We all have our own ways of justifying purchases, whether we’re trying to convince ourselves that a new car is essential, or that new boots are a just requirement with winter around the corner. However, what if there was a way you could look at your potential purchases to see their true value in advance, so that you could tell right away whether you were making a smart decision, thereby helping you live within your means and stay out of unmanageable credit card debt?
That process is the “cost per use” method of purchasing and it can help you decide whether many purchases are really worthwhile, or just an extravagance.
Using the Cost Per Use Buying Method
To use the cost per use method, simply:
1) Estimate the number of times you will use the item you want to purchase. Just remember to be realistic because it’s easy to overestimate the number of times you will use an item!
2) Divide the usage by the purchase price to get your cost per use. Voila! The resulting calculation identifies the true value of the purchase.
When Cost Per Use Is Advantageous
Here are just a few examples of when the cost per use buying method can be effectively applied:
- When evaluating the true cost of luxury items. For example, if you’re considering buying a $300 trench coat, you plan on keeping it for three years, and you estimate that you will wear it 200 times per year, then the cost per use is $0.50 ($300/600 uses), which is reasonable for most people.
- When deciding on the type of car you should buy. Say you’re considering buying a seven passenger minivan. However, if a seven passenger minivan is $5000 more expensive than a standard passenger car, and you keep the minivan for five years, you’re paying $1000 for each of those vacations via the vehicle cost. In that case, you may decide you’re better off saving that $5000 and renting the minivan only when you need it.
- When deciding how much you should spend on a house. You may want to buy a house with a guest room. However if a house with four bedrooms costs $50,000 more than a house with three bedrooms, and if you only use your guest room 10 times per year, then it’s costing you $500 per use. It may be more affordable to pay for an inflatable mattress or a futon — or put your guests up in a hotel!
When Cost Per Use Is Not Applicable
There are instances when cost per use can’t be effectively used. For example:
- When quality outweighs low cost per use. For example, you may be looking to replace your bed regardless of cost because a good night’s sleep affects every aspect of the rest of your life.
- When you’re only going to use the item once. Groceries and wedding gowns are just two examples.
Regardless of what method you use to make your spending decisions, stop and think before you make any purchase; being aware of your spending and the items you’re buying will help you stick to your budget, and ensure that you continue to live within your means.
Photo Credit: aussiegall
Little House says
These are really good tips for deciding whether or not to purchase an item. For example, six years ago I got hooked on Keen sandals. They are not inexpensive, but they are made really well. My first pair cost $100 and lasted three years (I still have them, but I now don’t wear the old pair as often since I have a new pair). I wore them 60% of the time. If I calculated that out it comes to about 15-cents a day. Totally worth it! (my newer pair is pushing 3-years and cost $40 less-a better deal.)
Greg McFarlane says
…which makes wedding dresses easily the dumbest purchases imaginable: worse than timeshares, worse than rustproofing, worse than tickets to a Guns ‘n Roses concert even though the band is now just Axl and a bunch of hired hands and they’ll probably take the stage 4 hours late and only play for 45 minutes and charge a couple hundred dollars for the privilege.
Len Penzo says
@LittleHouse: I know what you mean. I have a favorite tee-shirt I’m wearing right now that I’ve had since – and I swear to this – 1992. I’ll bet I’ve worn it 500 times. I bet I paid less than $10 for it, but assuming I did pay $10 – that comes out to 2 cents per use! It may be the most cost-effective thing I’ve ever owned. That being said, this cost per use method has its place, but it has to be used smartly. There are certain instances when common sense overrides the information gleaned from its application.
@Greg: Well said, as usual, Greg. (I really don’t know what more to add to that.) LOL
I have a favorite pair of shorts that I won in a volleyball tournament in 1995. I have patched them a few times, they need another patching, but they are still my favorite shorts!
Len, if it no longer covers the love handles, it’s time to let it go man. Let it go! lol
I think using the cost per use method is insurance that you’ll pay the least and you won’t overuse which is what most people contend when you buy in bulk. It’s a smart way to purchase and will definitely lead to savings.
Also, knowing what you need (say different pieces for work outfits) is always helpful if you need some retail therapy. That way you’re filling some need to go shopping but your not going to regret the purchases you made because you are in fact going to wear them for work.
Jennifer Barry says
Good stuff, Timothy! My favorite trick is to buy high quality items at a discount so I can use them for a long time. Not only do I have a low cost per use, but I can avoid shopping longer (yes, I’m a woman who doesn’t like the mall).
@Greg: I’m married but I never had a wedding, so I avoided that one!
@Len: I have an oversized T-shirt from 1987 that my husband still wears occasionally. They don’t make ’em like they used to!
Siju George says
Nice advice. You cost per use method is really an eye opener. I never considered this method before and all I look in to the price while buying the product.
It seems for a product, which we intended to use for long, we do not mind if it is costly.
I used to work for a very large electronics retailer. People would call wanting to purchase AC adapters for their portable equipment (CD players, etc). They would get VERY upset that the cost was $20. A typical comment would be, “I only paid $20 for the unit!!” We had to politely point out to them that they weren’t replacing the unit, they were replacing the batteries which could easily cost them several times the price of the adapter. They still didn’t get it, so we used “reduce-the-price-to-ridiculous” strategy. this strategy. It’s like this one only in reverse for retailers, of course – LOL. Cost of adapter $20 – will last you a minimum of four years so $5 per year or .10 cents a week. Two AA batteries a week for four years (208 weeks) even when you buy them at the dollar store (4-pk for a $1) is going to cost you $104.00. Light bulb moment!!!
Btw, I love your blog and have shared it with all my friends. Keep up the great work.
Len Penzo says
Great comments, Libby. Thanks for sharing them. And thank you so much for sharing my blog with your friends too!
I need/wanted a new kitchen. Couldn’t get the price under $23K. Then it dawned on me that a):my baking stuff took a lot of space b) baking makes me look fat and c) I could buy top of the line pastry in perpetuity for the cost of that remodel.
So I packed up all the bake ware and mixers and flours and sugar etc and parked it on a neat shelf on the stair landing to my basement. And bought an overpriced $17 fruit tart to celebrate. And maybe 8 more over the next 8 years I owned that house.
Now we have a saying Let the store- store it. I don’t want my money tied up in household inventory.
We thought about this when we bought our (small and incredibly overpriced) house in 2004 in So. Cal. My MIL asked “where will we stay?” when we bought a 2BR, 1 BA house. I said “the sofabed in the living room”.
Seriously, at that time, a 3rd bedroom was an extra $100k.
We get guests every few years. I have put people up in hotels 3 times, for an average of 3 nights each time. That is about a total of $1500.
My favorite trick is to buy high quality items at a discount!
Len Penzo says
The Food Guru says
love this keep it up
I buy quality items, and take care of them. In my mind, I think about how long they will last, and how much that will cost me per year/month/day.
I spend money on life enrichment not stuff.
People call me old school. I wear it as a badge of honor.
Len, I will confess that I bought 4 t-shirts, and two sport shirts. They are my covid maternity tops.
Len Penzo says
Whatever works for you, Bill!
Actually, a friend wanted me to meet him at 5:30 AM to exercise. I bought a raging Godzilla shirt, a raging King Kong shirt, and a Kill Bill shirt to express my opinion about exercising at 5:30 AM. I’ve gotten lots of compliments from guys in their mid 20’s to early 40’s on Godzilla and King Kong. lol
Len Penzo says
Speaking from lots of experience, I know the hardest part of any early morning workout is mustering up the motivation to get started. Once I’m in the gym, it’s all downhill from there.