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7 things that are always worth splurging on—and 3 things that never are

A $26 cocktail involving frothed egg whites. A candy-pink mohair coat. Regular consultations with a psychic. One very entertaining part of adulthood is observing all the different things that our friends and family members deem worthy of a splurge.

On the flip side, deciding what’s splurge-worthy for ourselves can sometimes be a challenge. Deciding what’s worth paying a little (or a lot) extra for and what’s not will vary according to your values and preferences—not to mention your budget . Here are seven things that are always worth splurging on and three items that should cause you to snap your wallet shut.

Worth the splurge

1. An iconic designer handbag

While spending a small fortune on designer accessories might seem frivolous, and certainly can be, particular bags have proven to hang on to their value over the long run. In the short term, a high-end bag can instantly make your entire outfit seem fancier. So go ahead and splurge if you’re really lusting after a designer bag and have the funds. Choose something classic, and should you ever tire of your shoulder candy, you’ll likely be able to unload it online or through a local consignment shop.

2. Quality kitchen knives

Many people don’t think about this category until they start scanning items for a wedding registry and venture into the fancy-knives section of the store, but quality tools for slicing and dicing can come at pulse-quickening prices, especially if you aspire to fill a countertop knife block. Yet this is on the short list of items most chefs say you should always splurge on, since good knives taken care of properly will last you 10 times as long as cheaper counterparts—or in simpler terms, a lifetime. They’ll do a better job than bargain knives, which dull easily, cut unevenly, and can require an inordinate amount of pressure for even the simplest tasks. If you can only afford one high-end knife for now, make it a versatile chef’s or santoku knife.

3. Good jeans

Jeans are a fashion staple, and if you wear your favorite pairs often, the cost-per-wear of a designer pair will still end up being very reasonable—even minimal, compared to the dress you bought for a friend’s wedding and likely won’t re-wear. Plus, the fit and quality difference between expensive jeans and cheap jeans is something you notice the moment you pull them on.

4. A mattress

Before you impulse-purchase the latest bargain bed-in-a-box to pop up in a social-media ad, stop and consider the importance of this purchase. We’re talking about an investment in good sleep, which is the key to … well, kind of everything. Plus, there’s the fact that you’ll probably be using this item for a really, really long time. (Six to eight years is what the National Sleep Foundation recommends, but it’s easy to lose track and keep one longer.) Better to try out a handful of mattresses and read reviews before you commit, and don’t rule out one that’s more expensive but still within financial reach.

5. That fancy coffee maker

When your trusty drip machine or French press does the job, it’s easy to second-guess investing in a machine that only takes pods that cost at least $1 each. That said, if you really love coffee, it pays to make the kind you drink at home a real treat, not to mention more convenient. This is one trendy kitchen appliance that usually won’t end up gathering dust, so go ahead and get a good one.

6. Hair color

Not only does it define your entire look, hair color can easily go bad. If you choose a colorist based on lower pricing or embark upon a poorly executed at-home color attempt in an effort to save money, you’ll just end up spending way more to have an experienced colorist clean up the mess. Something else to factor in: A great colorist can subtly blend and vary tones to help your hair color grow out more subtly, meaning you can visit the salon less frequently and save over the long term.

7. A vacation

Sure, there’s the ill-fated trip involving flight fiascos, weather challenges, or passive-aggressive in-laws, but it’s still exceedingly rare to hear anyone say, “I really regret going on that vacation.” Spending money on experiences is almost always a good splurge, and even a bad trip can end up part of the family or friend-group lore, a tale you’ll always love to tell. Plus, we tend to look back on travel with rose-colored glasses and focus more on the memories made than the missed connection or even missing luggage. We definitely don’t sit around remembering exactly how much we spent.

On the flip side, here are three things that are never worth splurging on: 

1. Generic artwork

While original art can be a great investment, unoriginal art—the kind sold by mass-market furniture retailers—can come with a surprisingly steep price tag, especially considering it has little to no resale value. Generally, these are just mass-produced copies of original paintings or photographs; in other words, you’re paying hundreds of dollars for a framed poster. If you don’t have the budget to shop at an art gallery, you’re better off scouting cool pieces at a thrift shop, local art show or art-school sale. These will cost far less, feel authentic and unique, and could even appreciate in value if the artist ends up becoming well-known. Alternatively, if you’re fine with framed prints, you can easily find them online from more affordable sources.

2. The latest smartphone

If you’re a true technophile and can afford to upgrade just so you’re carrying the latest-and-greatest—or if you treat your phone like a designer accessory—more power to you. For most people, though, it just doesn’t pay to shell out hundreds extra for the newest version of a smartphone when you can buy the previous version for a fraction of the price. Chances are, the thrill of a few flashy new features will wear off within weeks, your screen will get cracked (yet again) and that shiny new phone will be old news.

3. A trendy piece of workout equipment

If ads for that hyped-up spin bike or treadmill in your Instagram feed have re-ignited your enthusiasm for exercise, that’s great—but remember that it’s still just workout equipment and doesn’t actually have magical powers. If you don’t have thousands in your checking account to buy one of these items totally guilt-free, or are pondering taking on credit-card debt to gain a few marginally exciting features (like a four-inches-wider touchscreen), consider a compromise. The companies that make “smart” exercise equipment also offer their proprietary workouts via a paid monthly subscription you can stream to your tablet or phone, meaning you can do them on even a bargain bike or treadmill. If you want the real deal, look for closeout sales on last year’s models, local gym liquidation sales, or do a quick search on Facebook marketplace—someone is always looking to unload a pricey treadmill they don’t use enough to justify what they spent. You might even find one of those big-name bikes for a steal—and a score like that always feels infinitely better than a splurge.

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