3 frugality myths that need to die
By Justin Boyle
It's always been a dorky thrill of mine to find small ways to save money. Over the last several years, I've developed a workable strategy for frugal living that decreases my everyday costs, but allows me to maintain a perfectly agreeable quality of life.
Along the way, though, I've taken a few suggestions from like-minded folks that have turned out to be less helpful than they sounded at first. Here are three myths on frugality that people should really stop spreading.
1. Generic electronics are no different from name brands
Although it's true for the most part at the grocery store and pharmacy, the phenomenon of near-identical generics doesn't stretch into all walks of life. Take phone chargers, for example: Internal electronic components that are poorly assembled or source their parts from unlicensed manufacturers can cause voltage spikes and fry the delicate sensors on your handset. Not only that, electronics blogger Ken Shirriff reports that unlicensed power adapters may deliver less than half of their advertised wattage output and produce "dirty" electricity with an extremely bad signal-to-noise ratio.
As if that weren't enough, Chinese media reports have indicated that shoddy knockoff phone chargers may be linked to the comas or even deaths of people who answered their phones while they were charging, according to a recent Huffington Post report. I'm all for saving a few dollars on small things here and there, but some risks may be worth paying full retail price to avoid.
2. You should spring for the extended warranty on used goods
It's true that some used appliance retailers, car lots, furniture shops and other big-ticket resale showrooms don't notice everything that might be wrong with their merchandise before it goes up for sale on the floor. That knowledge gap is the main reason why a lot of resale retailers include a short-term warranty in the purchase price, to cover malfunctions they missed when inspecting the item.
Extended warranty coverage can be enticing, but it's important to remember that the extended warranty is clearly a profit instrument for the store. Think about it this way: If the average cost of repair under extended warranty exceeded the average cost of the extended warranty itself, would the retailer even try to sell you one?
If you have the time to do a little research and wait for the right deal, consumer-to-consumer marketplaces like Craigslist may offer you better prices on pre-owned merchandise than used retail showrooms. Private sales don't usually come with any sort of warranty, though, so the more you can learn before you buy, the better.
3. Changing your own oil saves you money
Your dad might have been a big proponent of this one -- I know mine was. I don't deny that there can be something satisfying about getting familiar with your car and taking care of it yourself, but the idea of self-service oil changes as a financial hack may be a fiction perpetuated by amateur grease monkeys.
Chances are, an auto shop in your area offers a full-service oil change that will set you back roughly the same amount as the retail cost of a new batch of oil and a filter. Service stations generally pay wholesale price for their consumables, after all, so they're still able to turn a profit this way.
Of course, if it makes you feel good to do your own auto work, by all means go DIY. Just make sure to bring that dirty oil to a disposal center -- another handy service that auto shops will usually handle for you.
These aren't the only budget-minded myths out there. If you know of one that we missed, share it in the comments section and help bargain hunters everywhere avoid these mistakes.
Justin Boyle is a writer and journalist in Austin, Texas.