N’est pas “on the cheap”
July 15, 2009 6:25 AM   Subscribe

They say you should never skimp when buying: coffee, shoes, wine. What else should you never take the cheap route when buying, where quality definitely is worth the high price?
posted by heather-b to Shopping (135 answers total) 170 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard people say makeup, since it's absorbed into your skin. Don't know if I believe that though.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:27 AM on July 15, 2009

Conditioner. :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:28 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pfft. I love cheap wine.

But it's definitely worth springing for tailored shirts.
posted by electroboy at 6:29 AM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'd have to go with firearms.
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:30 AM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sunglasses. You really need UV 100% protection (which is not that expensive). Cheap sunglasses can actually be more hazardous than wearing no sunglasses at all. (How Sunglasses Work)
posted by 2bucksplus at 6:31 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Food. Olive oil. Balsamic vinegar. Organic produce. Free-range meat and eggs. Not wine. If you do your research, you can buy a $15 Spanish or Italian wine that will knock the socks off many $40 wines. But wine is just entertainment. Food is entertainment and nourishment. Health.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:31 AM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Hiking boots.

Computer monitors (it's your eyes we're talking about, 40+ hrs a week!)

if you have a french press you can get away with using Nabob coffee most of the time.
posted by furtive at 6:33 AM on July 15, 2009


'thank you' cards.

posted by rumsey monument at 6:33 AM on July 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

Prescription eyeglasses, if you need to wear them all the time. Not that you can't find good deals--I've gotten my last 3 pairs at Costco--but if the ones you like best happen to be the most expensive, those are the ones you should get. And always spring for the highest-index lenses available, which will be thinner and lighter.
posted by staggernation at 6:35 AM on July 15, 2009

Are you kidding? Trader Joe's Vinho Verde is delish and only $4.99 a bottle.

I say don't skimp on jeans; good jeans fit perfectly and last forever.

Also don't skimp on sunscreen. The good stuff is really good.
posted by cachondeo45 at 6:35 AM on July 15, 2009

posted by furtive at 6:36 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've often heard it said that there's no such thing as a cheap haircut.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:37 AM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Fugu.
posted by staggernation at 6:37 AM on July 15, 2009 [6 favorites]

Insurance. If it's cheap, it's got lower limits or will hassle you on claims (or both), almost across the board. Just because you are permitted to drive with only $25k of liability insurance does not mean that this is a good idea. Shop around, as different companies will have different rate structures, some of which will benefit you more than others, but don't just get as little as you can get away with.
posted by valkyryn at 6:37 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Knives. A set of great knives will last you a lifetime.
posted by so much modern time at 6:38 AM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

posted by peagood at 6:39 AM on July 15, 2009

Knives, and hand tools in general.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:39 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Speakers... either for your stereo or your computer.

PC cases.

All of those things will outlast the underlying components you will plug into them.
posted by deanc at 6:40 AM on July 15, 2009

Your cell phone / mobile device: You're going to have use that thing for years.
Computer: A little extra money upfront will save you from having to upgrade in a year or two.
posted by LakesideOrion at 6:40 AM on July 15, 2009

Response by poster: Heading off the wine rants: I consider wine more than entertainment and have had some great "cheap" wines. Just telling you what "they" say or what I've heard in the past. I tend to drink in the $9-15 bottle range and refuse to drink anything produced by Fred Franzia because of this. But I digress...
posted by heather-b at 6:42 AM on July 15, 2009

I think it varies on foodstuffs. For instance, I think that when it comes to Oreo-style cookies, generics (and the dreaded Hydrox) are inferior to the real thing. On the other hand, many peanut butters are not only functionally the same, but actually made in the same plant and just put in different bottles. Sure, there is a difference between peanut and almond butter, or between chunky and smooth, salted and unsalted, but if it's between Peter Pan and a generic, you probably won't know the difference.

With regards to other foodstuffs, sometimes organic matters, and sometimes it doesn't. Assuming that organic actually means organic (and sometimes it doesn't), the quality might not match up with the price difference. However, if you're buying it for ethical or environmental reasons, then go ahead.

I tend to think that if you are serious, you shouldn't buy a pair of hiking boots under 100. Not sure that I think the same on other shoes. A three dollar pair of flip flops will probably serve you as well as a 20 dollar pair (which is not the same as a really nice pair of sandals).

If you're using something constantly, it might be worth springing for the better made and/or more durable thing. When it comes to consumer goods though, be wary of made up factors and "improvements" that are just so much marketing to raise the price point.
posted by X-Himy at 6:42 AM on July 15, 2009

Best answer: Mattress.
Decent ones last a decade.
I see you already got shoes on your list.
I once had someone say to me, look at it this way - all day, you are either in your bed, or in your shoes.
A good point to wearing good shoes and sleeping on a good mattress, for your body's health.

Also, I take the don't skimp approach on sweets.
Don't buy the box of big, cheap cupcake/brownie/whatever, from the crappy grocery store bakery.
Instead go to the good bakery on Saturday or Sunday and buy something that actually tastes good. Better for your waist line too.
posted by gomess at 6:44 AM on July 15, 2009 [7 favorites]

Seconding food. Not applicable to most people, but motorcycle riding gear. Good gear, while expensive, will save your ass if you crash. Socks. Mattresses.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:44 AM on July 15, 2009

I would say medical services.

But it's occurring to me that you can overcome any of these tradeoffs if you have some experience in the subject area... I know computers very well, for example, so not only do I often find an inexpensive computer entirely serviceable, or even more appropriate than an expensive one in some situations, but I'm able to point and laugh when I see someone who spent lots of money but got taken for a ride. I've got winey friends who are the same way about wine.
posted by XMLicious at 6:47 AM on July 15, 2009

Cheese, peanut butter and toilet paper.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 6:54 AM on July 15, 2009

Tea. The cheap crap in tea bags is basically the floor sweepings, and it tastes of it. If you haven't had good loose leaf tea brewed correctly, you might be OK with tea sweepings, but I assure you, there's a whole other world out there.

Q-tips. Don't ever buy generic Q-tips. They're crap; there's not enough cotton on them and they're poky. This from someone who's eaten "Woven Wheats" and "Thin Wheats" for years, so I don't mind generics, but I'll never buy generic Q-tips again.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:55 AM on July 15, 2009 [8 favorites]

Seconding kitchen knives. One nice 8" chef's knife will cover most of your needs, and last a lifetime.

Once you're out of college, invest in high-quality furniture.
posted by paulg at 6:55 AM on July 15, 2009

Response by poster: oopsie **link should be: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/18/090518fa_fact_goodyear

free registration required but worth it.

posted by heather-b at 6:55 AM on July 15, 2009

posted by jmnugent at 6:55 AM on July 15, 2009

Winter boots. Winter coats. Bras. Chocolate. (Not skimping doesn't mean buying the most expensive x around, it means buying the best quality x, which is very rarely the cheapest.)
posted by jeather at 6:56 AM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Tea. Good teas, like Mighty Leaf tea for example, have actual tea leaves in a silken bag. Cheap teas are just dust. I don't know how people can drink that shit.

Haircuts are always worth it. I've very rarely regretted a $50 or $60 haircut. Can't say the same for a $20 one.

Make-up is worth it. There is no comparison to the durability and blendability of Laura Mercier foundation with Maybelline.

Kitchen knives.

Certain kitchen appliances, like a blender. Especially if you like to make smoothies or blended cocktails - cheap blenders are a huge pain in the ass to deal with.

Flea products and high quality pet food for your pets. Both will do way more for their health in the long run which means less headaches for you.

Contractors. If you are redoing/building a home you get what you pay for.
posted by sickinthehead at 6:58 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Parachutes and scuba tanks.
posted by rokusan at 6:58 AM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Cheap wine can be great--have you tried Brindisi? Yum. I loves me some screw-top two litre winey goodness. Seriously, in most cases it really isn't worth it to overspend on wine. Shoes yes (especially boots). Coffee? Well, I guess. It helps to grind your own beans fresh.

Seconding tailored shirts. These guys are awesome--I pay about $60 (Cdn) for a tailored shirt (that I got to pick the fabric and style for) after shipping and customs. Can't recommend them enough. I'd recommend spending some coin on kitchen knives, as well as your briefcase/big everyday purse. A good bra is also worth a lot of money (get professionally fitted too).
posted by Go Banana at 7:02 AM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Anything that's highly engineered.
posted by aramaic at 7:03 AM on July 15, 2009

Photographic equipment, particularly interchangeable lenses for an SLR. There is a VERY noticeable difference between even a moderately priced well-made lens (e.g., Canon 50mm 1.4 lens, which runs about $250 on Craigslist) and the cheapo all-plastic kit lenses that come with the consumer bundle.

Color, contrast and image quality are all improved (and in the case of the 50mm 1.4, the wide aperture is amazing).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:03 AM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd say the question is fundamentally flawed because it is unclear what "skimping" means. When people say don't skimp on things they are probably not advocating that you go out and buy something p-diddy would buy. They are still advocating "skimping" in a sense.

What you are probably asking is what products are not commodities where you can simply buy cheap and assume it will have the same value as more expensive items. Also you probably want to know where the optimal price to value point is. For example the sunglasses response mentioned 100% UV protection. So that sets a minimum acceptable requirement for your price to value consideration. You don't really need armani shades though.

The informal analysis I usually do when looking to make a purchase is to ask myself what I actually want out of a purchase and then think about how each product can match it. This is why I have a 2GB mp3 player that cost me £10 two years ago. I wanted it to play mp3s and tell me what mp3 it was playing so all I needed was some memory and a screen. I wanted an iPod but knew that it wouldn't be 15X better than a cheap mp3 player. In fact by my criteria an iPod is no better at all.

I went through the same process when buying a bicycle. I want a bike for exercise and commuting purposes. So I went cheap. This means it is more exercise - it is heavier - and it is less of a worry for locking up outside. If I wanted a bike for racing I would make a different choice.

Not every purchase goes in the cheaper direction though. Faster computers save you time in the long run. Good kitchen knives make cooking more pleasurable. Good shoes are more comfortable. The iPhone sure looks useful. You also spend at least of a third of your life in bed and a couple of hours a day watching TV. Cheap tools are awful.

It is a struggle to be economical while avoiding being like "Dad" and knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
posted by srboisvert at 7:05 AM on July 15, 2009 [6 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to knives, I would suggest good-quality camping gear. A good sleeping bag, pack, and tent will pay for itself the first time you get hit with a bit of weather, a long portage, or any other unexpected hiccup.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 7:06 AM on July 15, 2009

Climbing rope. Suits.
posted by charlesv at 7:06 AM on July 15, 2009

I will buy the cheapest of everything I can find. Here are the places I make my exceptions.

Olive oil, dairy products (cheese, butter, milk), printers (as in go laser over inkjet, less crappy, more robust), stamps (forever stamps may save you a penny, but they're ugly and inflation takes care of any cost "savings" you might see), computers (macs save me headaches, applecare is worth it), luggage and backpacks.

I'm already on board with you as far as coffee and shoes.
posted by jessamyn at 7:07 AM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

nthing kitchen knives, adding good cookware. Electronics, especially, say, headphones (you don't need to go overboard, but you definitely don't want factory earbuds).

Computers, as in, if you skimp on the cost, yet leave out something you'd like, you'll still want it later, or your computer won't be as useful long run.

Your wedding. You don't need to spend tens of thousands. You should, however, make sure that you have a wedding that you'll be able to look back on and smile. If you can do that for a small amount of money, that's great. Don't, though, cut corners on things you want to get there.

Your sofa. If you get a crap sofa, you'll want to get a new one in the long run, which will just be more expensive (and a pain in the butt) than just getting the nice one now.

Pillows. Sure, the mattress is nice, but get a decent pillow for your head.

Tattoos. If you're cutting corners on cost, what are they cutting corners on?
posted by Ghidorah at 7:09 AM on July 15, 2009

For any tasks you perform repeatedly, get the best tools you can afford. So yes, kitchen knives. and power drills, wrenches, garden shears, flashlights. 15 years ago I had 3-4 phillips head screwdrivers, all with worn tips. Went to the store & bought the best & they still look like new.
posted by TDIpod at 7:14 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


And seconding tattoos and sunscreen.
posted by box at 7:15 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kitchen knives. You only need one or two really good ones, and properly cared for they will last ages longer than a crappy set of Ikea knives. And will actually save you money in the long run.

Sheets. It's worth paying for a slightly higher thread count, I've found I sleep better. Even though I can sleep anywhere, the sleep is better on nicer sheets.
posted by X-Himy at 7:28 AM on July 15, 2009

Best answer: If you have or will be having a kid, car seats.

Don't skimp on the car seat.
posted by zizzle at 7:31 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

My father always said, spectacles, bed and shoes... if your not using one, you're in one of the others.
posted by mattr at 7:34 AM on July 15, 2009

Dog food. Laundry detergent.
posted by Wordwoman at 7:35 AM on July 15, 2009

Best answer: I have made the mistake more than once (I am a bad learner) of buying cheap luggage. Cheap luggage looks just like good luggage, except it breaks. And it breaks at bad times, like when you are in a another country rushing to catch a plane. A few years back I bought a really expecnsive laptop, and then "saved" money by buying a cheap bag for it in Chinatown. The bag broke, the laptop fell. Some savings.
posted by ManInSuit at 7:36 AM on July 15, 2009

I'll second pillows and third mattresses, but watch out -- it seems to be a racket. I'm surprised that it appears that mattress buying has not yet hit the blue (or green). Between those gimmicky (and expensive) sleep-number beds, pillow-top, Swedish foam, NASA foam, latex foam, and so on, there's too much to navigate safely when you really need one.

I guess it goes without saying that even (or especially) after deciding to splurge on an important item, that you need to shop carefully. More expensive != better.
posted by dylanjames at 7:38 AM on July 15, 2009

My grandmother always said that you should never skimp on your hair or shoes. In her opinion, if your hair was done up nice and your shoes fit well and looked good, you could wear a burlap sack and still look good.
posted by teleri025 at 7:38 AM on July 15, 2009

You can get cheap, highly utilitarian sunglasses if you get them at a place that also refills oxygen and acetylene bottles.

With tools, the difference between a cheap tool and a quality tool is usually some combination of its precision out of the box, maximum possible precision, durability and the quality of the blade. If the difference between the cheap tool and the expensive tool is an extra hour to get it in tune, and you have the know how and the hour to spare, who cares. If, even after the best possible setup, the cheap tool will cut parts that fit together well enough for the task at hand, you're pretty much out of luck.

Buy a good sharpening stone, but learn to sharpen a cheap hand tool before you invest in a good one. It's easier, not as big a deal if you really screw up, and you'll have that cheap one for when you find yourself wild cat prospecting for nail heads.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:39 AM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Bedsheets and towels.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:39 AM on July 15, 2009

Tattoos & piercings. You might not need the best/most expensive person in town unless you want a big piece in their speciality-area (or an atypical piercing), but the cheapest in town is almost always a mistake.

Earbuds for your mp3 player.

Musical instruments. The cheapest ones around are sometimes worse than children's toys (although above a certain point all you're getting for the extra money is usually just cosmetic differences).
posted by K.P. at 7:39 AM on July 15, 2009


Computer peripherals—screens, keyboards, and mice—may be more important to splurge on than the computer itself, since those are the parts that you're actually in contact with. As long as it doesn't have any hardware defects, a computer is pretty much a predictable commodity these days.
posted by adamrice at 7:47 AM on July 15, 2009

Anything you need to use that makes you want to use it. I'm thinking of well-designed, durable planners and agendas, for example, or great, everlasting pens in the office. These need not be super-expensive, but it's nice to know that you've got at least one pen that works in that mug of cheapies on the desk.
posted by mdonley at 7:57 AM on July 15, 2009

Similar previous thread.
posted by Zed at 8:03 AM on July 15, 2009

Toilet roll.
posted by biffa at 8:04 AM on July 15, 2009

Shaving cream. Never underestimate the value of a great shave - be it legs, face, whatever.
posted by pdb at 8:09 AM on July 15, 2009

Generally speaking, I don't think you should skimp on things related to any sport, craft, or hobby you regularly pursue. For me, this means good running shoes and sports bras, the $20 knitting needles instead of the $4 ones, and decent paints, pens, and drawing paper.

Also, ice cream. You can find bargains on a lot of the above, but ice cream is the only thing I can think of where there is a near-perfect correlation between price and quality, with no exceptions.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:14 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

2nding a set of cookware, a good set will last you years and makes a difference.

also a couch, mattress, and car tires.
posted by ljesse at 8:16 AM on July 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all of these answers, except the one that called the question flawed. (Why so serious, srboisvert?) Also, saw previous thread, but it didn't have these answers. Thanks again.
posted by heather-b at 8:16 AM on July 15, 2009


The difference in smoothness between a cheap Bic ballpoint and a good quality Uni-ball rollerball is well-worth the price differential. If you're into fountain pens, it's worth it to splurge on a good one from Cross or Waterman.
posted by peacheater at 8:20 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here are some things I'm happy I haven't compromised on. Most of these are durable goods of some form. Fwiw, I don't always equate price with quality.

Kitchen - pretty much anything except pans. Pans are disposable. But amongst the good stuff I include and could tell stories about include:
- Knives, cutting boards, Mortar and Pestles,
- KitchenAid Mixer
- Jura Coffee machine
- there's a lot to be said about utensils in the kitchen but evolution have refined a series of tools that are truly useful, and pricey. Avoid gimmicks.

Bedroom - in addition to mattresses and pillows, linens are incredibly important and are worth the investment
Bathroom - Bathrobe, tweezers, scissors, towels

Hobbies - Never compromise. If you are serious about it, you will only need to go buy the same thing again if you don't buy it right the first time. For me, golf and photography.

golf - Properly fitted clubs (beautiful top-line and gorgeous ball flight), wedges, a good bag, shoes, umbrella and rain gear
photog - Glass (lovely, sexy glass), tripods and heads, walk-about bag, straps

Travel - Luggage. It will wear out but design matters. I've been through a number of Tumi and Samsonite pieces, but lesser luggage would have simply fallen apart.

Personal electronics - Headphones, monitors (might fall under the photog category), speakers
posted by michswiss at 8:21 AM on July 15, 2009

Anything you have to trust. If you're cool when it breaks or goes wrong then it didn't need to be any better, but it sure would suck if your last thought was "damn those discount nails".
posted by jet_silver at 8:23 AM on July 15, 2009

Beer, bread, bourbon, coffee.

Some tools. I find that tape measures and flashlights are swiped and lost routinely, so I buy cheaper versions.

Olive oil depends on usage. I use it a lot, and save the really good stuff for salads and "finishing oil." I don't mind cheaper olive oil for frying eggs.

I've had both very good and very bad expensive and cheap haircuts. I get cheap haircuts, and specify exactly what I want.

Food. Genuine Free range eggs are worth it, if you can find them. It's really hard to find real farm-raised chicken, but it's a totally different food than even the organic chicken from Whole Foods. Tomatoes. Strawberries.

Car. I buy cars used, but I drive a Toyota.

Don't skimp on research. The expensive version isn't always the best. I'm amazed how often there's weak correlation between cost and value. This is especially true for highly advertized goods.
posted by theora55 at 8:25 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ketchup! Heinz (there are no other kinze)
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:28 AM on July 15, 2009

Why so serious, srboisvert?

I thought you were serious.
posted by srboisvert at 8:30 AM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Tampons. The CVS brand looks almost the same as Tampax, but is NOT THE SAME. Ick. Ick, ick, ick.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:32 AM on July 15, 2009

For your young 'uns:

LL Bean or similar high-quality school backpacks...we still have the same ones from Kindergarten and they've been passed down for 11 years while many fashionable Target and Old Navy bags have been destroyed,

but you can get away with non-Gap (and Gymboree, Hanna Anndersen, etc.) baby clothes and expensive shoes for bigger kids because they outgrow them so quickly...
posted by dzaz at 8:32 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Vanilla ice cream. The bad ones are really bad.

And condoms!
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:34 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Olive oil depends on usage. I use it a lot, and save the really good stuff for salads and "finishing oil." I don't mind cheaper olive oil for frying eggs.

It's a sensible saving to limit your olive oil use to when olive oil is needed, if you don't want to specifically have things with an olive oil falvour then use something like groundnut oil which is flavourless and about a thid of the price (UK, last time I checked).
posted by biffa at 8:36 AM on July 15, 2009

Color film processing. Sushi.
posted by neroli at 8:36 AM on July 15, 2009

Musical instruments. The cheaper they are, the harder (and more discouraging) they are to play.
posted by fiery.hogue at 8:40 AM on July 15, 2009

Protective pads in any sport that might require them.
posted by Lucinda at 8:41 AM on July 15, 2009


Also, rock climbing equipment: ropes, harnesses, anchors, carabiners, etc.

I recall a story of how climbers in the NW were finding cut off sections of seat belts (presumably scavenged from junk yards) left tied around rocks and trees as rappel anchors... somebody presumably didn't want to leave behind $2.00 of webbing, and so was trusting his life to auto salvage. This was considered insanely stupid.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:42 AM on July 15, 2009

Scotch. A good single malt is worth the extra dough.
posted by trox at 8:44 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here is a short list that I have think up in one sitting:

Beer - Cheap beer is God awful.

Toilet Paper - Cheap stuff rips and is rough.

Tools - Cheap tools can break when you use them, not a good thing if you are depending on them to finish a job.

Anything that you use for safety on a daily basis - Self explanatory.

Cheese - I agree with this. Some cheaper cheeses are not even real cheese.

Housing - Cheaper is not always better. Sometimes cheaper houses are made with lower quality materials.

Hot Tubs - Compare a cheap hot tub to a more expensive one. More jets equal more comfort.

Car break pads - see safety items on a daily basis.

Shoes - Cheap shoes lack padding and can lead to feet discomfort or leg problems. Again if you use it a lot don't go cheap.

Mattress - Ever sleep at a motel 6 then go home and sleep on your mattress and feel like you are on air? Times that by 100 if you get a high quality bed.

Steaks for the grill - There is a big different in cuts of steak that you plan on grilling from the steak you cut up for chilli/stew. I did not say go to the more $$$ place to buy your meat but if you are going to enjoy a grilled steak.... don't cheat yourself by buying round or flank!

Clothing - Believe it or not those 2 for 1 jeans that you have on might be cheaper but they do not compare to a more expensive pair. A friend of mine bought a pair of 80$ jeans while I went with the 30$ two for one.... guess who still has their pair of jeans? Not me.

Anything that has complicated electronics involved - More expensive electronics last longer because they are made better. Cheap stuff breaks down because of corner cutting.

Firearms - Compare a Jenning to a Sig or an S and W. If you are depending on this to save your life maybe someday do not put a price tag on it.

Things that it does not matter how much it costs:

Fruit and veggies - If they are in season go to the local fruit market or support your local farms with corner stands. The produce is better because they allow it to ripen on the tree/plant. Plus there is less involved in the shipping. Lastly it helps local economy.

Chicken - It is pretty much all the same. Skin it and do whatever.

Wine - Very good wine can be bought for little cash. You would be surprised what 15$ can buy you are a local wine store.

Toys - Seriously? Give your kid something and tell them to use their imagination.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:44 AM on July 15, 2009

-- Spouses
-- Legal opinions
-- Anything critical to flight safety
-- Anything related to braking
-- Anything related to electrical systems
-- Anything related to plumbing systems
-- House paint, undercoatings and caulk
-- Roofing materials
-- Staircases
-- Trees and perennials
-- Ammunition
-- Cookware
-- Underwear
-- Administrative assistants
posted by bz at 8:48 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Things that involve taking a life or saving a life. So kitchen knives, survival/camp equipment, safety equipment, enabling physical capabilities like vision etc. Everything else is a quality of life issue and what you are willing to compromise on from that point whether it is saving time (better construction equipment/hardware) or comfort (hair cuts, linens, furniture.)
posted by jadepearl at 8:50 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't buy a cheap soldering iron if you're going to do much more than solder thick wires together. My cheapo radioshack iron is fine for battery cages or pc fans, but I'd probably wreck a PC board with it.

And if you still ride an old bike, don't buy POS freewheels like Sunrace - a Shimano (or hell, even a generic Nashbar) freewheel is only $20-30.

Generic Nimh batteries are not worth it either - there's always a couple of ones that are either dead or going bad in that cheapo 24 pack. Get some Sanyo eneloops - not only is the QC better, they'll hold their charge longer.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 9:05 AM on July 15, 2009

posted by chairface at 9:05 AM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

You may be interested in a couple previous questions:

What else can I spend a little more on to get much more quality?
Tools for Life: The last [blank] you'll ever need to buy.

My list: Pens, mechanical pencils (and lead), used vehicles, musical instruments (there is a world of difference between really cheap instruments and reasonable student-grade instruments and then a world of difference again between those and professional-grade instruments), headphones, sheets, most blades, be they knives or tool blades (but knives have wildly varying price/quality ratios, research is needed), tools that that I use often or with a lot of low tolerance components (e.g. chainsaws, but not angle grinders), windows, washing machines (water and energy efficiency cost money) but not dryers, masking tape and paint, most outdoor gear (things that I'm going to be carrying in my pack in general, definitely hiking boots and socks, ski boots, gloves, tents, sleeping bags, rope, clothing to keep me warm and/or dry, canoes but not paddles), bikes, beer, cheese and chocolate for some purposes, and pasta.
posted by ssg at 9:11 AM on July 15, 2009

Cheap vanilla ice cream tastes good- except for the awful, ice-crystally, foul Breyer's.

Chicken is not the same.

Dog food is dog food. They don't know the difference, believe it of not.

Beer is just beer. It's not supposed to be anything more. Budwesier and Corona are two examples of what beer is really all it's supposed to be.

Anything you put on your body or in your hair. Soap, shampoo etc should be quality.

Haircuts. A cheap haircut can be spotted a mile away.

posted by Zambrano at 9:19 AM on July 15, 2009

I knit&sew. Bad fabrics are usually horrible to work with and the results are not worth the effort. That's not to say I don't wait for sales. Nthing the good tools: good knives, gardening tools, MrFixIt tools, and sewing gear. Nothing like a good pair of shears or knitting silk on polished wood needles.

Purses: Not necessarily designer as some are lacking in quality, but a well designed purse of good leather. ditto briefcase and luggage.
Carpets: forget the synthetics, get wool.
posted by x46 at 9:32 AM on July 15, 2009

Cheap vanilla ice cream tastes good.


Dog food is dog food.


Beer is just beer. It's not supposed to be anything more.


Moving along...

For any tasks you perform repeatedly, get the best tools you can afford.

This. This is the rule. It's about the things that you spend your time with. They have to be good enough that you enjoy using them. If they're crappy, you'll be angry all the time. Nobody needs that. Do you cook? Buy good kitchen knives and cookware and ingredients. Are you a carpenter? Don't buy a crappy hammer. Etc, etc, etc.
posted by madmethods at 9:40 AM on July 15, 2009 [11 favorites]

Soldering Iron, the cheap ones don't have temperature control and may not have a grounded tip.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:45 AM on July 15, 2009

Nthing: backpacks, shoes, weed, tattoos, olive oil, musical instruments, scotch, bread, produce, camping gear and anything where your safety is concerned.

As far as beer goes: I'm a Portlander, and we understand what good beer is. And I love good beer. And sometimes its absolutely worth it to spring for the Dog Fish Head or whatever...BUT...a cheap PBR on a hot summer afternoon has its place too.

And I totally agree that cheap wine can be just as good as an expensive one. Some of my favorite wines are cheap ones (a bottle of Albero will run you about 7 bucks and a bottle of Radical Cab will run you about 11 - and they are both excellent in my opinion).

And like everyone else said, don't skimp on your hobbies or things you really love. Life is short - too short not to spend your hard earned money on something you'd really like to have.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:48 AM on July 15, 2009

Dog food is dog food. They don't know the difference, believe it of not.

Except when cheap pet food contains contaminated wheat gluten and your pet dies from it.

Although I guess a dead dog wouldn't know the difference, either.

Things I agree on: TP (I've been complimented on my TP by friends who buy the really cheap stuff--cottonelle is where it's at), shoes, tattoos. Generally, I've found that what's important is not to buy stuff that's expensive, but to figure out if you have a brand/type preference in something and stick to that. For example, Eight O'Clock coffee tastes way better than chock full of nuts or other bargain brands.

As the owner of a million pairs of cheap eyeglasses, including cheap UV prescription sunglasses, I categorically disagree with that one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:50 AM on July 15, 2009

Art supplies, maple syrup.
posted by tula at 9:51 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

toilet paper, absolutely.

For me, it's also cheese and orange juice... they're virtually the only non-store-brand things I get at the grocery store.
posted by brainmouse at 9:52 AM on July 15, 2009

Straightening irons. It's a world of difference between a CHI and the Revlon mess I used to own.
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:57 AM on July 15, 2009

Recently discovered:

- Cold cuts
- Bread

Really good meat and bakery bread results in sandwiches way better than most local fast food offerings.

Known for a while:

- Software QA. Yeah, you can outsource to people getting $5 an hour, but you'll get back a lot of bug reports about non-issues that anyone with common sense would understand are common issues and vague descriptions of how to reproduce the bugs.

- Speakers/amps: I know people hate this idea, but music is around 25% better when played through a system that brings to life all the subtlety and depth in the recordings. Drums especially benefit.
posted by ignignokt at 9:58 AM on July 15, 2009

Pillows. The Tempurpedic memory foams pillows are insanely expensive but more than worth it in terms of sleep quality.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 10:00 AM on July 15, 2009

1. Legal opinions.
2. Dentists - lousy ones will fuck up your teeth.
3. Electrical sockets/fixtures/wiring.
posted by nihraguk at 10:12 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
posted by tanminivan at 10:58 AM on July 15, 2009

- Office or computer chair : your lower back will thank you for the $600 Steelcase/Aeron investment over those crappy $100 generic OfficeMax leather chairs)
- Bedbug mattress covers: the cheap nylon ones will tear. The $100 ones from AllerZip are made from cotton and the fabric is supple and breathes.
posted by chalbe at 11:07 AM on July 15, 2009

Scotch tape and duct tape. Pencil erasers. The dollar ones just suck.

Flip flops are an exception to the shoes rule. The cheap ones I bought at CVS or Rite Aid have lasted me years and are actually cute, and way more comfortable than a lot of the $10 ones I have. Except for Old Navy, those are cheap but not comfortable, and kind of boring.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 11:08 AM on July 15, 2009

Various people upstream have recommended high-end golfing equipment,
bicycle freewheels, soldering irons, etc. It's worth suffering through
the cheapo stuff once or twice to figure out what makes it not worth the
savings, because those annoyances are what you'll spend extra to avoid.
As XMLicious pointed out, sometimes the extra expense is just
going into someone's pocket.

But to respond to the actual question: laptops are usually difficult to
modify after the purchase, so get it right the first time. Pay
particular attention to the feel of the keyboard and how hot it feels on
your lap, if you mean to use it on your lap. Desktops, on the other
hand, have the space for standardized components that swap easily.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:19 AM on July 15, 2009

Mayonnaise. Best Foods/Hellmann's is the only acceptable kind you can buy in the store.

I disagree on kitchen knives. Forschner knives cut as well as Henkels that cost five times as much. Other cheap knives are indeed crap, though.
posted by zsazsa at 11:21 AM on July 15, 2009

Tools, plumbing fixtures, electircal fixtures. You can save money by going to Home Depot or Lowes, and getting a good value on tools and fixtures. However, if you want to use them for years without trouble, and without cursing the cheap crap you can get from China, seek out Tool stores, Plumbing stores, and Electrical stores. They tend not to be too much more expensive, but are much better in terms of long term quality.

Toilet paper. Almost 20 years ago, I read on Chuck Sheperd's News of the Weird that a man had killed his roommate for using too much toilet paper. I immediately diagnosed the problem as cheap toilet paper, @ 300 sheets. This convinced me to buy brand name TP, @ 1000 sheets, and never look at the bargains right next to it.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 11:27 AM on July 15, 2009

Chocolate - for eating but especially for any baking - go callebaut.

Cocoa - it's worth your while to pick up the baking quality dutch processed. It makes even the simplest cookies better.

Vanilla - it's worth it to pick up nice vanilla. I like the Nielsen-Massey ones.
posted by machine at 11:36 AM on July 15, 2009

Nursing homes and elder care.
posted by itstheclamsname at 11:46 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whisky - Laphroaig starts at around $30
Cigars, not much less than $10 usually
Diet Coke - store-brand sodas are Just Not Right!
posted by mdoar at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2009

Some of the above that I absolutely disagree on- mattresses (My mattress is hard as a rock, but 2 foam mattress pads totaling $20 have made it more comfortable than any bed I've ever owned), sunglasses (SPF protection can be had pretty cheaply), backpacks (my $10 walmart backpack carries anywhere from 1-15lbs of books/computer stuff and is still going strong 3 years later). And flipflops are a big exception to the shoe rule- ON flipflops are better than anything more expensive, IMO.

Things I always pay more for: Mayonnaise (only Hellman's), crushed/diced/paste/any kind of canned tomato (less tinny taste with name brands), anything related to my hobbies- I will pay more for a nice mouthpiece or nice yarn, and supplies for my classes- the crappy pens and pencils that you can buy 10/$1 generally suck, and cheaper notebooks often have really thin or waxy paper.
posted by kro at 12:30 PM on July 15, 2009

Another good related thread (previously): Upgrade Me!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:30 PM on July 15, 2009

Don't skimp on peanut butter. The cheap stuff is bad for you whereas the expensive kind that needs to be stirred is better tasting and healthy too.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:35 PM on July 15, 2009

Don't skimp on wine. Anything cheaper than two buck chuck isn't worth drinking, IMHO :)
posted by 2oh1 at 12:36 PM on July 15, 2009

As someone who lives in the byword for cheap crap, China, where the price differentials between good and bad are even more pronounced, here's my take:

- flooring, cabinets, doorframes, ANY wood fixtures in your house - Oh my fucking god. I'm living with the cheap stuff now, that the developer put in my house. 4 months in and the floors and cabinets and doors are already coming apart. Stay far, far, far away from particle board, or you will regret it for years.
- high-end electronics - Yeah. I have a Palm 680, Panasonic noise-blocking headphones I bought for $100, and a very nice netbook. A Sanyo projector. They never break. The rest of my shit? The desktop I'm typing this on? Every few months I have to track down new peripherals and components, or solder something together. I have the time, but it costs me practically nothing, as I take old components and reassemble them into usable ones. This particular keyboard though, it's a 北京方正, it's heavy, the bottom is made of metal, and it's taken spills and drops without flinching. Sometimes you come across cheap, sturdy stuff.
- Couches - stay far away from anything that will develop a depression, especially stiff foam-type stuff, if it's cheap. Anything loosely stuffed with floofy foamy stuff, that will depress but not too much, is good.
- Bags - You can imagine, if you've ever had a zipper stick or strap break, what it's like here. Get the good stuff, or you'll suffer.

The rest of what I own, I actually get for very, very cheap. I wear $2 shoes, mostly that I buy 2ndhand from the migrant markets up the road, and if they're not comfortable after a few days, I just take them back. Pillows, sheets...the cheap ones are just so cheap that it's not worth it to try to buy otherwise. Generally, with simple gadgets like DVD players and TV's, the cost differential is so vast here that it's just not worth it to buy the expensive, or even new, stuff.

With furniture, generally the heavier something is, the better.
posted by saysthis at 12:39 PM on July 15, 2009

Glasses. I have Silhouette titanium frames with no hinges. Easy to clean, and so light I often forget I have them on. I didn't skimp on the glass coatings eithers, and I'm only five years later starting to see little scratches and dings on the lenses.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:05 PM on July 15, 2009

My rule is to go for quality on most anything that could last for more than 5 years. Even high end electronics usually break or are obsolete in that time frame. Although stereo equipment is a big exception there. I will never regret buying my NAD amplifier. It still sounds amazing after 12 years.

As a snobby cheapskate, I tend to try to buy or scrounge second-hand high-quality stuff. Flea markets in Germany and retirees basements are great for this kind of thing. I definitely second jeans, whiskey and tools. One I might add is a good down duvet/comforter.
posted by mr.ersatz at 1:16 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agree 100% on ketchup. There is Heinz, and there is other stuff that says "ketchup" or "catsup" on the bottle -- and the bottle lies.

Also, people have said shoes repeatedly, and I wish to nth that as well. But I would advise you not to merely buy expensive shoes, but to go to a full-service shoe store for a proper fitting. I went to a Wide Shoes Only store here in Seattle recently and paid $130 for a pair of Brooks running shoes that basically ended my knee pain. It was like magic.
posted by kindall at 1:26 PM on July 15, 2009

Beer is just beer. It's not supposed to be anything more. Budwesier and Corona are two examples of what beer is really all it's supposed to be.

This statement is the beer equivalent of claiming that McDonalds and Burger King are all a burger is supposed to be.

Honestly, a good life requires not much more than what a Hobbit might want. Good friends, good food, good drink, (good smoke), and a good home. Be frugal, of course, but never "cheap."
posted by explosion at 1:41 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

You know what, this question really IS flawed. That's why you have over a hundred "answers" here, several of which are actually, objectively, wrong--because these are mostly just opinions about what we find important individually.

Just skimming this thread, the sunglasses comment for example... there is almost no difference between a $5 pair and a $150 pair in terms of quality or "safety". The UV thing is a red herring. Polycarbonate (ubiquitous cheap plastic) blocks out almost all UV. I have relatives who manufacture sunglasses. The stuff they sell to Diesel and the stuff they sell to the guys on the street are the same product.

On mattresses... basically, they're all the same. So buy the cheapest one you like. Really.

And these are just the two that caught my eye while skimming.
posted by danny the boy at 1:57 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well I think the question is flawed for a different reason. Buying quality (which usually isn't cheap) should always save you money in the long run. Why buy a hand blender that will do a crap job and then break after a few years when you could spend £100 on one that will last you all your life? Why spend £30 on a pair of shoes, when you could spend £100 on shoes that will last longer and look nicer? Plus, if you spend more on quality items, if they do go wrong or wear out, you're more likely to get the fixed rather than go "fuck it I'll be another one", which saves you money and causes less waste. You wouldn't buy an expensive knife and chuck it when it's blunt, you'd buy a steel, and maybe a whet stone too, so that it will last you for ever and an age.

The reason you have so many answers is because there are few areas where you really shouldn't skimp if you can afford not to. I think a much simpler and more succinct question would have been this: "What are the rare instances in life where there really is no difference between the cheap and expensive versions of a product?"
posted by chill at 2:16 PM on July 15, 2009

"What are the rare instances in life where there really is no difference between the cheap and expensive versions of a product?"

I say: consumables. While cheap shoes will be worse for your feet and knees and more costly in the long run, expensive coffee will just cost you more money in both the short run and the long run over cheap coffee.

You want the costs of capital goods (cars, furniture, mattresses, shoes, etc) to be as low as possible over their total lifetime, whereas you want consumable items, which will be consumed at the same rate no matter what kind you buy, to be as cheap as possible.

Learn to like cheap coffee and cheap wine. You're going to be drinking it anyway, so you might as well minimize those costs. Learn to prefer home-cooked food rather than going out to restaurants. For those consumables which you refuse to compromise on quality (for me, this would be cheese and beer), reduce the quantity consumed.
posted by deanc at 2:57 PM on July 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

Trite answer: anything you care about. One person's absolutely necessary camera equipment would be a waste of money for someone who just wants to take snapshots.

But yeah, what deanc said. Consumables should be as cheap as acceptable. I really, really, really don't care what brand of milk I buy. But I really care what kind of pens I use. Everyone is different.

For capital goods, lowest lifetime cost is right. With a caveat- figure out ahead of time what your personal lifetime preference for that product is. No point in buying a top of the line refrigerator if you know you are going to want another one in a few years. But if you are the type who keeps things until they fall to dust, it is well worth trying to get the most reliable one. And part of buying the best and making it last is being happy with the "making it last" part. I think that's one of the harder parts of being economical, is living with this old stuff laying around when you really want to get a new one.

Glasses: price doesn't matter. It is the skill of the doctor writing the prescription, and REALLY the skill of the optician who makes them and fits them. I have a pair of $6 internet glasses that were absolute crap when I got them. Instant headache. So, I took an afternoon and properly fit them to my head. Now they work perfectly. Point is, it's not the product, it's the skill in that arena. Hard to judge ahead of time, sadly.

Computers: if you have no computer repair skills, get the longest warranty you can justify. Or be willing to buy a new one when it breaks. The retail prices for computer repair are awfully high, and really not a good value. On a desktop, maybe not as necessary. But for a notebook, my experience is that the warranty is some of the best insurance money can buy. I fix them for a living, and I know how much that stuff costs. And I always buy the three year warranty.

Warranties in general: only buy an extended warranty from the original manufacturer. Doing anything else is a hassle and probably not worth it. Especially if you can't just go back into the store and get a new one- if you have to call an adjuster and haggle with them and then you end up getting a check for the pro-rated value of the thing, I don't think it's worth it at all.

Cell phones: after years of skimping and regretting, I now buy whichever phone (that I think is) the best on the market, regardless of price. This is a thing that you will probably be using every day. And if you compare the cost of it to say, a car payment, getting the best is usually cheaper than one car payment. Certainly cheaper than one rent payment. And you pay that every month. The phone should last 2-4 years.

Cell phone warranties: do the math and figure out if it's worth it. It's usually not. If you add up the $4.99 a month it costs over the lifetime of the phone, you probably end up paying for a new one. And that's without taking into consideration the hassles of trying to collect on the insurance. What I did? Put that $4.99 into an envelope every month instead of sending it to the insurance company. If/when the phone breaks, you can probably get a refurbished one (which is what you'd get off the warranty anyway) for what's in the envelope, with plenty left over.

Insurance: as much as you can afford. Insurance protects your assets, not your stuff. It only kicks in when your stuff is already wrecked. Or, to put it another way, when the shit hits the fan, are you prepared to cover everything that the cheaper insurance won't cover? It costs me about $20 a month to insure my 12 year old car for collision/theft. But it's worth it to me- if it gets destroyed/stolen, I will want that check for the couple of grand to use to get another car. 'Cause I might not have the cash at that time. In other, other words, the lower the chances of something happening, the less costly the insurance will be, and the better value it is. (Like the lottery- that's really just a different kind of insurance policy. The odds are really low, and the price is really low, but if it pays off, you really cash in.) The higher the chances are that something is going to happen, the less of a value insurance is. At that point, it's more of a budgeting tool, or a risk spreading tool. You are trading a higher ultimate cost for the safety of less risk.

(an adjunct question for someone to ask would be: what items have you found that price does NOT correlate with quality/lifespan? I'd answer cars and coffee makers.)
posted by gjc at 4:18 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think that buying high quality has to mean paying high price.

I am always op-shopping and scanning our local version of EBay, for quality second hand goods.

I've set myself the limitation of only buying quality stuff that I will use for years - a good example is this Burberry I found for NZ$10 in absolutely brand new condition - seriously, it had never been worn.
I'm never going to need another trench coat. Hell, I can probably pass this one down to my son.
Knowing what to look for, and appreciating what others don't* is gold, in this case it "saved" me $1,386.80.

* I can just picture someone putting that boring raincoat their mother-in-law gave them for Christmas in the charity clothing bin, and the fall-out after.
posted by Catch at 4:59 PM on July 15, 2009

With furniture, generally the heavier something is, the better.

I disagree. I have found that heavy furniture usually means it is built with composition or particle board materials. Hardwood framed pieces are usually rather light. This is especially true with pieces such as bookcases.
posted by bz at 5:06 PM on July 15, 2009

(oops, an exception is anything built from hard rock maple or, say, ebony or ironwood but that's just ridiculous)
posted by bz at 5:07 PM on July 15, 2009




posted by LMGM at 5:32 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:46 PM on July 15, 2009 [10 favorites]

This is really subjective. People just need to put thought into the buying process and figure out for themselves what's worth paying for in the context of their own lifestyle and individual needs. Fortunately, with many items, experimentation and mistakes cost very little. You're going to be buying a lot of cheese, toilet paper and socks in your life, so go ahead and try out different kinds and brands before you make a decision about what you'll buy regularly.

Think about how you'll use a prospective purchase, and how much you'll use it. For instance, I agree that good quality shoes are very important, but unless you are a night club hostess, you are probably not going to wear evening slippers often, so go ahead and just get cute inexpensive ones and put the money into whatever shoes you wear every day. The same goes for evening bags. Put the money into a good quality shoulder bag because you'll jam a lot of stuff into it and carry it every day.

It's a good idea to do research on high-end or one-time purchases. And when buying equipment for a new endeavour, look for low-cost ways to experiment and find out what your needs actually are. If your child wants to take music lessons, rent a keyboard or whatever instrument for the first six months so you can gauge whether your child is serious enough about it to warrant the purchase of a good instrument. If you want to take up camping, rent or borrow equipment at first so you can find out what your needs and preferences actually are. And don't buy high end items if you don't really need them. If you only intend to ride your bicycle occasionally or do your own alterations and curtain making, you don't need an expensive mountain bike or sewing machine. A good secondhand model will be fine.

Buying secondhand is an excellent way to get quality items. Someone else has to eat the depreciation costs. My first computer set up, which included monitor, hard drive, printer, keyboard, mouse and speakers, was bought used from a friend for $300 in 2001. It served me well for years, and it was only gradually that I replaced components with new-to-me items. I think I replaced the monitor for a $50 used one in 2006. I used the hard drive until 2008. It was still working quite well last fall when I bought a used hard drive from work for $150 because the old one couldn't accomodate any further upgrades to the internet explorer and that was getting too problematic.

I haven't seen anything about watches in this thread. I haven't owned an extremely expensive one, but I know the ten or twenty dollar ones don't last more than six months and are not worth it. My experience has been that the eighty dollar ones last a good long time and are worth repairing.
posted by orange swan at 7:35 PM on July 15, 2009

and regarding insurance: NO! Spend the least you can afford! That is, don't insure against risk you can afford, because it's a waste of money.

Insurance companies make money because (on average) the amount of money you give them in premiums is greater than the amount of claims you'll make against your policy. Coverage only makes sense when the thing you're insuring against is something you can't recover from on your own.
posted by danny the boy at 8:24 PM on July 15, 2009

Perfume. Wearing cheap perfume is often worse than no perfume at all: either it smells bad or the fragrance vanishes within minutes.
posted by iviken at 1:32 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

"Zip top" bags. The cheap ones are, well, crap.

Outdoor/camping equipment

Produce (fruits and vegetables)



+1's for coffee, chocolate, certain clothing items (underwear, socks), cooking utensils.
posted by karizma at 1:52 AM on July 16, 2009

Not so much a "thing" in particular as a general idea:

When I first came to Africa it was under the auspices of a short-to-medium term work engagement (8 months). A friend who had done similar travel for work to the further flung corners of the world gave me this advice (paraphrased):

When you're in a corner of the planet that you're likely never going to be again, and you've already dropped the dime to get that far, for heaven's sake don't try to skimp on the extras. Go to the nicer safari camp. Bring a nice DSLR. Tour the best wineries. Take the helicopter trip to see the falls. Etc.

Work and normal life and whatnot will still be waiting for you to come back and pay off the bills you ran up whilst you were gallivanting.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:32 AM on July 16, 2009

Ok, the wasabi thing bugs me: If I like the green stuff being served next to my sushi, and it's served almost everywhere *I* will ever be served sushi, and the real stuff is a) nearly impossible to get and b) not used the way I use the green stuff anyway, why the hell am I going to sweat the difference?

Marshmallows were originally made from the mucilaginous roots of the marshmallow plant, althea officinalis. I will most likely never have the original, but this is not going to affect my enjoyment of a toasted stay-puft.
posted by condour75 at 5:47 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Dentist. The 2nd-rate dentist I had as a kid made some bad choices that are permanent, and taught me to fear dental care.
posted by theora55 at 9:12 AM on July 16, 2009

TOILET SEATS. (Never thought I'd put those two words together in writing!).

I strongly recommend the Bemis Easy Close, especially if there are males in the house. We replaced 3 of our builder supplied seats with the Easy Close and I'd do it again in a hearbeat.
posted by qsysopr at 5:32 AM on July 17, 2009

I'm not advocating picking up the habit, of course -- I'm currently trying to quit -- but I'd say a quality cigarette like a Nat Sherman or an American Spirit is worth the high price. Y'know, relatively speaking. Don't think I'm alone here.
posted by HerArchitectLover at 1:05 PM on July 17, 2009

I'm going to third the tea comment, but with an addendum: tea is often one of the most overpriced goods you can find, at "higher-end" stores. You can often find the same stuff online for a third of the price if you know where to look.

At the top end of the overpriced you have stuff like Teavana, then premium brands like Harney and Sons and places like Adagio online.

But there are places like Upton Tea and SpecialTeas that sell really great tea for $5 per quarter pound, that's as good as (and sometimes the exact same) the stuff at any of the other places. Sure, they have some pricey teas too, but it's not due to being overpriced.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 1:11 PM on July 18, 2009

Most things I put in my body.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 7:40 PM on May 10, 2010

Knives. A set of great knives will last you a lifetime.

Hmmm... I love a knife as much as the next person, but my favorite knife is still the all-metal vegetable cleaver I bought for $5 from an Asian supermarket.* It does need to be sharpened now after about 8 years of consistent use.

Basically, when it comes to knives, don't get serrated knives (except for one for bread and one for tomatoes). As long as the handles are sound a knife will last forever and you can just have it sharpened when it goes dull. The cost and "quality" is far less important than how it balances and feels in your hand, and that's going to be pretty different for each person.

If you have a cat, never ever buy it the cheapo bargain food. It is mostly made of corn gluten and might mess your kitty up. I feed my beloved cats Innova dry food and they're very happy on that. I know that dry food is supposedly not as good as wet food but they won't eat wet food consistently.

Ben and Jerry's World's Best Vanilla recently blew away the competition in a recent taste test by Cook's Illustrated. My wife swears by Breyer's but I think World's Best lives up to its name. If you don't care about Vanilla, buy the cheap stuff, but when I have the choice I would always, always get the Ben and Jerry's version. Maybe even better but nearly impossible to find is Hagen-Daz's Honey Vanilla, which was a flavor back when Haagen-Dazs was weirdly the ice cream of health food freaks -- they even had a carob flavor! They still bring it out from time to time.

Then there are the rare cases where cheaper is the better option. Fish, for example. Most expensive fish is in high demand -- which generally means it's overfished and not a good ecological choice. Mackerel and sardines are both generally in good supply and except for King Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel, very low in mercury. If you like ceviche, mackerel is actually the fish of choice for ceviche in Mexico. Cooking beans from dried rather than canned takes more time but is cheaper -- and you end up with much tastier beans.

* Actually, I think my brother bought it and I later "acquired" it.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:25 PM on May 11, 2010

Motorcycle helmets.

tl;dr - If you have a $10 brain, buy a $10 helmet.

As a motorcyclist, I can tell you that this question comes up a lot in conversations about helmets. There are a lot of "novelty" helmets out there that look cool, but aren't rated to any sort of standard of even minimal protection. They're usually $20-60.
Then there are helmets that (in the U.S.) have the "DOT" stamp of approval (Department of Transportation). These are usually $30-120, but can go far beyond that. The trick with the DOT rating is that it's an honor system. A manufacturer applies for the stamp, saying their helmet meets the requirement, but the Department of Transportation only tests randomly so you don't really know for sure if your helmet meets the DOT standard.
Lastly there is the Snell rating. The Snell Memorial Foundation is a non-profit that tests helmets based on their own independent ratings. Most motorcycle racers use Snell helmets, and they are widely considered the most rigorous rating agency. Snell helmets usually command prices of $300 and up.
One caveat is that lately, testers have found that the 2005 Snell rating is a little harder than it ought to be. That is, there's not enough padding and too much shell. This has caused some to find that maybe the DOT helmets offer better protection than the 2005 Snell rating. The 2010 Snell rating is updated to account for this, though.
Lastly, many people think that there's a cutoff for the amount of protection that a helmet really offers in a crash (what good is having your head intact when the rest of you is hamburger?). Nevertheless, most people agree that "novelty" helmets are shit.
posted by Demogorgon at 8:40 PM on May 11, 2010

My experience has pretty much been that 'novelty' anything is shit.
posted by box at 7:29 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

We buy our food from a service called Irv and Shelley's that buys from local farms in the Chicago area. We do this because I watched Food.Inc and am disgusted by how big business treats animals raised for produce. What I didn't expect was for it to taste SO much better. Finally, the cost difference was a lot lower than I expected as well. People who aren't paying an additional $10 a week (at most) on the meat they eat are both inhumane and not taking their health seriously imho.

I also think a few well made items of clothing will look better, wear longer, and fit better than a closet full of cheaper items. I learned this lesson in Italy. They spend a little more, own less, and look better. Accessories in particular are worth it (e.g. shoes, scarves, etc.)

I love the Merkut safety shaving razor my wife just got me. It cost $30 dollars or so, but over the few months I've gotten it I've already saved on what I would have spent on disposable razors. It also gives me a shockingly closer shave.

I've also eschewed brand name cleansers in favor of cleaning with natural products like vinegar, baking soda, etc. Probably a little more expensive but it's made me feel better about my house and seems to clean just as well, if not better.

I resisted buying the new LCD TVs for ten years now. I just got one. It's worth it right along with buying a good computer screen. It's your eyes and the difference is remarkable. They're relatively cheap now, especially if you buy through Craig's List.

Splurge on nice furniture and be done with it. So worth it. Art too.

I try and shop at local small businesses rather than chains even though I know it costs a bit more. I figure this keeps more of my spent money in my community rather than some executive's pocket or abroad.

On the other hand I would never buy a new car. I rarely go out to eat. My wife doesn't wear jewelry. I generally avoid anything extravagant. It goes without saying that I buy used whenever possible through Craig's list.
posted by xammerboy at 10:06 AM on May 12, 2010

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