"Oh, I totally get it! BIFL!" my friend said.
As I read the transcript, I asked the question: "BIFL? What does that mean?"
"Buy It For Life," was the answer I received in the chat window.
This was the first time I had ever heard the formalized construct of buying something that was higher quality in the hopes that it would last longer, but it was actually something I had considered for quite some time.
I think my awareness of this issue first came at a very early age.
One day in elementary school, we were introduced to the concept of sweatshops. At that young age, I felt that buying products that were produced in substandard conditions to be sold to consumers for a cheap price was wrong.
As I reflect on this many years later, I also consider the aspect of transactional costs:
What is the real cost of getting things cheap?
Between the 2013 collapse in Bangladesh garment factories and understanding concepts like bonded labour, seeing how many slaves worked for me as well as other items that represented a greater cost than that on the price tag, the concept of BIFL became very appealing to me.
What is Buy It For Life?
Much like the name says, Buy It For Life means that you buy goods that SHOULD last you for your entire life (and potentially for the lives of your children and loved ones).
Years ago, goods were generally made at a very high-quality. Yet, over the last number of decades, when consumer goods companies began to understand they could increase profit margins by manufacturing products overseas at a lower cost, they began to do so…
...exchanging quality for cost-effectiveness.
One great example of this is razors. Straight razors had always been made out of metal until they started making disposable razors from plastic.
Sure, they were cheaper, but that product fundamentally changed.
The attitude and consumption changed from something we would "invest in" and became “something we buy.”
What might you consider Buying for Life?
When it comes to buying in this category, you might be surprised with some of the things you don’t even think about Buying For Life.
A quick scan of a couple reddit Buy It For Life forums reveals things like clocks, mixers, belts and toasters make good long-term investments.
Here are a few more things to consider Buying For Life:
- Cookware. I wanted high-quality, safe cookware to use, so I bought Paderno pots (made in Canada, but be sure to ask as some are made overseas) and Lodge cast iron frying pans.
- Shoes. I bought some Johnston and Murphy shoes recently because they can be repaired with wear. Other dress shoes I’ve had might be durable, but the soles can’t be repaired and thus get thrown away. If you have a few more dollars and want to support just one of the many Canadian-based companies selling shoes, check out the recently revitalized Hartt Shoe Company.
- Knives. I got a great deal on a set of Spanish-made Henckels knives about 3 years ago. Suggested retail at Canadian Tire was around $1,000, but I got them out the door for a little over $300.
If I take good care of them, all of these things will last me for the rest of my life, which makes me a happy consumer!
Is BIFL more than just an expensive trend?
Some would suggest that BIFL is just not possible in some contexts ‒ and, they’re probably right. And some just plain disagree with the whole concept.
Take technology, for example. With new updates and advances made every day, it’s just not realistic to try to get around the forced obsolescence with technology – especially with phones and laptops.
While efforts like Fairphone have seen some levels of success for building a more sustainable approach to electronics – or in this case, cell phones – there have been many others that have failed to run with the idea.
Yet, when you see articles like, Welcome to Hell: Photographer documents Africa’s e-waste nightmare, as a consumer, it makes me very conscious of the choices I am making. Looking at this dumping ground in Ghana filled with electronic waste from the rest of the world, oozing with poisons and other harmful toxins, it’s hard not to think about our contribution.
With many of the locals climbing through this garbage at great risk to themselves in order to re-sell products that are still usable, it makes me wonder why they’re being discarded in the first place. With a Buy It For Life attitude, it ensures that I’m making more sustainable and responsible choices whenever I buy things.
However, I realize that not all consumers have the spending power to buy things for life.
What’s the disadvantage with this approach? Well, oftentimes items that fall into the BIFL category cost more.
As an example, how many consumers would go and spend $4,000 on a couch that has a solid hardwood frame, covered in high-quality fabric and filled with high-density foam? And how many would buy a couch for $400 because that’s what they can afford?
Companies like Patagonia are great in combatting this problem as they will repair, replace or refund any clothes that do not perform well. Their products stand up, are long-lasting and are made in a socially-conscious way.
Yet, can you afford a hundred-dollar pair of pants and over several hundred dollars on a jacket?
Does that question change if I ask: "If this pair of pants will last you 10 years at $125 versus a $25 pair lasting 2 years, which would you buy?"
The total "cost" is still the same, but there are implications that come with that choice.
While this is merely the tip of the iceberg on BIFL, I’d encourage you to dive deeper into this topic.
While some countries like France are taking progressive measures on this topic, in most jurisdictions, it is still up to the consumer to lead the charge on what we buy and how we buy it.
I’d love to hear about your experiences: Have you been buying for life and just didn’t know it? Or, do you think it’s better to buy cheaper goods? What works for your family?
Let me know in the comments below!