When you’re busy tightening your budget, it can be difficult to know what expenses should be cut and what expenses are worth the extra money. I have what I call the single-ply toilet paper rule: what might save money in the short run will often cost you more in the long run. (Buying single-ply toilet paper might be cheaper at the time of purchase, but you’ll be back for more a great deal sooner.) So what other expenses should you always plan to spend more money on—to save you money in the long run?
When Not to Go Cheap
1. Your retirement fund. No matter how bad the recession has hit you and your family personally, if you can possibly afford to continue funding your retirement, you should. You are literally paying for your future, and Future You will be so happy that you did. Whatever else you might be able to cut to keep this going will worth it. Make it a point to contribute to your company sponsored 401k plan, or open an IRA. The more you contribute now, the better off you will be in the long run.
2. Health care. This one can be a toughie, as health care costs have spiraled out of control over the last few years. But if you start making doctor visits and checkups a routine part of your year (and budget) while you are healthy, it can help to nip potential health issues in the bud before they become overwhelming and expensive (here are tips for negotiating your medical bills). This one is particularly important for young 20-somethings, who often feel as if they are invincible. Invest in your own health now, even if you are without insurance, and it will pay dividends as you age.
3. Car maintenance. The best way to keep your car costs low is to make sure you perform the recommended regular maintenance. It’s no one’s idea of a rip-roaring good time, but spending an afternoon with your owner’s manual to familiarize yourself with what kind of maintenance you will need when will help you to budget for the large and small mechanical issues that are bound to crop up from time to time. Another tip is to take your car in as soon as you see the check engine light come on. Invest in your car’s continued good health, and you’ll never be caught flat-footed and broke with a preventable problem.
4. Safety items. Would you feel comfortable if you found out that the life preserver you were wearing was from a discount house? When it comes to safety, it’s worth your while to make sure you get the best for your money—particularly when it comes to infant car seats, bicycle and motorcycle helmets, and any other items necessary for protecting yourself and your loved ones from an auto accident. This is one area where you will want to research what is the best product for you, since some companies will want to capitalize on your safety concerns.
5. Clothing and laundry care. Professionals in particular should make sure they buy quality clothing that will last a long time. You don’t have to spend a fortune to build a professional wardrobe, but you do need to buy quality items. Investing in a good suit (for men or women) will ensure that you always have an appropriate outfit for any formal occasion—from a job interview to a wedding. Even making sure that you buy well-made day-to-day wear will keep your clothing costs low overall. In addition, caring appropriately for your clothing through dry cleaning and good laundry detergent will help your clothes to last much longer, keeping you looking good for years. Similarly, buying shoes that fit well and are well made will keep your feet much happier.
Which other items are worth your hard-earned money?