Things that a family cannot afford to skimp on

There’s
plenty of stuff where quality doesn’t depend on price. Generic aspirin is as
good as the heavily marketed stuff, for example, and many store-brand products
are turned out by the same factories that make their name-brand counterparts.

But
there also are some things that you shouldn’t even think about skimping on —
areas where the potential drawbacks outweigh any savings. Even when your budget
is really tight, you should try to make room for the following:

Car
maintenance

 You’ve heard the saying “penny-wise,
pound-foolish”? This old English phrase means that scrimping on a small expense
often leads to a much bigger one. That’s exactly what will happen if you wait
too long to change your oil, swap your filters or investigate that weird
grinding noise.

If
you have a vehicle, you should invest some effort in finding a good, reliable
mechanic and then make sure your budget includes money for regular maintenance
and repairs. If you’re not sure how much to set aside, review last year’s bills
and inflate the number by at least 10 per cent.

Computer
memory, Internet access

You
always need more than you think — unless you’re some kind of computer monk who
never adds new software, downloads a tune or plays a game. Save yourself
headaches and tech-support calls by loading up when you buy a new machine; if
you’re adding memory to an older machine, consider maxing out the available
slots.

In
a computer buying guide, The Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg recommends a
minimum of 2 gigabytes of random-access memory (RAM), the kind of memory that determines
how quickly your machine loads and runs programmes. He recommends as much as
200 gigabytes of hard-drive space to store music, video and photos. Again, computers
are not an appreciating asset, so pay cash.

If
there’s still a huge gap in your area between the price of dial-up and broadband,
you may decide to wait, for thriftiness’ sake, until it shrinks. But otherwise,
investigate your options and upgrade now. Most people who have broadband
wouldn’t go back.

Family
health, safety

Safety
experts say you should have a smoke detector outside every bedroom and a
carbon-monoxide detector on every floor, plus escape ladders for every bedroom
above the first floor.

Solid
door and window locks are a smart security measure, but remove or replace any
window bars that can’t be opened from the inside.

People
frequently die because they put off getting their heart checked and didn’t have
health insurance.

Healthcare
can be expensive. But your family won’t thank you for your thriftiness if you
wind up disabled or dead.

If
you do have insurance, make sure you budget enough cash for co-pays and other
out-of-pocket expenses.

Home
inspections

 It’s rather stunning that people will spend
hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house but refuse to cough up $400 or so
on an inspector who could warn them that they’re throwing their money away.
Having this knowledge helps you pass on bad deals or at least negotiate lower
prices.

In
today’s slower markets, there’s really no excuse not to hire an expert to
inspect a home before you buy.

A
good night’s sleep

Mattresses.
You don’t have to drop a couple of thousand dollars on a speciality mattress to
get a good night’s sleep, but you should steer clear of used mattresses (who
knows how much life they’ve got left?) and really cheap ones.

Consumer
Reports says that any name-brand queen size mattress with a list price of $800
or more should provide you a decade’s worth of service. But you don’t have to
shell out that much for a good mattress — the list price in a mattress store
is about as meaningful as the sticker price on a car. If you’re patient and
wait for a sale, or are a good negotiator, you should be able to get that
mattress for 30 per cent to 50 per cent less.

Teenagers’
cars

Safety
may be even more important in your kid’s car than in the family vehicle. Why?
Because teen drivers are less experienced and their crash and fatality rate is
much higher than any other age group, overall and per mile driven. So they’re
more likely to need airbags, restraint systems, roll bars and crumple zones
than their parents.

The
exterior doesn’t need to look like much. After a few fender benders, it won’t
look like much anyway. But the interior should do its best to keep your progeny
alive.

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