Spend Money Now to Save Money Later

Ca-ching! Little changes with big payoffs

by Jean Chatzky • More.com Member { View Profile }
Jean Chatzky, Mores financial columnist
Photograph: Photo By Mike McGregor

 

Almost a decade ago, I spent $6,000 to have a well dug in my front yard. I know that sounds like a lot of money. But even at twice the price, digging the well would have been worth it because the cost of water in my little town was going up rapidly. Sometimes our water bill for the summer alone topped $2,000. (We had a pool and a lot of grass to maintain.) My investment paid for itself within two years. 

Some expenses are like that. You ante up now on the promise that the investment will save you a lot later. The question to ask yourself, as you’re evaluating that new hybrid car or energy efficient appliance, is: Am I dealing with a good-faith promise that will be kept—or an empty one that won’t pay off in the long run? Here’s how to tell.

PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT

The Promise / Save about seven percent on your energy bills. The device works by changing the temperature in your house automatically: Set it to turn down the heat or air conditioning when you’re away or sleeping.

Spend Now/ About $50.

Save Later? / Yes! The average family spends $2,650 a year on home energy, nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling. A programmable thermostat is easy to install and should save you $180 a year, so you’ll cover the buying cost in about four months.

ENERGY STAR WASHING MACHINE

The Promise /Save 40 percent on your energy and water bills.

Spend Now /On average 70 percent more than on washing machines that aren’t Energy Star certified.  

Save Later? / Yes, if you need to replace the appliance anyway.

the math / Let’s say you switch out a broken washing machine with an Energy Star front loader, such as the Frigidaire Affinity 3.5-cubic-foot front load washer for $749; a top loader of the same size, the GE 3.5-cubic-foot king-size capacity washer, is $469. The estimated yearly operating cost of the front-loader is $18 in energy, less than half that of the top loader at $44. (Look at the product’s energy guide to find the estimated operating cost and electricity use.) At first, it might seem as if you’d have to use the machine for about a decade to break even. But front loaders are so much more efficient, they also cut your water use by up to 40 percent—saving you as much as 7,000 gallons of water a year. And because of the way they spin, they use less detergent and the clothes come out of the machine less damp, which means they spend less time in the dryer. Add it all in and you end up ahead.

HYBRID CAR

The Promise / Save so much on gas that you recoup the extra cost of purchasing the car.

Spend Now/ Twenty to 30 percent more than a nonhybrid counterpart.

Save Later? / Yes, if you choose a less expensive hybrid, such as the Toyota Prius (which starts at $22,400), and you put 20,000 miles or more on your car every year and you do most of your driving in the city. Or if gas prices go way up. No, if gas prices are less than $4 a gallon.

the math / Say you’re looking at the midsize SUV Toyota Highlander. The nonhybrid four-wheel-drive V6 model (which gets 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway) starts at $29,050. The hybrid four-wheel-drive V6 (27 city, 25 highway) starts at $34,700. Based on the presstime gas price of $2.69 a gallon and the fact that the average driver logs 15,000 miles a year, it would take just over six years to break even on this purchase.

EXTENDED WARRANTY FOR A COMPUTER

The Promise / Save on repairs.

Spend Now/ Up to $100 for a laptop, depending on the length of protection.

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