August 20, 2013 10:50 AM

One of the best money management tools I know of is a simple Rule of Thumb: Match quality with need. In other words, don’t buy more quality than you need.

Sometimes the cheapest option is the best choice. Other times you’ll regret going “cheap,” when you have to replace that item well before your need for it goes away. In that case, you’d be better off going for the higher-priced option that will last many times longer than the cheap alternative. The key is in learning how to assess our true needs.

When it comes to this quality vs. need thing, I am not perfect. In fact, it has taken me decades to get this quality vs. need thing down to a science. Case in point: When my grandson was born three years ago, I bought the cheapest umbrella stroller Target had to offer. My reasoning was that I would use it only occasionally. I didn’t need a big fancy model. Here I am almost four years later, and I can tell you that was a big mistake. What a piece of junk. And I’ve been kicking myself and fighting with this horrible excuse of a stroller for too long.

I set out to find the best inexpensive stroller.

Every Friday, Eli and I are off for the day to explore and play. We need a reliable stroller. So he and I came up with our list of must-haves: Storage under the seat, a 5-point harness, cup holder, big wheels, folds easily, relatively lightweight and a retractable canopy.

Strollers run the gamut from $15 to $650. I can promise you that we do not need $650 worth of quality in a stroller. My goal was to buy the best inexpensive stroller that would match our list of needs. I started my research online. Armed with the list, I began with the cheapest options and rejected them one by one when a particular cheap model couldn’t deliver on the must-haves. As I moved up in price, it didn’t take long to find strollers that had all of the things we need. I easily narrowed down the field of thousands to the three strollers that appeared to match — not exceed — our needs.

We visited stores so we could actually meet our top three candidates. I talked to parents and read tons of reviews. In the end, I made the decision to buy the cheapest of the three, based on reviews and personal recommendations. Quality wise, all three were so close, I couldn’t see much difference. But there was a $50 price spread.

The stroller that won the first ever official “Everyday Cheapskate Best Inexpensive” seal of approval is The First Years Ignite Stroller. The list price is $79.99, but we paid $59.99 at Amazon.com with free shipping. We’ve had Ignite for a few weeks now, and both of us are thrilled with our new wheels.

Everything about this stroller is perfect. It maneuvers well on its eight big wheels, and it is lightweight enough that I can easily open and close it and lift it into the truck bed in a matter of seconds. The seatback is sturdy and, according to my passenger, very comfortable. The handles are taller than most, and the 5-point harness hooks up easily. There is plenty of room to stow stuff under the seat, and I have a cup holder and zippered console. This stroller is solid, with a seat that is 2 inches wider than its closest competitor. I have no doubt that it will carry us very well through the day that Eli grows out of it.

And that’s all the quality we need.

Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website. You can email her at mary@everydaycheapskate.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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