Since my 30s, whenever I’ve need to buy a big ticket item for my apartment (and eventually, my house)—like a couch, mattress, kitchen table and so on—I’ve always bought the cheapest, nicest-looking item I could find.
But ten years later, I’m wondering how smart this strategy was. My couch, which only cost $500 and looked great for about a year, has this permanent black gunk on the arms that I can’t get rid of because the fabric can’t be removed. (Nicer sofas have zippers everywhere so you can take off and wash the material.)
Then again, I’m glad I didn’t spend too much on a couch because after decades of thinking I never wanted children, I changed my mind in my late 30s. I now have a toddler who jumps on the couch a lot, spills stuff everywhere, and colors just about everything with markers.
I’ve been wondering what I should do the next time I’m shopping for something that could cost a lot of money. So I asked some experts when it’s best to spend more for quality on big-ticket household items and when it makes sense to find a budget option and save your cash. Here’s their advice:
As someone who struggles with sleep issues, I’ve always thought an expensive mattress was worth the cost. Getting less than eight hours of sleep per night is associated with everything from health problems to relationship problems to thinking problems, which can eventually lead to career and money problems.
So when I reached out to Pete Cancelli, aka the Mattress Expert, I was sure he’d tell me that you should spend a lot on a high quality mattress.
But he told me just the opposite – in the world of mattresses, the most expensive models aren’t necessarily the best.
“There has been a steady decline in the quality of mattresses over the last 10 years, especially among the name brands,” Pete says.
According to Pete, the problem started in 2003, when most mattress manufacturers stopped making two-sided mattresses you could flip over to extend the life of the bed.
“The disingenuous ads of the time tried to sell it as ‘You don’t have to flip your mattress anymore,’” Pete says. “They left out the part about how having half the mattress you used to pay for, and that it will now last half as long as the two-sided ones did.”
Since then, according to Pete, manufacturers have been adding more and more memory foam to their mattresses. Initially, memory foam works well, but it doesn’t hold up very well over time.
You can, of course, buy a mattress that doesn’t have memory foam. But Pete suggests you still stay away from the high-end models.
“Mattresses are high end for two reasons,” he says. “They have more upholstery, which makes them susceptible to body impressions and that lead to loss of comfort sooner, and the profit margins are greater for the retailer.”
Pete suggests ordering a mattress online instead of buying one from a store. Most stores inflate prices to pay for advertising and other overhead associated with brick and mortar businesses. He sells some of his favorites on his web site, starting at $499.
Another idea? Add a four-inch foam topper to your current mattress. I bought one through Amazon (prices start at $92) and it was like sleeping in a brand new bed.
Expert opinion: No need to spend a lot.
The average American spends 2.5 to 3.5 hours per day watching TV. Granted, not all of that time is spent on the sofa, but a good chunk likely is.
If you’re like me, you also spend time on the couch working or reading.
That’s why Debbie Erb, an interior designer at Lippmann’s Furniture and Interiors, a furniture retailer in Peoria, Il, tells clients a well-built, comfortable sofa should be one the top three purchases for anyone looking to invest in for their living space.
When it comes to sofas, the more you spend, the longer it will last.
“The life of a sofa is dependent on the construction of the frame, the cushions, and the fabric or leather covering,” Debbie says. “What if this initial investment lasts ten or more years? That works out to only pennies per night. Is that worth it to you? Most of the time the less expensive sofa will need to be replaced four-to-five times in comparison to the more expensive investment.”
I asked her if a more expensive sofa is still be a must-buy for those of you who imagine you’ll be moving a lot in the coming years. I once moved a couch from Chicago to New York. The movers lost two seat cushions en route, making the sofa basically useless. I’ve also heard plenty of horror stories about people having to saw off sofa arms because their couch didn’t fit through the doorframe of their new place.
We can never predict what movers may lose, but according to Debbie, doorframes likely shouldn’t be an issue.
“Most upholstery vendors have a standard size of 84 inches in length, 36 inches deep and 34 inches in height and these should fit through a standard door opening,” she says. “And if you see yourself moving a lot, remember that some vendors offer sectional sofas pieces can be configured to fit new spaces once.”
As for other household furniture, consider how often you’ll use it. Chances are you yourself won’t be in the guest bedroom a lot. So there’s no need to spend a lot of money unless you have it.
Expert opinion: Paying more for quality is usually worth it.
If you rent an apartment or house, you’ve probably never thought about what type of refrigerator, washer/dryer, or dishwasher you should buy because appliances come with the property (although in some cities, like LA, renters often have to supply their own refrigerators).
But one day, you may want to buy property. And if you currently own property or are about to close on a deal, at some point, you’ll find yourself wandering around an appliance store, totally confused about if you should splurge or save.
Factors affecting cost of appliances usually include size, energy efficiency, and features.
Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for General Electric Appliances, told Lifehacker, “What it boils down to is for you to know your lifestyle, what’s valuable or important to you.”
If the sound of a loud washing machine drives you crazy, paying more for a machine with stabilization is probably worth it.
Stainless steel kitchen appliances are all the rage these days, but you’ll often pay a few hundred extra dollars for them. Doesn’t matter to you? Don’t do it.
Another consideration is if you should buy an energy efficient model (known as Energy Star models) or not—they cost an extra $50-$200 more than regular appliances but usually shave money off your monthly utility bills. In general, you’ll recoup the extra costs associated with energy efficient appliances within a few years.
For example, the EPA estimates that an Energy Star-labeled refrigerator saves you about $30 per year in energy costs. So within three years, you’ll recoup the extra money you spent and even more during the remaining years of the refrigerator’s life.
Of course, if you plan on moving and leaving the appliances behind, or your current model still has some good years left, buying an energy efficient model may not make sense.
The EPA web site has calculators to help you figure out if an energy efficient appliance will pay off for you.
Expert opinion: Probably, if you need to buy a new appliance and don’t plan on moving for five or so years.
Now you chime in. Which household goods do you think are worth splurging on? Leave a comment.
Figuring out when to splurge and when to scrimp on household goods depends entirely on your priorities and future plans (as much as you can plan for the future).
In general, a super high-end mattress probably won’t be worth the investment.
Spending more for a quality sofa, however, will likely be worth it. Cheaper models often need to be replaced sooner.
When it comes to appliances, consider if and when you’re moving before investing in energy efficient or higher-end appliances. Do you plan to live in your home longer than the expected lifespan of your fridge? Spend more. Plan to move in the next five years? Look for a base-model bargain.