Don’t Ignore the Hidden Cost of Your Stuff

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It’s sooooo easy to buy things.  Just whip out the wallet and pay cash or pull out the trusty credit card.   Because buying “stuff” is such a piece of cake, we don’t often have the level of mindfulness that we should when we make our purchases.  Clearly if you are having difficulty making ends meet, mindfulness of how you are spending should be a priority. Even if you are not struggling financially, it is easy to fall into the trap of spending without thinking.

To make matters worse, often the cost of the item we purchase doesn’t stop at the price tag we paid for it.  There are other costs we can attribute to owning our stuff.  Ideally, it’s an excellent practice to take our mindfulness about our purchasing habits to a new level – one that takes into consideration the complete lifetime cost of each item.  Here are a few to think about.

The cost of upkeep

Items we buy need care over the lifetime of the item.  Clothing, for example, needs laundering regularly (or dry cleaning!) but also possibly ironing and repair.  Vehicles need routine maintenance and cleaning, and so do houses.  Even smaller things need attention: lamps need bulbs, alarm clocks need batteries.

Often in minimalism discussions, the idea of quality over quantity comes up.  I think that idea has merit, but it is not as simple as asserting that quality items will always be cheaper to own over their lifetime.  Take clothing, for example.  It may be true that spending $300 on a designer jacket that will hold up for a decade might seem more cost effective than purchasing a new, inexpensive $50 jacket each year.  But if you factor in the dry-cleaning costs that the expensive jacket requires versus the machine laundering the less expensive jacket requires, the balance could tip in favor of going with the cheaper option.

Continuing with that same example, the cost saving of the expensive jacket only applies if you actually wear it for an extended number of years.  If you like to change your fashion more frequently, buying higher-cost, higher-quality items could increase your clothing costs significantly.

We can get further into the weeds by adding in your ability to resell the higher quality jacket as a cost-offset, or by bringing the ethics of “fast fashion” into the equation.  My point is this:  it is a worthy exercise to consider the complete cost of owning things we choose to own.

Expensive cars are another example.  Theoretically, a more expensive car is a higher-quality item expected to last longer.  But expensive cars might require premium gasoline to run properly, and service visits can be significantly costlier than those needed by a less expensive car.

Consider the cost of upkeep over the life of the item you are considering purchasing.


Another cost of ownership that can add up over time is insurance.  A new car will cost more to insure than an older car.  What about the expensive jewelry you bought or the antiques or original artwork in your living room?   Will you insure those?

When contemplating a major purchase such as a vehicle or home, or even a smaller, but valuable item like an engagement ring, do some homework to determine how much the insurance for that item would be.  Obviously, you could elect NOT to insure things like jewelry; I’m not advocating for over-insuring.  It is, however, a good practice to remember that insurance (if needed and desired) adds to the overall cost of the item.


Where will you store this new item in your life?  Big purchases like cars or boats might require constructing a garage or carport to protect your investment from the elements.  Other items might require a smaller, yet not uncostly storage solution.  Cameras, computers, and other electronic devices, for example, often require special cases to provide protection.

Take the storage concept a bit further and look at the cost for containers for all the additional possessions in your home.  As things pile up, so does the temptation to purchase an organization solution.  More bins, boxes, or cabinets will be just the thing to get us organized and help us store our stuff!  While I have had those very thoughts in the past, my new reaction to the “I need a storage container” idea is to counter it with the challenge of determining what else to declutter to make more space.

Your time

Last but not least, how much of your time will be involved in maintaining, insuring, storing, and organizing your purchases?  In many cases, the answer is likely “not much at all.”  In other cases, however, a considerable time commitment may be a hidden cost.

Time is also a consideration when thinking about buying used versus new.  Used items might be less expensive but may require a substantial time commitment to clean or upfit your purchase.   This is not to imply that you should never purchase used items in need of repair or TLC.  Rather, I suggest you factor in the cost of your time if you are deciding between a new and used purchase.

Bottom Line

Like most things in life, there is no right or wrong answer here.  My intention is to encourage you to think about the lifetime cost of an item to help you be more discerning in your purchasing.  Before pulling out your wallet, think about what additional costs might be in your future.  Better yet, consider waiting to purchase until you can do some homework on what the associated costs could be before deciding to buy.

What is your process for evaluating cost when making purchases?  Feel free to share it below, or if you prefer, you can email me at  Or if you want to start a discussion with some like-minded friends, join the free SimpleMoney Community on Facebook to share your ideas!

You might also enjoy:

When it Comes to Spending, Focus on Meaning

Simplifying Your Life Requires Balancing Time and Money

Trying to Simplify?  Beware of Sunk Costs

Always Buy Quality!  (But is This Always the Right Answer?)


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