When cheap means dangerous: 5 things you should never do to save money
Saving money and spending less are both great goals, but too much of a good thing can actually end up backfiring on you. If you're compromising on the wrong purchases to pay off debt sooner or save money faster, you could end up seriously hurting your safety or health. And, even if your well-being or longevity isn't at risk, sometimes buying the cheapest option isn't your best bet — because cheap items that must be replaced often will cost you more in the long run.
"We as consumers must be our own best advocates for a healthy, well life," Linda Stollings, a personal trainer, health coach and CEO of fitPrescriptions LLC told Mic via email.
If being cheap damages your health or puts your safety at risk, that frugality is hurting you — instead of helping. So avoid these five big "don'ts" below when it comes to trying to spend more wisely.
1. Don't sacrifice your healthy diet
U.S. consumers, businesses, and government entities spend more than a trillion dollars annually on food and beverages, but are you spending your share of this money wisely?
"It's tempting to buy foods that appear to be less expensive than some other healthier options, but in reality they will cost you much more in the long run —your health," Stollings said. "There are many ingredients found in unhealthy foods that are linked to heart disease, cancer, auto-immune diseases, allergies, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, depression and the list goes on and on."
It is true that a healthier diet — with more fresh produce and lean meats, and fewer packaged or processed foods — may cost an average of around $1.48 more per day, according to the British Medical Journal. But that's a worthy investment, as unhealthy foods "are linked to four of the world’s top 10 leading risk factors causing death," according to the World Heart Federation.
Avoiding this fate doesn't have to cost a fortune, either. You can spend just $5 daily on food — by spending less on ingredients and keeping flavorful staples in your kitchen (hello, olive oil and chili flakes!) to jazz up basics — and you can keep even more savings in your budget by being choosy about which organics you buy and by using coupons. "Spending a little extra money on foods that are not full of artificial ingredients and flavors, are close to their nature state, unprocessed, free of nitrates and other carcinogens and have ingredients you can pronounce will make you rich in wellness," Stollings said.
2. Don't buy cheap work gear
What you wear to work matters, as it can affect how you are judged. "In general for workwear, the more you spend, the more you can see it in the quality of the fabric," Kat Griffin, founder and editor-in-chief of the work fashion blog Corporette, said. If you like to wear prints, for example, it can be especially important not to buy bottom-cost items, since low-quality structuring can be obvious. "Cheaper garments made of printed fabric tend to be poorly fabricated." Griffin warned. "The print may line up poorly, for example."
But it's not just the look that matters, either. Cheaper clothes tend to wear out quickly and get tossed in the trash, which is bad for your wallet and the environment. Far better to spend a little more on investment pieces that will last forever. "Americans alone send 10 million tons of clothing to the dump each year," according to HuffPost. Plus, as Griffin pointed out "If you buy an item and it becomes a favorite, your heart will break when the item wears out!"
Finally, of course, your health may actually be at stake, too, when it comes to poor quality shoes, which could lead to a host of problems like collapsed arches, back pain and joint pain. "Spend more on shoes if you can," Griffin said. "In general, a leather shoe is going to wear longer, have better cushioning, be more comfortable and have a more stable heel."
The good news is, you can build a great work wardrobe on a budget by buying high quality basic pieces and being smart about where you shop.
3. Don't put off necessary medical care
Going to the doctor can be expensive, with the average new-patient appointment costing more than $100 if you don't have insurance. But not going to the doctor could cost you even more in the long run.
"Our health is a precious commodity," Stollings said. "If you have ever been ill or have a chronic disease, you realize that it costs you a lot of money for health care, money for medications, lost time from your job and more importantly, quality time with your family and the ones you love."
Unfortunately, one in four Americans report that they've personally skipped getting care or had a family member delay care due to cost. Putting off care can cause a chronic condition to worsen and become more costly to care for or even untreatable.
If you're worried about affording your necessary medical care, look into ways to get free or low-cost care like visiting a community health center or Planned Parenthood. You can also swap out name-brand medications for generics, which will work easily if you have allergies or other chronic conditions you need ongoing medication to keep under control.
4. Don't cheap out on safe transportation
Whether you drive or bike, keeping your automobile or bicycle in good condition is always worth the investment. "It's one thing to risk your life in the line of duty. It's another thing entirely to risk your life commuting," Wisebread wrote. You need a safe and reliable way to get around.
Now, this doesn't mean borrowing money to buy a fancy luxury vehicle and potentially becoming a victim of the sub-prime car loan trend. It means buying a car you can afford that is reliable — rather than a cheaper model with more safety issues, and it means making sure you keep up with routine maintenance so you're not driving on bald tires or with bad brakes. It could also mean buying a higher quality bike that is both well-made and properly assembled.
"Last winter, a reporter for Orlando’s News6 bought four bikes at area mass-merchant retailers and took them to a local bike shop for a safety check," Bicycling.com reported. "Three of the four failed the inspection due to assembly errors." These errors included loose brake cables, loose wheel axles, and a loose stem — all of which can result in serious accidents.
5. Don't compromise on safety gear
Activities you do every day require you to use products designed to keep you or your loved ones safe. From a high-quality dog leash that won't break when you're walking your dog through city traffic, to non-toxic sunscreen that actually works, to contraceptive products that protect against pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease, you may not think much about the importance of these items as they quietly keep you safe — but you need to make sure you're not buying discount versions that are less effective or could cause active harm.
With certain products, safety benefits are even more apparent. If you have kids, you'll need a crib, car seat and stroller that are brand new and that meet modern safety standards. If you ski, you need the right helmets and goggles. If you do home improvements, you need good-quality hearing protection, a mask or respirator to prevent exposure to toxins and work gloves that will actually protect your hands. And, again, if you ride a bike, you need a high quality bike helmet.
"Fire alarms, smoke detectors, child car seats — these are not items that you should buy at the dollar store. When it comes to safety, it's OK to budget for a bit more than you normally would," USA Today wrote.
So when buying products designed to keep you and your family from serious injury, make sure you select only products certified by safety experts — like the Consumer Product Safety Commission — and make sure those items are new and in good condition, even if used or uncertified items cost a little less.
Sign up for The Payoff — your weekly crash course on how to live your best financial life. Additionally, for all your burning money questions, check out Mic’s credit, savings, career, investing and health care hubs for more information — that pays off.