Save or Spend??
May 27, 2009 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Shopping Filter: When do I need the best of the best? What is the best of the best? And how do I know the difference?

In the past (read:student) when I needed something I would usually chose the cheapest item knowing that I would replace it later if/when needed. Well, it is now LATER.

We are now buying some items for more than just right now. I can sometimes get hung up on price points - for example we needed a sofa, I couldn't decide what makes for a good quality sofa, like that beautiful leather one that your parents have that has been in the living room all your life (you know the one that I mean). I was worried about spending thousands on a sofa that might last for 15 years, but what if it doesn't? So I found an attractive one on a crazy sale that WILL not last, but I won't feel so bad when it wears out (and the cycle continues - curse you IKEA!!) .

Right now we need a garden hose (I know, it sounds silly). I bought one last year, on sale, for $40. It sucked, and leaked by summer's end. This year I bought a new hose for $70, so far so good. So if I had just bought the better hose in the first place, it'd have saved $40. Now I am wondering if I would be even happier with the $120 hose (but then no $ for garden tools)...

So here is the question:

What are your favourite things to splurge on? (ie: Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer)

What are the best things to save on? (ie: I have no idea, that's the problem!)
posted by saradarlin to Shopping (46 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Are you asking what to splurge on/save on or when do you buy the the best or just buy to get it done--while quality may be associated with price, as you pointed out, there is not a perfect correlation?
posted by rmhsinc at 4:03 PM on May 27, 2009

Best of the best is for critical applications only.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:11 PM on May 27, 2009

This is a very interesting question that has forced me to really think about my own spending:

Splurge (disregard price for all practical purposes): Tips/gratuities, one time purchases under $25.00 ( I just want to get it ), the last night's lodging while on vacation, reading glasses

The Best ( function of quality and value)--Things with which I have a personal relationship: Laptops, mountain bikes, running shoes, gifts for wife/daughters, luncheon at outstanding restaurants, socks, tea, coffee

Things to save on: consumables such as generic cereal/fertilizer/shampoo/gasoline, repeat purchases such as Dr Pepper, almost everything at COSTCO.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:16 PM on May 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

I love this question. I've been thinking a lot about this stuff. I think there's a third category, though -- high quality stuff that is not expensive but is dead serious and will last forever -- cast iron pans, for example, and my Weber charcoal grille.

Bras are good to spend money on. I paid seventy dollars for a bra last year and it was totally worth it. Underwear, in my opinion, is not worth spending any serious money on. Target panties are fine, or Old Navy. High quality socks are worth it, the others get holes in them, get threadbare. Wine glasses, not worth spending money on -- they break, and you always live in fear of them if they're expensive. Wine should be enjoyed, it shouldn't be like defusing a bomb. Bookshelves are worth spending money on -- you have them your whole life and frankly, those Ikea things are kind of dangerous now that I'm viewing them with an eye toward the baby llama pulling them on herself.

Blankets, worth spending a reasonable amount of money and buying them from LL Bean or something that will last. Silverwear, not worth it -- who cares?

I love this topic and could go on about it endlessly but I have to go make dinner.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:22 PM on May 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

"Grille" because my grille is ze French.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:23 PM on May 27, 2009

Tools: There is no larger pain in the ass than having a shitty tool that doesn't quite do what you need or breaks.

My solution: Craftsman. If anything breaks or sucks, EVER, you bring the damn thing back and they replace it or your money. You could buy a set of wrenches, throw the whole case into a wood chipper and they would replace the remains at any Sears without batting an eyelash. Doesn't matter where you bought, if you have the receipt, or what happened to them.

Almost anything that you use every day: shoes, socks (oh god, I should write socks twice (ha, there, I did it)), a watch (assuming you don't have tendency to destroy things), glasses (sun or rx, whichever you sport), toilet paper (Cottonelle!!! I will never use anything else, ever again!), cutlery, appliances . . . For some people this list is different, it might include coffee, lotion, a car, or even a vacuum cleaner. For some things, it is worth it to just have something you can rely on.

In general, I try to buy as few things as possible, but always get the exact thing that I want. Maybe I live a little spartan, but everything that I have is the best of that thing (in my eyes anyway). This doesn't always mean price (but sometimes there is a correlation). I grew up in a house where we always bought the shittiest, cheapest thing available. Of course everything broke, rusted, or fell apart quickly.

Do it right, do it the first time. Anything worth being done deserves to be done right! Life is to short to be bullshitting around with stuff that only half works.
posted by milqman at 4:28 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think everyone has differing opinions on this.

My spendy as opposed to cheap purchases are: Sheets, underpants (I'm sorry but the cheap ones give me wedgies) and bras, wine glasses, kitchen appliances, cell phones, laptops, mp3 players, cosmetics/toiletries, jeans, shoes, coats, food.

Things other people splash out on that I tend to buy on the cheap: Furniture (go IKEA!) because I tend toward redecorating every few years, tv/dvd player, speakers, towels (see: redecorating), toilet paper, clothes other than jeans, shoes or coats, coffee (although I suppose TJ's doesn't count as cheap necessarily)...
posted by elsietheeel at 4:33 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

ow I am wondering if I would be even happier with the $120 hose (but then no $ for garden tools)...

Beware, though, that often the top of the line pricewise does not always or even often coincide with the top of the line quality-wise: if years of reading Cook's Illustrated has taught me nothing else, it's taught me that. People often assume the highest priced item must be the best made, but if you're looking at utility/funcationality, that's often just not the case. Brand status has a lot to do with price, not just manufacture - and brand status doesn't always reflect durability, longevity, ease of use, or any number of other good qualities.

I make these decisions item by item and my solution is simply to do the research on things I'm going to purchase. Since money you don't spend is worth a lot more than money you do spend, the choice that's not the most expensive, but which meets your need, is often the wisest one. Chances are your $70 garden hose is in that exact sweet spot.
posted by Miko at 4:58 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Best" is really a fluid concept that should change depending on the item or service in question. For example the best cookware you can own is cast iron and you can get each pan for a couple of bucks at Goodwill; in a case like this you can't equate "best" with "most expensive" or "marketed towards high income consumers" or "having the most European-sounding name" or whatever people use as a signifier of quality these days. The best possible purchase in terms of quality is also damn near the best possible bargain.

Buying the best isn't about buying a thing other people tell you is best. It's about understanding your own needs and buying what is best for you. If you don't understand your own needs, you're going to waste money buying too little or too much.

Also, no, don't buy fancy garden hoses. The expensive ones are just as problematic and prone to wear as the cheap ones. Buy something that is easy to coil and uncoil, but don't throw money away on the expensive product assuming it's "the best." Stop equating price with quality!
posted by majick at 4:59 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am self employed, and like milqman, I buy the only best tools for my job. After over 30 years of doing so I have no regrets.

When I require professional services, I'd rather pay what it costs to get the highest level of expertise than to base my decision on rates.

For most other things which I still consider important, I generally shop for the best price/performance/durability/style compromise.

We've found over the years that we'd rather buy fairly inexpensive rugs and carpeting, and replace it as necessary instead of going with the top of the line products.

Also, much to my wife's chagrin, I buy nearly all of my casual clothing (which is to say, nearly all of my entire wardrobe) at the most rock bottom prices I can find.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:59 PM on May 27, 2009

Oh - I never buy expensive sunglasses; they're too easy to use and the difference isn't appreciable. The one time I did buy a $100 pair, I put them on a lanyard and guarded them carefully for 10 years. I didn't lose them...and they lasted...but they looked pretty dated by the time I chucked 'em. 10 $10 pairs, one a year for 10 years would have served me as well, with less anxiety.
posted by Miko at 4:59 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry I'm not being super helpful but in one of the recent podcasts (either #34, #35, or #41), they mention an Ask post about "what's one thing that you bought and now can't live without"

They say that a few items people suggested include the Chumby, fancy garbage cans, electric blankets, and a few other things.

I can't find the link, but I'm sure someone here knows what I'm talking about.

Anyway, I think that would be a good resource for you.

(please excuse the long-windedness/pointlessness of this reponse -__-)
posted by carpyful at 5:03 PM on May 27, 2009

I think elsietheeel has this right, everyone's going to have differing answers for this one. The things worth investing in are the things that are important to you. Whether they're important because you're going to use them all the time or because you have a sentimental attachment doesn't really matter.

For me, it's worth it to spend money on hair and skin products, a good printer, great shoes and board games. The rest I'm okay with skimping on so that I can spend for the things that really matter to me.
posted by shesbookish at 5:04 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jesus, I had no idea it was possible to spend $120 on a garden hose.

I do have one hose, though, come to think of it, that I paid a fair amount for years ago and it's been worth it. Never kinks in the coldest weather, and it's at least 15 years old and just this year finally broke when I forgot to drain it and then stepped on it during a super cold snap. (Mended it with one of those hose union kits, though.)

I tend to spend more on tools of all kinds: auto tools, carpentry tools, kitchen tools, office tools. Cheap tools make life miserable. Good tools make your day go smoothly. Unless you're a pro, it doesn't usually make sense to get the very best, though. The difference between the pro model and the top-end homeowner model, in most cases, is durability, not ergonomics, and most homeowners don't need the extreme durability of pro tools.
posted by bricoleur at 5:07 PM on May 27, 2009

There's a curve when you graph out price to quality. At a certain point on the curve, you start spending more money without seeing a commensurate increase in quality. I try to look for the "sweet spot" in the price/quality curve, where you get the best quality for the $ spent. A certain amount of this can be self-fulfilling, in that if I buy expensive sunglasses I take care of them, keep track of them, and therefore they last me a long time. If I buy cheap sunglasses not only do I notice that the colors are weirdly distorted but I'm not as careful with them and they are likely to get scratched or lost. Consumer Reports can be a great resource to learn more about a particular type of product. Cook's Illustrated is a great resource for finding the sweet spot in kitchen tools and foods. Tools that you use regularly are worth spending money on, whether it's in the kitchen or the woodshop. Only you know what you will use.

The other aspect of this is maintenance: good care helps things last longer. Polish your shoes, change the oil in the car, get your teeth cleaned, your knives sharpened, keep your cast iron seasoned, etc.

Things I spend more money on: Shoes, sunglasses, hair coloring, bed linens, kitchen knives. Winter coats. A well-stocked toolbox. For makeup, I can tell the difference with foundation, eyeliner and lipstick, but I go to the drugstore for mascara and moisturizer.

Right now I am at home with a toddler so I buy most of my clothes at Target so I don't have to freak out about stains and spills. When I was an office monkey and had to wear pantyhose every day (yuck!!) I bought it in bulk online. Get a run, doesn't matter, there is a whole drawer full of new ones. I drive a '93 Honda that runs great probably will continue to for longer than I really want to drive it.
posted by ambrosia at 5:19 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

When you really don't need the best: when all brands of a given product are basically the same. Canned tomatoes are canned tomatoes - I like mine to have NOTHING but tomatoes in them (no salt, no seasonings), so the cheapest brand is as good as the most expensive. They are just tomatoes. Same goes for milk, eggs, butter, flour, etc. I have noticed a real difference with rice, but that has to do with variety (I like Asian, not American-style Long Grain). On the non-food side, again, when the products are basically the same or you can see all quality issues right away when you look at it. I buy plastic buckets at the dollar store, because a plastic bucket is a plastic bucket, and any flaws can be seen right away. I also buy dish-strainers, toilet scrub-brushes, doormats and mops at the dollar store - and they are great. (The mop even has moving parts, usually a dollar-store no-no - but I didn't care if it broke in a year).

When you want good quality: when you want it to last - like your garden hose. Or there is otherwise a serious quality difference (like in recipe or construction).

As pointed out upthread, different people have different things they care about.

But there is a pretty good system on finding out what are the better products once you have something you do care about - asking around, especially with anyone who uses said product professionally. When buying computers, I ask computer scientists where they shop. When buying flashlights, I ask theatre technicians what they buy. If I were going to get a garden hose, I would ask a serious gardener where they get their hoses, how much they pay, etc (I don't know any professional gardeners, or I would ask them). Because professionals often must have things that are both very well-constructed and long lasting, so I trust their opinions.
posted by jb at 5:23 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

My mother always said to "buy the Cadillac" if it's something you only expect to buy once (or once in a great while). Mothers always say to spend whatever it takes to get good quality in bras and shoes.

Beyond that, I echo what others have said: you put the money into the things that matter to you or where you can tell the difference.

Really, I think that what we choose to sink piles of money into versus what we want to buy as cheaply as possible is one of those things that just simply makes people who they are. Put another way, our judgments in this area are a direct expression of our personalities, values, histories, and so on. They are as unique as we are.

The corollary to this is that you needn't justify your choice to anyone, but an explanation of the rationale underlying that choice could always prove to be an interesting insight into you as a person.
posted by DrGail at 5:33 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whenever I'm trying to decide between two comparable items and am favoring the more expensive, I always ask myself:

"Yeah, but do you like it x dollars better?"
"Is it worth x dollars more?"
"Would you rather have item 1, or item 2 with an extra x hundred dollars in your pocket?"
"If you bought item 2, what else do you need that you could buy with the money you save?"

It truly can go either way.

One afternoon on the subway, I decided to compare the prices of appliances listed in an advertising circular. I realized that for the price of the most expensive refrigerator, you could pick up the cheapest refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, washer, and dryer. Not really an issue for me, but it certainly makes you think! How many of our consumer choices are really about quality, and how many are mostly about signaling social status to others? Once you free yourself from worrying about the latter, it's liberating.

Things that are 100% worth it: watercolor paints and paper.

Things to save on: stuff you don't see/use regularly enough to make a difference.
posted by aquafortis at 5:43 PM on May 27, 2009

Unlike jb, foodstuffs are the one place I won't cut corners. It's better to buy a $4.59 half-gallon of organic milk than it is to buy a $2.19 gallon of cheap milk. It keeps longer and tastes a lot better.

That's just me, of course.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:48 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

My parents taught me that when you are buying tools that you will use a lot, and rely on to get the job done, then you should buy the best you can afford.

That doesn't mean you go out and buy the most expensive item though. I always look for the point of diminishing returns. If brand x is x dollars and OK, brand Y is twice as good as brand x but twice as expensive and brand z is a bit better than brand y but 3 times the cost of brand x, then I'll be going with brand Y unless the difference between Y and Z is absolutely critical.
posted by tim_in_oz at 5:53 PM on May 27, 2009

Bedding--duvets'n'things--where you spend one third of your life.
posted by emhutchinson at 5:56 PM on May 27, 2009

You may be surprised at how long even cheap things can last if you take care of them.

Case in point - garden hoses. I bought several of the cheapest garden hoses I could find four years ago. They are flimsy in construction but I've kept them clean and out of the sunlight and they are all still going strong. Take the extra time for proper maintenance and you'll lengthen the lifespan of the product.

Another, furniture related point. I bought two matching rocker/recliners as used/off rental from Rent-A-Center approximately twenty years ago. Retail would've been ~$500 each. I bought them for $100 each. I applied fabric protectant & cleaned them once a year or so and they both look like I just brought them home from the showroom (despite being the favorite naptime destination for my three cats (and myself)).

So I'd say go for the sofa, get the fabric (or leather) treated against spills/stains, keep up on the cleaning/maintenance and it should last until you get sick of looking at it.
posted by torquemaniac at 6:04 PM on May 27, 2009

This question has been asked previously.
posted by halogen at 6:22 PM on May 27, 2009

Speaking as an audiovisual professional, you should buy cheap audiovisual cables. Unless you're running them 300 feet across a factory floor, you don't need the extra shielding and protection that the expensive ones come with. Leave the Monster cables for the people who get their pleasure from showing off their system rather than watching or listening to it.
posted by echo target at 6:40 PM on May 27, 2009

Good kitchen knives are a must, even if you're not a "gourmet" cook. Henckels brand knives have gotten a little ridiculous in recent years, especially if purchased individualy in open stock, but you can often find a small set with four or five basic knives on sale on Amazon or elsewhere online for not too bad a price. Henkels Twin Professional or Four Star are a good choice. Avoid the "International" label, those are cheaply made in China under license and are not the same quality at all.

Calphalon cookware is in my opinion not worth the money; a less than top-of-the-line brand, Cuisinart in stainless steel is very well made, has the capsule aluminum base for even heating, and will last for years.
posted by longsleeves at 6:42 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I disagree on the silverware, because I have a dishwasher and don't want mine to rust, so quality is important there.

Anything I use regularly, that I count on not to let me down, is worth splurging on. My wireless network, so I don't go without Metafilter, for example (also because it is necessary to my work). My safe, reliable car.

If someone important to me relies on it, again it is worth splurging on. Wireless again, for my husband's work and the kids' school stuff. Healthy pet food.

If I use it regularly, but only for convenience, it needs to be either resilient or pretty, but not necessarily both. Good quality, but I can wait for a sale, like that Kitchenaid mixer. Or your hose, which needs to last a while.

If I use it sparingly, or just seasonally, no splurge. Flip flops, beach towel.
posted by misha at 6:45 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had a couple of mechanics convince me to spend a little extra to get a car that has great safety features and reliability. They both said, independently, that if you can afford even one niche up within a brand, you are getting more car. In a lot of little ways, I really notice the difference in performance. Driving is probably the most risky activity I engage in routinely, and I don't regret my purchase.

Convenience and brand identity are two bits that I think many people completely throw their money at without thinking about relative value.
posted by effluvia at 7:10 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Misha's comments (a couple above mine) are almost exactly how I feel. The only difference is the silverware thing - I want utensils that are sturdy and will last, but not because I have a dishwasher. My reason is because I don't want the handle of my spoon to bend when I use it to scoop ice cream. Priorities!! :)

The one brand name that I will always buy, without fail, is Q-Tips. Seriously. Off-brands are bendy and the cotton falls apart so easily. Quality is of utmost importance when dealing with cotton swabs.
posted by jenny76 at 7:13 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Steel scouring pads are better than copper ones, even though they are cheaper. Do not buy an expensive plastic-handled hammer; hickory handles are fine. Cordless drills are convenient, but even the most expensive ones can't compete with a basic plug-in model in power. Don't get a riding mower, get off your ass and push one around.

Synthetic motor oil is not worth it unless you have a high-performance engine. Premium gas does not make your engine run better if it calls for regular. A new car is never worth the money.

Computers: get/make one with components that are one or two steps below the top of the line. This is true with a lot of electronics; there is a big premium to get the very best, but it is usually worth saving up for something better than rock bottom.

Microwave oven: get the cheapest or Goodwill; they are all the same. Bigger refrigerator is more important than one with extra features. A $500 espresso maker is far, far superior to a $150 one. Get a $50 chef's knife and a sharpener instead of a $100 knife; learn how to use the sharpener.

Get a good rain jacket and good waterproof shoes if you live somewhere rainy. Get the warmest coat you can afford if you live somewhere cold. Don't get a bike made out of weird materials unless you ride races; it will break easily or be expensive to repair.

Buy good quality alcohol.
posted by scose at 7:17 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Canned tomatoes are canned tomatoes - I like mine to have NOTHING but tomatoes in them (no salt, no seasonings), so the cheapest brand is as good as the most expensive. They are just tomatoes. Same goes for milk, eggs, butter, flour, etc.

Ha. I think I disagree completely, especially about the tomatoes. There's one brand (Cento, maybe?) that's always awful. Although it might be awful because it doesn't meet your criteria; that is, maybe your criteria are enough to select good tomatoes consistently.

Fun, perhaps odd, things to splurge on: mechanical pencils and razors.
posted by Garak at 7:40 PM on May 27, 2009

I disagree on the silverware, because I have a dishwasher and don't want mine to rust, so quality is important there.

I have cheap silverware and use a dishwasher and the silverware doesn't rust. I've never really seen rusted silverware, actually, even at schools and summer camps that bought straight off the Sysco inventory for .20 apiece.
posted by Miko at 7:42 PM on May 27, 2009

Proof that this varies too much from individual to individual: I'm a cheap bastard, but unlike Miko, I won't wear any sunglasses except the $100 ones. My eyes can tell the difference. However, mid-priced shoes are fine, and I have plenty of Ikea furniture (also, hand-me-downs!)

Generally, when something cheap wears out, I decide what could have been improved upon and go look for something nicer with those features. If I can't figure it out, I just buy another cheap one. However, when faced with a bunch of different price points, I almost never buy the cheapest.

I'm also of the opinion that worrying about having the best of the best is a trap. I see people get their self-worth caught up in their things, because they start to define themselves as "someone who has the best" and that's shallow and lame. Worry about what's best for you, and that will be good enough. I'm a hippy, though, so it's possible that most people won't agree with me.

Oh, and if you buy the good stuff, be prepared to repair it now and then. I bought good garden hoses, for example, for their flexibility, and we have to replace the ends or cut out small sections where our resident possum bites through them.
posted by zinfandel at 8:23 PM on May 27, 2009

Here's a related thread: Cheap but bombproof.
posted by armage at 8:30 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll add this: once you have identified the quality item you wish to own, look first to see if you can find a gently used version on craigslist or similar places. There may be some items where you may wish to skip this, for example, a complex tool that relies on precision fit and lack of wear to be usable, or something with a motor when you cannot ascertain the history of it. (On the other hand, if the owner has taken care with the potentially risky item, it's almost certainly worth the gamble.)

You can buy some things at a substantial discount from new with nearly zero percent of their useful life expended; an example might be a high-end barbeque that might be $1500 in a store which you can find online for $500 or less, with maybe ten hours of use.

For me, I hate buying cheap stuff that I know is going to be around for awhile in my life. Solid wood bookshelves have held my books for 20 years without any sag in the shelves, and they can still be moved around without fear of them falling apart. I've regretted every Ikea bookshelf I've bought when I thought I needed something cheap quickly.

I would never spend a single dollar more for an inkjet printer than the cheapest brand whose ink I can source at Costco. Experience has taught me any extra money spent is money wasted due to their extremely short service life, even in my light-printing household. I'm sure everyone has different devices that fall into this category.
posted by maxwelton at 9:41 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You really have to evaluate things on a case by case basis, and there's a learning curve to learning how to shop wisely for your own needs. I'd say, do your homework and comparison shopping, and think carefully about what your needs are before you make a purchase.
posted by orange swan at 9:43 PM on May 27, 2009

Lots of great advice above me. But be aware that getting to know the best of the best takes a lot of time. I just bought a new pair of kitchen scissors and only did so after going into different specialized shops to talk about the tools they are selling. Very informative (and very time consuming). Check out the options you heard about online, if you know what you're looking for, there's so much you can find on the web.
A last word of warning should be that you if turn out to be as obsessive about this as I have become in the last years that you really must learn how to shut up about what you know. I am only mildly successful at this (at best!) and thusly I'm considered a total stuckup snob by most of my friends. I promise to work on that, even though most friends are condescending, cheap bastards anyway.
posted by ouke at 5:00 AM on May 28, 2009

Great advice throughout the thread, but I wanted to second what some have said about research. Thorough research on products like garden hoses and couches should leave you without a doubt about whether to splurge or save. Consumer Reports testing, customer reviews, automatic warranties and companies with great customer service records will tell you much, much more than the price.

Personally, I like cheap bras and underwear so I can update them frequently without feeling guilty (I've had expensive bras, and they didn't seem any better than the cheap ones). Q-Tips (brand-name) are non-negotiable--the other ones just don't work as well. I went with quality plates (high quality, not expensive, easy to match if they do eventually break). I get cheap sunglasses and hate them because they're crooked or ugly, but I don't cry when I lose them or sit on them (which always happens). Most of my furniture was free but I plan to spend money on a good box spring and bed frame because the cheap ones are driving me nuts. I like quality heels but Payless flats. Generic Dr. Pepper is an abomination.

Obviously, this is pretty subjective!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:48 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Excellent advice and I agree with most of the posts above. I want to chime in with some items that I find are worth splurging on, that haven't been mentioned:

- Top-quality cat food. I'd rather spend more to have a sleek, healthy cat.

- Pastured eggs. Spendy? Yes. Tasty? Oh my god yes.

- A particular foundation - By Terry Light Expert - that costs the earth yet makes my skin look flawless and not-made-up. I wear drugstore mascaras, lipsticks and eyeshadows, but splurge on foundation.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:55 AM on May 28, 2009

A comment (that I heard elsewhere): You always pay for what you get, but you don't always get what you pay for. That is, the most expensive one isn't always the best, but the best usually costs.

We pay extra for something we want to keep around a long time (e.g., Weber grill, bedding, scrapbook materials, tools) or that we will experience "personally" (i.e., her personal care stuff and my shaving stuff, Puffs with lotion and not in the small box), but we go cheap on things that won't last as much (like cereal, milk, paper products, anything else that'll be gone soon).

Another comment: you may need to buy a few cheap things to learn what you value, above and beyond learning what makes a good $THING good at its role.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:10 AM on May 28, 2009

Don't skimp on haircuts.

I buy well-made traditional clothing (not high-fashion). The clothes last a long time and "traditional" never goes out of style (and you never look like you're trying to hard). If I walked into a Paul Smith or a Ralph Lauren shop today (or even JCrew) I would not have to buy a thing. I have it already.

Buy generic pharmaceuticals. They are all the same. And if a doctor or a dentist gives me a scrip for 600mg ibuprofren that costs $60, I don't fill it. I just take the equivalent in Advil or Motrin. It's all the same stuff.

All MP3 players are the same. I run with a little $49 Sansa Clip 4G.

And of course, all beer is the same. Why? Because it's just beer.
posted by Zambrano at 9:32 AM on May 28, 2009

And of course, all beer is the same. Why? Because it's just beer.
posted by Zambrano at 12:32 PM on May 28 [+] [!]

Now you're just into the crazy talk. Milk is milk is milk - but good beer is like ambrosia. And I don't mean just expensive - I mean like beer made be people who know how to make beer. Anyone who has had a Czech Budweiser and an American Budweiser can taste the world of difference, and I don't even like lager that much.
posted by jb at 6:30 PM on May 28, 2009

The only i can think of that i have personal experience with is belts. I was in a belt loop(heh) for years.

Cheap belt> it gives out> cheap belt> it gives out> cheap belt> it gives out and so on.

I finally bought an expensive (relatively) genuine leather belt, and that bad boy its going on 10 years of daily use.
posted by Widepath at 7:25 PM on May 28, 2009

i could become a bajillionaire and would still buy cheap forever21 sunglasses. i don't drive, and i really don't go outside that much so i don't need serious sun protection. sunglasses are a fashion thing and $5 sunglasses allow you to try out all the shapes and styles and colors and crazy kanye glasses and you don't have to be upset when you sit on them. the only downside is that if you fall in love with a pair, two weeks later you won't be able to find another in the store again.

stuff if i spend money on: external hd, ipod, headphones, heels for work, contact lenses, whiskey, the perfect pair of jeans, any dress that's truly flattering and not simply trendy

stuff i spend the least on: underwear, socks, plain t-shirts, denim skirts, handbags.
posted by anthropomorphic at 12:32 AM on May 29, 2009

My parents haven't ever owned a leather couch, but they manage to make couches last 10+ years without them ever looking poor. Be careful who you're judging yourself - and your wealth/status symbols - against.

I buy an expensive pair of sunglasses, because then I treat them well enough to last 5+ years. My raybans made it eight before a buddy sat on them. My current set is going on a year without a dent.

I spend an awful amount of money on higher quality foods, but don't eat out much. I also spend a lot on education, which seems dumb to short yourself on.

That said, mixing up "Best" and "Expensive" is going to kill your budget.

I buy all my clothes on sale, clearance, and/or at the outlet malls. My clothes are still nice, get me compliments, and last awhile. My car is a Hyundai, six years old, has 120k on it, and will keep going until it dies; it's never had any problems so far, and I'm glad I bought something reliable instead of flashy. My laptop's going on five years old. My stereo was a hand-me-down from a friend.

I guess I'm willing to spend more money on things that are self-improving (better food, gym membership). The "last sofa I'll ever buy" seems a crock of shit designed to get you to spend a ludicrous amount on something, at least.

Two more examples, I guess:

1. I bought a hose at Costco. If it dies that year, Costco will take it as a return, no questions asked. I really, really like Costco for that reason. Paying $70 for a hose seems super-extravagant, unless it's made of something for boiling water and/or food grade.

2. A friend always argued that Rolex watches were so pricey because of the immense quality construction. They were either full-of-shit, or bought into that yuppie lie. The Navy SEAL team manages with about a $150 watch on their wrist; anything more is basically just to show other folks how much money you had to spend.
posted by talldean at 7:44 PM on May 29, 2009

STIHL power equipment for the yard. This equipment will last for twenty plus years - the cheap stuff from Wal-Mart or Home Depot or Lowes might last three seasons if you have a large yard. (If you have a tiny yard then go for the big box store specials.)
posted by cinemafiend at 6:55 AM on May 31, 2009

Response by poster: There's really no way to mark best answer here. Thanks to everyone.

As an interesting point, talldean, the whole thing started by buying the cheap hose from costco in the first place, then having to drag a wet and dirty hose into the store for a refund etc (so I didn't bother). That was what got me thinking about just buying better things to begin with.
posted by saradarlin at 12:32 PM on June 18, 2009

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