Don’t Cheap Out

How do you answer a question like “What are things you never go cheap on and why?”.  Think about it – the question cuts with mischievous delight into your personally held biases towards common purchases.  Not only does the question force self-reflection, it’s really asking you, “What are you purchasing that you know you can save money on, if only you tossed your biases out the window?”.  Devilish indeed!

A little about myself.  I’m a software engineer in Silicon Valley (an area of land roughly defined as San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in California), married, no kids, and a home-owner.  I also write for (and run) the web site Don’t Quit Your Day Job… when my day job is through for the… um… day.

 How to Spend Money You Don’t Really Need To!

I have a confession to make: when it comes to dress shirts, I never go cheap.  Dress shirts in general aren’t closely associated with my industry, or California in general – you’re more likely to find college t-shirts and flip flops than dress shirts and cap toe bluchers.  However, growing up outside of Boston, Massachusetts, I think I had a fair amount of Puritan formalism instilled in my dress style!

In my closet I have approximately 25 to 30 dress shirts.  The most common label you’ll find is Brooks Brothers, followed by Joseph A. Banks (JAB runs yearlong sales, so it’s best to wait for the shirts to be marked down).  I’ve got a few shirts from the Jermyn Street shirtmakers.  I also have some MTM (made to measure) shirts – the highlight of my wardrobe, but I’m ashamed to admit their cost is in the triple digits after shipping.  Wearing one of those also means my wife cracks yuppie jokes all day.

Here’s even more about me: I’m 5’10” and have a 42” chest and a 31” waist.  If you know men’s clothing, you know those are silly proportions for buying off the rack clothing, but a 17-32 ‘fits’ me (the shoulders are in the right place).  To translate – that shirt has a 17″ neck opening and 32″ sleeves, measured from the middle of the back.  Even with a cheaper shirt, I could just pay $12 to my Tailor to bring in the waist and pull up the baggage in the chest area and under the arms.  Of course, that’s how I justify the MTM portion of my wardrobe – the stitches are perfect when the shirt is made for your actual proportions.  Even the ‘slim’ fits sold in store don’t come close to fitting someone like me.

Justifying An Expensive Habit

If there is anything to be said about the labels I pick – they last.  Every MTM shirt I’ve had made for me is still going strong.  The Jermyn Street, Brooks Brothers and Joseph A. Banks shirt also last a long time.  When I have bought cheap shirts in the past, they rarely last longer than a year – and I am meticulous about hanging the shirts to dry.  By that measure, the expensive shirts I wear are only expensive when it comes to initial costs – but by the end of their useful life their cost per wear is much less than the inferior quality shirts.  Also, since I’m getting it tailored anyway (like I said, a fixed cost), I want any shirt that I bother tailoring to last as long as physically possible.

Of course, my line of reasoning requires my proportions to stay the same.  I do build in a tiny bit of extra room when I get shirts tailored, but a significant shift in weight means a (expensive) new wardrobe.

 Where to Economize if You Want Quality Shirts

It’s pretty obvious where you can save money (short of tailoring shirts yourself or finding a cheaper Tailor – I’ve had mixed results with those options).  In fact, the most important quote is staring us in the face – “If there is anything to be said about the labels I pick – they last.”  Yes, they last long enough that a used shirt isn’t a significant decrease in quality from a new shirt.  That means, if you’re like me, you can buy used shirts on eBay, Craigslist, or in a Thrift Store.  Wash it well and your Tailor won’t even know the difference!

So, what do you think?  I’ve never considered myself part of the frugal crowd so I turn the mic to you: Should I cut out my expensive habit, or did I somehow convince you I’m not burning my money?

 PKamp3 is a writer for Don’t Quit Your Day Job… Enlightened Discussion of Personal Finance, Economics, Politics and the Offbeat for the Night and Weekend Crowd.  He also loves expensive shirts to the consternation of a certain subset of his readers.

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