What is worth paying a *little* more for?
September 1, 2017 8:20 AM   Subscribe

The other day I bought a bottle of bleach at the market. Normally for this kind of item I'd look for the cheapest generic version. However, the Clorox brand has a no-splash pour spout that works well, and for that my clumsy butt is willing to pay an extra 70-80¢. We've had questions about worthwhile splurges on the higher end. What are some practical* examples of features that are a relatively cheap upgrade?

*What I'm not looking for with this question are more subjective answers, like preferring the taste of a slightly more expensive brand, or splurges like a good piece of chocolate once a week.
posted by Room 641-A to Grab Bag (117 answers total) 147 users marked this as a favorite
I always get Reynolds Wrap foil because it comes off the roll better. I've had issues with cheap foil tearing down the side. I'm not sure what the cost difference is, but the cheap stuff is not worth the frustration.

I read an article once about how Clorox was trying to figure out ways to get people to purchase it because there's a chemical definition of bleach that means that bleach is literally all the same. I think the better spout is worth it. (I guess if you really wanted to save money, you could save the Clorox bottle and pour a cheaper brand into it though.)
posted by FencingGal at 8:28 AM on September 1, 2017 [14 favorites]

I think you're onto something with the packaging. The box of sugar with the little cardboard pourspout, instead of the sack that spills everywhere. The tahini jar with the lid that screws on tight, rather than the jar with the lid that snaps on loosely and then leaks oil all over the cupboard.

Specifically, the Scrubbing Bubbles brand of bathroom cleaner is a tad more expensive but lets you dispense the product even when the can is upside down. I didn't even realize that was a feature until I bought the cheaper Lysol brand that doesn't work upside down.
posted by Liesl at 8:31 AM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

I will pay more for eggs that come in a cardboard carton rather than a styrofoam one.
posted by coppermoss at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2017 [13 favorites]

At Cub, I have noticed that the organic blueberries and strawberries keep longer than the conventional - I assume this has something to do with the big box delivery process rather than an intrinsic property of the berries, but I definitely noticed that the conventional ones would go bad within a day or so and the organic ones would be good for five or six days, so I always pay the extra dollar now.
posted by Frowner at 8:33 AM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Sugar, especially brown sugar, that comes in resealable airtight bags instead of cardboard or paper packaging.

In the laundry vein, if you do laundry outside your actual home and can't just leave the detergent jug on a shelf next to the machines, those pod-style detergents are a back-saver.
posted by lalex at 8:34 AM on September 1, 2017 [14 favorites]

Metal garden hose nozzles are worth the extra $3 bucks.
posted by lstanley at 8:35 AM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

I bought some Target Glide-knockoff floss recently and was surprised to find how much less...glidey it was than the original.
posted by praemunire at 8:36 AM on September 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

Those single-use laundry pods, like this, are more expensive than just buying the same detergent in powder or liquid form, but because it's so easy to internalize "throw one pod in per load" -- rather than having to look at the measuring cup and accidentally put in too much (Mr. BlahLaLa *always* does this) -- so it ends up being more economical in the long run.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I also buy Cascade instead of cheaper dishwasher detergent because it works better. In fact, it works so well, I only use half as much, so it ends of costing less.
posted by FencingGal at 8:40 AM on September 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

Packaging can be such a huge upgrade with cleaning supplies, like people have mentioned. The Clorox spray also has an interesting spray design that allows the very last drops of the product to be used. It also breaks if you open the bottle, so they found a way around people filling the bottle with cheaper product!

I just had this experience with Reddi-wip vs. generic and the Reddi-wip dispenser works SO much better. I use whip cream on a spoon every morning as a medication-delivery vehicle for my son, and I can't wait until the generic stuff is used up so I can buy the better canister!

I also upgraded my jarred pasta sauce to Rao's and the difference is really striking. It's very expensive, so I try to stock up when it is on sale, but the quality difference between it and the standard jar sauce can make or break a meal.
posted by LKWorking at 8:41 AM on September 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

Daisy brand sour cream makes a squeezable pouch that is totally worth an extra 50 cents, as it's a much easier to dispense the right amount and spread it out evenly than glopping spoonfuls over from a tub. So instead of a taco with a little cold glob of sour cream in it that I clumsily try and spread, there's a nice even trail running the length of the taco.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:42 AM on September 1, 2017 [21 favorites]

I buy bin bags that are specifically made for my bin by the same manufacturer (Simple Human). They fit the bin neatly, rarely rip, and the handles never break even when heavily loaded. They're probably double the price of normal unbranded bin bags but worth the expense.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:45 AM on September 1, 2017 [13 favorites]

Dawn brand dishwashing liquid washes 2-3x more dishes than knockoff brands before your sponge runs out.

Also don't buy the double-strength, use-only-half-as-much liquid soaps, whether for dishes, hands or laundry. Your muscle memory will have you squeezing/pouring the same amount you have always used, so you will end up buying it more often.
posted by headnsouth at 8:47 AM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

And Viva paper towels. The cheap ones are hard to use even once. Viva I can rinse and reuse. (I know it's better environmentally to use actually rags, of course, but I'm not there yet.)
posted by FencingGal at 8:50 AM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

The compost bags from the dollar store are not worth it. You'd think, "Why pay more for something that is meant to be discarded in the first place?" And then you will answer that question for yourself when one out of every two bags breaks and leaves a pile of rotting food on the floor.
posted by veggieboy at 8:58 AM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

Drawstring trash bags generally versus tie-flaps (or nothing!).

Oh, and the CVS knockoff of Always Infinity (the foam-style pad) does NOT cut it versus the original. That is not an area in which there is much margin for error. Not sure, though, that the foam-style pad itself represents an improvement over the original, except that it's lighter.
posted by praemunire at 8:59 AM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Dog food. I try to buy the best food for my pup that I can afford. Not necessarily the most expensive brand on the market, but definitely a higher-end brand that is grain-free with the best quality ingredients. I will not feed him stuff made with sawdust and a bunch of other crap. Brands vary.

Actually, my dog eats better than I do a lot of the time.
posted by strelitzia at 9:00 AM on September 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

I've recently switched to using either vinegar and water, or unscented Dr. Bronners for ALL of my soap needs. Hand soap, body soap, dish soap, dog soap, etc. This was prompted by my pregnancy-nose which couldn't tolerate any artificial smells without barfing. I've since kept it up because much to my surprise, vinegar and water or plain old castille soap honestly works just as well as the expensive purpose-designed stuff in disposable containers. Speaking of which I've found the Ms. Myers spray bottles to be the best vehicle for spraying my diy junk. I've been using the same one for over a year and it's still holding strong.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:01 AM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

Men's shoes. Dress shoes, casual, or sneakers, if you spend $100 or more on a pair of shoes, they'll probably last a couple of years with normal care. Spend $50, and you'll be shopping for new shoes in a couple of months. And if you really want to splurge on dress shoes, you can end up with a pair that will last decades.

I don't think most people appreciate the value of a good microwave until they've had to use a bad one.

Baby products (e.g., diapers) are like this. There's an element of personal preference here, but if your baby "likes" a more expensive brand of diapers, it's worth it.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:01 AM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

but if your baby "likes" a more expensive brand of diapers, it's worth it.

Same for cat litter, really. The more expensive stuff also tends to have better packaging, which is great if you have to haul it home. It's good sense to make sure the smallest, loudest members of your household are pooping in comfort.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 9:05 AM on September 1, 2017 [27 favorites]

Men's shoes. Ah yes, the Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory"

Almond milk. The cheapest stuff separates in coffee, which is my main use case.
posted by solotoro at 9:06 AM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

I pay extra for paper towels that come in those smaller rip-off sizes because I usually only need about a third of a paper towel anyhow.
posted by jessamyn at 9:07 AM on September 1, 2017 [51 favorites]

Toilet paper. Folding over the cheap stuff enough times to do the job just isn't worth it compared to buying the good stuff.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:08 AM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Canned tomatoes. You can experiment with whatever brands are available to you to decide where the line of diminishing returns is, but I guarandamntee that the cheapest brand is going to taste like pennies and be full of seeds, so you can safely skip trying it.

Every time I move or my local grocer gets bought out and all the brands change, I have to spend a few weeks trying out new canned tomatoes.
posted by padraigin at 9:08 AM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Once you find feminine products that fit your shape, don't switch, no matter what the coupon says. You'll just find yourself squirming, and who wants that?
posted by happyturtle at 9:08 AM on September 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

Plus Dawn doubles as a grease remover in the laundry.

Riffing on what pintapicasso said, sometimes the packaging is worth more than what's in it. You know foaming soap? The most obvious ripoff in healthandbeautyaid history? Well, one time I had a coupon for foaming face wash, so I got it for free. After I used up the soap foam, I put some Dr. Bronner's in the bottom of the foamer--like barely any--filled it with water, shook it up, and proceeded to use the same container for the next ten+ years. I now have reusable soap foamers at every sink and one in the shower. Makes it easy to follow Dr. Bronner's directive to dilute, dilute, dilute. The smallest size bottle of Dr. Bronners now lasts a year. The soapfoamers last pretty much forever.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:09 AM on September 1, 2017 [40 favorites]

Amen Hallelujah to brown sugar in a good zipper-closing bag.

Of the liquid dishwashing detergents I agree Cascade is worth the price. But I find that if I use capsules (which, the form factor is soooo nice) the Costco brand is fine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:18 AM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Same for cat litter, really.

Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal cat litter is far and away the best cat litter ever, and doesn't cost much more than other clumping litters. Insanely, you can get it delivered for free with Amazon Prime. There is even a Dash button for it. Complete life-changer.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:19 AM on September 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

Closer gas stations. Often you don't even save any money after gas and mileage.

Name-brand floss, as above.

Tide detergent and shout gel pre-treat. Really gets stuff clean and keeps your underwear from turning pink. Easily pays for itself with one saved garment.
posted by wnissen at 9:20 AM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Tape of all types is one of the big ones for me. The good stuff is light years easier to handle, the biggest difference being that you can actually lift it off the roll without tearing it to strips, and tear it across the roll. The 3M stuff might be twice the price, but it's sooo worth it.
posted by firechicago at 9:25 AM on September 1, 2017 [16 favorites]

  • Power tools. If it's something you know you'll use rarely, it's OK to cheap out and buy the Black & Decker (or equivalent wherever you are) tool, but if you'll be using it regularly, go for something better. Simple hand tools like wrenches are fine to cheap out on (not dollar-store cheap though) unless you've got very specific requirements for them.
  • Bikes & bike stuff. The marginal utility you get out of each extra dollar you spend scales linearly to a rather dizzying price for a lot of bike stuff before you get to the point of diminishing returns. I've got a bike jersey from a very fancy company that's over 30 years old. It's still in better shape than my newer and cheaper jerseys. I suspect the same is true for a lot of outdoors/sporting equipment. There is always going to be stuff that is better, but in ways that you don't care about, so you need to apply some judgment.

posted by adamrice at 9:28 AM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

The extra buck you'll pay for Frog Tape over regular masking tape is totally worth it for the extra ease in peeling off later. Similarly, duct/duck tape neither holds as well nor removes as cleanly as Gorilla Tape.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:28 AM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Not only does the broth you get from the $4-5 jars of concentrate from Better Than Bouillon taste better than either broth made from $1-2 powdered bouillon or the $2-4 stuff that comes in cartons, but it's also a better deal because you can keep the jar in your fridge for six months and it won't go bad. It's cheaper per serving, lasts longer, tastes better, takes up less space, and you don't have to buy it as often. Win all around.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:36 AM on September 1, 2017 [49 favorites]

I feel like people sometimes underestimate how much they use an everyday item when thinking about the cost. So for example, some people don't want to spend a little more money on jeans or a bra or bath towels or sheets, but these are things most people use every day or almost every day. I feel like those same people will spend extra money on a dress they wear only to a wedding, for example (because they want to look extra good that day).

Another one is airplane tickets - it's tempting to buy the cheapest ticket you can find but it can really cost when you're traveling at an unpleasant time and thinking "Man, I would pay $100 not to have to get up at 4am today" or whiling away a layover eating expensive bad airport food.
posted by vunder at 9:36 AM on September 1, 2017 [36 favorites]

I buy Scott brand toilet paper because off-brand/generic tends to be very thin (and other brands leave butt lint). I'm willing to go generic on a lot of things, but not here.

Also, sometimes I buy Advil (which is expensive compared to generic ibuprofen) because they use some sort of sweet sugary coating on Advil that gives me like 3 seconds of enjoyment on my tongue before I swallow it, which no generic has.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:50 AM on September 1, 2017 [16 favorites]

Simple hand tools like wrenches are fine to cheap out on

Right up until that Harbor Freight box wrench breaks into 3 pieces and your engine is already disassembled
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:51 AM on September 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

Similarly to foil, paying for name brand cling wrap (whether the thin clingy kind or the thick stretchy kind) is worth it. I got some Gladwrap recently after using generic cling wrap for years and I was like "Holy crap! This stuff actually clings to the bowl!" It cut my frustration with using that stuff in half.
posted by purple_bird at 9:57 AM on September 1, 2017 [15 favorites]

Whole-leaf tea from a specialty retailer costs pennies a cup, and can be re-infused several times. It tastes worlds better than cheap bags, and with significantly less tannin (that dry astringency you feel on over-steeped tea).

Also, gaff tape (aka gaffer's tape) instead of duct tape. It's easier to remove yet more durable.
posted by wnissen at 9:58 AM on September 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

The tubes of tomato paste instead of the cans. Often you only need a tbsp for a recipe and the tubes last for a long time while I have a hard time using up the rest of the can before it goes bad.
posted by carolr at 9:58 AM on September 1, 2017 [34 favorites]

Advil GelCaps. I swear they work faster than any other OTC distribution of ibuprofen, and when I have a headache I will gladly pay more for relief even a couple minutes sooner.

Seconding name-brand saran wrap, tin foil, parchment paper and sandwich bags. The dollar store varieties of each are just generally horrible.

Pre-cut veggies usually save me money. If there's less of a barrier to entry for veggies, I'm more likely to eat them and include them in things. If I have to also chop them, there's a much higher likelihood I'll just skip them and then they'll end up rotting in my fridge, which is just throwing money away.
posted by cgg at 10:02 AM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

I should have mentioned that I'd love to hear examples from all over, not just US-centric items!
posted by Room 641-A at 10:07 AM on September 1, 2017

This may specialized in some ways, but if you have someone in your family who has difficulty getting enough protein, be it a specialized diet or a kid just being a kid, FairLife milk is great. Whereas regular milk will have 6 or 7 grams of protein per serving (8 if you go for the top shelf organic), FairLife has 13 grams per serving. It's also lactose-free, so it's a nice alternative to Lactaid or non-dairy milks. My kid drinks two servings a day, and the difference between that and regular milk has given him as much extra protein as if he'd eaten an extra couple of chicken breasts per week.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:08 AM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

Travel mugs. The no-leak and keep-hot properties just aren't the same with cheap ones...
bed sheets
Wine (within reason)
toilet paper
paper towel
pencil crayons
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:09 AM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ziploc bags with the little slider thingie beat the ones you have to press closed any day.

Markers. RoseArt and no-name brands are not your friend.
posted by wintersweet at 10:11 AM on September 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

I've said it before on AskMe, but never, ever, buy an off-brand pressurized spray product!
posted by jgirl at 10:26 AM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

WC-eend really is better than other toilet cleaners. It's the shape of the bottle. It will still come out the way you want it to, even when the bottle is almost empty. No wonder that shape is patented; fortunately the bottles can be refilled.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:37 AM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm a teacher and in the process of (avoiding) setting up my classroom. This list comes after years of trial and error with cheaper brands:

Kleenex with aloe or Puffs Plus
Crayola colored pencils
Crayola crayons
Ticonderoga #2 pencils
Mr. Sketch scented markers (yes, I often have a little dot at the end of my nose because some of us like to smell them)
Crayola thin markers
Expo pens for the whiteboard
Expo cleaner for the whiteboard (once somebody cleaned it with a Magic Eraser and that was the end of that board)
Magic Erasers for everything except the white board
Mead lined paper with the plastic on the side
Band-Aid bandages
Keurig coffee maker (every year, someone brings in their knockoff version and BOY if you wanna see a bunch of angry teachers at 7 am, make them use a janky coffee machine)
In that vein, only Starbucks or Peets K-cups
Papermate colored felt tip pens in purple or pink for teachers (NEVER RED)
Bic pens for everyone else
Snyders pretzels in the giant tubs for kids
Newman's microwave popcorn
Whatever is the most expensive 3-ring binder at Staples
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:42 AM on September 1, 2017 [19 favorites]

I know many mefites hate this one, but I now pay for those boxes of pre-washed organic greens.

When I have a box of lettuce, we are much more likely to eat salad with our meals, and I'll even pop a handful in my mouth when rooting through the fridge. And we rarely waste any, since we just take what we need from the box without leaving weird bits of wet lettuce. After a hard day of work, it's actually soul crushing to face down a head of lettuce that I need to leaf, rinse, dry, and store the extras, and THEN convince my family to eat it, plus cook the rest of a meal. We eat so many more vegetables when I spend that extra bit.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 10:44 AM on September 1, 2017 [26 favorites]

The holy grail of plastic wrap is food service quality plastic wrap. The rolls are bigger and come with a wonderful little sliding razor slicer that works a million times better than the usual serrated edge. I always get them for free because my dad works in an adjacent industry and often gets a case of them as an office Christmas gift from his plastic wrap supplier, but you can buy them online too.
posted by snaw at 10:51 AM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

I realize I wasn't clear explaining the why of my response. ALL of these products are considerably higher quality than other brands.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:51 AM on September 1, 2017

Relevant to this, my grandfather used to say to me, "Little Augie, sometimes I cannot afford a bargain."
posted by AugustWest at 10:52 AM on September 1, 2017 [22 favorites]

The tubes of tomato paste instead of the cans. Often you only need a tbsp for a recipe and the tubes last for a long time while I have a hard time using up the rest of the can before it goes bad.

Just have to chime in here (since I hate those stupid tubes - they leak). Tomato paste freezes! I put one tablespoon dollops in cling wrap in ice cube trays, freeze them, wrap the cling wrap around them, and store in the freezer in a jar. Lasts for months.
posted by FencingGal at 10:54 AM on September 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

If I drank milk on the regular I'd probably always get the containers with the screw top pour spout because at least 1/4 of the corner spouts get messed up.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

This book light (or similar, I'm sure, this is just the one I own) over the tiny cheap ones you find beside the register at the drugstore. The LED bulbs are warm toned and cast a light that has much less blue in it, so when I use it to read in bed I don't get 'woken up' by the light as though I'm looking at a phone screen. The multiple brightness settings are really useful, and it's big enough to cast a good light over even large hardcovers. The clip is sturdy. I just love this thing. Absolutely worth the extra money.
posted by DSime at 11:08 AM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

As mentioned above, about 2 years ago I decided to forgeo the guilt and just pay more for Ziploc brander slider bags. I know: Greater environmental impact, and greater expense. But goodbye guilt, because they are just so much more effective - they close nicely with no leaks, they're easy to fill with smaller or liquid-ier items because of the "Stand & fill" shape, and they don't tear as often as the cheapie bags. Take my extra $1; I will retain my sanity.

In the last 6 months, we stopped using leftover cottage cheese or yogurt containers for lunch storage and that's also been a lifesaver. I recycled those old standbys and splurged on some Ziploc brand Twist-n-Loc containers, and ye gods they are the best $12 I ever spent - no spills! Easy to open & close! Clean! Clear, so you know what's in which container!

We also buy the SimpleHuman trash can bags because our under-counter trash-can area has unusual dimensions, so our trash can has unusual dimensions, and ergo our trash bags need to have unusual dimensions available only via SimpleHuman. This splurge kind of irks me, so occasionally I buy cheapie trash bags out of irritation at SimpleHuman bin liner prices, and then immediately go back and buy the proper SimpleHuman ones that fit right, don't tear, and don't leak.

(Note: I am not affiliated with Ziploc, just apparently a fan.)
posted by samthemander at 11:09 AM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

Toddler Bravo was on formula for a while, and we immediately discovered that store brand (Target) formula gave him constipation. Simulac was fine. Apparently this is a common thing.

With flavored OTC kid medications, it seems like the name brands are slightly more palatable to kids than the generics. My kid will grimace at liquid Advil, but he gags at liquid generic ibuprofen.

Name brand pasta (like Creamette) cooks better than store brand. Spaghetti noodles are less likely to clump together and create undercooked crunchy parts.
posted by castlebravo at 11:09 AM on September 1, 2017

Using the dry cleaners instead of buying an iron and board and doing it myself.
posted by NoraCharles at 11:10 AM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I agree times a million about Puffs, yes I said yes I will Yes, but are you really saying that Magic Eraser is better than other melamine foam sponges? I've loved every one of those I've ever touched, whoever made it. (I no longer buy them because they dissolve and end up in the water, and I'm worried they're contributing to the microplastics problem that's turning the frogs gay and upsetting Alex Jones. I have a few left over from my last Big Lots blowout where I bought six 3-count boxes or whatever craziness I did, and am only using them on the most intractable schmutz. When I use those up I'm going to cry tears of pure acid pain.) (I also no longer buy Puffs because I discovered that cloth is even easier on the nose. But what would happen if you tried to get 30 five-year-olds to use cloth snotrags? The mere idea is nauseating, so Puffs it must be.)

I love this thread so much! Thank you for the tomato paste in a tube idea and the jarred bouillon idea!
posted by Don Pepino at 11:16 AM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Brand-name frozen vegetables. It can mean the difference between a bowl of 90% broccoli stem chunks with a few tiny, sad florets and 100% giant, lovely broccoli florets.

(Brand-name doesn't seem to make as much of a difference if you are buying the corn-peas-carrots blend where everything is tiny anyway.)
posted by belladonna at 11:21 AM on September 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

I pay extra for the Scott tube-free toilet paper--soft, and I love not having to deal with the stupid cardboard roll at the end!

I also keep baby wipes on hand for random bathroom needs and have found that the generic brands tend to tear more easily and dry out faster than name brands, so I keep refilling with the pricier wipes. Along those lines, Swiffer brand wet swiffs are far hardier and better-smelling than CVS brand.

Krave-brand jerkey is far tastier and worth the extra $0.80 or so over Target brand jerkey.
posted by TwoStride at 11:36 AM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

It takes some effort as well as the cost, but I replaced all of the light switches in my home with motion sensor switches. It's the best.
posted by Shanda at 11:42 AM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding proper power tools, and proper hand tools, esp. those with proper handles.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:46 AM on September 1, 2017

Trash bags!

I had a cheap brand rip open on me one time while I was taking it out. Never again.

The added cost of $4 / year for quality garbage bags will not in my lifetime add up to the amount I'd pay to not have to clean up contents of a week's-worth of garbage all over the street in the middle of a rainstorm.
posted by slagheap at 11:49 AM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

I see your bleach suggestion and raise you *gel* bleach. I am incredibly clumsy and our washer's bleach compartment is at eye level and awkward and my husband refuses to buy anything but a bargain gallon of bleach so....he has his bleach and I have mine, which CANNOT SPLASH and he thinks I'm insufferably extravant but I figure if I save one pair of pants or the carpet by doing it my way I'm good for that extra buck fifty or whatever a bottle.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:57 AM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I know nobody else will admit to drinking instant coffee, so I speak for the ashamed: Via is so much better than any other brand. The pouches are the right size and the coffee tastes one million times better.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:11 PM on September 1, 2017 [18 favorites]

Thanks! I don't generally drink coffee, but I've considered keeping some instant around for the occasional guest suffering withdrawal, and that's a good thing to know.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:34 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Medaglia D'oro is the instant coffee for me. I think it's better than Via And I buy real club soda of any brand over store-brand.
posted by kerf at 12:45 PM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Wine is another good one. Basically all wine that costs less than $5 is the same. It's all coming from the the same basic regions, same winemaking, etc. So just buy whatever's on sale. But if you spend $15 and shop carefully you can get distinctive, interesting wines.

Also ditto Puffs Plus with aloe. If you have a bad cold it is the difference between misery and adequacy.
posted by wnissen at 12:52 PM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

OMG, yes. $10-20 is an amazing sweet spot for wines. It's noticeably better than (or at least distinct from) the two buck chuck tier of wine, but diminishing returns kick in very quickly above that price point.

You'll pry my $15 Portuguese wines from my cold, dead hands.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:00 PM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Garden tools. Once you have had trowels and hand-rakes break in half or bend into a new, useless shape when working with anything other than soft potting soil from the bag, you realize a few extra bucks per tool will save you from a frustrating and curse-filled day in the garden.
posted by quince at 1:13 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know nobody else will admit to drinking instant coffee, so I speak for the ashamed: Via is so much better than any other brand. The pouches are the right size and the coffee tastes one million times better.

Via is great for traveling. It's better than most those drip coffee packs they offer in middling motels.
posted by vunder at 1:17 PM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

A metal litterbox scooper is so much nicer to use than a plastic one.

I never buy cheap socks or underwear.
posted by AFABulous at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Sorry to be redundant, but I have to reiterate the two things I always spend more money than seems reasonable, yet it pays off. Dog food and shoes. My dogs eat a bit more than half of the good (Blue Buffalo, Premium Edge, etc) food than they do cheaper, but still low-on-corn varieties, so it ends up costing about the same in the end, but with much smaller poop volume to pick up in the yard.

As far as shoes go, for the first 20 years of my life I only bought cheap or mass market cheaply made but overly expensive shoes. Over 10 years ago I bought a few pair of Ecco shoes. I wear one particular pair far more than. The others and only in the last 6 months have they started to get ratty and having the sole begin to detach. It was $400 to $500 worth of shoes all in one go, but even if I toss them all and buy replacements for all three I'll still be at $40-$50 a year in shoe expense. Even the first pair I bought that I literally wore every day until they wore out lasted 4 or 5 years and were still fine functionally but we're getting unprofessionally beat up. I also love that they are also some of the most comfortable shoes that exist. Strongly recommend if they agree with your feet.
posted by wierdo at 1:30 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Quilted Northern toilet paper and Viva paper towels. Both are pricier but last longer and are more efficient.

True soap, like soap-soap as opposed to 'bath bars'. I buy South of France but there are others -- a bar lasts three times longer than the Dove Manly Man soap Mr. Llama buys.

In terms of cosmetics--foundation--worth an extra forty dollars if you a) use it and b) are over forty and c) like it.


Quality pet food.

Buying two of things if you have an upstairs and downstairs. Like we have a $125 vacuum cleaner that seems nice to me. It's lightweight, easy to deal with. I wish we had bought two. Why not? Probably just extends the life span of a single one and it would have been preferable to lugging the thing up and down and we'd be vacuuming more.

Similarly for multiple bathrooms: multiple bottles of Windex, paper towels, and cleanser in each makes cleaning a lot more likely than 'walk down and grab those things from under the kitchen sink.' For some reason I always feel like 'one' is the right number of bottles of Windex but it's really = number of places you are likely to use Windex if you're living in a non-compact set of conditions.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:33 PM on September 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

Once you find feminine products that fit your shape, don't switch, no matter what the coupon says. You'll just find yourself squirming, and who wants that?

Yeah, off-brand pads are plasticky and gross and get really uncomfortable. Kotex is the way to go.

And seconding everyone who says SimpleHuman, but I'd add not just for the bags, also for literally any waste receptacle in your home; it's weird that there's like a Cadillac of garbage cans but they're seriously That Good.
posted by capricorn at 1:33 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

The refrigerated tubes of herbs that you can just squeeze out (ginger, garlic, lemongrass) and refrigerated chopped freeze dried herbs instead of the dry ones. While the fridge ones still aren't as good as fresh, they are great for quick meals and don't resemble party confetti.

We realllllly try not to eat too much junk food, but when we have a hankering for chips and dips we get the brand name ones. They taste like the finest junky goodness. Store brand probably doesn't get that proprietary chemical blend of crap correct. Along the junk food vein: land o lakes American cheese is the best fake cheese. Nothing like the taste of real fake cheese on junk food day. Can you tell junk food day is tomorrow from this post?! It's been a long ass week of not cheating on ye olde diet.
posted by floweredfish at 1:50 PM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also: running socks. Springing for the seamless dry wick Feetures brand has saved my feet.

Ob tampons.

We used to get blue buffalo dog food until our dogs spent two weeks with a sitter who ended up feeding the trader joes dog food on accident (dog sitting food mix up). Now they will only eat TJs dog food and turn their noses at other food. Cheap, cute bastards.
posted by floweredfish at 2:01 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

nthing dish soap! Oh god, dish soap. For awhile I was living in a shared house where cash was tight for pretty much everybody, so everything was Tesco Everyday Value. I swear to God, I would use half the bottle of washing up liquid to do the dishes. (I did most of the dishes. It was a challenging environment.) I finally declared that I would buy the stuff, bought a couple bottles of Fairy, and the difference instantaneous and kind of startling.

Also when I started buying reasonably nice bras (in the $40-$60 range), after getting properly fitted, my life changed. Same for bralettes in approximately that price range. (Sales and Nordstrom Rack are my best friends.) Ditto comfy knickers that fit and nice socks that do not come in packs of a billion for $3.
posted by kalimac at 2:06 PM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh yes, Darn Tough socks. I have pairs I've probably worn 500 times over more than 7 years and still going strong and comfortable.
posted by meinvt at 2:11 PM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


The cheapest possible tools make the work unpleasant, and the results less good.
posted by talldean at 2:22 PM on September 1, 2017

Via instant coffee is great for the office and camping but it RULES SUPREME when making ice cream.
posted by wenestvedt at 2:37 PM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

The cheapest possible tools make the work unpleasant, and the results less good.

omg knives, KNIVES. Good kitchen knives make prepping food about a thousand times more pleasant, even pleasurable, and probably save me money because it's less of a chore to cook. They don't have to be insanely expensive and you don't need a whole block.
posted by lalex at 2:40 PM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

With flavored OTC kid medications, it seems like the name brands are slightly more palatable to kids than the generics. My kid will grimace at liquid Advil, but he gags at liquid generic ibuprofen.

posted by castlebravo at 2:09 PM on September 1 [+] [!]

Seconding this. I've confirmed it by sampling them myself.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:44 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Q-tips Cotton Swabs.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:07 PM on September 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

This person gets it
posted by Rock Steady at 3:51 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Dishwasher pods. I thought these were a scam or a pointless waste of packaging, but I realized that my dishwasher detergent measurement skills were lacking. Either I didn't use enough and the dishes weren't completely clean, or gravity got the best of me and I poured way too much--and either way is a waste of detergent. Dishwasher pods make it so much easier to just put in exactly the right amount without making a mess. I wait for the gazillion-count box to go on sale at Costco, and it lasts several months.
posted by Autumnheart at 3:51 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am going to disagree with Rock Steady and say The World's Best Cat Litter is the world's best cat litter. It clumps, it does not stick to any litterbox, and the lavender scented one is particularly pleasant smelling. It's worth the extra money.
posted by wittgenstein at 3:52 PM on September 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

I buy Republic of Tea and not Stash. The RoT is just much better.
posted by kerf at 4:37 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Rubbermaid has a Premier line of food storage containers that is far superior to the regular stuff.
posted by AFABulous at 6:23 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

For heartburn, Alka-Seltzer dissolves more quickly and more completely than generic (and also it's more instantly effective than Tums or whatever). And as other people have mentioned, Cascade pods are better than powder (both in convenience and effectiveness).

And for an upgrade that's not quite as simple but that can be effective, better memory cards for a digital camera are usually worth it. The problem is that there's a list of exceptions (where one camera doesn't play nice with one particular card, for example, or where a cheap camera also has a cheap card interface so it's just always slow no matter how fast a card you buy) so this isn't an easy win. So, like, for my camera I buy the gold SanDisk Extreme Plus, which is better and faster than the silver SanDisk Ultra (which is faster than the standard blue SanDisk cards), but I don't bother with the really expensive black SanDisk Extreme Pro, because my camera can't take advantage of that one's extra write speed. And when we bought a dash cam for a road trip I found out that SanDisk cards were more or less incompatible with it, so I had to buy a nice Lexar card instead. (Also we ended up returning the dash cam because it was terrible).
posted by fedward at 6:25 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

OXO anything is almost always better than the everyday brand. The silicone pancake turner is much better than a regular plastic one. Same with my pizza cutter.

Dissenting opinion on cat litter: Scoop Away is better than Arm & Hammer (and either cheaper or the same price).
posted by AFABulous at 6:27 PM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

We just got the Dyson vacuum after using a $40 DirtDevil for two years, and I swear to the sweet heavens that I have never seen our rugs and carpet so clean. I accidentally had it on max mode for the first two times I used it, and was legitimately shocked at how good the suction was (but then disappointed at how briefly the battery lasted). Still works awesome when it's off of max mode. Have been getting up ten minutes earlier for the past two days to just vacuum random stuff before I go to work (sofa cushions, random corners in my hallway, etc.). Expensive ($250+), but the feeling of holding, in a can in your hand, so much of the dust and crap that used to be in your home's fabrics = worth it.
posted by vacuumsealed at 6:56 PM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Arrowhead-brand pencil erasers last longer and erase better than the cheap ones.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:03 PM on September 1, 2017

Bath towels. A good fluffy towel just adds a certain delight to the whole shower process and makes you feel like a human being worthy of a bit of luxury body care. Actually, now that I think of it - all the routine household textiles like dish cloths and dish towels, it's really worth spending a bit extra for quality; they last longer and work better.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:22 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry - this is probably not fittingng the low cost splurge intent of the thread -.....

Membership at a boutique/studio gym costs me twice as much as the y - I attend easily three times as much and probably more...and I am actually enthused about it, rather than 'swallowing my medicine'.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:14 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ultra-pasteurized milk that lasts much longer. Usually I find that the certified organic milk also happens to be ultra-pasteurized and has sell-by dates that are literally 3-4 weeks longer than the cheaper milk.

Since I don't drink very much milk, the ability to get a half gallon that lasts ~6 weeks pays for itself (cheaper per ounce than a quart, plus avoids wasting spoiled milk).
posted by reeddavid at 11:01 PM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Mr. Clean Magic Erasers over the generic ones. I wanted to believe there wasn't a difference, but there is.

Cape Cod brand potato chips.

Kerrygold butter. I can't even eat other butters now, they all taste like Crisco.

Fage yogurt. Full fat, too, not 2% or 0%.

Promised Land Dairy heavy cream for coffee.

Name brand sour cream, not store brand. But check the ingredients; I discovered that store brands often contain gelatin or thickeners.

This mop, plus several extra covers. The head is much larger than most mops so it covers a larger area and mopping goes much faster. You wet it once and mop; you don't have to keep dipping and wringing it out. I use a fresh cover for each room. When you're done, you toss the covers in the washing machine.

Handmade soaps/glycerin soap. Store bought soap is actually detergent, and dries out your skin. Handmade soap leaves your skin much softer, and smells better, too.

Ginger beer instead of ginger ale.

A dustpan with a rubber lip on the edge. You don't have to keep resweeping that thin line of dirt that never wants to go into the dustpan.

DKNY bras. They're not insanely expensive, but much better than, say, the brands they sell in Target, etc.

L'Oréal hair color, if you do your own. Although L'Oréal has ethical problems. :(

Thai Kitchen brand coconut milk/coconut cream.

Penzey Spices

Tamal brand masa for tamales. And Armour for lard. And the corn husks that seem insanely expensive, like $8 a bag, are much easier, larger, and more consistent in size.

The garlic with the purple stripes.

Ba-Tampte pickles.

Boars Head deli products, unless you're in a place that makes their own.

Katz Coffee Velvet Espresso coffee beans. But only the Velvet Espresso or the decaf espresso. Their other coffees, not so much.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:49 AM on September 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

Penzey Spices

Ha! I was just about to mention Penzys, because even if you don't notice or really care about the quality, they have monthly specials where they give away full sizes of the featured spice, often for free (walk-in, or for shipping and handling via post) and often stack other offers for minimal purchases. I think one month I got $18 worth of spices for $5. Plus, they are as good an example of responsible and caring corporate responsibility as you can find. Sign up for their emails or catalog for the offers and Bill Penzy's words of empathy for, and anger on behalf of, the victims of Donald Trump.

Ba-Tampte pickles

The half-sours!
posted by Room 641-A at 3:14 AM on September 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

Sarawak black peppercorns. They are a fair bit more expensive than normal peppercorns but you don't use all that much at a time. They have more of an aromatic punch than standard pepper but are no hotter.
posted by hawthorne at 4:34 AM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can I say that I appreciate Trader Joe's for finding a lot of this stuff for me? And I just blindly kind of shop there now, because I have grown to trust them to find stuff that's just a little better for just a little more (sometimes after seeing products there that I already buy, and other times by trying stuff out and being satisfied).
posted by wenestvedt at 6:52 AM on September 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

The pregnancy test recommended by The Sweet Home is shaped so you are less likely to pee on your hand while using it.
posted by kat518 at 12:56 PM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Good kitchen knives […] don't have to be insanely expensive

The best nakiri-style knife I've used is the one I picked up at an Asian grocery for seven bucks: Kiwi brand from Thailand are stainless steel, sturdy, easy to sharpen and feel great in the hand.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:37 PM on September 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's worth paying a little more for Heinz ketchup that comes in the bottles that sit upside down in the fridge. Not waiting for your ketchup to slide down to the bottom of a normal squeeze bottle when it's only a quarter full is a valuable consideration.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:44 PM on September 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm a fan of Aldi, and though I was initially excited to discover that their bagged, chopped salads were three dollars cheaper than name brands, I also discovered that the exclude any of the fancier ingredients--nuts, blue cheese, even bacon.

Disagree about the tubes of herbs, but only because my mother taught me a useful trick: buy a big bunch of fresh dill or parsley or whatever when you can find it, wrap it in a paper towel, and stick it in your freezer. Tastes better than any premade product. Lasts seemingly forever.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:15 PM on September 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Lurpak butter. Sorry to blaspheme, but it's better than Kerrygold. Sooooo good.

And confirming that, having used it in multiple countries, World's Best Cat Litter really is the world's best. It galls me slightly to pay that much for something to get pooped on, but you can't beat it.
posted by sldownard at 1:24 AM on September 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

> Greek yogurt. The cheapest "green style" yogurt at my local store (Greek Gods) has less than half the protein of the other (more expensive!) kinds, like Fage or Chobani

Whoa, you're right. I tend to buy whatever Greek whole milk yoghurt is on sale or catches my eye, so I went to the fridge to check what I had in there. The Strauss (which is the most delicious and most expensive) has twice the protein that the Greek Gods one does.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:06 PM on September 3, 2017

Plastic storage containers or material of any kind. The cheap stuff will do the job, sure, but not for long, and more of it will end up in landfill quicker. This includes "plastic" (saran or Glad etc.) wrap.

Better to go some other material altogether, of course, but if it has to be plastic, don't let it be discount store plastic.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:23 PM on September 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm still totally in love with the Mamison rubber gloves for dishwashing/cleaning that I bought a month ago. I read this article on them and decided to give them a shot.

Everything written is true: They are thick rubber gloves that insulate from hot water, the palms and fingers have numerous bumps so that dishes and cups don't slip out of your hands, and the gloves are long enough that water will not get anywhere near your wrists or forearms.

They are $5 on Amazon, but I found a Korean supermarket close by that sells them for $2.50 a pair.
posted by FJT at 10:35 AM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

My mother taught me to never be cheap with makeup, shoes or underwear. I don't wear makeup so I have switched that one out for fresh ground peanut butter. Not to stir up controversy but I love it so much more than the sugar added jar variety.
posted by anya32 at 11:35 AM on September 4, 2017

FJT, those gloves make me sad. I have weirdly big wrists*, and now that I'm a rubber glove convert I have such a problem finding gloves that fit and I'm stuck getting men's gloves from the industrial cleaning aisle at the local restaurant supply place. They're actually good, fine gloves, but my fingers swim in them and I drop stuff. I bet those gloves are great but I'm sure they wouldn't fit. I'd definitely pay a premium for gloves that fit right.

*I'm legit big boned!
posted by Room 641-A at 3:29 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's definitely more than "a little" more expensive, but good bras (that are professionally fitted) are really worth it. Both regular and sports bras.
posted by radioamy at 5:01 PM on September 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Buy the most expensive trash bags you can find and it will change your life for the better.

I recommend at the very least the ones from Simple Human
posted by rudhraigh at 6:24 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

At the drugstore, when you get any kind of medicated cream or ointment--yes, the store brand has the same active ingredient, but it's so worth paying a few bucks extra for the name brand because the "carrier substance" (whatever you call it) is so much nicer. Smoother, less greasy, no weird fragrances, believe me it's worth it.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:26 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

An upgrade to eyeglass CRIZAL lenses is worth it. (And don't let an optician talk you out of it. It happened to me twice. They must work on commission or something.)
posted by sweatyone at 11:25 AM on September 7, 2017

Pre-shredded cabbage. Currently in my area 99¢/lb whole, $1-ishforn10 oz.

I don't eat a lot of cabbage, but sometime I get on a kick where I'll make a lot of quick Chinese food, or Hawaiian salad for a few days. So unless I need a bunch for a particular recipe I'll get a bag or two of pre-shredded. TJs is always fresh and crisp. This is the only pre-cut veggies I buy, but otherwise I have to schlep a whole (or maybe half) a cabbage in my cart on the train or bus, and then shredding it my small kitchen means either dirtying the food processor or having cabbage flying all over the place. And even though it keeps for a long time it takes up a lot of room in my fridge.

This one's a little different, because it's something I buy versus not buying it at all: little paper Dixie Cups for the bathroom. Glass is a hard no, I'm just to clumsy. Plastic is eh because I hate the way dirty glasses look, it's like dirty bathroom mirrors. I'm also too lazy to wash them all the time. So I used to go without and just scoop up water with my palm. Then one day I decided that I'm was 50 years old with a teeny, tiny carbon footprint and I could indeed afford that little civility in my life.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:14 PM on September 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just keep telling yourself that, you walking eco-nightmare.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:33 PM on September 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

These are all great, everyone! Keep them coming if you think of anything. I used favorites to mark the answers I will start using immediately.

I put Via coffee in my earthquake go bag.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:19 AM on September 8, 2017

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