30 Cheap Choices That Can Cost You in the Long Run

Home appliance in the store showroom

Serghei Starus/istockphoto

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Home appliance in the store showroom
Serghei Starus/istockphoto

Cheap Tricks, Pricey Consequences

We are a society that loves being cheap. Walmart built an empire on being cheap. Outlets including Amazon, Overstock, and eBay wooed U.S. consumers out of stores and online by being cheap. Airlines built an entire fee-based system around it. Yet being cheap doesn't necessarily mean being smart, and paying less doesn't always mean getting more value for the money. Here are just some examples of goods and services that are worth the extra price. Do you have more examples? Share them in the comments.

Related: Signs You're Too Frugal

Buying Bargain Brand Paint

Buying Bargain Brand Paint

Congratulations, you bought the cheapest paint in the store. Now you're going to use almost twice as much of it to cover a wall. Bargain, generic-brand paint with a great price is almost always thinner and, as the DIY Network once pointed out, while costlier paints use titanium that gives more coverage with one coat, cheaper paints use clay, which gives you brush marks, roller marks, and blank spots. Spend a little more and do it in one coat. Find out how even Little Home Improvement Projects Can Make a Big Impact

Related: Steps to Painting a Room Like a Pro


Using an Inexpensive Laptop

If you're using a subpar laptop, you’ll be spending a lot of that time waiting for video to load, correcting wonky typing, looking at a muddy display, or recharging a constantly underpowered battery. Consider something better than a base model.    

Related: 100 Tech Products That Will Make Your Life Easier


Opting for a Cheap Lawyer

A lawyer has your business, assets, family's future and, sometimes, freedom in their hands, Amy Rees Anderson notes in Forbes. A cheap lawyer may get the job done — or leave you regretting the choice to be cheap forever.

Continuing to Use Incandescent Light Bulbs

Continuing to Use Incandescent Light Bulbs

You can keep buying incandescent or halogen bulbs if you'd like, but you're wasting time and money. A $1 incandescent bulb lasts 1,200 hours, requires 21 changes in 23 years, uses $180 worth of electricity and costs a total of $201 over a 23-year lifespan. An LED bulb, on the other hand, costs $8 or less, lasts 25,000 hours, uses $30 of electricity over that same 23-year span, and doesn't need changing. Yes, $8 is more expensive than $1, but $201 is a lot more costly than $38

Related: Smart Purchases That Pay for Themselves

Spend Less on Laundry

Cleaning With Generic Detergent and Cleaning Products

Eyeing generic or dollar-store cleaners for home and laundry? Be warned that the cheapest detergents are underperformers that have trouble dissolving, leaving clumps of detergent in clothing. Meanwhile, the lowest-cost window cleaners often leave streaks instead of clear windows — though many DIY experimenters swear by a mixture of vinegar, liquid soap, and water.

For more great money-saving tips, please sign up for our free newsletters.

Bulk Groceries and Supplies
Using Flimsy Garbage Bags
Surya Nair/istockphoto

Using Flimsy Garbage Bags

Ever have a cheap garbage bag just fall apart while holding a week's worth of trash? If so, you likely started spending a little more on commercial bags or stretchy household versions. The rule of thumb dictates that if it's worth more to not have to clean up garbage to save a few cents per bag, go with the stronger option.

Pasta Sauce
Sonia Dubois/istockphoto

Making Dinner With Generic Pasta Sauce

Honestly, this is something you should be making at home for far cheaper than you're buying it by the jar. But if you are stopping off for a quick jar of sauce to go with that night's dinner, shouldn't it at least taste as if you used some real ingredients? Consumer Reports' Consumerist once called generic pasta sauce "akin to pouring ketchup on your spaghetti," and when that costs about $2.70 for 25 ounces and Classico is around $3 for 24 ounces, it doesn't cost all that much to trade up. 

Related: Target, Walmart, Aldi — Which Cheap Pasta Sauce Is a Winner?

Skimping on a Good Sofa

Skimping on a Good Sofa

You should spend $1,800 to $2,000 on a durable sofa, rather than less than $1,000 on a lesser model, according to ValuePenguin. Why? Because a sofa with a hardwood frame, polyurethane foam cushions, and non-detachable legs will last 25 years compared with just five for the cheap one. That's $40 a year for quality vs. $200 a year for a stopgap measure.

Riding a Discount Bicycle

Sleeping on a Low-Cost Mattress

You spend a quarter to a third of the year sleeping — and could do it on a $600 to $1,000 mattress that could last 10 or more years or on one costing little more than $100. As an everyday mattress, that likely isn't going to pass muster. Do your sleep and overall health a favor and save the cheap mattress for the guest room. 

Related: This Is Everything That's Robbing You of Sleep

Lasik Surgery

Risking Your Eyesight With Cheap Lasik Surgery

You're meddling with one of your senses to ditch contacts and glasses. That's fine, and many people take the same approach, but you don't want to go cheap with your eyesight on the line. While the Mayo Clinic says vision loss from Lasik surgery is rare, dry eyes, glare, halos, double vision, astigmatism, and clouded vision don't sound good either.


Wearing Low-Quality Shoes

If you're on your feet for a long time each day, buying cheap footwear that's uncomfortable or that you have to keep replacing doesn't make sense. When you have places such as Zappos that do free returns or L.L. Bean and Keen with generous product guarantees, the additional cost of their shoes offers a bit more comfort and peace of mind than the lesser shoes you were eyeing at the strip mall. 

Related: Where to Buy Shoes and Boots That Are Made in America

Risking It With Cheap Condoms

Risking It With Cheap Condoms

Those condoms in the club bathroom with the wacky names and textured features? Yeah, those aren't going to do much to protect you. As the FDA has pointed out, cheap novelty condoms are designed only for stimulation, not pregnancy or disease prevention. Even expensive condoms may not be right for the job, though — so always read the labeling, make sure condoms are made of latex or polyurethane, and state specifically that they are designed to help in ways that matter.

Plastic Surgery

Traveling to Get Discount Plastic Surgery

Hey, did you hear about that country you can visit for a cheap facelift and tummy tuck? Yeah, well, it turns out that medical tourism might cost the U.S. health care system more than $1.3 billion annually to fix complications and infections from cheap surgeries. The official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons broke down the results from 42 patients over three years: 30 developed infections, 11 had abscesses, eight had incisions reopen, 20 were hospitalized, and 13 required additional surgery. Fixing those "cheap" procedures cost an average $18,000 each. 

Related: Reduce Your Health Care Costs With These Expert Tips for Seniors


Surfing on Someone Else’s Internet

You'd think everyone with high-speed internet would've learned to lock down their Wi-Fi by now, but there are plenty of people letting neighbors coast by on their bandwidth. Not only is this bad for the subscriber, but the person getting "free" Wi-Fi is exposing themselves to malware, fake hotspots, potential identity theft, and more. No, you may never get caught stealing Wi-Fi, but the consequences of jumping on an unsecured network can be far worse.


Driving Around to Find Cheap Gas

We've gone over this one before, but it makes no sense to burn a whole bunch of gasoline to go out of the way to pay 6 cents less by the gallon. It's great to use GasBuddy or similar apps to find cheap gas nearby, but going 15 minutes out of the way to save a dollar isn't worth the time or money. 

Related: How to Get Cheaper Gas as the Price of Oil Rises

Car Repair
Buying Cheap Prescription Eyewear

Buying Cheap Prescription Eyewear

Cheap glasses are a gamble on size and prescription and don't necessarily match the quality from more knowledgeable outlets or optometrists. Even fans of cheap online glasses note that not every service is equally reputable. While Consumer Reports lauds the quality and price of glasses at Costco, Kaiser Permanente facilities, Walmart, and ZenniOptical, consumers need to be cautious and adjust expectations when going cheap.

Hiring an Inexpensive Babysitter

Hiring an Inexpensive Babysitter

Admittedly, the price for babysitting is whatever the market will bear. There are some ways to skirt the cost, but the best bet is to either pay what a trusted sitter asks or scan Care.com, UrbanSitter, or similar sites for sitters that meet your financial needs. If the sitter's costs and ratings don't align, just weigh the cost of a better sitter against the benefit of keeping a child safe.

Fixing Your Home With Cheap Contractors

Fixing Your Home With Cheap Contractors

Plumbers, electricians, builders, drywall hangers: All come in handy in a pinch, but can leave a huge and costly mess if the wrong one does the job. Before hiring the cheapest, the National Association of Realtors suggests considering reviews of their work, the time it takes them to respond, the timeliness of their references, their timetable, materials costs, stance on permits (it should always include them), and even their sense of humor. If the cheap contractor fails any part of that sniff test, consider someone a bit more costly who can pass it. 

Related: DIY Disasters: 20 Repairs to Leave to the Pros

Buying Bargain-Basement Appliances

Getting Stuck With Low-Quality Acupuncture

If someone sticking needles in you isn't enough motivation to see if they're licensed and certified, perhaps the potential for brain injury, lung damage, or even death will prod you along. While those outcomes are rare, acupuncture comes with more common risks that include the use of under-sterilized needles, needles not made of surgical steel that can cause allergic reactions, and even needles left in after treatment.

Trying to Skimp on Personal Training

Trying to Skimp on Personal Training

To really cheap out on personal training, ditch it altogether and go to the gym on your own. But if you feel you need help, stop dithering with that free personal trainer app and either find a trainer online who fits your financial needs or take advantage of a gym's personal training sessions. 

Related: Lies Fitness Trainers Tell


Cutting Corners When Moving

Moving isn't easy, but neither is convincing friends or family to help. Nor is it easy to decide to stop using your blankets as furniture pads and your back instead of hand trucks and dollies. There are hire-a-helper sites that can give you a hand, but we'd suggest looking into the rental prices for moving supplies from U-Haul or other providers. They're less than you'd think.

Related: 10 Moving Nightmares (and How to Avoid Them)

Purchasing Low-Priced Work Clothes
miodrag ignjatovic/istockphoto

Purchasing Low-Priced Work Clothes

If you still have to show up in person at your job, keep this in mind: Work clothes are used too often to just keep buying them regularly. While you can get them cheaply and in bulk at club stores, retailers including Patagonia, Duluth Trading, L.L. Bean, Woolrich, Pendleton, and American Giant all guarantee their goods for life. 

Related: Pajamas, Sweats, and Leisure Wear Perfect for Working at Home

Kitchen Gadgets

Using Cheap Kitchen Gadgets

Higher quality items in the kitchen have a longer life span. A cheap blender won’t last long before breaking, but investing in a quality product means you aren’t replacing it every year. A high-quality kitchen knife will outlive cheap kitchen knives by 10 years, and a cheap set of pots and pans will need replacing years earlier than a high-end, albeit pricier, set.

Related: Kitchen Gadgets That Are a Waste of Money