The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

July 28, 2013

Know when to spend wisely


I’m Irish, not Scottish, but I tend to be “thrifty.” Some call it “cheap.”

Whenever it’s practical, I avoid paying retail. For instance, we have never bought a brand-new car or truck, and we have never had a new house. I typically use second-hand tools, I read second-hand books and I go backpacking with a second-hand pack.

I gave Laurie a beautiful diamond engagement ring — a new mounting set with my grandmother’s diamonds — but I found her wedding ring in a little antiques shop in Rye, England. Mine came from a pawn shop in Kensington, London. To me, that makes them more interesting than if they had come from some mall.

Which leads me to an article I recently read, titled “Eight Things You Shouldn’t Cheap Out On.”

The writer, Donna Freedman of MSN Money, notes that her father is a carpenter. He instilled in her the importance of buying only top-quality tools. His motto was “Buy once, cry once.” Another variation is the saying, “Buy it right or buy it twice.” In other words, Freedman says, “Frugality has its limits … spend the money, for heaven’s sake.”

1. Shoes. “Be kind to your feet or you will regret it,” she writes. “Buy well-made shoes with good support.” I couldn’t agree more. Good shoes and boots may seem expensive, but they can be resoled and reheeled, and that makes them cheaper, in the long run. They look better and feel better, too. Wearing somebody else’s shoes is asking for foot and back problems.

2. Clothing. I buy new shirts and pants for office wear, but I have been known to buy a $50 silk tie for $1 at a yard sale, as long as nobody can tell. Most of the flannel shirts, jeans, jackets and coats that I wear for weekend work were purchased for pennies on the dollar. I can’t see crawling under a truck or through a crawl space wearing nice new clothes.

3. Food. “Get the best food you can afford. Don’t subsist on presweetened cereal or frozen dinners just because you had coupons for them,” Freedman says. We probably waste money by not shopping around more, but we never scrimp on food.

4. Tools. New hand tools are usually expensive, and many are inferior to old ones. But whenever safety or convenience is an issue, buy new. They didn’t have battery packs and automatic shut-offs 50 years ago.

5. Housing. It’s much smarter to buy a dumpy house in a great area than a great house in a dumpy area. So-called “gentrification” sounds good, but it’s risky.

6. Health care coverage. I know people who have gone years without health insurance, simply to save money. I don’t think I could sleep at night without it. One traffic accident or one fall could bankrupt most working people.

7. Professional advice. Don’t look for a bargain when shopping for a doctor, lawyer or financial adviser. And never buy a house without having a lawyer examine the papers first. The real-estate agent is working for the seller, not you.

8. Automobiles. Don’t sacrifice safety and reliability when buying a car. You can save thousands of dollars by simply remembering that you’re buying transportation, not a status symbol.

Now you know why most Scots have money.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at