March 22, 2023

Bucks Blog: Striving to Lead More of an Heirloom Life

Carl Richards

Carl Richards is a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah, and is the director of investor education at BAM Advisor Services. His book, “The Behavior Gap,” was published this year. His sketches are archived on the Bucks blog.

Inventor Saul Griffith gave his new baby son a Rolex and a Montblanc pen. Odd gifts, right? But for Mr. Griffith, it was about buying the only watch and pen his son would ever need.

Over the past few years, Griffith has argued that we need to design more things to last, what he calls heirloom design in an interview with Good:

[it’s] something that will not only last through your lifetime and into the next generation, but that you also desire to keep that long because it’s beautiful, functional, and timeless.

It reminded me of the case I made earlier this summer that we might actually save money by spending more on a high-quality item when we plan to keep it. I know this isn’t a new or revolutionary concept, but when I read the comments, I was surprised to learn how many cool sayings there are from around the world that capture this advice.

“We’re too poor to buy cheap things.”

“Owning just a bit less, and buying good quality stuff that lasts longer ends up making a huge difference over a lifetime.”

“I don’t buy much, but I make sure it is something I really want.”

“Buy cheap, buy twice!”

“There is an Italian peasant saying that sums it up nicely: We’re too poor to pay less. (Siamo troppo poveri per pagare meno).”

“Or, as the Scottish say: buy less, pay more.”

“Buy the best and buy it once”

These comments and the idea of heirloom design got me thinking about passing things on, of living an heirloom life.

What if instead of buying things to replace, we bought things that last? What if we bought with intention, choosing items with timeless design? And in line with the idea of spending a little more, what if we embrace buying fewer items of a higher quality?

Obviously not every buying decision falls into this category. But asking two questions can help separate what makes sense and what doesn’t:

  1. Do I hope to pass this on to my kids or grandkids?
  2. If I break down my purchase as cost per use, does it benefit me over the long term to spend a little more for something to last longer?

Much of what we buy won’t be something we pass on to our kids. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t buy to last.

For instance, the idea of heirloom shoes sounds a bit silly. But then I think about the shoes I wear the most during summer. My favorite pair is my Chaco Flips. In fact, if they ever wore out, I wouldn’t hesitate to get a new pair. However, they do cost $60 a pair.

I know that price seems like a lot for flip flops. However, I’ve had my current pair for five years. Realistically, given how much I wear these shoes, I could easily go through 10 pairs of $12 drugstore flip flops in the same time. So if I look at it from a price per use basis, spending more money for the higher quality shoes has saved me money, time and aggravation.

Depending on where you’re at in life, you may feel like an heirloom life isn’t an option. And I know we’re bombarded with the message that everything is replaceable. Between these two competing forces, it can be tempting to buy cheap and cross our fingers. But it’s hard to ignore that there’s something special about receiving a treasured family item from your parents or grandparents.

In many ways, spending more is only part of an heirloom life. The other part requires spending wisely. Your goal with an heirloom life isn’t to buy for the sake of buying, but to buy because you want something to last.


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