Recommendations for slightly-nicer-than-cheap things!
June 25, 2019 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Suppose you're someone for whom money has always been short, and you've generally lived a pretty low-frills lifestyle. Not broke, but pretty frugal, i.e. few name-brand pantry items, downmarket tech, clothes bought at discount outlets. Now you've started coming into just a bit more money. Nothing too serious, but enough that you can afford to treat yourself to nicer things once in a while. What kinds of everyday things is it worth spending just a bit more to buy?

Illustrative example: I've always purchased shoes at DSW or Payless or some other discount outlet. I just walk in and look for something more-or-less comfortable in the $60 range. And today I bought a really comfortable pair of shoes for $120. It's the first time I've ever spent more than $100 on shoes and I'm still having trouble letting go of the guilt I feel for spending that much. But you guys? I'm in my fucking shoes ALL DAY, and it SUUUUUCKS. My feet constantly feel terrible! And my new shoes FEEL SO MUCH BETTER and I feel a ton of relief.

So what other things cost a bit more but are totally worth the expense?
posted by duffell to Work & Money (50 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
If you have breasts, and particularly if you are well-endowed, a well-fitted, high quality bra is so very worth it.

The abrathatfits subreddit is a great place to start for sizing. I originally got fitted to good effect at an Intimacy boutique, but there are a lot of independent shops that specialize in bra fitting as well. Avoid Victoria’s Secret.
posted by jeoc at 7:46 PM on June 25, 2019 [21 favorites]

And I just looked at your profile and see that this information is likely not relevant to you!! But perhaps others can benefit.

So another suggestion: good quality socks. I prefer wool, some people like Bombas, but either way really nice socks will elevate your shoe experience to the next level.
posted by jeoc at 7:48 PM on June 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Tires. Right around the third-cheapest tires seem to be substantially better tires than the bottom two options.

(I actually find the third-cheapest anything is often the best bang-for-buck in the non-luxury range. And second-cheapest wine at the bar/restaurant.)
posted by Lyn Never at 7:51 PM on June 25, 2019 [14 favorites]

Good rain/outdoor gear. Like umbrellas, rain jackets etc. The difference in quality and performance is well worth the difference in price.
posted by supermedusa at 7:52 PM on June 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Nicer chocolate. It doesn't have to be too nice, but better than the cheap stuff. I did a taste test for my birthday with friends and the $2 Aldi bar won the most votes.
posted by Alison at 7:54 PM on June 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Also a good mattress. If you have back or other body issues the right bed is essential.
posted by supermedusa at 7:56 PM on June 25, 2019 [12 favorites]

Shoes that fit you perfectly and have a look that you like-- also having more than one pair of shoes.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:57 PM on June 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

Ha, before I read down I was 100% going to say shoes that cost between 100-150 are usually a serious step up in quality and not just a fancy name. They’ll probably feel good for twice as long too. Good snow boots or rain boots too, if you live in a relevant climate. I loooove walking through slushy puddles like a tough mofo.

Food. Fresh instead of prepackaged, a nice loaf of bread from a bakery instead of a regular sliced sandwich loaf, cheese from the fancy cheese counter, those yogurts that have a layer of cream on top. The nice thing about the extra expense of food is that you can adjust it up or down pretty easily from week to week depending on budget.

I have a wool blanket woven from local sheep’s wool that I spent a lot of money on (for me) and I use it all the time and it is one of my favorite possessions. It is so much nicer than a polarfleece throw and like the shoes it’s probably going to look good for a lot longer too . Natural fibers in general are a good investment.

We didn’t buy the bottom-rung dishwasher when our old one crapped out, and it is so quiet and effective and easy to maintain.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:58 PM on June 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

Oddly, brand name graham crackers are so much better than store brands. (In the United States, anyway. I can’t speak for similar crackers of other countries with any authority.)
posted by corey flood at 8:02 PM on June 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

Anything that comes into close contact with your skin - underwear, bath towels and bedsheets especially. It's hard to beat the feel of good quality percale sheets. Decent bed pillows would be near the top of the list too. Also footwear. Next would be a good mattress.

For me, good cheeses are totally worth it too.
posted by theory at 8:03 PM on June 25, 2019 [11 favorites]

Shoes are absolutely the first thing for this, yes. Added to that, two pairs of shoes for most weather conditions, so you can swap them out and let them fully dry if they get gross or sweaty, will let your $150 boots last much much longer than if you wore them every day. Seen here in Pratchett's eternal wisdom in Sam Vime's Boots Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness.

My other big thing that I will never skimp on is toilet paper. No single ply shall been seen in my house! No sir! We all of us deserve a pleasant bathroom experience.
posted by Mizu at 8:09 PM on June 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you live somewhere with snow, a good quality winter coat (and other gear if you spend a lot of time outside).

Nice bread from a bakery instead of cheap blah bread from the grocery score. Steaks for the BBQ (get a bbq if you don't have one!)

Treat coffees (or teas) from coffee shops that are delicious and milky, lattes and the like.

Seconding a good mattress, that makes such a difference!!
posted by DTMFA at 8:11 PM on June 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Good food storage containers, fancy travel mug or water bottles.

Good pans and knives if you cook; also a nice wallet or purse or hat.

Basically upgrade the basic stuff you use every day to a higher quality and you will be pleased every day for a long time.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:12 PM on June 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

Two entirely different categories:

First, if you cook, buy spices that are fresh and/or otherwise high quality. Beyond a few basic techniques, the secret to making good, good food is to use high-quality, fresh ingredients. Same goes for meat, fish, produce, etc., but everyone uses spices from vegans to carnivores.

Second, and I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for, but buy many backups of common household items: pens, pencils, scissors, screwdrivers, that kind of thing. And then leave them in every place in the house where you might need that item. When I was growing up we had one pair of dull shears; every time anyone wanted to use it, you had to trudge across the house, but then maybe someone else misplaced it, etc. Now we have like 6 pairs of scissors. It seemed like such an extravagance at first but that probably cost $20 and now a decade later, I still have scissors at hand whenever I need them.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 8:47 PM on June 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you’ve been using the cheap toilet paper, stop. The good stuff is totally worth it.
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:51 PM on June 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh, and the good paper towels, too. Cheap paper products just don’t work well.
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:52 PM on June 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Cheap paper products just don’t work well.

YES, SO MUCH THIS. I have a particular aversion to wet paper (pilling, etc.), so I'm not saying this is rational, but the extra couple dollars on paper goods is very worthwhile to me. Also--and this is free--switching to rags for most cleanup tasks. When a t-shirt or towel wears down to the point of being unusable, I cut medium-sized squares out of the fabric and use those for kitchen spills, wiping down surfaces, etc., and store the dirties in a basket under our kitchen sink. It works great, there's no nasty wet paper stuff, and it's less wasteful than just using a paper towel for everything.

And a +1 for shoes in the $100 range. Danskos or Birkenstocks every day, no back pain, no foot pain, and you get years of wear out of each pair.
posted by witchen at 9:14 PM on June 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you cook, getting good, but not absolutely top kitchen tools will surprise you with how much easier it gets to do certain things (chopping, browning food, stir-frying, etc.). A good chef's knife, utility knife, and cutting board makes cutting things much more fun. Doesn't need to be top of the line, just good quality.
posted by drossdragon at 9:34 PM on June 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

In the kitchen:

- tongs can grip things much more securely than big chopsticks
- a clad skillet and then a clad saucier. A saucier is the one with the bigger radius where the wall meets the bottom, so called because your sauce won't stick and burn because you can't get a whisk into the sharp angle.
- If you make cookies, dumplings, or anything else that requires repetitive portioning, a food disher makes things so much better. Note that you must get the kind where you squeeze the entire handle, and where there's a metal hinge, not a "living hinge" of flexible plastic. The first is to reduce hand fatigue; the second is to improve durability.
- Lots of identical tupperware. I like redditainers for 0.5L and 1L storage. They share the same lid. They cost 50? cents apiece. I have them stacked up by the dozen.

All of these things you can live perfectly fine without, but having them just makes everything easier every time.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:55 PM on June 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Experiment with pens. Ballpoint pens run out basically never, and even expensive ballpoints or gel pens (or even cheap fountain pens if you're so inclined and pushing the boat out) cost nothing very much, so you're spending cents a day tops for writing happiness. It's a petty thing that gives me pleasure. (I'm a fine tip gel pen person and hate hate hate crap ballpoints even over pencils.) The paper also matters, and weighty writing paper is not that much more than cheap toilet roll from the drugstore given how long it takes to use it, even if it's your shopping list you're writing.

Computer mice, ditto. Fancy keyboards are pricy, but non shitty mice are less than $30 to get into the non hand cramping wireless ones that know where they are, and they just keep going. (I also hate apple magic mice despite the price, having used other people's, so shop wisely. A certain kind of $20 Logitech is my go to.)
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 9:58 PM on June 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

Minor upgrade: I buy the more expensive drugstore shampoos and conditioners (eg $10 a bottle instead of $5 a bottle). But I do splurge for actual salon styling products. They last a long time and work better than the drugstore kind in my experience.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:15 PM on June 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fitted sheets - one of the few things where, IME, the quality is directly proportional to the price. These are European pricings but: 10 Euro (for a single one person mattress, not king or queen sized) gives you thin sheets that pill the first time you wash them and get holes within half a year. 40 Euro: Heavy, smooth feel, lasts practically forever.

Everything to do with beds.

Mattresses and pillows (we love memory foam).
posted by Omnomnom at 11:32 PM on June 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Puffs tissue. If you have allergies or a cold, you can blow your nose relatively hard, and not worry about it tearing through the tissue.

Brawny paper towels. I live by myself, and can get at minimum, at least 4 different uses out of a single sheet. They fold and refold, without tearing.

Locally-made, preservative-free bread. I love my local sourdough, that has only water, flour, salt, yeast and sourdough starter listed as the ingredients.
posted by invisible ink at 12:21 AM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

a good mattress

Did somebody say mattress? After years sleeping on cheap mattresses, a good mattress was the first thing I bought when I started my new, permanent, job. Best $1k I ever spent. OMG! One thousand dollars! On a mattress!

Worth every cent.
posted by Thella at 1:32 AM on June 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Egyptian Cotton bath towels, nice sheets (not just brand name). If you were in the UK I'll point you over to Sleep and Soak.

One good knife. I mean, I used to buy the cheapy £2 knives from Ikea, which was so blunt that I would be practically sawing meat. When I started my first job, I bought just ONE good knife and it made me so happy. The knife actually slices through the meat! Who knew that?? You can go crazy and buy a whole set, but you can get started on one beautiful sharp knife that you use for most things and see how it goes.
posted by moiraine at 3:40 AM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been beaten to shoes and wool socks, so - Local honey from a beekeeper and craft beer. If you are a slippers-wearer a pair of wool ugg boots are the best. And good jeans (not really expensive ones, but a pair of good Levi's etc) have much better denim than your cheap ones.

I also have a set of stemless wine glasses that I use as regular drinking glasses and they make me feel fancy.
posted by cholly at 4:24 AM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you want stuff that lasts, there's a decent subreddit for that called r/BuyItForLife.
posted by Harald74 at 4:25 AM on June 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you menstruate, the difference between the cheap disposable menstrual products and the fancy ones that cost a couple bucks more per package is astonishing. Always Infinity was game-changing for me. IT FEELS SO DRY AND COMFORTABLE EVEN AFTER 8+ HOURS.
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:31 AM on June 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am in a place where I no longer skimp on body wash and facial care products (moisturizer, lotion, etc.) and feel very happy about that.
posted by hijinx at 5:24 AM on June 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

If I were you, my order of business would be:

1. Alleviate repetitive stress on the body (e.g. better shoes, better mattress)

2. Make body healthier (e.g. if you have trouble working out currently, join an exercise class or hire a personal trainer)

3. Save every extra penny for travel, hobbies, concerts, or other experiences

When you are very old, the two things you will appreciate the most are a sound body and good memories.
posted by MiraK at 6:13 AM on June 26, 2019 [13 favorites]

Anything you use multiple times a day or for a long period regularly.

Kitchen Knives. A $35 Victorinox is going to last you years & is used by Chefs the world over, they might own fancier knives but that's the work horse they're going to turn to & have 20 years from now still in their knife roll. When my Chef Dad passed he still had his one it had been honed & sharped so much it looked more like a filleting knife than a Chefs knife & it still was going strong & it's now in my kitchen still being used.

Food, oh lord food is worth paying extra for to get better than lowest quality. The difference between cheap & good is so worth it. Specially for meat & produce.
posted by wwax at 6:42 AM on June 26, 2019

Yes, look at the things you use every day. I make a point of it that if I am using an object every day, it should bring me joy, not just utility. So:

* A nice toothbrush, not just what's on sale
* A good comb - I bought a horn one on Amazon for surprisingly cheap and it's so much nicer than my plastic combs
* The perfect lip balm
* A hand mirror shaped like a donut that's squishy
* Great shoes, but you have that covered
* Do you write with a pen? Get ones that you like that are easy to write with

Etc., etc. Any time you have a sticking point in your day ("These plastic bags hurt my hands when I carry heavy things home from the grocery store"), look at it and see how you can improve it with a quality item ("I will make or buy nice totes I can reuse for groceries"). Bonus is that often once you've leveled up that object, it's more sustainable.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:57 AM on June 26, 2019

When it comes to generic vs. store-brand, I find that it really matters when it comes to things with adhesive qualities: band-aids, scotch-tape, masking tape, sticky notes.
posted by taltalim at 7:35 AM on June 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have bad feet and upgraded from soft-bottom moccasins to these Romika slippers with arch support for around-the-house wear and my feet are much happier.

I am a side sleeper and I toss and turn a lot; I used to wake up with a sore neck pretty often. I asked for a buckwheat pillow for Christmas and I love it so, so much.

I bought a pretty handmade mug that is JUST MINE at a local craft fair that is so much nicer to use than any other mug I have.
posted by SeedStitch at 7:40 AM on June 26, 2019

Furniture you like instead of utilitarian whatever furniture will make you feel differently, in a nice way, about your living space. Ikea has nice things but I had defaulted to all Ikea and then started making enough to buy the occasional nice vintage piece and now live among things I find beautiful.
posted by Smearcase at 7:54 AM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Coffee. The slightly more expensive stuff makes Folgers taste like wet cardboard.

Sheets. 100% cotton bedding in so much nicer to sleep on.

Cat food. The stuff without grain and other fillers is better for your cat, decreases shedding, and makes poops less stinky.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:26 AM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Threshold brand Performance sheet sets from Target regularly goes on sale for under $50 and is great quality.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:28 AM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I agree with a lot of this (and would second knives, coffee, chocolate, and towels). I'll add -- door hardware, well installed. The lowest end locksets are so much worse than the ones that cost just a bit more. You lock and unlock your door several times a day. Having a loose handle and needing to do a lot of jiggling to get the key in are constantly annoying. Having a key that slides smoothly right in and having the handle feel solid as you turn it are daily pleasures.
posted by slidell at 8:35 AM on June 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Amazon Basics stuff is generally (I'm sure there are exceptions) in the "basic but better than the cheapest" category for me.
posted by curious_yellow at 10:05 AM on June 26, 2019

I think having clothes tailored is really worth it for good-quality garments. Shortening pants, skirts, dresses; changing sleeve length; altering the waist; adjusting tank-style tops where arm holes are too big or neckline is too low. It's really great in cases where someone has to buy a larger size to accommodate shoulders or bust or hips, and the waist of the garment is too big. For me, tailoring means I wear the item more, reducing the cost per wearing.
posted by wryly at 11:23 AM on June 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

N-thing a good coat or winterjacket. Years ago I bought a tres in one parka (Patagonia) because I commute per bicycle all year long (had to give up my car for multiple reasons). I paid more for that coat than the cheapest car I've purchased! It felt so strange to me, guilt etc. But for 6 years now I haven't had to shop for a wintercoat and it will easily go for another 6 or much longer.

Slightly more expensive bag, suitcase. I gave myself an (not even that) expensive backpack, neutral/business style (Hedgren) because I had to carry my stuff around at work as one of the few that didn't get to have their own workplace. It made me feel better, was very useful in that situation, and (same as with the expensive coat) the bag has lasted for years now, still looking good for office use.
The luxury of not having to research and replace stuff that falls apart all the time in both these daily aspects still amazes me.

And toothpaste (especially if you have sensitive teeth), for instance sensodyne and oralB.
posted by Mariemma at 11:54 AM on June 26, 2019

A good pair of scissors. I bought the expensive scissors at Target (just the best version of Fiskars or Victorinox or something) and they're really nice to use - they cut cleanly and I can tell that they'll hold up very well for a long time.

I've found that when I buy better things, I'm not just buying a better experience of use, I'm buying time - assuming my house holds up, I'll have these scissors for a long time and won't need to deal with remembering to buy a new pair, picking them out, throwing out packaging, etc. For one small item that doesn't seem like a big deal, but think of all the things like that.
posted by Frowner at 12:05 PM on June 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Using Craigslist, or your local equivalent, for commonly purchased big-ticket items. I set an alert for something I want and a few days or weeks later I get a notification and see if it's in my price/condition range. This is how I got an $1800 all-organic pillow-top queen-size Avocado mattress for $400, less than a year old, and a S&S-coupled touring bike frame for half the price.
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:37 PM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

an ipad instead of one of those cheap tablets. headphones.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:47 PM on June 26, 2019

tools that make jobs you do regularly easier. if it's building, a drill or nailgun would be examples. car repairs.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:49 PM on June 26, 2019

We recently tossed our crappy mismatched tupperware and replaced it with this Pyrex storage set - glass with lids. The glass doesn't stain, you can even bake something in them then when it's time to put away the leftovers, you just pop the top on.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:12 PM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

This Chapstick in Orange mint.
It's 3 times the size of a regular Chapstick (and 3 X the price) so I don't lose it. I had my first one for 3 years. It's not too greasy or too waxy. It's a small luxury and I get a little hit of happy every time I use it. I get it at Ace hardware stores, I don't think I've ever seen it anywhere but a hardware store.
posted by BoscosMom at 9:25 AM on June 27, 2019

1) If it's used every day or for long periods of time, it's worth getting a high quality option. Doubly so if it has some kind of ergonomic impact: shoes, mattress, keyboard, etc.

2) Divide the price by number of uses. Cheap stuff often doesn't last nearly as long and is much more per use. The $140 shoes are 8 years and counting, cheap shoes are $30 and last about a year, math says $140 was a good use of money despite making me flinch at the time.

3) Small spaces / constantly moving addition: a single high quality item is much cheaper to store than multiple cheap junky ones, and smaller or multipurpose items are worth their (significantly reduced) weight in gold.

4) Time is money: the time spent repeatedly shopping for cheap replacements of cheap items is worth something.
posted by Ahniya at 4:10 PM on June 29, 2019

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