The Ten-Cent Shirt and the $200 Hat
Several years ago, my wife and I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a few days of vacation. On her list of things to do, my wife had written “Men’s Hat Shop”. I had been putting off shopping for a new hat. Now I had no excuses.
I wear broad-brimmed hats to prevent a recurrence of skin cancer. During the hot season, I wear a straw Stetson Rancher. I break out the felt fedora I bought years ago for the winter months. Although I often receive compliments on it, my wife thinks the fedora makes me look older than I am.
The Men’s Hat Shop has just about any hat you might want except baseball caps and beanies. I chose a chocolate, western style Stetson felt. I prefer a lower crown and a flatter, narrower brim. No problem. They blocked it and trimmed the brim. The hat ended up costing almost two hundred dollars — a Father’s Day gift from my wife.
On our way home, we stopped in Socorro, New Mexico to visit a thrift shop a friend had recommended. A traditional community operation staffed by volunteers, it occupied an empty retail store off the main drag. Clothing was on sale for ten cents an item. I found this heavy, plaid J. Crew shirt with that comfortable, slightly used look that fetches a premium at a retail store.
I arrived back home with a two hundred dollar hat and a ten-cent shirt. Is that inconsistent with a frugal lifestyle? Not at all. The contrast illustrates a basic tenet of frugality: get the best value for the money you spend.
The hat will last me the rest of my life. I will wear it daily for five months out of the year, every year. It looks the way I want it to look. It fits properly. At two hundred dollars, I consider the hat a great value. Could I keep the harmful rays of the sun off of my head, face, and neck for less money? Sure, I could wear a cheap hat, but it would not satisfy me. If it doesn’t satisfy me, then it does not get the job done. Less money does not mean more value if the job doesn’t get done.
The ten-cent shirt does the job for me. Washed and ironed, it is as good as any other casual shirt I own. Could I spend more on a shirt that does the job? Sure. But why spend the money? What do I gain?
Frugality is about getting a good value; it is knowing what it takes to get the job done and then buying only what does the job, nothing more or less, whether it be a ten-cent shirt or a $200 hat.
K.C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based Lifestyle (Double-Dome Publications, 1996). He writes about personal finance at LiveOnCash Blog where this article was first published.