The Real Price of Things: Calculating Cost Per Use

The holes in those jeans make me really happy.

Those jeans were worn from the age of 10 months to almost two and a half.

Those jeans were worn two to three times a week for 19 months.

Those jeans were on him as he learned to walk, learned to run and learned to climb stairs.

That’s around 190 wears for this one clothing item.

The jeans were about $20 CDN if I remember correctly.

So that’s about 10 cents a wear.

Not bad.

Even better, I am now stashing those jeans away for our next child. There’s still some life in those jeans. I’ll wait and get the knees patched up and another toddler will learn to walk, run and climb stairs in them.

Last week when I wrote about my splurge boots there were some good comments on calculating the price of something based on use. Sarah went so far as to suggest I could calculate the cost per mile for those boots. And KT chimed in with a reminder that her expensive jeans are not so expensive because she wears them all the time.

Frye Boots with tax, shipping and 25% discount: $252.26 CDN.

Wearing them for: 14 months.

Average kilometeres per month: I don’t wear these as much in the summer. It doesn’t get that warm here so boots are still useful in an Isle of Man summer but I wear a pair of sandals more. I’m going to guess that I average 4 kilometres a day over a year. That would 1680 kilometres so far on those boots.

Cost per use for expensive designer Frye boots: 15¢/km

If I get five years of use out of these boots I could end up at pennies a kilometre for wear.

Again, not bad.

Doing these kind of calculations has made me more determined to invest in things we will use a lot. It’s not only about buying quality, or paying more, but taking some time to think about how much you will use the item.

Will it work for 95% of your life or 5%?

Would it be a smarter to rent the item when you need it? This goes for everything from ski equipment to hand bags.

Of course, not everything that I own has had as good a run as these little jeans.

There are still sweaters I bought that are bit too short and that soft sided picnic cooler from last summer that we only used once (no freezer = no cooling method!). But I’m learning.

Does anyone else calculate cost per use or amortize purchase price over years of use? I held out for many years on buying a Mac laptop. My PC laptops kept blowing up after 2-3 years of use (always right after the extended warranty expired). I got the second hand Mac that I use now almost four years ago and it’s still going strong. Well worth the investment.

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  • Calculating the cost/use what convinces me to buy things that seem to be “too” expensive. Good quality, sturdy MEI Voyageur backpack (about €150 with shipping) will end up costing just over €1/trip. “Cheap” €20 bag I bought before ended up costing €10/trip.

    • Yes! Yes! Yes! I have made those mistakes myself so many times. Argh. Particularly with luggage. We’ve had more than our fair share of broken suitcases, usually at the worst time of course. If our current set bite the dust, and we’re still traveling a fair bit and living overseas, I am getting something that will hopefully last the rest of our lives.

  • So True!!
    Like everything else, I sometimes wish I had more and need a quick fashion update, but for the most part I truly believe that quality is much more important than quantity.
    Although I have had some failures when I bought expensive t shirts that did not hold up to my Joe Fresh Ts for much less.

  • I totally believe in buying better quality at a higher price, as long as reviews and ratings justify the price. :)

    My husband is on his feet for nine hours a day, running, lifting, loading, unloading, walking, etc. Buying cheap tennis shoes does NOTHING for him, except cause his feet and legs to feel terrible. We tried extremely expensive running shoes with not much more success (They wore down to nothing incredibly fast) and have actually found that the “well known” semi-expensive shoes work best. I can usually find a pair that has been put in a discount store, which helps to curb the price.

  • I love this post!

    I will always invest more if it makes sense. Every time we cheap out we end up regretting it. That being said though, my two year old daughter has a wardrobe made up entirely from clothes found at Goodwill or a local consignment shop. Goodwill is my favourite–call me a cheep-skate, but she’s got these adorable Levi jeans that will last at least another child, and they only cost one dollar.

    • If you have a good eye for quality, and patience, I think thrifting and consignment is a great option. I went to consignment stores in Vancouver for a few things for Henry and I’ve lurked the charity shops here (not great in my opinion). If you can get excellent quality for a bargain take it.

  • I have recently decided to buy much less, and to buy much better quality things that will last. I do have some children’s clothes that have lasted for years – my son has some shorts that will still fit him this year, it will be the fifth summer he has worn them! They were very long when we got them when he was a toddler, the waist is adjustable and they have just gradually got shorter, but are still in good condition, so have been very good value! I also try to buy better quality clothes for my older daughter, in the hope that they will then last for my younger daughter.

    • We’re looking at the third summer for a pair of Henry’s shorts as well. I just went through all of his clothing. So happy I spent a bit more and got adjustable sized and well made items in his first year.

  • Yes, I find myself doing that math in my head quite a bit when I’m struggling to make a big investment. I am all about investing in quality rather than buying the same cheap junk over and over again. When I was preparing for my son’s arrival, my mindset was “I want to buy baby gear once and use it for all of our kids”. I have a very difficult time spending large sums of money, but I have never regretted a major purchase.

    • I still get sticker shock from things like that boot purchase. In my mind it’s still the 80s and paying over $200 for a boots is insane. Not sure when I will finally adjust to today’s prices.

  • I think I need to start calculating cost per use because I’ll likely never end up with “nicer” items due to sticker shock. Right now, I don’t think too much about quality of clothes (especially shirts!). I choose to buy used most of the time, and do so in order to switch items out. With 2 little ones, I’d rather have pieces I really like, but know that if they get destroyed (which is inevitable with them), I won’t feel like I wasted money. Maybe one day I will be able to have nice things lol! Maybe…

    • My transition and nursing clothing in the first year with my son was all cheap stuff. I regret some of it but some of it just got me through a lot of hours nursing and the six months it took me to get back into my regular clothes.

      Most of my stuff gets a lot of dirt on it from my toddler too. I am constantly taking a wet rage to my tops to remove grubby hand prints and runny nose debris :)

  • I don’t think I’ve calculated the cost per use for anything until just now. When my oldest was born I spent a lot of money on high quality children’s clothing. Those close made their way through my son, 5 of my nieces and nephews and my second son. Altogether 7 children have used the clothes so I’ve more than got my money’s worth out of them. A few of the items we’ve been able to use with our daughter and then pass them on to our youngest nephew who is a few months younger than her.

    We recently decided that we purchase something we will focus on the quality over cost. I don’t like throwing away our money.

  • Since my morning note re. you get what you pay for, my less than four year old Crocks clogs broke. Crocks are expensive for what they are. I paid nearly €40 for them. Today, sole of one of the clogs broke. Look as if I stood on a knife…I didn’t.
    I had expected to use my Crocks for longer than just over three and a half years. They cost me more than €10/year.

  • Ooo, good point about the Mac! I might use that.

    I use the cost per wear method for my shoes – it appeases my husband to know that I’m wearing my shoes for a long time before they wear out…of course he always points out that he buys cheaper shoes and wears them for just as long. :)

  • This is why I spend more money on kid’s clothes than my friends do. Yeah, $30-$40 for a pair of toddler sneaker is expensive at the outset, but if they are the ONLY pair of sneakers and are outgrown before they’re worn out, and in a few years they are then worn by son #2…it’s worth it to me.

    Also – that’s a big selling point for using cloth diapers. A $500 stash can last you through many kids and still be in good enough shape to sell when you’re all finished. Buying disposables can cost you $500 in a matter of months.

  • My husband always says: ‘buy once, buy well’. We try to buy quality and make it last longer.

    One thing I calculated recently was how much our car cost us. I worked out it costs $12 a day plus fuel, so I’m glad we can make it work with just the one. I also worked out how much it costs us per trip to work in fuel, and that it pretty much costs the same for my husband to catch the bus home from work as it costs me to drive there and back to pick him up.

    I baulk at buying DVDs, unless they are going to be something that gets watched over and over. And I’m really picky about the quality of the clothes and shoes I buy. I get sick of things that start to fall apart or look shabby after only a few wears. But I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised, because the stores that sell low-quality, low-priced clothes turn the same good profits (maybe even higher!) than the stores that sell expensive, high-quality clothes.

  • I’m new to your blog but I just had to pop in and say how much I love the overall concept. My husband and I drove several states away for grad school with only what our Toyota Corolla could contain. People looked at me like I was crazy when I said my whole wardrobe fit in one green tub. We rented basic furniture for a while and just focused on work and school. It was so simple and freeing!

    I think I need to get back to that a bit more. Babies have brought a lot of STUFF into our home since then. :) After reading, I’m about ready to go list some things on craigslist – thank you!

  • Ha! My husband won’t let us get anything other than Macs. They are great, aren’t they?

    I think it is weird too, that I meet so many parents say their kids need so many new clothes due to growth. My 3 1/2 year old has been wearing the same shorts for three summer seasons as of this year…and the same pants for at least two winter seasons. I was just telling my friend the other day that I can totally skip at least every other size for them. At least the way they are growing right now. Yay for me!

    • There really is a difference between Macs and PCs. Even this second hand Mac runs better than any new PC I ever had. I am converted.

      We just went from 12-18 month size clothing to 2-3yr. I have no problem with snug, almost belly showing t-shirts on a toddler or pants that need the hem rolled up a few times and a belt. :)

  • I would like to be a voice of cautioning dissent here. There is such a thing as too frugal; putting away these jeans for your next child might be crossing into that area. Just because you can save them with patching and have your next child wear them doesn’t mean you should, especially if it isn’t financially necessary. I understand there is a mentality of a child that age not caring what he/she wears or what it looks like, but good habits are started early and photos tell a story, though not always the one we want. Also, I would caution against having your child wear clothing that is too big for the sake of getting your money’s worth out of it. Take it from a young woman who’s parents were unable to financially provide clothing that fit, was appropriate for the occasion or in good condition, there is an impression left on your child. Dress your child in clothes that fit, take care of them, patch as they wear out (no shame in patches on clothing that is well used). The likelihood of that item lasting to the next child is greater if it is worn less so you are still getting value out of the clothing.

    • Interesting points, Rachel.
      I grew up wearing hand me downs and ill fitting and mostly “uncool” clothing. It was a an embarrassment and definitely made life harder – kids can be cruel. I never had the right clothing for formal dances and was usually without a winter jacket.
      I would never want my son to experience the same insecurity with his appearance that I did.
      While I think your point is excellent I don’t think I’m in the mind set to save a few dollars but allow my son to not be dressed well. I actually think the jeans look very fashionable with the ripped knees, mini-rocker chic, and if I were to get them patched up I would do something fun and fashionable with them.

  • I love that you are saving those jeans. I have been getting a huge kick out of the fact that we use almost all hand-me-downs for our toddler and have since 0, even if they don’t fit perfectly (and lots of it is for girls–stuff my nieces wore). People will comment “those pants are too short on him” etc. and I can’t help but think –why does it matter? I mean unless it’s cold out, but otherwise, I just don’t understand why pants have to be a certain length. Almost all the other kids his age go around in this huge clothing where they can’t really run, play or get dirty. He can always move comfortably, wearing these unfashionable stretch pants (that are a bit too short, but fit him really well otherwise).
    I remember always wearing second-hand and hand-me down as a kid. I did get made fun of in our ritzy Boston suburb, but it builds character, and you have time (and money) to focus on more important stuff.

  • Even if my new baby is a girl, I won’t be saving my 4 year old daughters old clothes. They will go to the thrift store when we’re done with them and let someone else wear them in the time they would spend in storage. Before the fire, I had saved all of the baby stuff/kids stuff from my daughter just in case we had a 2nd. It took up a lot of space and took a lot of time to sort and organize… and it is all gone now. To me, it is better to pass it on to someone who can use it now than to save it for a maybe. Maybe on if we have another, maybe it will be the same gender, maybe they will be the same size in the same season… Kids clothes at thrift stores and yard sales are abundant and cheap – the cost of storage (both in money and mental costs) add up. Get rid of it, save the space and share what you have with others…

  • I just found your site and can’t wait to read more! I’ve always been good at calculating cost per use of items but did not always do a good job of convincing my husband. He now sees the value in it that some of our (6) kids are older and many Keen sandals have been passed on to at least 2-3 kids and are still in excellent condition – well worth the investment after we bought too many cheap sandals in early parenting years that didn’t even last a season. I also use essential oils for keeping us healthy and I never buy over the counter drugs for colds, flu,fevers, etc. that end up expiring before we use it up. A 15 ml bottle of oil at $20 might seem like a lot at the onset but is well worth it when you see it has many uses at only .20 per drop, plus I save my family the exposure to crazy chemicals: future health is priceless.

  • Great website!

    I have been obsessed with getting “value for money” out of my clothes and shoes since I left home at age 18 owning only 1 pair of shoes (Dr Marten’s boots). It’s actually been an adjustment for me to get used to the idea that you don’t HAVE to wear an item every single day in order for it to be a worthwhile purchase. I do tend to wear the same stuff over and over, every week, but I’ve also come to terms with the fact that some clothes only get worn in a particular season or for a particular function, eg swimming. So I just try and buy classic stuff that will still be wearable in 10 years time. Because so many of my clothes are in my closet for 10 years or longer. I might not wear them every day but I can guarantee that I will wear them at least a few times every spring, for example, so in the long run it works out.

    The other thing is second-hand clothes. Friends with older kids give me all their kids’ outgrown clothing – I have literally bought less than a handful of new items for my sons since he was born 3 years ago and not much for my older daughter either. The handmedowns are always in such good condition and way better brands than I would ever buy myself! Plus the kids think it’s cool because they idolise the kids who used to own the clothes!

    And now my friends have just started to pass me their unwanted adult clothes too. It’s great because I can try out some new fashions and styles which I wouldn’t have risked spending money on. And if it doesn’t work out I just pass the clothes on to another friend or a charity store. I’m quite tall (only 5’10” but taller than most of my friends) but relatively thin and it’s interesting that most of my friends’ clothes still fit me. The skirts might be a bit shorter and sometimes a dress might become a top or a skirt but on the whole it’s surprising what fits.

    I know some people do clothing swaps or parties where they can do this kind of thing in a more organised way. This could be fun and a pretty guilt-free way of taking some more fashion risks.

    I get a bit sick of my very safe and boring wardrobe but don’t want to waste money or accumulate more stuff, so doing a swap or something similar really takes care of both these issues!

    Anyway, I’m enjoying reading your blog – I feel like we’re on the same page, although I have never enjoyed shopping (I don’t like spending money – it freaks me out!!) so have never been a big accumulator, just a bit of a hoarder :-)

  • I am a big fan of calculating per cost and clothes inventory to minimise costs. I recently found a great app that helps this progress called Stylebook that has helped reduce my clothes costs even more. It helped you sort your clothes too!