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5 things I don’t skimp on


I’m back in Portland, our beloved city. I am beat! We made a little better time coming back from San Jose than going down. We left at 4:30 am and got here just a little after 6 pm. RB40 Junior did very well on the ride back. He slept a lot and only got crazy during the last 100 miles… He wanted to stop and play with the cows, but I really wanted to push on home. You can’t play with cows anyway, right? He was just very whiney in the last leg of the journey. As soon as he got home, he ran around like a maniac. I guess he needed to release all that pent up energy. We didn’t stop at the rest area to play much this time because it was raining. Anyway, we were all glad to be home.

So today, I’m still trying to recover from the long distance driving. We vacuumed, checked the blog, checked email, went to the gym, had lunch, and now I’m going to write an easy article. I’m just too worn out to write an in-depth article today.

Frugal lifestyle

All right, you probably know that I’m a pretty cheap guy. Normally, I prefer the free or cheap option to expensive/luxurious ones. I don’t drive a fancy car because I’d rather save some money. We usually cook at home instead of eating out every day. We go out to a restaurant about once a week for a change of scenery. I like paying less for almost everything, but there are a few exceptions. Here are the 5 things I don’t skimp on.

don't cheap out on these

Shopping for a new pair of glasses

Eye Glasses

I put on my glasses when I wake up and take them off when I go to bed. A cheap pair of glasses never worked for me. The cheap ones don’t fit right, feel cheap, and/or they don’t look good. In this instance, I don’t mind paying for designer frames because I’ll wear them every day for about 3 years. Even if the glasses cost $350, that’s only about 30 cents per day. My prescription is quite bad so I go for the lightest lenses (high index) available. Anti reflection coating is also a must for me. All these add up, but I don’t mind paying for a high quality product. I wear glasses all the time and that’s what people see first.

International travel

We put international travel on hold for the last 4 years. We didn’t want to travel until our kid is a little bit older so he could enjoy it too. Taking a vacation in the state is quite nice too and we saved quite a bit of money these last few years. We mostly visited family and friends so we didn’t spend too much. Next year, RB40 Jr. will be four years old and we’ll be ready for international vacations again. We’ll head to Thailand next year and perhaps visit South America the following year.

International travel will be more expensive than vacationing locally, but we love seeing new sights and experiencing different cultures. I think it will be good for the kid to see how the rest of the world live as well.

Of course, I try to get the best deal with the flight tickets and hotels. We used to stay in cheap hostels and then splurge on a nice hotel after about a week. I’m not sure if that will work with a small child. The flight tickets are also pretty expensive. I’ll have to churn some credit cards to pick up some travel miles next year.

5 things I don't skimp on

School district

Woodstock is the hot up and coming area in Portland. It has a great elementary school, but mediocre middle and high school. The housing price in that area is much cheaper than where we purchased. We looked in Woodstock, but ultimately decided to buy in a better school district. Our duplex is more expensive, but we want our kid to go to good schools. Buying in the Woodstock area would probably be a better investment, though. I guess private school is another option.

Child car seat

As a cheap guy, I love hand me downs. However, a child car seat is one item that I won’t take or hand down to my friends and family. Most child safety seat is good for around 5 years. The materials degrade as the seat age and you shouldn’t use the car seat pass the expiration date. Another reason to buy new seat is that safety standards improve all the time. A new seat is not cheap, but it’s probably safer than an older one. You never know if an old seat was in a car crash or if it ever been recalled.

Smoke detector

In the process of buying and selling our property investments, I found out that smoke detectors last about 10 years. Anything older need to be replaced before the deal could close. That’s a good rule because you never know if an old smoke detector is still functioning property. Previously, I just change the batteries whenever the smoke detectors chirp, but now I’m going to replace them every 5 years or so. Also, your smoke detectors are probably the cheapest model available. Better smoke detectors have duel sensors to detect different kinds of fire, but they are a bit more expensive. I’ll order these First Alert SA320CN to replace the old smoke alarms soon. They are still affordable at around $25.

What about you? What are some of the things that you don’t mind splurging on?

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate link for the smoke detector.

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 32 comments… add one }
  • Ernie Zelinski October 17, 2014, 1:04 am

    I can be somewhat frugal still even though now at the age of 65 I earn a great income. For example, one of the cars I drive is a 2003 Toyota Solara. The other car I drive is a 1995 Toyota Camry. I joke that the Toyota Camry doubles in value every time I fill it up with gas.

    Having said that, here are some things I splurge on:

    1. When I fly to anywhere that is more than 3 hours from where I live, I like to fly
    Executive Class. For example, two weeks ago I flew to Toronto Executive Class. Granted I used my Aeroplan miles. But flying Executive Class takes 50,000 Aeroplan miles whereas flying Economy takes only 25,000 miles. I have also flown Executive Class to London, England three times and to New York three times.

    2. I like eating out a lot (at least 10 times a month) but will never go to a fast food joint. Eating at a great French restaurant as I did in Toronto two weeks ago is something I enjoy and feel good about spending my money on. I also like treating a number of my friends to a great meal. I have been known to spend $500 or $600 when treating friends.

    3. I don’t mind occasionally paying $400 for a jacket that I like a lot and that is not on sale. In fact, I did this twice in this last year.

    4. If I go to see a class act like the Rolling Stones I will choose the $625 seats in row 3 or 4 on the floor over the $160 tickets in the stands.

    5. Whenever I go to buy groceries, I look for something expensive that I can buy for myself as a treat. For example, some exotic cheese that costs 2 or 3 times as much as cheddar.

    6. Although the rest of my furniture in my half-duplex is likely worth only $700 total, I
    did purchase an organic box spring and mattress for $2,500.

    7. Not too long from now I will purchase a bottle of 1982 Latour (prices start at around $1,500 a bottle) to celebrate an important milestone for one of my books. Regardless of how good the wine is, I will likely not do that again.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 225,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • retirebyforty October 17, 2014, 2:52 pm

      Ernie, you are enjoying the fruit of your labor. I hope at 65, I’ll be able to spend a bit more freely like you. I’m pretty tight on all these things you listed. 🙂

  • Mr. Frugalwoods October 17, 2014, 4:33 am

    Upgrading the smoke detectors is a good one that most people forget. I replaced them all when we bought our house. The previous owners had put in the cheapest ones they could find. They would false alarm if you walked too close to them.

    I’d add kitchen tools to the list. I have moderately expensive knives, but I’ve already used them for almost 10 years… and I hope I’ll get another 50 years out of them.

    • retirebyforty October 17, 2014, 2:54 pm

      Yeah, when I sold our house, I replaced everything with the cheapest detector. It’s just another expense. They should work, but duel sensors will be better. I like nice knives too.

  • Justin October 17, 2014, 6:22 am

    Safety devices like smoke detectors are definitely one thing we don’t skimp on. And plenty of batteries to keep them running!

    International travel is probably our single largest “non-skimping” area even though we do try to travel on a budget. We set aside around 15% of our budget for travel and don’t feel bad at all about taking nice trips (or cheap, but nice trips) to far away places. Young kids make it a bit more challenging, but we still get by.

    I’ll add “groceries”, although I think our spending on groceries might actually save us money. We’re on a mission today to find good fresh fish and fish eggs for homemade sushi. We might drop $20 on ingredients (for 2-3 meals) but that’s a lot less than buying it at a restaurant. We spend money on interesting ingredients and cook most of our favorites at home, usually saving 50-75% off the price of restaurant food. And it’s often healthier too.

    • retirebyforty October 17, 2014, 2:57 pm

      We’re looking forward to more international trips starting next year. I don’t mind staying close to home for a few years while our kid is still young. I want my kid to enjoy the trips too.
      I tend to be a bit cheap with the groceries. Occasionally, we’ll splurge on expensive groceries from New Seasons.

  • Andrea A. October 17, 2014, 6:27 am

    Definitely agree with your reasoning on eyeglasses. I also wear my glasses all the time and don’t replace them every year so I rationalize the cost . I think my frustration lies in why these items cost that much in the first place. I did some online research and found a very interesting segment that aired on 60 Minutes in 2012 that addressed this very question. (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/sticker-shock-why-are-glasses-so-expensive-07-10-2012/)

    Very “eye opening” to say the least!

    • retirebyforty October 17, 2014, 2:58 pm

      Thanks for the link. Yeah, glasses turned into fashion accessories instead of a functional product. That’s why they’re expensive now. Glasses look much nicer now I’m okay with the trade offs.

  • Stefanie October 17, 2014, 7:04 am

    I totally skimp on international and all travel now, but I’ve only got myself to worry about. Having a kid in the picture is a game changer, and one of the reasons I have no intention of reproducing before I can afford those things 😉

    • retirebyforty October 17, 2014, 2:59 pm

      That’s okay. Put it off until you’re ready. 🙂

  • Vawt October 17, 2014, 8:23 am

    Shoes for work need to be high quality and comfortable. Plastic soles aren’t comfortable and don’t last very long.

    When I buy steaks, I want high quality cuts (but we don’t buy them much anymore).

    I also don’t like cheap tools. I want tools that will last a long time and not need to be replaced.

    • retirebyforty October 17, 2014, 3:00 pm

      Good list. I wear tennis shoes so I’m pretty comfortable most of the time. I don’t buy cheap tennis shoes anymore, though.
      I like NY cut, it’s still affordable. I used to buy cheap tools, but I think I’ll buy nice tools from now on. You can keep the good ones forever.

  • Pauline October 17, 2014, 10:42 am

    I don’t skimp on travel, and anything that makes my life easier, better, or more comfortable. So I have the best mattress, bed sheets, sharp knives, non adhesive pans, a cool blender… All the decorative stuff is homemade or really cheap, like plants.

    • retirebyforty October 17, 2014, 3:04 pm

      That’s a good list. We’re shooting for that as well. I still tend to go cheap, but I’m trying to loosen up a bit.

  • Tawcan October 17, 2014, 10:44 am

    Good call on the smoke detector, I need to make sure to check the detectors in our new house. International travels can get expensive but there are definitely ways to stay cheap while traveling abroad.

    Another thing not to skimp on is probably shoes. If you buy crappy shoes that can’t support you well you may end up hurting your knees or back in the long run.

    • retirebyforty October 17, 2014, 3:05 pm

      Yeah, shoes are definitely on the list. I wear tennis shoes so I’m pretty comfortable most of the time.

  • Jeffrey W. Schultz October 17, 2014, 1:47 pm

    I would also suggest not skimping on attorney’s and accountant’s. I you ask for a rate reduction you are just really asking to professional to cut a few corners.

    • lynn October 18, 2014, 7:21 am

      I agree with that – but there are lawyers that will accept payments so that you don’t have to write a check for thousands of dollars.

  • microzoa October 17, 2014, 8:08 pm

    I’m just getting in on the card churning caper. Will let you know how that goes our have you done it before?

  • Jason Vitug October 17, 2014, 8:56 pm

    Travel is definitely on my “do not skimp list.” Glad it made it into your list too. Totally agree all the things that can keep you safe no one should skimp on.

  • Kari October 18, 2014, 4:45 am

    Real Food And Nutrition!

    We absolutely believe that we have to invest in our health by paying a bit more for real, naturally and locally grown produce, eggs, and dairy, as well as buying high quality supplements. The difference this has made in our health and energy has been tremendous! We hope that the long term results will be that we won’t waste the latter part of our life dealing with health problems and doctors. If the goal of retiring early is to own and enjoy life, then being healthy is at the top of our list and not to be cheap with.

  • lynn October 18, 2014, 7:12 am

    I try not to skimp on these five items:
    Tuna (or seafood in general),
    Cold weather gear,
    Bread (ezekial bread is my favorite – I keep it in the freezer & it keeps well. I also make my own bread.)

  • josh October 18, 2014, 1:38 pm

    For me, it’s health care and business upgrade on international travel using frequent flier miles. Some people forgo health care coverage when they’re self employed, young, or during periods of unemployment, especially if they’re single. Although I’m covered through my employer now, I’d never risk not having coverage to save money if my current situation changed.
    Secondly, I pay for economy class ticket and then use my frequent flier miles to get an upgrade to business class for international travel for myself and my family instead of just getting a free ticket with the miles. Most people I know won’t do this, but 10+ hours in a comfort of a business class seat is easily worth the cost when compared to the misery of being stuck in a economy seat like sardines.

  • Melanie @ Dear Debt October 18, 2014, 8:38 pm

    I wouldn’t skimp on those things either. I wouldn’t say I skimp on international travel, it’s just on hold for now 🙂 But I do have enough miles for a trip to Europe! But still need to save… I don’t skimp on health/medical/safety stuff. Just not worth it and ends up costing you more money in the long run.

  • dojo October 19, 2014, 12:48 am

    1. Eyeglasses here, too. I do purchase some pretty expensive ones since, as you mentioned, they last me a long time. Used the last pair for about 6 years.
    2. Produce / ingredients. We cook at home and purchase the best ingredients. It does drive our groceries budget up, but it’s oK.
    3. stuff for the baby – we don’t purchase the most expensive stuff, but we do purchase new clothing / shoes for her.
    4. travel – we go to a pretty expensive location each year, but we love it so much and it’s amazing, so we’re dealing with the high costs 😀

  • Brian October 19, 2014, 10:43 am

    Like similar posts, we tend not to skimp on quality food that we cook at home.

    When we moved to Phoenix, AZ from a two year stay in Nottingham England, we gradually furnished a 4 bedroom home with all Ethan Allen from Craigslist. With quality furniture, we can always turn it over when we move again (if needed). The only thing I won’t buy is used mattresses and TVs.

    We also purchased a new Prius (C class, smaller) to save on gas and repairs over the long haul. For 18K and trading in a car (Z3) for 5K, the payment and gas savings are well worth the investment.

  • mary October 19, 2014, 10:49 am

    Hi, I agree with buying quality glasses, as I always say… “they’re on my face!” I also spend on high quality meats and produce. But we don’t eat out, and we go to Starbucks only as a treat, we drink Folger’s everyday in fact. My boyfriend buys better beer, but I don’t drink at all so that evens out. We never skimp on gas either – we only buy Chevron with Techron, our cars run better longer! And we always do regular maintenance on them. We are into fixing things rather than just running out and buying new. Thanks for sharing all of your ideas!

  • Special Agent Dividend October 19, 2014, 9:20 pm

    I agree with you on education and travel. Both are paramount for our children, as I had neither growing up. I love traveling and experiencing new cultures and just simply around the US. My kids have seen more in their few years than I did until I was in my 20s.
    Another thing I don’t mind spending extra on is quality food. While I still look for the best prices, I don’t mind spending extra to get fresh food for the family.

  • papadad October 19, 2014, 9:44 pm

    Things not to skimp on:

    1. Bed – spend 40%+ of your life there. Best to be comfortable. Include pillow too.

    2. shoes. Nothing beats a pair of well fitting leather shoes. everyone should buy one custom fit pair of shoes in life. remarkable.

    3. healthcare. for all we worry about things financial, good health means more and is worth more than all the money in the bank…

    4. Tools -you really can buy them once, and if good quality, they will last a lifetime and passed down to heirs. Seriously – good tools to do the job right the first time actually saves money in the long run too. I like Snap-on or Craftsman tools.

  • Old School October 20, 2014, 6:27 am

    Great article. I think sometimes it is too easy to get caught up in the “it’s only x amount of dollars” while in the moment without realizing the true cost of an item. I too would never scrimp on a used child car seat, eye glasses, etc. I’ve tried cheap in the glasses world and you are right, NOT worth it!

  • cato October 21, 2014, 1:22 pm

    I skimp on a lot of things, but one thing I will not buy is low quality Scotch whisky. I only buy high quality and that comes at a price. It is one of my passions for thirty years now. I don’t drink a lot at one sitting so I want it to be the best.

  • Amy K October 23, 2014, 9:59 am

    TLDR; cheap glasses are great for trying something out you’re not sure about.
    Amusingly, I am all about the cheap online glasses. Three years ago I bought a pair of prescription sunglasses online – $20 delivered from Zenni Optical – and it was so much nicer than putting clip-ons on my regular glasses, as I have for years. Lowering the bar to ownership means I have a lot more glasses than I used to.

    At the moment I still have those cheap sunglasses (Cue ZZ Top) but my prescription has changed so I have a pair of everyday glasses in my new Rx (Coastal.com, great customer service, faster shipping, easier search, but pricier than Zenni). I also have a pair of “computer glasses” – the computer prescription is weaker than the everyday prescription (I’m nearsighted) so my eyes don’t have to overcome as much of a correction when viewing near items. The computer glasses are also from Zenni, because that’s another pair I wasn’t sure I’d really use so I figured I’d go cheap. They’re now my everyday glasses because I am a software developer and I’m getting old and wearing the “everyday” glasses all day gives me headaches from eye strain 🙁

    Last night I bought another pair and thought of this article, which is why I had to post. The new pair just has correction for my astigmatism, no distance correction, because I wonder how well I can see if just that was fixed. $12 from Zenni after shipping, cheap enough to do it on a whim. If they work well they might become my new computer glasses, or maybe just my smartphone glasses since I hold that thing too close to my face and I can feel my eyes straining.

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