Nice and cheap?
July 4, 2012 7:26 AM   Subscribe

After reading this post about ridiculously cheap, but great-sounding headphones, I became curious about other cheap things that compare favorably to much their much more expensive counterparts. Does anyone know of anything that fits the bill?
posted by jessssse to Shopping (45 answers total) 155 users marked this as a favorite
HDMI Cables. I've found very little correlation between price and quality in store bought coffee. Wine is another obvious one.
posted by meinvt at 7:50 AM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Check out this Reddit question and answer.

They call out a LOT of different goods and it's very interesting reading.
posted by THAT William Mize at 7:53 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Invicta 8926, which sells for less than $100, is similar in style (and arguably function) to the Rolex Submariner, which costs thousands.
posted by bdk3clash at 8:02 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Definitely wine. Though, I won't go so far as to praise Two-Buck-Chuck, which I think is a horrid mouthful of fail. But, you can get a very good bottle of red for $7-9 at any mega-mart.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:16 AM on July 4, 2012

Rescue animals
Peanut butter-- the cheapest brands are superior in certain respects to their organic/$$$ counterparts, which come with a layer of oil on top, need to be stirred each time, and still taste chalky.
posted by acidic at 8:28 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Kinda mundane, but you're wasting money buying Clorox bleach -- it's the same liquid as in the cheaper, off-brand jugs.
posted by Rash at 9:22 AM on July 4, 2012

Advil/ibuprofen, Tylenol/acetaminophen, name brand vinegar/no-name, name brand baking soda/no-name etc..
posted by jmmpangaea at 9:39 AM on July 4, 2012

Re wine: no.

Well, it's more complicated, but no-ish.

You can get perfectly non-disgusting wine for under $10, sometimes.

You can get a lovely bottle of wine for about $20.

There is definitely a benefit to trying some more expensive wines.

It's true, though, that spending hundreds of dollars on a bottle of wine is unnecessary. And even the $50 bottle isn't strictly required, it's just really amazing and worth doing sometimes, if you can afford it.

Anyone who thinks that a $7 bottle of wine is every bit as good as Chateaneuf du Pape (or whatever) doesn't know anything about wine.

Answering the question time:

Cetaphil cleanser rather than any of the various $30 for two ounces skin treatments.

I also love my Osprey Kestrel travel backpack (~$150). You may need something more expensive if you do very specialized outdoors stuff like mountain climbing or ultralight hikes, but for travel, you really don't need to spend $400-500 on a pack.
posted by Sara C. at 10:19 AM on July 4, 2012

Scotch: Black Bottle (which, ironically, is a green bottle)
Bourbon: Jim Beam Devil's Cut 90
Vodka: Tito's and Dripping Springs unless you like the frou-frou flavored stuff.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 10:30 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Costco-brand sheets
Tibetan rugs (hand-woven, wool, silk, hemp, modern and traditional designs)
Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle shampoo (fancy brand repackaged)
posted by nanook at 10:53 AM on July 4, 2012

Forgot to add:

Kai scissors
posted by nanook at 10:55 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bourbon: Jim Beam Devil's Cut 90

That is a foul lie. It's not even Bourbon.

Victorinox chef's knife.

That is a dangerous lie. Do not skimp on knives if you cook often and like having fingers.

In the same vein, however:

Vodka. With the exception of Polish bison grass vodka, they all basically taste the same, for certain values of, "taste."

Knives. Deli knives at $10 a pop are just fine for what you do with them. They will die in six months, but they are only $10.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:24 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

That is a dangerous lie.

Cooks Illustrated consistently gives the Victorinox/Forschner knives their highest ratings. From personal experience, I'd back that up. We have two sets now and they get used more than the $200 Thiers-Issard chef's knife that I'd previously been using. Cleanability is huge (no worries about wood handles) and they work very well, especially for veggie prep.

For Vodka, differences are largely minor. Most Vodka "distillers" buy industrial ethanol and then "blend" it with water to the desired proof. The differences between vodkas is largely the source water and the amount spent on the bottle. Infused and flavoured vodkas, on the other hand, are more individual to the distillers.
posted by bonehead at 11:43 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Pilon espresso.
posted by spitbull at 11:58 AM on July 4, 2012

Victorinox Forschner kitchen knives are fantastic, and an unbeatable value. With the rare exception (probably due to the handles not fitting their hand well), anyone that's worked in a kitchen will tell you as much.

In terms of vodka, Sobieski and Monopolowa (~$12 in Oregon) are both on par with the majority of $20 vodka. Tito's really is delicious and smooth, though; if I were to be spending $20 on vodka that would be my choice.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 12:03 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re: Bleach
Check the concentration of the active ingredient. The cheaper stuff is often a lot less potent.
posted by Slinga at 12:09 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Woks. Avoid the fancy non-stick or stainless ones, a good carbon steel wok will be cheaper and better in use.

And no, cheap wine doesn't compare favorably with its more expensive counterparts on some absolute scale. The difference may not be meaningful to you but there is sure to be someone with different tastes for whom the difference is worth it, it is always YMMV (for myself, the diminishing returns seem to cut in at about $60 a bottle - after that they are all pretty tasty and cellaring means more than the price).
posted by N-stoff at 1:18 PM on July 4, 2012

Anyone who thinks that a $7 bottle of wine is every bit as good as Chateaneuf du Pape (or whatever) doesn't know anything about wine.

Anyone who thinks that hasn't read the blinded, controlled trials that have been done on this subject, and found that cheap wine tends to taste as well as or better than expensive stuff (at least if we don't know the price).

It's especially true for champagne, apparently: if we don't know you're drinking cheap stuff, we much prefer a $10 bottle over the Dom, Krug or Bollinger.
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:11 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Quoting from the aforementioned Reddit page: "Everything on Monoprice."
posted by yclipse at 3:16 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Re: Victorionox/Forschner and Cook's Illustrated, they test the knives on out-of-the-box sharpness, which isn't really a great way to test a knife for long-term utility. They're not bad knives, especially for the cost, but CI overrates how good they are. For the money, I would much rather buy Japanese knife instead. If you're willing to pay enough attention to have it professionally sharpened when it needs it, you'll get a lot more knife for your money.
posted by lhputtgrass at 3:18 PM on July 4, 2012

Lodge Brand cast iron pots and pans. Waaaaaay cheaper than Le Creuset but just as good.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:43 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Victorinox chef's knife.

That is a dangerous lie. Do not skimp on knives if you cook often and like having fingers.

This is kinda wrong. Well, really wrong. If you know how to use a knife safely, and can sharpen it, almost any knife is an excellent tool. Knives are extremely mature technology, and simply don't fail unless they are extremely cheap or wildly abused.

Higher prices might get you a knife made of fancier steel at higher hardness, which will theoretically hold an edge longer. I say theoretically because you have to be fairly meticulous about using the knife to reap the benefits. A less than meticulous user with a fancy high hardness knife will likely cause more minor damage using it, resulting in a knife that is not only more difficult to sharpen but will need significant sharpening more often.

Victorinox/Forschner knives are well made from very fine grained stainless steel at moderate hardness, which translates to a knife that's easy to maintain and easy to get to a state of very high sharpness.

Similar high value/low cost kitchen knives are Dexter Russell, which are used in many professional kitchens.

I'm partial to Rada brand low cost knives, for reasons of ease of maintenance and usability. They are sometimes not regarded as good because of their marketing model, but they are the ones that my family seem to prefer, and despite being low cost, I have yet to find reason to disapprove of them.

You rustic types might prefer non stainless steel kitchen knives. Old Hickory brand kitchen knives are a great value.

BTW, among those of you who for whom it may matter, Dexter Russell, Rada and Old Hickory knives are all made in the USA.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:59 PM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

On the subject of knives, Victorinox and Wenger brand Swiss Army Knives are very good value pocket knives. The product range extends from very simple single blade pen knives to multi implement multitools, in several sizes, and usually start in price from about $10USD.

A newer brand name of pocket knife that has gained a great deal of respectability in the last few years is Sanrenmu. This is a Chinese manufacturer for reputable companies such as Spyderco, Boker, and Buck. Their Sanrenmu branded knives are available as gray market items from various Hong Kong/China based retailers and Ebay. Most of their wares are modern locking blade pocket knives, made from good steel and show a very high degree of manufacturing sophistication. They can be found often below $10 delivered to the US. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have a working official web site (, while displaying many of their wares, apparently is owned by a different entity that may be displaying a couple counterfeit Sanrenmu knives). seems to have most of the line of genuine product.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:13 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Regarding vodka: Canadian brand Iceberg comes in a plastic bottle for around $13/750ml, and beats almost every premium brand in blind taste tests.
posted by mikewas at 5:26 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding Lodge brand cast-iron. Le Creuset is nice (I have some), but Lodge is just as good at a fraction of the price.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:33 PM on July 4, 2012

good sushi at tsukiji market: for 40$ omakase I have had fish that was the taste equal of a $350 meal at Sapporos best place.
posted by dougiedd at 5:35 PM on July 4, 2012

To be yet another vodka-mentioner, here's an article from the NY Times in 2005 in which Smirnoff routs fancy vodkas in a blind test of the Dining section's tasting panel.
posted by eyesontheroad at 9:52 PM on July 4, 2012

Some people (I haven't tried either of the following) find that Crisco works as well as Creme de la Mer when used to moisturize skin.

review on a blog, Makeupalley reviews
posted by cp311 at 10:32 PM on July 4, 2012

Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder Gel is about $6 for 1.5 oz, versus practically any foundation primer (Sephora's house brand starts at around $18 per ounce; my previous favorite, DHC's Velvet Skin Coat, is about $32).

And I'll n-th the love for Costco. Kirkland salted butter is really delicious & high quality; it seems on par with Danish Creamery but much less expensive. Kirkland's canned tuna (6 pack) actually costs a dollar more than the name brand stuff at Costco, but man, it's soooooo much better. And their version of 5 Hour Energy costs HALF as much as the real thing, yet works just as well (and tastes just as hideous).
posted by biddeford at 2:33 AM on July 5, 2012

Victorinox chef's knife.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:24 AM on July 4

I'll gladly second this -- I volunteered for a while at a local organic restaurant, spent one or two afternoons a week cutting up vegetables, saw a review of these knives on Lifehacker, raving about them, so I bought one.

What a great use of thirty bucks!

Everyone in the kitchen wanted to borrow it and I don't blame them; I'd turn my back and someone else had grabbed it, and no, I'm not kidding; not that they were trying anything tacky, like wanting to steal it, just the pleasure in working with it, is all.

It came sharp as a damn razor but hey, lots of knives *come* sharp; how long do they stay sharp, and how long after you sharpen them again do they stay sharp, and in fact *can* you (I) sharpen them again, to get that razors edge?

Yep, easy to sharpen, holds that edge, too. It's like having a razor laying on the kitchen counter top.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:34 AM on July 5, 2012

Bourbon: Woodford Reserve is rightfully regarded as a delicious pour, but the much cheaper Old Forrester actually comes from the same batches as Woodford, and (to my palette) tastes just as good.
posted by jbickers at 7:16 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

People tend to turn their noses up at it this, but groceries at Aldi. Almost everything there (with the notable exception of bread and some of the produce) is the same quality of stuff you'd get at a spendy supermarket but half the price.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:26 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of good stuff here. I actually own a Victorinox chef's knife and boning knife. Love them both.
posted by jessssse at 12:20 PM on July 5, 2012

digitalprimate: That is a dangerous lie. Do not skimp on knives if you cook often and like having fingers.
Utter nonsense. Unless you use a knife as a pry tool, or fail to sharpen it as needed, cheap knives are no more dangerous than expensive ones. If you disagree, produce some objective data to back up your expensive imported knife fetish.
Slinga: Re: Bleach
Check the concentration of the active ingredient. The cheaper stuff is often a lot less potent.
I do this with most off-brands I'm not familiar with, and can think of maybe one instance where they differed. Still, it's a good practice to follow.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:01 PM on July 5, 2012

Medicines. Generics are often cheaper, and strictly controlled in their chemical content (but follow Slinga's read-the-label advice for contents of over-the-counter goods).

Also, if a medicine has multiple uses, it may be sold at wildly varying prices. The price per gram of active ingredient is sometimes 5-10x higher for athlete's foot cream than for the identical fungicide in yeast infection creams.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:04 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

My Kuhn Rikon paring knives were absurdly cheap, and seem to hold an edge better than some of my older, more expensive knives.

Oh, and almost anything that Trader Joes sells belongs on this list.

Their cosmetics section is a hidden gem that even most long-time patrons of the store tend to overlook. The "Tea Tree Tingle" shampoo, body wash, and conditioner are all awesome, especially for the price.
posted by schmod at 2:06 PM on July 5, 2012

Off-brand inkjet cartridges. They work just as well as OEM cartridges, and at a fraction of the cost. Pick a brand that has good ratings on Amazon.

One caveat: Some printers won't recognize the cartridge unless there is a microchip attached. Make sure the chip is included, because otherwise you will have to pry one off the old cartridge. I tried doing that, and it's more trouble than it's worth.
posted by aphorist at 10:15 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

IAmBroom: Also, if a medicine has multiple uses, it may be sold at wildly varying prices. The price per gram of active ingredient is sometimes 5-10x higher for athlete's foot cream than for the identical fungicide in yeast infection creams.

Though this is obvious with large- to bulk-purchases vs smaller quantities, it is also true with pet medicines sold for various animal types and sizes. I learned this from a vet who sold us some anti-flea medicine "for large dogs" and gave us a syringe to dole out smaller quantities for our three cats. The price for the large dog quantity and the small cat quantity is close, but the contents scale according to pet size. Of course, read the ingredients, and confer with your vet, but you could save a bundle on some costly medicine.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:56 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is perhaps obvious but most used goods are often ridiculously cheap compared to their brand new counterparts yet differ very little in quality. They can be a bit of a hassle to buy - ebay and craigslist take effort and patience but the savings can be huge. I'm moving and selling everything I own on ebay. People are getting close to mint condition IKEA furniture for about half price. I am unloading antiques that will probably sell for 10-30% of what they sell for antique shops. A drawer full of kitchen utensils for £10? Who cares if they are used, you just saved yourself about £40-60!
posted by srboisvert at 7:34 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kershaw kitchen shears, any digital cables that still work, El Jimador tequila.

I've tried every tequila the liquor store would sell me. At $17 (in Pennsylvania), El Jimador was the price and taste leader for everything except anejo (dark) tequila, where your tastes will vary.
posted by talldean at 10:19 AM on July 11, 2012

You'd be hard pressed to find better coffee than what comes out of an Aeropress or French Press, both of which run $20-$30.
posted by schmod at 2:20 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

DO NOT BUY AN INVICTA WATCH! The company has a terrible reputation among folks who care about watches. This is not price snobbery, it's that invicta is a horrible company that makes horrible products and has terrible horrible no good very bad customer service. Don't become an INVICTIM. There are plenty of high quality watch brands at a more reasonable price point. Get a Seiko Automatic.
posted by percor at 8:33 AM on July 14, 2012

You'd be hard pressed to find better coffee than what comes out of an Aeropress or French Press, both of which run $20-$30.

Seconding this, especially for the Aeropress. This video convinced me to try one, and it's been great. But you still have to buy good coffee beans, and I haven't found cheap good ones yet. Just good ones which fortunately I can afford.

I actually bought the Monoprice earbuds after seeing this post, and they are pretty good. I already owned a different (more expensive) set that I was pretty happy with, and the Monoprice ones were comparable in quality to my amateur ears. I think in the case of the earbuds and the aeropress setup, the common denominator is that they have helped me to experience things (whether it be the different sounds in a recording, or the different flavors in a coffee cup) that I wouldn't otherwise have been able to. So I appreciate this post!
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:13 PM on August 5, 2012

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