Quality Over Price: 15 Items to Spend More On

by Camilla Cheung on 19 January 2012 10 comments
Photo: IvanWalsh.com

In general, I’m a cheapskate. I look for the lowest-priced deal I can get away with. But with certain items, I look for quality rather than the lowest prices. Particularly when it comes to health and safety, buying quality items is worth it and may actually save you money in the long run. Having a long-term view of your purchases can help you to buy frugally, but also wisely.

Fortunately, the best-quality items aren’t always the most expensive, and the saying “you get what you pay for” isn’t necessarily true. As we’ve all seen, companies that spend a lot of money on marketing can convince you that their products are good quality when in reality a lower-priced item may be made better and cost less. Do your research, check the reviews, and buy accordingly. (See also: 5 Home and Family Items to Avoid Buying Used)

1. Tools

Buying cheap tools can be tempting, especially when they are so readily available. But consider the amount of money that will be wasted when you have to buy a new drill because the cheap one you bought a week ago stops working or has its drill bits all dinged up already (a clear case of “buy it right or buy it twice”). Poor-quality tools can also be a safety hazard. Well-crafted tools made of sturdy, hardened metal will be worth the money in the long run. If you can’t afford them new, look for good-quality tools at garage sales and estate sales where you can pick them up for a fraction of the price.

2. Mattresses

You spend a third of your life in bed, so make your bed comfortable! A good mattress with firm back support (and a soft cushy top, if you like a plush feel) can do wonders for your posture and general well-being throughout the day, making you healthier and more productive. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars for a good mattress, but chances are that a $150 one from Walmart just won't cut it.

3. Food

Not everyone may agree with me on this, but I believe spending money on quality food is a long-term investment in your health. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I choose to spend marginally more of my income on good-quality fruits and vegetables, milk from cows that have not been treated with growth hormones, and whole-grain foods instead of cheap and low-quality pre-packaged foods. I'm hoping that eating healthfully will prevent complications down the road like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other conditions that will cost more to treat. I’d rather forgo a big-screen TV and other purchases in order to afford top-quality food. Fortunately, good-quality groceries aren’t that much more expensive than cheap “food” — especially if you shop smart and cook from scratch.

4. Large Appliances

When my husband and I purchased a new refrigerator, we did a TON of research on the best fridges within our budget. While we could have opted for the cheapest possible option or even bought a fridge on Craigslist, we recognized that we wanted a fridge that would last for years and had room to fit food for a growing family. We ended up with a quality model that had been recommended by Consumer Reports, had good reviews from buyers, and came with a warranty. If I’m going to be spending hundreds of dollars on a fridge, I’d rather spend a bit more to get something that will last longer, is more energy-efficient, and that I’ll be happier with in the long run.

5. Shoes That Fit

I have a bad habit of buying cheap shoes on a discount, just because I like how they look and how little they cost. Unfortunately, the majority of these shoes don’t fit properly and leave my feet blistered and sore. When I look through my closet, I see almost 10 pairs of $20-$30 shoes that I wish I could trade in for one pair of quality $100-$150 shoes that fit properly and that would keep my feet feeling happy. At some quality retailers, you can even get a lifetime warranty on your shoes or boots if they ever start falling apart.

6. Wine

Life is too short for cheap wine. We’ve bought cheap wine before and had to toss out the bottles because it was too bad even to cook with (bad wine imparts a sour flavor to food when used in cooking). That being said, inexpensive wines can vary wildly — a $5 wine can taste like a $15 bottle if you choose wisely. Read reviews, ask for recommendations, and remember your favorites. Currently, we like the $3 bottle of Vinas Chilenas Cabernet from Trader Joe’s. It’s a good example of how quality doesn’t always equate to price. The Vinas Chilenas tastes like an $8-9 bottle (a.k.a. drinkable) and is a big step up from Two-Buck Chuck.

7. Chocolate

Along the same lines, chocolate is one of those items where the cheap stuff isn’t worth going after. A tiny square of quality chocolate is worth a ton of Hershey’s bars (except when you’re making s’mores, that is). Buying smaller amounts of good chocolate is better for your waistline too.

8. Knives

One good quality chef’s knife is all you need and is better than 10 cheap knives from Walmart. A cheap knife can be a safety hazard — poor balance, weight, and a dull blade can cause the knife to slip and cut you. On the other hand, a quality knife is a joy to work with.

9. Outdoor Gear

I’m talking rock climbing shoes and crampons, quality weatherproof clothing, comfortable hiking boots, and a tent that doesn’t leak. While I know people who go to the extreme in buying pricey top-of-the-line gear and then never end up using it, I am definitely in favor of getting quality outdoor gear (it doesn’t have to be the most expensive) if you like to spend time outdoors. You will be much more likely to enjoy your adventure and do it again. If you’ve ever slept in a leaky tent in the rain, you know it is not fun. Again, some manufacturers have warranties and will replace backpacks, shoes, sunglasses, and other gear if they wear out.

10. Baby Gear

Buying a new car seat for your first baby is a must. You never know whether a second-hand car seat may have been in an accident, and safety standards are being updated every year. Also, car seats have expiry dates after which they are no longer considered safe. Since safety is paramount for your little one, go for a car seat with top safety ratings.

Because safety standards are constantly being updated, many people recommend buying a new crib for your baby as well (for example, drop-side cribs are no longer considered safe). Whether or not you choose to do so, make sure that the crib has a non-toxic finish and is equipped with a firm, tight-fitting mattress (this reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

11. Car

A recent survey by CarMax showed that consumers choose quality over price when buying a used car, looking for the best quality combined with a fair price. Personally, I’m a big fan of Toyota, and I’m willing to pay a more for Toyota’s reliability. However, the question of who makes the best quality cars is another debate in itself (you can start your research at Cars.com). If you think about it, every time you get on the road, you're taking your life in your hands. I'd make sure the vehicle you're doing it in is good quality.

Also, don’t cheap out on maintaining your car. Getting your brakes checked and tires replaced when needed might save your life. 

12. Luggage

If you enjoy traveling, a sturdy, well-constructed suitcase is your most indispensable accessory. I’ve made the mistake of buying a cheap suitcase (in China, where a huge suitcase cost me all of 10 bucks), that started bursting apart at the seams on its first trip (well, you could say I got my money’s worth). Many quality luggage manufacturers have a guarantee on their products and will repair or replace your item if it breaks.

13. Electronics

If you’re going to be splurging on a big-screen HDTV or a new laptop that you hope will last a few years, it’s obviously worthwhile to do your research on the best quality product that you can get on your budget. I generally let my more tech-savvy husband do the digging on our household electronics, and he hasn’t let me down.

14. Professional Services

When it comes to hiring a financial advisor, a real estate agent, a tax accountant, and other such professionals, doing your research to get the best quality service can save you thousands of dollars. Read client testimonials, interview candidates in person, and don’t necessarily go for the person who offers you discount service. Remember, quality professionals know their worth and should be able to explain to you in detail the value that you are getting when hiring them.

15. Home Improvement

There are lots of things you can DIY around the house, but when it comes to big, complicated, or potentially dangerous jobs like roofing or replacing your electrical panel, it may pay to call in the experts. It’s risky to mess with improper wiring or the danger of being up on the roof, especially if it’s your first attempt. And aside from the personal risk, doing the job poorly may cost you more to repair in the long run. Ask friends for recommendations of contractors with a reputation to uphold who offer a warranty on their work.

When do you opt for quality rather than the lowest price?

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Guest's picture

I'm a huge supporter of this philosophy. The issue that I think many have is having the up-front money to pay more. Many simply don't have that for whatever reason. So when the appliance goes and it's time for a new one, $1k for the 'OK' one is hard enough to come up with, let alone $3k for the awesome one that's going to last forever. While many would want the $3k version and understand the long term benefits, the fact is that their financial limitations often force them into the $1k version.

Guest's picture
John J

Another item that's good to have quality over price is pet food. The cheaper dog/cat food, like Purina and Pedigree and such have more fillers (grains like corn or wheat or rice) and less actual meat/protein, and what meat is there are usually the by-products (in other words, the parts of the animal not fit for human consumption like the organs and such). Really disgusting when you think about what you're feeding your dog/cat. But the higher quality (and higher price) brands have less fillers, protein is the first ingredient (and not from by-products).

And in reality, it's not that much more expensive than the cheaper food, because with the cheaper food and more fillers, your animal is going to use the bathroom more so you have to buy more food, whereas with the higher-quality food they can actually use more of the nutrients and thus go less.

Guest's picture

The number one thing I regret buying for our house is a mattress. We went cheap, when we shouldn't have.

Guest's picture

Totally agree with you on the food category. I feel like if I buy quality food and spend a little more, I am less inclined to overeat, and I appreciate the food more. I eat more slowly, and I think this makes me more healthy in the end. Win-win: delicious and beneficial to health.
On wine, totally on board! Life is way too short to drink Two Buck Chuck. I like the Found Object Shiraz from Chile, only $8 and tastes like a $15 wine!
My only worry is that there area a lot of things here to spend more on. I feel like we need a post about what not to spend more on to balance this one out!

Guest's picture
Jerry

That's an excellent list....

I traveled for fifteen years as a road/air warrior and nothing is as frustrating as poor quality luggage: busted zippers, tears, hardware that breaks. The best (I used a Red Oxx Air Boss) offer long term repair that's usually free.

Camilla Cheung's picture

I hear you! There's nothing worse than the wheels busting out on a rolling suitcase when you're hurrying to catch the next train!

Guest's picture
Cass

I'm with you on most of these (all in principle, I guess), but a word on knives--like you mentioned in wine, price doesn't always correlate with experience. In a broad way, sure. But there's a lot of "feel" in knifery--I've held some really beautiful, expensive knives that felt awful in my hand and gone with the "inferior" product because it worked better for me. That it's sharp and feels right in your hand is more important than if you got a Wusthof or Shun or something that was 10 bucks at a kitchen supply store. In general, a pricier knife will hold an edge better given equal treatment, but the way you treat the knife is way more important on that front. Certain useful features are more expensive--forged knives often have better balance, and I love the way the bevel feels--but on knives in my opinion it's just as important if not more so to spend the time as it is to spend money. It's very much like the explanation on your wine example.

Camilla Cheung's picture

I completely agree with you. While I would love to own a Wusthof, that's beyond my price range. But Victorinox has some great knives for $30, and the knife I use I actually bought in Japan at a much cheaper price than it is sold here (Misono). Again, my entire philosophy is that it's worthwhile to look for the best quality item (whether or not it's the most expensive), rather than just picking up the cheapest thing you can lay your hands on.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the excellent list! The first thing I realised that cheap wasn't best was shoes - cheap shoes can be comfortable but they last much less than more expensive quality shoes.

I am still working through some of the other items on your list, my problem being the one you flag in paragraph two - that I tend to think that the most expensive / gold-plated item must also be the best. For instance, buying a top end drill which I think will last me for years, when it turns out I only need it to drill holes for a couple of small screws. This is even more acute for technology where things age so quickly.

Your point in paragraph one is key - it is about saving money over the long run and getting value for money.

Guest's picture
Don

I learned this the hard way when I bought me first house. I did a lot of shopping at discount retailers only to have the items I bought break, tear, or begin to fall apart less than a year later. I decided to spend more by getting higher quality items. It's been many years now and those products are still working great. The lesson is: by trying to cut corners and save money in the short term, you might end up paying more in the long run.