Buy It For Life – Good Investment or Overpaying?

Buy It For Life - Good Value or Waste of Money?

Over the last couple of years there's been an increased interest in the idea of buy it for life.

The 'buy it for life' philosophy is simple:

Instead of paying $10 every 6 months for a cheap water bottle, spend $30 for a high quality water bottle that will last 3+ years.

And on the surface, it's obvious to see the appeal.  The math is simple and it looks like you're saving money.  

You're also spending more money on a premium product so the thing you're buying is actually much nicer and it feels good to buy these nice things.

But does buy it for life (aka BIFL) actually make sense?  Do you really save money by doing this or is it just an excuse we make to splurge on things that you could buy for less money.

buy it for life's rise in popularity

One of my favorite ways to visualize how popular something has become is to use Google trends.

This is Google's way of showing the relative popularity of something over time based on how many people are searching for it.

Here's the graph for the search term 'buy it for life'.

Another part of the appeal to the BIFL movement was a response to the low quality, mass produced items we have today.  

People like to reflect fondly on the past.  

"Remember when products were made in America with high quality and they lasted forever.  Now days everything is made in China and breaks instantly!"

Some people even go further with the theory of planned obsolescence.  The idea that manufacturers actually engineer their products to fail after a certain amount of time just to make you buy a new one.

And after the recent news of Apple secretly slowing down the iPhone if the battery capacity started to degrade, you can see why a lot of people believe this is a widespread practice. 

 As a company, if you can get people to buy your product twice a year instead of once a year, that's a good move because you'll make more money.

The other aspect of BIFL that appeals to a lot of frugal people is that it reduces waste.  Instead of throwing away old/broken items, you can repair them and keep them for longer.  This reduces the amount of junk we send to the landfill and helps the environment.

What Kind of products Make Sense to Buy For Life?

Let's be real; not everything can be a BIFL product.  Some things just don't last that long and there isn't a lot you can do about it.

If you check out the buy it for life subreddit on Reddit, you'll see some products and brands that come up over and over again in BIFL discussions.

This list isn't all inclusive, but it's a good run down of the most popular items that people target to buy for life:

  • Backpacks
  • Wallets
  • Watches
  • Luggage
  • Sunglasses
  • Water bottles
  • Jacket
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Knives
  • Kitchenware
  • Sheets

Backpacks are a really good example of something most people cheap out on but could actually spend more money and get a higher quality product that would last longer and save money in the long run.

Instead of buying a low quality backpack from a big box store for $30, you can pay about double that and get an Osprey backpack that will last forever.

Like most BIFL items, this isn't because they use magic materials that last forever.  Osprey backpacks are higher quality, but the company also stands behind them with a lifetime warranty.  If you ever have an issue with the backpacking breaking down you can send it in for a repair and if they can't fix it, they'll send you a new one.

Buy It For Life Backpack

One of my hobbies is backpacking and I use an Osprey pack.  For day to day use I'd recommend something like the Daylite backpack which is much smaller and makes more sense for day to day use.  This is also covered by the Osprey warranty so it's truly a buy it for life item.

Buy It For Life Sunglasses

This isn't even a contest.  The best sunglasses you can get are Maui Jims. They come with a fantastic warranty and the lenses are out of this world.  I've never been happier with a pair of sunglasses.

Maui Jims cost a lot more than sunglasses you'll see at Target, but they are way higher quality and weigh almost nothing.

I bought a pair of Maui Jim Lighthouse in grey and brown/green.  The brown/green sunglasses are perfect for overcast days where it's not sunny but it's still bright without sunglasses.

Buy It For Life Sheets

The Wirecutter is on of my go to resources when I'm trying to figure out what to buy.  Their reviews are always super thorough and unbiased.

When I was looking to buy some new bed sheets about a month ago I went to the Wirecutter and their top choice was over $150.  I like comfy sheets but not that much. So I went with their value pick which was less than 1/3 of the price of the top choice and still super comfortable.

The sheets they chose for best value were the Performance Sheet Set 400 Thread Count from Target.  You can buy it on Target or Amazon with 2 day shipping. These sheets are super comfortable, soft, and they have bungee cords in them so they stay put on the mattress and don't slide off.  So nice!

Buy It For Life Luggage

Nobody uses checked luggage anymore thanks to the huge fees airlines started charging a few years ago, but carry on luggage is a worthwhile place to invest your money. Since you'll usually have control of your luggage, you can limit the damage they take and make them last for a long time.

Once again, the Wirecutter saves the day and their reviews on best luggage recommended the TravelPro Platinum Magna.  It's got awesome reviews on Amazon and the Wirecutter gave it some glowing praise as well.

What kind of products are not buy it for life?

Well, most things are not BIFL.  There are probably a few items that I didn't include in the list above that should have been there, but for the most part 99% of the stuff you buy probably will not last for life.  

That's not to say you shouldn't invest in higher quality products though.  Even if it doesn't last for life, it might last long enough that the yearly cost to own something is less than a cheaper alternative.

One category that is almost impossible to buy for life is technology.  Technology changes quickly and everything with a processor in it is getting smaller and faster.

Anything with a battery in it is going to be a poor candidate for BIFL as well.  Popular Mechanics has a good explanation of why battery quality degrades but if you don't want to nerd out on the science, the short answer is that after 1,000 charge cycles, a battery will normally lose about 20% of it's capacity.

Other products I'd exclude from BIFL are anything that go through daily wear and tear.  Shoes, pillows, clothes, etc.  Most of these are going to wear down over time or become outdated.

Sure, you can probably wear a 30 year old t shirt, but should you? 

where to learn more about the buy it for life philosophy

The best community for BIFL products is on Reddit.  Reddit always has new topics to check out and the search feature lets you look for specific items.  There are also some good guides in the right sidebar of the subreddit with their top recommendations.

Another website that's in the vein of BIFL, but not exactly, is the Wirecutter.

The Wirecutter is the #1 site I go to when I'm trying to do research before buying something.  They do SUPER in depth reviews and personally test everything.  A lot of 'review' sites you find online don't actually use the product before writing a review. 

If I'm shopping for new sheets, I'll go to the Wirecutter.  Instead of spending $50 at Kohl's on a random pair of sheets, you can check out the Wirecutter recommendation and spend the same amount for a much higher quality product.

Finally, if you want to check out an argument against the BIFL philosophy, check out this article on Frugalwoods.

Summary

I think my views are somewhere in between Frugalwoods article and the BIFL subreddit.  Sometimes it makes sense to spend more money and get something nice and sometimes it doesn't.  

I've bought cheap crap only to rebuy a higher quality item later on.  For items in the first category that fit with the BIFL philosophy, I usually spend the extra money and buy the higher quality item.  For everything else I try to buy it as cheaply as possible from either Amazon or Aliexpress (where most of the stuff on Amazon comes from!).

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5 comments

  1. I’ve heard a general rule whether to buy-it-for-life or not is to buy the cheap version, and then if you use it enough to replace it, then buy the quality version. This is very common for tools.

    I’ll also buy cheap the items I tend to lose easily, which is mostly pens and pencils. I don’t know if I’ve ever finished a pen or pencil.

  2. Thanks for the great article! The area I have given myself permission to buy for life is with tools. The amount of time i have wasted with low quality tools is sad to think about. For example, i just bought a set of cobalt drill bits instead of the black oxide I used to have. Day and night difference! Keep it up!

  3. That was a really interesting article! I didn’t know about the buy it for life subreddit, ha, thanks for introducing it (there’s a subreddit for everything…). I like The Wirecutter a lot too, although sometimes I have to remind myself not to need to “best” version of everything, as you pointed out. Sometimes I feel that they are targeting a very specific, wealthy demographic where a cheaper version will definitely be sufficient.

    I wish smartphone batteries were replaceable, like they used to be! I’ve gotten some extended use out of old smartphones just by replacing the battery. I do think some modular electronics, like a DIY PC, are fairly long lasting because individual components can be upgraded as needed over time.

  4. Great read. We’re making a lot of BIFL or buy the cheaper version decisions right now as we’re building our house. Things like the roof, windows, and floors we’re spending more on so that we won’t have to ever replace them. Things like appliances and furniture we’ll try to save on. BIFL does not necessarily mean buying the most expensive option, so it’s important to do research and decide what level of upgrade gives you the most bang for your buck.

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