When to Buy Brand Names: Sometimes, the Splurge Is Worth It

by Paul Michael on 21 August 2012 7 comments
Photo: DannyChoo

Two of the earliest articles I wrote for Wise Bread, Losing the Store Brand Stigma and Why There’s No Reason Not to Buy Store Brand Baby Formula are ones for which I still receive positive emails and comments. In these tough economic times, it’s good to know that there are cheaper options out there that are still just as good as the name-brand products.

However, as important as it is to save money when you can, it’s also just as important to spend your money wisely. And that means buying products that will do what they claim to do, last a long time, and give you years of trouble-free service. Not only that, but you also want products that are safe and reliable.

That’s why I am writing an article that advises you to spend more money on certain products. That old saying “buy cheap, buy twice” isn’t always true, but sometimes, it’s bang on. Not only that, but sometimes buying cheap products with unfamiliar names could actually put you in real danger.

Here, then, are the top eight things you should always choose brand names over store brands or inferior brands. (See also: Quality Over Price: 15 Items to Spend More On)

Tools

The kind of tools you buy for home improvements can make a huge difference to the outcome of the project. There’s a reason the tradesmen you hire are all working with brand names like Makita, DeWalt, Bosch, and Milwaukee. These brands are made with strict quality controls, use excellent materials, and are built to last. It’s the reason you rarely see any of these up for sale on Craigslist — they’re just too reliable.

Of course, you can opt for the cheaper brands, like Black & Decker or Ryobi, and you’ll still get good results, but the longevity or consistency won’t be as good. When you decide to buy cheap, non-brand tools at flea markets and dollar stores, that’s when you may be throwing your money away. These cheap tools are not engineered as well and will not last as long.

Do yourself a favor — when it comes to tools, buy the brand best you can afford. Look at what the tradesmen working around the neighborhood are using, and jot it down. It might be more expensive than you dreamt of paying, but work it out. Over the course of 10-15 years, how much use will you get out of that power tool or lawn mower? And if you can’t afford a good brand, look into renting tools for the job you're doing. When it comes to DIY, you really don’t want to trust your home and garden to tools of inferior quality.

Kitchen Equipment

Again, tools of the trade need to be tools you can rely on. And in the kitchen, those tools can cost some serious money. Now, no one is suggesting you go out and spend $2,400 on an 11-piece Shun knife set, that’s probably way more knife than you’ll ever need. Professional chefs use those, but they’re cooking 12 hours a day or more.

However, it’s also not a good idea to go out and buy a cheap $29.99 knife set that features 14+ knives. At just over $2 a knife, you really will be getting garbage. Brands like J.A Henckels and Wüsthoff, that specialize in knives for the industry, also do quality knife sets under for $200.

The same principles go for any other kitchen utensils, appliances, and equipment. Get a KitchenAid mixer over something cheap and cheerful. Splurge on a good-quality blender, not one under $20. Always look at the reviews, and bear in mind that old phrase “for the price…” It means nothing really. For the price, a newspaper is a great blanket on cold winters nights. Know what I mean?

Beauty Products

Your skin, your hair, your nails, your teeth, your body — they all deserve better than the cheapest crud money can buy. So, next time you’re in the market for soap, shampoo, cosmetics (and brushes), skin creams, oils, balms, or anything else that’s going on, or in, your body, look carefully at the brands you’re buying. A nasty rash from a cream purchased at the dollar store is not going to make you feel good about the few bucks you saved. And I always thought places like MAC cosmetics were a rip off. But after seeing how long they last, and the results hey garner on my wife, I have to say, MAC is well worth it.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Electronics

I bought a pair of headphones from the dollar store once. The sound quality was appalling, and they crackled if I moved in a certain way (no doubt due to a dry soldering joint). They lasted about two days before I threw them in the trash. In the past, I’ve bought cheap cameras, personal stereos, VCRs, and all sorts of other electronic gadgets. And I have learned my lesson. If you’re going to buy headphones, spring for a good pair. Even $5 Sony headphones, despite the brand name, will not have great audio. You need to invest in good quality headphones, like BOSE, Klipsch, Velodyne, or Sennhesiner. And we're only talking $20 or $30 more for good sound. On Blu-Ray players, avoid those ones under $100. They’ll give you problems, or won't have the features you need these days. It doesn't cost a lot more to go up in quality, even those priced between $100 and $200 offer great features. If you can afford it, opt for the higher-end range of the well-known brands, like LG and Samsung, rather than their bargain-basement models. And less popular brands, like Oppo, offer excellent quality for the slightly higher price.  Speaking of electronics…

Batteries

You’ll find amazing deals on batteries; even Ikea is getting in on it with AA 10-packs costing just $1.99. I guarantee, you’ll be replacing those batteries quite quickly. They will work, but they just don’t have the juice of the bigger brands like Duracell Ultra Power or Energizer Ultimate Lithium. Yes, they cost more, but they last way longer and you won’t be inconvenienced by having them run out when you need them most. (See this Wired article for a detailed analysis.)

Footwear

There’s a time and a place for cheap footwear. It’s flip-flops. That’s about it. Go ahead — get yourself a pair for a buck, and they’ll do the job. But if you really value your posture and your health, footwear is not the place to cut corners. If you’re going hiking, you need good quality hiking boots, not a $20 pair from Payless. If you’re a runner, splash out on some professional-grade running shoes. They’ll probably cost over $100, but this is your health we’re talking about. If you need work boots, pay more for quality boots with reinforced steel toe caps, support shanks, and electrical hazard protection. When you look at the cost of shoes and boots, you can usually get a very good pair for under $200. And they will last, support you in all the right places, and be beneficial to your health. Now, there are limits of course. At some point, the money you spend is not just paying for quality materials and craftsmanship, and it just goes towards a designer’s mansion. If you want to spend $38,000 on a pair of Testonis or Manolo Blahniks, go ahead. That’s just nuts if you ask me.

Sporting and Exercise Equipment

You won’t get a good game of tennis using a heavy, low-end racquet. You won’t feel the benefit of a cheap pair of ice-skates or a budget treadmill. Once again, if you’re playing a sport or trying to get fit, the non-name brands or lower-tier brands just won’t cut the mustard. You need to spend a little more on good quality brands to make your workout effective or raise your game to a significant level. Ironically, the stars earning millions of dollars get the very best equipment for free, but at the same time, using some $12.99 tennis racquet that weighs a few pounds isn’t going to make the game fun for you. Spend the money when and where you can, and you’ll get more out of it.

Camping, Hiking, and Other "Extreme" Gear

If you plan on camping in the mountains in winter, you really don’t want to rely on that $20 sleeping bag you got from Walmart. It may look the same as the $500 Marmot sleeping bag, but you’ll discover the difference when the temperature drops and you’re an ice cube shivering with regret. Your tent also needs to be good quality, and if you’re hiking, your gear needs to pass muster. If you plan on doing a little rock climbing, you don’t want to entrust your life to cheap and shoddy “knock off” brands. This is not just a bit of fun; it’s your life. So, when you’re off into the wilderness, take the biggest and best brand names your budget can afford. That advice does not come from me by the way, as I don’t camp. It comes from several of my good friends here in Colorado who do it every weekend, and they swear by their expensive brand names. They’d rather eat ramen for a week and buy a good one than entrust their lives to cheap trash.

Additional photo credits: geishaboy500, Shahid, RocketDoggy
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Guest's picture
Beth

I agree with most of these, except for the beauty products in every situation. I have purchased shampoo at the dollar store, and when reading the ingredients list it actually had better, natural ingredients than the expensive brand that was sitting in my daughter's bathroom. I have also purchased store brand soap for the boys and my husband, and the ingredients were identical to their name brand counterparts.

The man who does my hair said to splurge on conditioner, which I do, and I won't skimp on moisturizers, especially for my face. Nor will I skimp on foundation and concealer. I have bought brushes and make-up sponges at Christmas Tree Shops and never had a problem.

The important thing to look at is the ingredients list. There are certain things they put in there that you just don't want touching your skin.

Guest's picture

I like to buy high quality stuff and make it last (http://mreverydaydollar.com/buy-high-quality/). What I've found is that if I have a problem with something, a reputable company will stand behind their products and either fix the issue or replace it for free. Try that with some no-name company and see how far you get!

Guest's picture

I have to insist on brand name power tools. For years I bought harbor freight tools and black and decker products. They are junk, break easy, and wear out easy. I love my Milwaukee impact driver and drill. If you wait till fathers day and black friday you can often get great deals on them.

Guest's picture

Great tips! I especially agree with the shoes. I'm all for looking for the best bargains around, but I'm not going to mess around with footwear. I'll buy top quality shoes for my son because they're what's best for his growing feet. I also buy top quality running sneakers for myself. I'll definitely look into getting the best deal on these as I can as far as sales, coupons, etc., but I won't buy the cheap-o pairs at the dollar store.

Guest's picture
Bryan

I would like to add clothing to the list, of when sometimes the splurge is worth it. Avoid cheap materials such as polyester, rayon and spandex, go for wool, silk, cotton and linen

Guest's picture

Extreme gear is definitely something you don't want to buy cheaply. If you're out in extreme weather you don't want to be worrying about if your stuff is going to withstand it. The other thing you shouldn't buy cheaply; a mattress. You never know where a second hand mattress has been or how long its been used. Buying a new mattress is an essential big purchase when you need one.

Guest's picture

I definitely agree with the battery one! I've tried off-brand batteries and the drive me crazy! They always run out of juice way to soon compared to Duracell or Energizer.