The $21,622 espresso maker

Once upon a time my mom asked my granddad the secret to his successful investments. His answer was, “Buy good stuff!” That’s all he said. The other day I was talking to a colleague who said people never think about maintaining things anymore. “The real trick,” he said, “is to buy good stuff and learn how to fix it.” That got me thinking about the value of some of the stuff I’ve bought. Is it “good stuff?”

We paid $500 for the espresso maker in December 2000. It’s still going strong. We pay roughly $245/year for coffee (about 22 pounds annually.) I once had to replace the on/off switch. I think that cost about $65. So add it up and we’ve paid $3,015 total on coffee over the past 10 years. Or about 83 cents a day. For six shots of premium espresso. At Starbucks the equivalent would cost around $6.75/day. Over 10 years that would come to $24,637 dollars. This machine is currently the most valuable piece of property I own.

El Burro, the old truck, is a close second. It has about 300,000 miles on it and is still running strong, but it’s starting to feel a little beat.
Sometimes the idle rises and falls like the mutter of a homeless person. It burns oil. The bumper is bent and wonky (my own fault for backing into a tree.) The paint has faded and flaked off in places. There’s rust almost everywhere, so much that when I backed into some guy’s immaculately reconditioned Ford at the supermarket in Austin in December the body of my truck simply crumbled, leaving rusty chunks of metal on his but doing no damage. The seats are torn, the topper leaks. The dash is cracked and the console display has a hole, its glowing green bulb exposed. Lately the gears slip, the truck version of an old dog’s weak hips. But it’s the death knell of the poor critter – I’ll never pay for a new clutch.
But here’s the thing: El Burro has been the kind of good stuff my granddad would have been proud of. The equation is so simple:
I paid $1800 for it in May of 2003. It lasted through January of 2011. That’s an annual payment of $225, or $19.35/month.
It gets even better. The kid down the street, Sam, wants the truck. So let’s say I sell it to him for $650. That reduces my cost to $1150. For an annual payment of… $148.32, or $12.36/month.
Oh sure, I had to pay for maintenance. Over those eight years I paid $5854 for things like tires, oil, alternators, wheel bearings. Add that and the “lifetime truck cost” comes to $7004. That’s an annual payment of $900, or $75/month.
That’s a good deal, but not as good as the espresso maker. There’s also the dog, for whom we paid $62 in 2001.
He eats a lot and has to go the doctor now that he’s old. I don’t know how to begin calculating his value over time, but I think he’s delivered a great return. Does he look like a $62 value or what?
So it happens that I just bought a new truck. Should be pretty solid — it’s a Toyota. But it needs a goal if it’s to enter the pantheon of really good stuff around here. I paid $6200 for it in January of 2011. To beat El Burro’s $75/month value it would have to live 321 months, or 26 years, with similar maintenance costs. Damn. I’d be 65 years old. Is that even possible? The truck would have about 400,000 miles on it at that point.

Might never happen, but at least it has a goal.