like living in Los Angeles (200 days of sunshine == desert!) to drive home how much water the average household can waste. All that “good weather” may seem nice, until your mint plant dies because you forgot to water it… (true story) And about the only thing more wasteful than lawn sprinklers are poorly maintained lawn sprinklers, I swear. I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.


sam February 18, 2010 at 9:23 am

My dad just lucked out & got a new set of washer/dryer for my mom like the ones you have pictured. They were at Home Depot & had been on clearance for a whole 5 minutes. He got the matching set for $700, delivered! Its so funny, because my mom has been using the same washer since the time my baby bro (#4) was born. He is 17 now, and that set was on its last legs (I guess 4 kids + 2 adults wears them out!). Even buying something brand new, my dad still didnt pay full price. These would have never been considered if they werent on clearance. $2200 original price is just WAY too much!


WilliamB February 18, 2010 at 10:12 am

My washing machine conked out about a year ago. I was (almost) delighted, since it’s not cost- or energy-efficient to replace a working appliance. After a few hours online research of front-loaders – features, price, user experience – I selected a Frigidaire. Delivered, installed, and old one taken away, it was under $800.

My new washer doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles: they’re expensive and mostly useless. Getting a color other than white also increases the price.


Jeanine February 18, 2010 at 10:22 am

Just for the record, I have about 5 pairs of tennis shoes from Payless that I’ve had for about 5 years. They sell Converse, which is a name brand. They work well for me and my family.

My washer and dryer set cost 214.00 tax and all and was a return to a Rent to Own outfit that couldn’t re-rent it because there was a large scratches on them. It’s Amana, and a very simple model. I’ve long since gotten my money out of it, washing 3 times a week, and NOT having to pay to go to the laudromat.


Andrea February 18, 2010 at 10:30 am

I drive a 1990 Volvo wagon…and whenever I get really irritated with some minor issue (the seatbelts not unbuckling easily, the back passenger door sticking) I remind myself that my dream car is a Bakfiets cargo bike, and since I live 13.5 miles from work, that is not an option (until I move to my dream community with a bookstore, yarn store, library, health food store, cafe and wilderness all within walking distance of my straw-bale home), I go back to driving this old, but immortal car. On the other hand, when I mentioned in my blog that my son’s jeans had patches and that I was going to go buy some at a consignment store, my mom went straight to Old Navy and bought him two new pairs–even though we never had any money when I was growing up, she would have died (or at least made all our clothes by hand–which she did) rather than dress us from a thrift store (she does, however, prefer antique household furniture and wares).


Iris February 18, 2010 at 11:00 am

consumer society would be dead without all the bells & whistles – just imagine everyone just buying a simple mobile phone that – surprise – can make phone calls and send text messages 😉


Tracy Balazy February 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm

When my five-year-old cell phone (my first) died last month, I reluctantly bought a new one, and found the simplest one they had — it doesn’t take photos (I have a camera for that), and it can access the Internet, but I have my desktop for that. All I want is a phone that MAKES CALLS, and I got it for $35. People I know with iPhones complain all the time about AT&T’s service, anyway.


Fran February 20, 2010 at 7:01 pm

We decided my daughter was old enough for a cell phone, so when we upgraded our plan we got new phones. My husband got a touchscreen one (but not a smartphone, we just don’t have a need for those bells and whistles). He soon discovered that although his phone does lots of fancy tricks, it’s lousy at being a phone!


Melissa February 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I’m going through this struggle right now with buying a couch. Do I get a used one on Craigslist that I like (but maybe don’t love love), or do I spend more on a brand new one that I like more (but maybe don’t love love either, but it’s new) or do I spend A LOT more and get the couch of my dreams (which I will then proceed to worry that my kids and pets will destroy).


James February 18, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Reminds me of a story:
A Buddhist monk was given a beautiful china tea cup. He protected it for years from falls, and breakage. He carried it with him on trips and kept it safe. One day, another monk accidentally knocked it to the ground, shattering it into many pieces. The other monk thought that his friend would be angry for breaking the beautiful cup, but was surprised when his friend thanked him! It seems that he was now unburdened from protecting the precious cup, and could let his attachment go.

Enjoy a couch that you don’t have to worry about. Throw a cover over it, and let your kids enjoy it too. And if you really want a fancy “dream” couch, wait until the kids have grown and leave the house. 😉


Katy February 18, 2010 at 6:21 pm

LOVE this!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


oldboyscout2 February 19, 2010 at 10:09 am

worry takes the fun out of having something…


HeatherS February 18, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Our washer/dryer are both 14 years old now and still going strong. I did buy them new at the time we moved into our house though. DH has repaired them both himself several times each with the help of a website we found. I would love one of the pretty new ones but it’s in my basement and no one see them but me so who really cares how they look! I also wouldn’t use any fancy features.

Our house came with an oven the former owners left. I don’t know how old it was but the lady on the front of the instruction manual looked very June Cleaver like – complete with pearls and heels! When it finally died my in-laws found us an old one at an auction for $50. It was brown, I don’t mean tan I mean a horrible shade of dark brown! But it worked and when it finally died I inherited my parents oven b/c they were buying a new one. I dream of having a new stainless steel oven sometimes but I’m able to make some great homemade meals on the one I have now so I will make do. I can’t say I was sad to see the brown one die though! I hated that ugly thing.


Emily February 18, 2010 at 6:16 pm

HeatherS, would you mind sharing the washer/dryer repair website? My dryer has started making a grinding noise and I just gave it until Monday to heal itself or I’m calling a repair person. But maybe I can look at it myself?



lala February 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I’ve had very good luck with old cars and appliances. All the ones I own right now are all older than me save one car from circa the Clinton administration and a newer dishwasher a neighbor was giving away due to a remodel.

My fridge has been continously operating in the same location, with routine defrosting, now for 61 years. I’ve had people get all high-and-mighty about how much energy it must use, but I keep a close eye on the electric bill and our household still only uses one third of what a comparable house/family size uses in our city monthly. The frig is staying till it decides to give up, we aren’t giving up on it.

Quality is important, but so many seem to mistakenly view that quality means “new” or “expensive.” I will pay more for a solid piece of wood furniture from the 20s than for something from Ikea, but most of the time don’t have to because thats what people get rid of cheap because it has a few scratches.

What I am willing to go new and pricey on is, don’t laugh…bras. It’s worth it to get an expertly fitted, European-made boulder-holder from a locally owned small boutique because an ill-fitting bra can distract from so many frugal pursuits like cooking at home, walking instead of driving, doing your own yard work, etc!


WilliamB February 18, 2010 at 5:47 pm

The general rule is, the waste involved in disposing of an appliance outweighs the environmental savings of a new efficient one.

Your 61 year old fridge might be the exception. I don’t think the rule was formulated with appliances almost old enough to collect social security in mind!

HeatherS – I wish I could trade my stainless steel oven (& fridge) for something else. It’s too much work to keep shiny.


Julia February 22, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I’m the same with my stainless steel appliances in this new house—way too annoying to clean!


Karen February 18, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Our cars are 10 and 15 years old and running fine. Our white boxy washer and dryer are 10 years old, both Kitchenaid, and have been trouble free. I think in all this time, we have had to have the dryer looked at once. I too would love a brightly colored high tech set, but I think that the whole “beautiful laundry appliance” thing feeds the ego of consumerism–a color obviously makes no difference to how the machine works, and laundry appliances are usually well hidden, so making colored appliances must be just a marketing tool. But a good one–even I want them! And I feel almost completely immune to the whole consumer thing, since I buy used/thrift shop stuff 99% of the time.

The next time I have to replace an appliance, I will go to craigslist first–we got a very sturdy fridge for 35 bucks that way. As for having to have the best, I agree that buying things in the middle range/quality makes the most sense. Often “the best” is just a status symbol.


Lisa February 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Thankfully I’ve moved past craving a new washer. I bought a brand spanking new one only once. When my ex left, he took it with him! I washed clothes in the bathtub for a couple of weeks…which made the used one I found at a yard sale for 20 bucks look really good. LOL! Now, eleven years later it’s still going strong. At one point I was given a dryer, but we didn’t have a 220 plug for it in this house. So when we moved here, I got rid of it. I’m in love with my clothesline anyway.


Marianne February 18, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Katy, something you said awhile back has stuck with me whenever I “want” something new. Even if it is more efficient or an upgrade, its not really that if I am getting rid of something I already own that works well. It still creates waste of something that is working. That thought alone keeps me in check.
My mother raised me to always get the best priced (read CHEAPEST) things. I try to fall somewhere inbetween a low price and good quality. I have been waffling over a pair of UGG snow boots that range from $165-$225. I work outside and my current boots are not waterproof anymore. But to get a pair that are waterproof and guaranteed to keep my feet warm, I have to spend upwards of $100 anyways. So I have decided to suffer through the last month of this New England Winter and ask for them for my birthday at the end of May. Not only does the internet offer non seasonal items year round, I’m hoping maybe she can find a discount.


Ashley February 18, 2010 at 7:47 pm

I am cooking on a less than ideal stove. We believe it is the original range in our 10 year old home. Yes it takes about 15-20 minutes to boil water. Yes the temperature fluctuates at times. Yes the broiler has caught on fire and I haven’t used it since. But it gets the job done and we have home cooked meals every night! However I still get jealous of those commercials that say the stove top boils water in 3 minutes!


magdalena February 19, 2010 at 5:38 am

I’ve never owned my own washer and dryer – and I’m over fifty! I’ve lived in church provided housing for many years,or been a housekeeper, or just didn’t have laundry appliances. What I do have , although they are in storage right now, is two laundry tubs of the galvanized style, with an antique wringer and a scrub board. (I did bring my clothesline, but there’s no place to put it right now.) I took my laundry equipment with me on a cross-country camping trip, and I’ve used it when we lived off grid in the woods. If taken care of, (I.E. not left full of water for days) it will last for many years.


oldboyscout2 February 19, 2010 at 10:05 am

Another way to think about this is, if you’re buying something new , look for the best for the money, NOT the best. That is, Consumer Reports magazine (who doesn’t take advertising and thus “doesn’t have a dog in the fight) rates products tested by them as “best buys” or not. Many times best buy is not the most costly. They also rate a few used items such as automobiles.


namastemama February 19, 2010 at 6:50 pm

We buy the majority of our appliances at the scratch and dent store. Maytag has one and there are 2 Sears outlets here as they are called. You can literally save over 1000 dollars. Like the Home Depot example. These are warranted new products that have been dinged up or sometimes mechanically serviced. We did this recently with our fridge and then got a check to recycle our old one. Because it was OLD. Plus a federal tax rebate for the energy savings. There are energy saving tools on our utility company website that can estimate the difference in appliances. I found our new fridge would pay for itself in a year. Several years ago we sold a washer and dryer set for MORE than we paid for it at the scratch and dent store. My hubby filled in the scratch with paint and even showed them. They said they would have never have noticed if we hadn’t said anything. I agree that a high price doesn’t mean high quality but sometimes you do get what you pay for. I love Hanna clothes but that $3 snowsuit I found at a garage sale this summer is doing the trick this winter.


Kim March 3, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I am getting compliments on my beautiful coat this year – found at a Thrift store! If you look for stores near major shopping malls and “nicer” parts of town you will be amazed.

I almost always buy used or get things from friends: clothes, books, sporting goods, movies. If you are not going to use it, give it away.

I go to a friend’s house to do a yoga tape when I can. She has invited others to come over too, because she planned on doing it at least 3 times a week and doesn’t unless someone is there – how much do we save by not going to a yoga studio? – a lot!

This is actually fun!


Laura March 4, 2010 at 7:36 am

I agreed with you about the washer/dryer. Had my mom’s hand-me-down for years. When the dryer broke, repaired it for $75 rather than buying new and putting the old one in the landfill even though husband preferred to buy new.

We buy foreclosures, and rent them out. We usually have to replace the appliances and find great deals on Craig’s list. Through buying a sink from a craig’s lister who also renovates foreclosures, we heard a story about the new upright washers and dryers, money saved, ease of use, etc.

I started looking on craig’s list for the new ones. We are in a military city and have a good percentage of foreclosures as well. Many deals on craig’s list are quick sales at great prices because people are moving out due to foreclosures or being deployed. I have also seen others selling these high end units because they ‘need the money’.

Bottom line : we got a great set, washer, dryer, pedestals, the whole bit, for $1,000 total. Good shape except for some minor scratches, they work TERRIFIC! We are saving $25 a month in water, husband says $15 in electricity (I’m not so sure). BUT, we do 2 loads a week due to the large capacity – (there are just the 2 of us), vs. the old 5 loads. Instead of an all day chore, it’s over quickly and both of us have arthritis so the lack of having to bend over and scoop up clothes is a real benefit that I didn’t even think about.


Laura November 8, 2015 at 6:46 pm

I do like having quality when I can afford it. I research big purchased like cars and appliances. I do own a Dyson that I’be had for 10 years and it’s still going strong. My kitchen aid mixer is 20+ years old. And my Toyota Camry is 11 years old. But sometimes we can’t always afford the best so we make due with the best in our price range.


Bobbi November 8, 2015 at 7:10 pm

Oh heck yeah, to this whole post!

I have lots of “this will do” things, including the 5+ year old computer I’m typing on now. My kids have the “very best” in terms of love, healthy food, more time with me because I don’t work as much as I could, and family vacations abroad that we afford due to our modest and frugal lifestyle. Our used furniture, non-fancy car/house, thrift-store clothes – spending more on new, “very best” versions of those is simply not a priority, and I would feel worse, not better, if I did that.


Carole Z. November 8, 2015 at 7:42 pm

I couldn’t wait to get a HE front loading washer. I couldn’t wait to save water. I shopped around and found the best deal. I may have even bought them. Then my husband mentioned size. I measured my laundry room and oops. They were not going to fit. I bought a white box washer. It has worked well. It had to have a minor repair this year. The repairman said there was something wrong with the transmission ( transmission in a washer? ) and it was going to go soon. It hasn’t. Our local news trouble shooter did a story last week on some new HE machines that blow up and spew metal everywhere. Mine has not done that so I consider it to have been a good buy.


Anna-Catherine November 9, 2015 at 6:56 am

I just had to replace our dryer. I actually posted a pic of it here a while back. For the last 3 years we used pliers to turn the dial and were using bungee cords to keep the door closed. But is started drying only about 20% of the time. I searched Craigslist and the local yard sale pages and didn’t come up with anything worth buying. Granted I had a load of laundry in the dryers that wouldn’t dry, pollen was high so a clothes line was not an option for us. We ended up buying a scratched model from Sears outlet. My husband had just received a gift card bonus from work that we redeemed for Sears. Our out of pocket cost was less than the cheap option from an appliance store. I really wanted to go used or keep my ancient dryer running but I feel we got the Best Buy for our growing family. The dryer is huge. It dried our king sized quilt no problem. We are now drying clothes in less than half the time needed before. Thanks to this group and all I have learned I did not head out to buy a brand new, perfect condition appliance.


Jennifer Nash November 9, 2015 at 8:23 am

My washer/dryer set was purchased used for $200 and has worked great since we got it. The auto-dry sensor on the dryer is not as sensitive and the belt squeaks sometimes, but things get clean and dry. I may be looking to buy a more efficient washing machine after we move next year. The town we’re planning to move to “imports” their water from the neighboring municipality, so water bills will go up!

The plus side is the new place will have a backyard, so I can put up a clothes line, which I’ve never been able to do.


auntiali November 9, 2015 at 7:50 pm

I have a high efficiency front load washer. I’m happy it saves water but I’m really unhappy with the cleaning it does for my clothes. Both my washer and dryer are Kenmore and they have no bells or whistles. My machines that I replaced were 20 yrs old. Wish I kept them till they died.


auntiali November 9, 2015 at 7:52 pm

I dressed my kids in yard sale and hand me down clothing when they were kids. My lovely, materialistic sis made a comment once that “her kids never wore garage sale clothing”. I was a sahm with the only debt being our mortgage. She worked full time and couldn’t keep up with her bills. We choose which life we want.


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