Buy It For Life: Are Quality Products Worth the Investment?

Buy It For Life: Are Quality Products Worth the Investment?

"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.”

Related: Addictive Consumerism: The Danger of Collecting Shopkins

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!

Related: Canadian Rewards Programs: Are You Loyal?

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.

Related: Thrift Shopping: From Small Finds to Hidden Treasures

Wrapping up

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!

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.


notfurlong's picture

Great post Stephen, I think it's high time that we become more responsible consumers. In my own experience most people I talk to are not even aware of the environmental impact of cheap, disposable products. Poor as I am I make every effort to purchase quality products and I put a great deal of effort into extending the life cycle of any and all products I purchase. Reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, regift, upcycle, that's my mantra! If there is a way to keep it out of a landfill then it's a gift for the planet, your fellow human and your wallet. Everybody wins!

July 24, 2018 @ 11:25 am
Bill Alexander
Bill Alexander's picture

A couple of observations. Now in our 60's, we have bought many things "for life". Some, like cookware have lasted well, but do suffer from wear and tear and begin to have issues with lid fit, damage to the bottom, etc. But considering they have served well, buying high quality was worth it. As a corollary, we have purchased many non-stick fry pans, which inevitably wear and are not really serviceable as non-stick after a period of use. Technology plays a part here as well, with new innovations in materials and finishes.
Another issue is repairs. We bought windows, which the salesman assured were good for life. Life turned out to be less than 15 years in one case. The seal in the window went, and it was not under warranty. And after some investigation we also found out that the company had gone out of business. So much for that.
Another product we bought for life served well for several years, at which point it broke down. I found the issue and went to replace the part, but the model was no longer sold, and the parts were not available through the manufacturer. I was able to locate the piece on-line, but again a cautionary tale for BIFL products.

July 24, 2018 @ 11:39 am
michael's picture

If there is such a thing as BIFL, I haven't seen it.

I believe what happens is people believe the BIFL concept because that's the way they grew up; the way they were taught.

Manufactured goods are made to fail sooner than you'd hope ($$$). However, and as you've intimated, If you're a decent DIYer you can extend the life of most of these things - even stuff like shoes. Most people can't.

BTW, do you (not you) think BIFL products are made in some magical factory where they apply a certain "something" for them to last? Not for a good while now...

July 24, 2018 @ 12:46 pm
One Income Dollar's picture

I've always had good luck with companies however if their product doesnt stand up. Will save reciepts for most stuff we buy and good return policies by the store or the company replaced for us.

July 24, 2018 @ 12:01 pm
Henk Rietveld
Henk Rietveld's picture

Excellent post, Stephen. But...some products that traditionally were considered to be excellent long-term investments, have so deteriorated, that it is hard to find products that last. Examples include: Maytag (rust on drum after ten years), Cuisinart, (coffee makers last three years, defective food processor blades), GM (recalls galore, paint peeling after three years)....I could go on. and yet...I love my top end Hamilton Beach coffee maker and can opener, both with 5 year warranty. As always, caveat emptor.

July 24, 2018 @ 12:01 pm
Thrifty but not cheap
Thrifty but not cheap's picture

When first married 40 years ago, we were given an upright freezer by an older friend who no longer needed it. The convenience of upright kept me using it as chest types are too difficult to manage food rotation. It is a Westinghouse, and it still runs perfectly. We we're told we would be using much more energy to run it, but that amount on the electric bill is not notable when crowded out by the many "add-on" charges and taxes. All we need to do is defrost occasionally. Then consider the shipping, the multiple parts providers and the very short lifespan of current products. I bought a small one from Costco for my daughter which lasted exactly one year, about three days after the warranty expired.
I still have the upright Westinghouse chugging along. Clearly a better product.
Keep up your good work.

July 24, 2018 @ 12:17 pm
Ruth's picture

I, too, have a Westinghouse upright freezer which was bought 44 years ago. It's the first and only freezer that I have owned and I hope that it will be the last. Still works great and I have never had a problem with it. As you said, clearly a better product.

July 25, 2018 @ 12:58 pm
Linda's picture

What really fractures me are expensive lightbulbs....they are guaranteed for X number of years but I've never had ANY of them last as long as they claim....and what are we to do here? Keep all the receipts AND the packaging for them to prove they've made this claims?

I have a vacuum that just died that I love.....I've replaced pieces, etc. ….however think this might be a motor problem....however, I will see if I can find someone to repair it anyway.

My kids laugh at me as I'm ALWAYS looking for other uses for 'single use" used dryer sheets...sweep or vacuum the floor, then go over it again with a used dryer sheet....picks up A LOT of pet hair other tools have missed!

July 24, 2018 @ 3:15 pm
Sheila buys quality
Sheila buys quality's picture

I was always taught by frugal parents to ‘buy the best I could afford’. Mostly it pays off yet as some other folks commented, stuff isn’t made to last. Even the higher end items. Frustrating to someone who doesn’t always follow trends and wants something that just works well!
I’ve found higher end clothing always last well. I’m wearing a few classic pieces from Talbots (for example);,that I bought almost 20years ago. Take care of good leather shoes and boots with removing salt and alllications of weather protector, mink oil, new polish, etc and they will last.

July 24, 2018 @ 3:24 pm
Ken's picture

Just to be clear Stephen posted it but "Jonathan" wrote it. Stephan has farmed out the articles while he concentrates on Credit Card Genius.

July 24, 2018 @ 4:43 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Don't worry I'm not done writing here Ken and I'm still very much involved in editing and publishing articles.

When we eventually redesign we'll probably try to make it more clear who has written what. The authors names are there at the top of each article now, but quite a few people seem to miss that.

July 25, 2018 @ 1:49 pm
Natasha's picture

BIFL is one of the reasons I'm switching over to a capsule wardrobe with 90% merino pieces. Less to think about when dressing, can cross seasons (and countries), easy to clean...what more could a girl ask for?

As for cell phones, they're easier to fix on one's than one thinks. Same for major appliances. I recommend pre-purchase research on an appliance's faults (much easier if you buy models from two or more years/seasons prior). Then if you're confident you can manage the repairs BIFL!

July 24, 2018 @ 9:55 pm
michael's picture

Slightly off-topic.

I'm shocked/horrified as to what people chuck out (appliances for example) when a simple part and some tenaciousness will get that thing back to working. And in today's information world, there's little excuse as to why you too can't become a DIYer.

July 25, 2018 @ 5:15 pm
Ken's picture

And on the other end, some replacement parts are almost as expensive as a replacement. Our current washer has a flaky board so the push buttons do the opposite things, or it takes 40 plus pushed to turn it on. The board is over $600. The washer itself is fine once you get the cycle done. Hard to spend $600 on a 10 year old machine when you can buy another for a couple hundred more. If the part was maybe priced better, I would fix it.

August 08, 2018 @ 12:22 pm
Scott's picture

I am big into finding the best bang for my buck. Between that and the environment, the life of the product is a huge factor in my every purchase. I know for electronics, it is shocking to see the differences between Canada and over the pond. They have cool products that I would love to get but cannot find locally. The items that do well over here are the cheap D-Link, etc products that are very sub-standard.

If consumers would take the long term perspective, not only will they save money in the long run but you will probably receive cool features that you typically don't see in Canada.

And as a final thought for the day ...
The world is starting to come around to a maker economy where we repair, fix and reuse items that break down. There are even shops in certain parts of the world to help people to accomplish this. It is a skill that we have only very recently lost.

July 25, 2018 @ 7:39 pm
Ken's picture

I try and buy it for life, but its the life of the company, not the product I have learned. Lifetime warranty is as long as the company is around.

Smartphones are terrible, not because of the person most of the time, but the lack of support on old hardware. My 5 year old Nokia smartphone needs to be replaced. Not because I want to, because I have to. The phone is completely fine, but there is no app support anymore, basically taking apps and making them not work, and not downloadable anymore. Hardware is fine, even has the original battery that still lasts an entire day. But apps I use no longer work, and basically now a basic phone really.

August 08, 2018 @ 12:17 pm

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