The title of this story may sound like an oxymoron, but if you think about your net worth down to every possession, you can start to see ways to make the most of the money you’ve already spent. You can do this by maintaining an item and thereby prevent yourself from spending more money in the future, or recoup some of the costs by selling it.
These days, we live in a culture of replacement. We are always buying new items to replace broken, worn, dirty, or even just unstylish things. But this wasn’t always the case. As recently as my grandparents’ generation, people would always try to repair something before replacing it. Of course, many things these days suffer from plain obsolescence (a built-in self-destruction designed to make you buy another one) but it’s still possible to live like grandma and grandpa and try repairing, maintaining, or updating something before replacing it.
Here, I’ll show you how to make the most of the money you’ve already spent through maintenance, cleaning, repairs, selling items, and upcycling. Let’s do this!
1. Maintenance, cleaning, and tune-ups
The most important thing you can do to make the most of the money you’ve already spent is to take good care of your possessions. Everything you bring into your life comes with a responsibility. If maintaining an item is unpleasant or impractical, it’s worth considering whether you have room for it in your life at all. Don’t buy things you can’t commit to maintaining.
One of the most basic ways to maintain an item is to keep it clean. Whether it’s a piece of furniture, an appliance, or an electronic, it’s a good idea to learn how to clean the item properly and thoroughly. Many items can actually stop working properly due to a buildup of dirt and grime, so this step can prolong the life of your item and prevent you from having to replace it in the future. It’s also important to check the instructions for how to maintain something you’ve just bought. For example, I recently purchased a cordless vacuum that requires me to change the filter monthly. Many things need regular tune-ups — from bicycles to fans to computer keyboards. If you’ve bought a wooden cutting board, you should know that you’ll need to oil it regularly to keep it in good shape. Another example is rotating your mattress. It helps it to wear more evenly and ultimately last longer.
Take a look around the house for anything that’s in need of a good deep clean, or that needs a tune-up. Your things will look nicer, work better, and last longer.
2. Check the shelf life and use things up
Most consumables don’t require maintenance in the same way as housewares and furnishings, but you can still make the most of the money you’ve spent on them by making sure you use them up before they go bad. Nothing’s sadder than having to toss a whole bag of stale pine nuts! Make it a habit to look through the fridge, the pantry, and wherever you store your toiletries, and take note of what needs to be used up and by when. Another note: don’t buy things in bulk if you’re not sure you can use them up. It’s better to pay less overall at a worse per-pound rate than to buy a huge amount to try and get a better deal and toss your savings in the trash.
3. Repairing something before tossing it
When something breaks, it’s tempting to rush out to the store to replace it. But you’d be surprised at how often you can fix an item, rather than buying a new one. If the repair costs less than the replacement (and the other parts aren’t likely to break, too), it’s usually worthwhile to go for the repair. For example, a pair of designer shoes is expensive to replace, but it only costs a fraction of the replacement price to get them resoled. On the other hand, sometimes proprietary replacement parts can be hard to track down and expensive to purchase.
The first thing you should do when an item breaks is to do a quick search for the symptoms online. You may be able to find a guide on how to fix it. The next step is to contact the manufacturer. I’ve had great success having items repaired or replaced through the manufacturer, whether it’s in warranty or not. Most companies stand behind their products, and would rather send you a new one than leave you an upset customer. Taking the time to shoot a quick email to their customer service department can easily save you hundreds of dollars in replacement costs.
4. Upcycling & keeping it timeless
Like we live in a culture of replacement, we also live in a culture of excessive renovation. We worship trendy kitchens and modern furnishings and reject older, still functioning, and otherwise perfectly fine items. This goes for clothing, too. The temptation to renovate, renew, or replace your old items can be intense, but there are some options that preserve your initial investment while still meeting your current needs.
First, do your best to reject trends, and don’t invest too much money in them. While crop tops may be in right now, they’re not particularly versatile. Instead, invest your time and money into clothing, decor, and furnishings that are timeless and long-lasting. Some examples would be classic silhouettes in fashion, wooden furniture, and mainstay housewares. If you find you’ve got an item that’s out of style, take the time to evaluate whether you can update it. Upcycling is a fun fashion trend where you can make something stylish out of something old, plus it’s crafty to boot. Things like furnishings can be painted, stained, or otherwise altered to match your current needs. Updating the things you already have is almost always going to cost less than a total replacement or renovation. This is a great way to save money on housing, too. A 1960s apartment with an out-of-date kitchen is usually going to cost less than a brand-new condo with in-style finishes.
5. Sell the things you no longer need
If you find yourself with an item you’ve decided is no longer for you, you may be able to sell it and recoup some of your initial costs. Whenever I’m pining after something new, I’ll often do a bit of decluttering and selling to raise the funds. Even if you can only get a couple bucks for the item, it’s usually doesn’t take long to sell it. With online classifieds like Craigslist and Facebook groups being so popular, you can quickly list and sell your stuff. For niche or unusual items, eBay is your friend.
Whatever you do, don’t become complacent — unless the time spent selling the item becomes an opportunity cost. If you’re taking time that you could be working to sell old items, and you’re not really making any money, you’re wasting your time. But if you come out ahead, it’s a good habit to get into. You spent money on the item, so you should try and recoup the costs wherever possible.
6. Return defective products
I’m always surprised at the number of people who “don’t do” returns under a certain amount. On one hand, I get it. It’s an extra trip back to the store, and sometimes you just want to be done with something. But if the product isn’t working for you, or if there’s something wrong with it, you are within your rights to get your money back. I’ve definitely brought back moldy fruit or an open bottle to the store to get a refund.
Relatedly, if something doesn’t meet your needs, be honest with yourself and return it. I’ve definitely deceived myself into thinking a purchase was a good idea and waited too long to return it. That’s money down the drain. Having the attitude that it’s okay to return things can help you avoid spending mistakes and make the most of the money you’re spending.
Saving the money you’ve already spent comes down to a few simple habits and attitudes. Understand that possessions are a responsibility, and commit to cleaning and maintaining them. Don’t buy things you won’t maintain. When things break, as they inevitably will, don’t rush out to replace them. See if you can find a fix online, or if the manufacturer can do anything to help you. Use up consumables and don’t buy in bulk unless you’re sure you can use it up. Avoid trends and update, rather than renovate, wherever possible. Finally, don’t be afraid to return something you bought if it isn’t doing it for you. Doing all this (imperfectly, mind you) has easily saved me hundreds, and I expect to keep seeing returns. Now go look for something to clean or repair!
Laura Tennant is a 25-year-old writer from Toronto. She likes to write about health, science, and psychology, as well as lifestyle, organization, and finances. Outside of the writing world, she enjoys tending her houseplants and finding reasons to laugh.
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