What Is “Buy It for Life”?

Quick Answer

“Buy it for life” is an ethos that says buying an expensive, long-lasting version of something will mean paying less over time than you would if you bought a cheaper item with a short lifespan. While it can be a smart way to weigh your options when shopping, it won’t always be the most cost-effective choice.

Woman looking up online what buy it for life is.

"Buy it for life" is a personal finance ethos that says it's more cost-effective in the long term to buy something you won't have to replace quickly. Over time, buying essential items for life will mean buying less stuff, which can equate to saving money.

But the highest-quality products also come with premium prices. It won't always be the case that the more expensive option will last you longer. And regardless of long-term value, if the more expensive option is out of your price range and puts stress on your budget, it won't be the better option.

Here's what "buy it for life" is, when it makes financial sense and when it doesn't.

Is "Buy It For Life" Cost-Effective?

"Buy it for life" can sometimes be cost-effective, but it depends on several factors.

First, the upfront costs for buying it for life are often much higher than frugal shopping, so it's a long game that may take years before you realize the worth of something you purchased. The higher upfront costs mean it may not work for everyone's budget, but taking a buy it for life approach for some things could help keep costs down long term.

For example, a well-crafted pair of shoes is likely to cost more and be more durable than a bargain pair. A $250 pair of winter boots can last a few seasons or more, depending on how often you wear them. On the other hand, a trendy $50 pair of boots may only last you through the season—or less—before wearing out. In that case, you'll save money over time with the more expensive option.

What Can You Buy for Life?

There are certain things that make sense to buy for life, and others that aren't necessarily such a good play. The best items to buy for life are those where the high-quality version is likely to last longer than the budget version, thus saving you money. Some examples of things you might buy for life include:

  • Shoes, especially winter boots and rain boots
  • Jackets
  • Luggage
  • Hiking or camping gear
  • Certain kitchen items, such as stand mixers, cast iron pans and knife sets
  • Pants, sweaters and other wardrobe staples
  • Tools and gardening equipment

On the other hand, it makes less sense to "buy it for life" when the item is something that you'll likely need to replace soon anyway, such as:

  • Kids' shoes
  • Anything that will be outgrown
  • Things you don't think you'll get much use out of
  • Trendy items that may go out of fashion

How to Be Effective When Buying for Life

An eye-popping price tag isn't always an indicator of quality. Even when it is, does buying the premium version always make sense? Here are some best practices for knowing when to buy a product to last a lifetime—and when to buy the budget-friendly option:

  • Know what to look for. Certain luxury items have a better cost over time, meaning buying the more expensive version actually will save you money compared to buying the cheaper item. But others, such as those that will wear out and break anyway, don't have a better cost over time. Look at build quality, materials, country of origin and ease of maintenance to find something likely to last.
  • Buy used. Many items made of high-quality materials last indefinitely, especially when properly cared for, such as wooden furniture. Try checking out your local thrift store or researching the item you want and then scrounging on eBay or Poshmark to find a premium product at a fraction of the cost.
  • Save up for what you want. Buying the more expensive version of something you need means needing more cash upfront. To make it affordable and avoid consumer debt, consider thinking ahead to what items you'll need to buy this year and then setting up sinking funds to afford them. For instance, if you're going to need a new winter coat this year and want a $350 version, fit it into your budget by setting aside a certain amount every week that will get you there.
  • Buy fewer things. "Buy it for life" works best in tandem with a minimalist approach to how much you buy. That may mean buying fewer but higher-quality articles of clothing, basing your wardrobe around a few prized pieces. It may also mean having less furniture in your home, but splurging on real wood and other luxe materials for the items you do buy.
  • Take the middle path. Most items come in bargain bin options, luxury options and a range of options in between. Look someplace in the middle to find an option made of high-quality materials that is likely to last a long time, but that also isn't the most expensive version. When in doubt, look for unbiased consumer reviews so see how well a product fares over time. Then try to find the best deal.
  • Consider your personal preferences. "Buy it for life" has a financial side, but there are other benefits to buying premium versions of things you need. You might simply prefer the luxury option. If you can afford it, and you prefer it, it may be the best choice for you—regardless of how much it actually saves you over its lifetime. After all, a $300 purse compared to a $50 purse is ultimately a splurge, regardless of their comparative lifespans.
  • Factor in your full financial picture. If you're looking at "buy it for life" from a strictly financial, investment perspective, then you need to consider the dollars you're spending as they fit into your full financial plan. Is buying a high-quality item the best use for your money, even if it lasts a long time? If you're carrying high-interest debt, for example, or if you haven't started investing for retirement yet, consider buying the budget option and directing your funds to where they'll yield the highest returns: erasing debt or funneled into a tax-advantaged retirement account.

The Bottom Line

"Buy it for life" can be financially effective, but only when you've checked other financial boxes, such as affording necessities, saving for retirement and managing debt. Even then, some items make more sense to buy for life than others.

Look to your personal preferences and research your options online to find an item that fits into your budget and that you believe will bring you the most value over time. If you can afford the pricier version and you like it more, then you don't necessarily need any justification to buy it. But if you're looking to come out ahead financially in the long run, the cheaper option will sometimes be the more economic one.

In addition to being thoughtful about what you buy, be mindful of your credit score to maximize your savings. Sign up for free credit monitoring through Experian to see how your score changes in real time as you use credit and make on-time payments. Your good credit habits can pay off in the form of more affordable rates when you need to borrow.