Investment china vs paper plates
May 10, 2010 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by Captain Samuel Vimes: what items are worth buying cheap, and which are worth buying better quality? Household, clothing, kitchen and otherwise - all types welcome.
posted by mippy to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Previously at great length (134 comments)
posted by Perplexity at 2:46 PM on May 10, 2010

Response by poster: Hey, they're inventing new stuff all the time!
posted by mippy at 2:48 PM on May 10, 2010


I've bought only the most basic Kenmore appliances--fridge, stove, w/d. All of them have worked better than the pricier higher-end appliances owned by other people, and have lasted just as long (or longer). The more computer chips and fancy gizmos, the more likely that something will go kaflooey.

There are plenty of reliable autos at the low end of the price spectrum.

Less cheap:

Bedroom furniture. (My paternal grandmother once advised my parents to splurge on the bedroom set and to economize everywhere else, because you were much more likely to want to replace the living room &c. on a regular basis anyway.)

Shoes. Cruddy shoes can do really bad things to your feet. (I compromise by buying stuff at clearance sales.)

Any power tools you plan to use regularly.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:49 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: See, I was wondering about appliances. I've moved to a new place without a hand blender or an electric whisk, so I need ot get my own at some point in the distant future. Does the £30 top-rated-by-Good-Housekeeping really do the job any better than the £5 Tesco Valye version?
posted by mippy at 2:53 PM on May 10, 2010

Computer screens: buy quality, don't buy cheap. My eyes love me for splurging a little.
posted by _cave at 3:01 PM on May 10, 2010

Computers: never buy more of a machine than you need, and never before you need it (because computers depreciate quickly, and new and better ones are always around the corner).

Men's shoes: below about $150, they drop precipitously in comfort or durability and repairability. The sweet spot is between $150 to $300.
posted by zippy at 3:11 PM on May 10, 2010

Definately the shoes. I have been moving upscale and really noticed a difference. I think the price point is somewhat lower though at least for hiking/athletic shoes. About 100 seems to be the big switch for me.

Tools are definately on the list. I buy some harbor freight or similair stuff but only big pieces of solid steel that i use infrequently-the last thing I bought there was a balljoint press. Most of tools are mac/snap-on with some craftsmen and than a range of power tools. Generally you want the simplest tool that will do what you need that feels good in your hand. Good tools fit the item better so they don't round off and/or slip and bust a knuckle. The make the work a pleasure rather than a chore. I would rather make do with fewer good tools I have to improvise with rather than a bunch of cheap specialty ones that are hard to work with and do a poor job.

this also goes for the kitchen, Alton Brown has a great book on kitchen gear. (I have found most at thrift stores really cheap)

I have started buying well made clothes-carrhart mostly and some filson. The clothes last better, fit better and keep me more comfortable throughout the day. Unexpectedly they also come clean easier.

Good furniture is nice if you can afford it, but I would put it lower down the scale in importance.

Anything you use that your life depends on of course and also your Livelyhood meaning the things your work depends on. Professionals tend to use high quality stuff but not flashy stuff. Photographer seem to follow this.

I once heard that it is best to always buy the highest quality you can afford-that way you only cry once.
posted by bartonlong at 3:37 PM on May 10, 2010

Oh-point i meant to make, cheap does not mean poorly made, and expensive does not mean the best. It usually works out this way but not always, and good used stuff is always cheaper than new and usually better than new, cheap stuff.
posted by bartonlong at 3:39 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Food and drink, definitely.

Would have to disagree about appliances. I bought a medium expensive oven (£800) and it's great. It's not loaded with gadgetry but it's big, cooks brilliantly and heats up fantastically fast. That said, I used to rather love my basic as dirt diswasher for its simplicity.

Some furniture.

Cameras if you like photography. Good quality DSLRs last a very long time compared to other stuff.
posted by rhymer at 3:52 PM on May 10, 2010

If you cut either end off of the price spectrum, you're in safe ground. At the high end, you're paying for brand recognition or benefits of questionable value, while at the low end, you're getting cardboard shoes.

In regards to appliances: pay a bit more than bargain-basement prices, if you want to have reliable, long-wearing equipment. The cheap stuff may get the job done a few times, but it might not work just when you really want it to work.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:05 PM on May 10, 2010

Photography: get the cheapest possible DSLR body, and spend the real money on lenses. Camera bodies go obsolete far faster than glass.
posted by mullingitover at 4:25 PM on May 10, 2010

Cheap kitchen appliances can be a pain when it comes to cleaning them. A normal jug-style blender can be taken apart so that you can clean the spiky bit and the jug separately, whereas .. it was either Asda or Tesco ... ultracheap is in one piece, so I have no idea how it was supposed to be cleaned inside. Hand blenders are probably somewhat better in this regard.

The best clothes are the ones that fit, with quality of fabric and construction coming next. It doesn't matter how much of a bargain it seemed or what it says on the label if you end up never wearing it because it fits really weirdly. In my case this can mean £60 jeans and a tshirt from Asda, or a £40 top with trousers from Primark, but never Primark jeans because they just. don't. fit. me.
posted by Lebannen at 5:14 PM on May 10, 2010

Beds. Never buy used. That's all I'm sayin'.
posted by Ys at 5:27 PM on May 10, 2010

I've thought a lot about this subject and laid out my opinions below; of course you should take them with a grain of salt and account for your individual circumstances, but here's what I've established.

Don't go for the pricey items in the following categories:

Expensive cars aren't worth it, in my opinion. They depreciate just like everything else, but they cost tons of money to insure, maintain and service. Unless you're a mechanic, prepare to pay outrageous rates at the dealership every time something breaks. Luxury cars are a faux-status symbol - they're fun to drive as long as you don't have to bear the burden of owning one.

Same with expensive wine. That $10 bottle is often just as good as the $50 bottle. A little research and some help from friends who are into wine will go a long way.

Plane tickets. Flying sucks these days, but it's only for a few hours. The perks of first class and business class are vastly overrated. As long as you have to spend your own money, fly coach. Even on long international flights, a couple of shots of whiskey beforehand can make everything seem fun.

Furniture. As long as you don't buy cheap particle-board shit you'll be fine. If you have kids or pets, the furniture is going to get wrecked anyway. And honestly, who (besides ultra-snobby people) gives a damn about furniture? I doubt anyone will even notice if your chairs are from IKEA or some fancy designer outlet. If it's durable, functional and not garish, you'll be OK.

Most 'trendy' fashion. I'm convinced that a lot of so-called fashion consists of whatever hideous items happen to be 'in' this year, after which said hideous items are no longer hip and simply...hideous. Don't waste your money.

On the other hand:

Well-made clothes and shoes are almost always worth it. Timeless items that fit, look classy, and last forever will never be a waste.

Cigars. Generally, most expensive cigars are expensive for a reason. Hand-rolled, quality brands will always deliver a noticeably superior experience. Cheap cigars aren't worth it.

Computers. Yeah, it sucks knowing your machine is already outdated by the time you get it home, but a durable, good computer is going to become obsolete a lot more slowly than that cheap piece of junk you got at the big box store. And, like others have mentioned, a good monitor is almost always worth the money. Your eyes will thank you. Plus, nicer computers will generally waste less of your time if you take care of them.

Printers. Don't get a dinky little inkjet that explodes in a year - over time, the costs will easily eclipse what you'll have spent if you had just gotten a fast, durable laser printer. I think printers are an area in which a lot of people are penny wise, pound foolish. Get a good printer.

Beer. If you truly drink beer for the taste, then don't waste your time on the mass-produced piss-water in the aluminum cans. Life is too short for shitty beer. If you're only going for the buzz, then you need to be drinking hard liquor, not beer - and the cheapest imaginable.

Houses / apartments. Spend within what you can afford to live in a nice place. Your environment can have a big impact on you, and you want to take your time and find a place that suits you. You're going to spend a lot of time here, so don't skimp on your housing.

Paper towels. I bought the cheap ones the other day and they suck ass. They're awful. Spend the extra $.20 or whatever to get paper towels that don't suck, because when you spill something you won't have to use half the roll and have the other half get torn up while you're trying to detach them.

And finally, be conscious about the total cost of things. As valuable as money is, your time and sanity are much more important. Don't be like those grandmas that drive around town and burn up a gallon of gas trying to save ten cents on oatmeal or something.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 5:34 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Don't scrimp on shrimp.
posted by spasm at 5:54 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Wine. To a point. A $15- $20 bottle will almost certainly be better than the $10 bottle, because some basic aspects of making good wine (picked by hand or by machine? Used only the flavoursome grapes or everything, regardless of how full of water they were?) will drive the price up. Once you get much higher, it's hard to know whether the price is reflecting quality methods (new oak barrels, for instance), low yields, limited runs, or simply a presitgious name. An extremely expensive bottle ($100 +) is unlikely to be five times better than a good $20 bottle.
posted by twirlypen at 6:19 PM on May 10, 2010

Appliances - a lot of top-end appliances will run forever, so why buy new? It can be a pretty safe bet to buy 2nd-hand, saving up to 90% of buying new and yet getting an older-but-high-end-in-its-day appliance that would have been out of your budget new.

Hotels - it's the biggest expense of your trip, so it's the first place you to look to cut some costs, but the reality is, even if you end up down-grading to a shithole, it's still going to be almost as big a cost. It's worth going the other way - accept that it's a big cost, throw some extra money at it, and live in luxury for a while. Having a really nice place to come home to makes a huge difference to how much you enjoy a trip, and the extra cost is usually trivial compared to what you're going to have to spend anyway.

Art and home decor - buy cheap, or even free. What creates the value and appeal in this sphere is how you use things, the larger environment that you build from them, etc. Your design is what matters, and so the value comes from your careful selection of pieces and their interplay, not from the value of the pieces themselves, unless you want to live in a gallery. (I'm of the camp that art in the home is to make the place more livable, or more inspiring / engaging / challenging / etc, so it's entirely legitimate that you'll want to coordinate it with other aspects of the home, rather than build your space around giving something it's own gallery reverence.)

Point-and-shoot Digital Cameras - buy cheap. A 3-year-old 2nd-hand high-end digicam is usually cheaper and better than what is available new, and will often come with a lot of accessories thrown in. (Megapixels stopped being important a long time ago (5MP is almost as good as 12MP, and for most purposes, every bit as good). Optical image stabilization is about the only worthwhile thing newer cameras have over old. (Touch-screen viewfinders are only just starting to appear on cameras))
posted by -harlequin- at 6:38 PM on May 10, 2010

Shirts - anything over $150* at a store, you're just paying extra money to make yourself look worse. That's the break point at which you could get a shirt tailor made, and nothing you buy in a store off the rack will make you look as good as if you took that money to a tailor.

Similarly, there are price-points for other garments beyond which it is counterproductive to not go to a tailor.

*Actual break-point price may varies by region
posted by -harlequin- at 6:42 PM on May 10, 2010

I've been upgrading a lot of my kitchen gear over the last few years, and almost everything is worth spending some extra on, in particular the no-moving-parts stuff like knives and pans. The way to save money in the kitchen is to make sure everything you buy does a lot. It's better to have two good general-purpose knives than a dozen crappy slicing gadgets.
posted by lore at 6:58 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

About the computers: the technology advances quickly, but that 2GHz dual-core will still be a 2GHz dual core whether or not everyone else is up to eight cores, and it will still run the same software. The trick is to accept that everything will break and anticipate that by buying things that can be repaired or replaced component by component.

MacBooks and generally all Apple products totally fail this test. Even if you study the books, take the test, and are a certified technician, you still need the proprietary magnet/suction cup/chicken entrails to open up an iMac.

Thinkpads, on the other hand, come with manuals giving detailed instructions for digging through three layers of parts to swap out the speaker at the bottom, and none of the instructions involve anything less accessible than "we recommend new screws since the nylon friction bit will grip more securely". Desktops are even better.
posted by d. z. wang at 7:17 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

About appliances, I've found that more expensive small appliances are worth the extra money. I recently replaced my $30 Hamilton Beach blender with a $100 KitchenAid blender and marvelled at the lack of burning motor smell when I used it. The same goes for food processors, microwaves, and stand mixers. I've always been very happy with the higher quality of the more expensive models.

I also wouldn't go super cheap on most kitchen utensils. I received a super cheap set of nylon kitchen tools for Christmas, and at this point they're all scratched and melted and get food stuck on them. And knives are really important. You don't have to buy a $500 set of knives, but having at least one really good quality knife in your kitchen makes a huge difference. Spending a little extra on quality cookware is worth it, too, but you don't need to buy the most expensive thing there is.

As for things I do go cheap on, clothes are at the top of the list. I have always been much happier with a $30 pair of Levi's than any fancy expensive jeans.
posted by lexicakes at 7:32 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Furniture. As long as you don't buy cheap particle-board shit you'll be fine. If you have kids or pets, the furniture is going to get wrecked anyway.

I disagree.

Good hardwood won't get beaten to ratshit even with kids and pets. Cheap softwood held together with staples will. Good, well-designed furniture is often much more comfortable to use than cheap stuff too. Fabrics (and some fancier finishes) may not last more than five to ten years, but recovering or refinishing is much cheaper than buying new and you get a "new" couch or chair every few years.
posted by bonehead at 7:45 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another related AskMe: "Can you suggest some replacements for standard, everyday household items that are far superior in terms of usefulness, luxuriousness and quality?"
posted by danceswithlight at 7:46 PM on May 10, 2010

If you pay much over $100 for a standard room at a hotel, you're paying for atmosphere, location, or demand. If you pay less than $50, somebody has probably sold crack in that room before.

Jewelry at a pawn shop sparkles just as much as at the jeweler's. DVDs are just fine, but look for scratches. Power tools and TVs won't last long. Never, ever buy a computer from a pawn shop unless you know exactly what you are doing and can clean it both inside and out.

Generic drugs have everything that brand name drugs do other than the added dosage of placebo.

Like many others before me have said in many threads, Sam Vimes is completely correct. Very few material goods compare to the value of a good pair of boots or shoes.
posted by Saydur at 11:11 PM on May 10, 2010

Hats. If you're looking for chapeaux to wear regularly, go for quality. A well-made hat that fits you will keep its form and be looking sharp for as long as you care to maintain it, while a craft-felt fedora will probably be looking ratty by the third wearing or so.

This doesn't mean you need to spend much, though; ebay, thrift stores, and estate sales are full of excellent headgear.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 1:46 AM on May 11, 2010

I can't believe that nobody's mentioned infant car seats yet. I've happily bought clothes, furniture or appliances at garage sales, but not one of those. Top-of-the-line ones actually have extra safety features, and you want one whose history you know.

Cold weather clothing. Wearing knock-offs and cheapo brands may mean less comfort in some situations, or decrease survival odds in others.

Generic drugs are *usually* equal in efficacy. However, recent studies show significant differences with some meds.
posted by wjm at 2:24 AM on May 11, 2010

Lady potions -- cleansers, toners, unguents. Paying for premium products is generally a waste of money. Paula Begoun is great at cutting through the woo-woo and telling you what ingredients actually have an effect (not very many), how much they can realistically do for you (not very much) and what will just irritate your skin or inflates the price. The $5 I spent on a one-month subscription to Beautypedia paid for itself three times over on my first trip to Boots for a new rock-bottom-dollar skincare regime that has totally cleared up my complexion woes.
posted by stuck on an island at 5:09 AM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I have always been much happier with a $30 pair of Levi's than any fancy expensive jeans.
Levis are roughly $75 over here. Sigh.
posted by mippy at 8:02 AM on May 11, 2010

I'm always willing to pay more money so that I can eat organic food. Not only does it often taste better, but it's not loaded with 100s of unknown chemicals and it does a great service to the environment to buy organic. Plus, it's hard for me to justify cheaping out on the very things that are supposed to be nourishing to me.

The two other things I never cheap out on are hair cuts and cosmetics.

In re: to kitcheny items, don't skimp on buying yourself a high quality chef's knife. WORTH IT. A nice, large bamboo cutting board to go along with it is worth it to, and far superior to plastic crap.
posted by sickinthehead at 10:10 AM on May 11, 2010

Spend the money, to a point (don't pay for brands, but pay for quality):
Outdoor gear. This will allow you to avoid cold nights, wet tents, getting lost, being hungry because your stove didn't light, etc.
Things you use daily. I use my bike, messenger bag, desk chair, ipod, and computer daily. All were worth spending money on. For you, it might be a framing hammer or a car seat.

Go with the cheapo options:
Generic canned goods
Rarely used tools
posted by craven_morhead at 11:10 AM on May 11, 2010

Here are things you should definitely spend on

Caution: Stop is based on my current budget and could increase later

Bikes: Mountain (above $250) and Road ( $400+). stop at $700 (Do not buy from big box store)

Watches: Sports ( $70) Formal ($150) stop at $200
Sunglasses: Above $100 stop at $200
Headphones: start at $80, stop at $150

My general formula is essentially on things I would buy only once.. and can last a lifetime, spend the money. Trust good brands.. they have been around for many years for a reason
posted by radsqd at 2:05 PM on May 11, 2010

Bikes! If you get a low-quality bicycle (these are sometimes called "department store" bikes), you'll wonder what all the fuss is about biking.

-If you have a working department store bike and don't see a new one in your future, the most important thing you can do beyond basic maintenance is make sure you have "slicks" (road tires).

- Pay a little extra and get a good, sturdy rack and some bike baskets. Cars have carrying capacity, and bikes need it, too. If your bike is your primary method of transportation, a bike trailer is handy. These can often be jury rigged and high quality may not be necessary. Add some plywood to the skeleton of an old Burley trailer, and you can carry a lot of things.

- Get a mountain bike helmet. They don't look as fancy as 'normal' helmets or let in as much air flow, but they survive multiple crashes, so you'll get far more bang for your buck. Don't keep a helmet more than 5 years. This is one place where you really shouldn't skimp on quality, because a helmet is styrofoam, and it gets invisible fractures, which compromise the integrity of the helmet over time.

- In the long run, it's a *lot* cheaper to get a patch kit and fix flats yourself rather than paying a bike shop to do it. Save the bike shop for the harder projects. You'll need one patch kit @ $5, a few dollars for tire levers (substitute spoons or brute strength in case of emergency), a pump (free at your gas station), and maybe a presta/schrader valve adapter ($2) if you need it. Say you fix a half a dozen flats. Instead of $60, you just spent $10. After the first few flats, you should be able to do it in about 15 minutes.

-Make sure your bike fits well, or you'll just end up replacing it, not using it, or not enjoying the ride.

- Keep in mind that new bikes can be low quality, and used bikes can be high quality. A little research goes a long way.

If you get and maintain the high-quality bike that's right for you, you'll fall in love.
posted by aniola at 1:22 PM on January 20, 2011

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