The quality of luxury without the price or appearance
April 13, 2008 3:47 PM   Subscribe

I used to get the cheapest liquid soap for washing hands I could find, but recently, I got the "shea butter" soap for $3 and found that the increased quality more than makes up for the increased cost. The question is: What else can I spend a little more on to get much more quality? (Fluffy towels, sheets, maybe?) Are there websites that review this?
posted by Furious Fitness to Shopping (88 answers total) 159 users marked this as a favorite
Toilet paper. Seriously it is never worth buying the cheapest one.

*squirms in seat*
posted by gomichild at 3:50 PM on April 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

Its my experience that almost all product categories fall along a roughly inverse-exponential price-to-quality curve, wherein spending more over the bare minimum gets you pretty drastically increased quality but after about the median those returns in quality start diminishing rather quickly. Extremely price-sensitive markets where quality is easily quantifiable (the computer processor market is a pretty much perfect example) exhibit this behavior most obviously. I'm sure there's an economic theory for all this, but that's my lay impression, for what it's worth.
posted by ChasFile at 3:58 PM on April 13, 2008 [6 favorites]

Seconding toilet paper, and in the same vein, paper towels. Pens, especially if you write left-handed. Coffee. Batteries.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:59 PM on April 13, 2008

Floss. The "glide" kind that flattens out to slip between your teeth--rather than staying perfectly round, so you have to force it through and slam into your gums--is well worth the extra dollar. I actually like flossing now, and the incidence of gum bleeding and soreness has gone WAY down. (YMMV, depending on how tightly together your teeth are.)
posted by iminurmefi at 3:59 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Groceries, especially organic/natural. Beer.

Seconding coffee.
posted by Rykey at 4:13 PM on April 13, 2008

Don't know if it applies to you, but switching from commercial shaving gels or creams to shaving paste or soap is a true revelation (plus, it's actually cheaper on the long-term). Also seconding pens. And obviously, most wines get much better if you just put a couple dollars more than the cheapest bottle.

As for toilet paper, I was unfortunately never able to convince myself to invest more for a product that I'll end up swiping you know where.
posted by ddaavviidd at 4:14 PM on April 13, 2008

ChasFile is right. Some products that immediately spring to mind are the basic daily staples like the aforementioned toilet paper and soap. I also think spending a little more on things like underwear, t-shirts and socks pays off because I'm always wearing them.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:20 PM on April 13, 2008

As for toilet paper, I was unfortunately never able to convince myself to invest more for a product that I'll end up swiping you know where.

That's precisely why I spend more for the better stuff. A happy anus makes a happy me.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:21 PM on April 13, 2008 [6 favorites]

nthing groceries, especially bread, dairy and meat.

(Though I think ChasFile's on the mark and most products follow a curve. Perhaps a better way to answer is by identifying exceptions: where don't you get appreciably better quality a little way above the bottom rung?)
posted by holgate at 4:21 PM on April 13, 2008

Real maple syrup.
posted by LarryC at 4:23 PM on April 13, 2008 [6 favorites]

What else can I spend a little more on to get much more quality?

Basically everything that isn't a scam.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:25 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Pet food
posted by amyms at 4:25 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

obviously, most wines get much better if you just put a couple dollars more than the cheapest bottle.

With the proviso that the second-cheapest bottle on the restaurant wine list is there to hook in people who don't want to look cheap in company, and often sells at a bigger margin than the cheapest.
posted by holgate at 4:25 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some of the examples are a matter of personal taste. For example, coffee: If you care about having "good" coffee and the difference in taste, then you pay extra for it for a gourmet brand. If you're happy with Folger's or Maxwell House, you'll probably be happy with the store brand. For me personally, the gourmet varieties are too strong and bitter (and give me diarrhea!), so I buy the store brand for my morning jolt and I'm happy.

The that really makes a difference for me is the bread. It's worth it to me to pay extra for the whole grains and to have bread with some texture and body to it. I can't stand even the cheap "wheat bread," which doesn't seem to have much body or flavor to it. So I'll spend extra to have a bread that makes me happy.

Also, I agree with the toilet paper comments. My mom used to buy what I jokingly called "Soviet toilet paper" -- basically the cheapest one in the store. My ex made me start buying Northern, a good name brand, and what a difference it made.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:31 PM on April 13, 2008

Yes, definitely toilet paper. Garbage bags and dishwashing liquid too.
posted by Evangeline at 4:32 PM on April 13, 2008

Oh, definitely pet food! The difference in your pet's health (and, er, the smell in the litter box or backyard) is amazing. Also nthing maple syrup.

I have to say with toilet paper it depends where you go. I buy the cheapest toilet paper at my grocery store, but it's perfectly comfortable - not luxury goods, but it's not, you know, public toilet fare either. I think it's just cheap because it's store brand. Ditto the paper towels. As for shampoo and conditioner, I go with the no-poo method, which is just baking soda and apple cider vinegar, and I'm pretty sure that does work out to be quite cheap in the end.
posted by bettafish at 4:36 PM on April 13, 2008

Wireless routers. On the other side: Wiper blades. Moisturizer.

(This is fun!)
posted by sachinag at 4:38 PM on April 13, 2008

Are there websites that review this?

Consumer Reports
posted by Class Goat at 4:42 PM on April 13, 2008

A good set of bedsheets are a great investment.
posted by comiddle at 4:50 PM on April 13, 2008

- Nthing pet food. I buy expensive, organic food made with "human-grade ingredients" for my kitty and am rewarded by a happy, healthy kitty with thick, silky fur - and a MUCH less stanky litterbox.

- Cat litter (speaking of the litterbox). Instead of El Cheaparoonie Generic Clay, I splash out on the more expensive kind made from wheat. The vast reduction in dust is so worth it, as is the absorbency and P.U. control.

- Pastured eggs

- Organic, preferably locally grown veggies and fruit (really, the taste makes the expense worth it)

- Tea

- Towels and washcloths. You don't have to buy the MOST expensive kind, but spending more than just the bare minimum gets you softer, stronger, more absorbent towels.

- It's fine to buy cheap cleanser, but my skin is so much happier with (expensive, organic) Ole Henriksen moisturizer.

- Any kind of clothes that are tailored such as suits, jackets and trousers
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:56 PM on April 13, 2008

I've found that I can't buy generic microwave popcorn or oatmeal. YMMV.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:56 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tea (I know coffee has been mentioned but I'm a tea drinker).

Strawberries in Japan follow this model perfectly - you will see strawberries at various price points with the ¥200/pack ones being good only for cereal and the ¥600/pack ones being really really good. The prices go even higher (I've seen ¥300/strawberry before) but I could never bring myself to buying them when the ¥600 ones were so good.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:00 PM on April 13, 2008

Rice. Seriously good Jasmine rice makes such a difference (uncle ben's uggh..). I usually get mine at Trader Joes, but you can also get it at Asian supermarkets.
posted by whoaali at 5:02 PM on April 13, 2008

A lot of what I was going to say has already been mentioned, so I'll empathetically endorse beer, toilet paper and floss.

I'll add chocolate, underwear, denim, haircuts, and peanut butter.
posted by cosmic osmo at 5:08 PM on April 13, 2008

Coffee. Butter. Mattresses & bed-linens. Towels. T-shirts. Rugs & carpets. Beef.
posted by deCadmus at 5:10 PM on April 13, 2008

Personally I -like- the cheap (well, Scott) toilet paper ... that's just me, though. I'd definitely spend the extra buck or two to get decent beer (far better to drink less good beer than any quantity of vile frat-party beer, any day). And if you eat eggs, the free-range eggs actually are a good deal tastier than the cheap store brand.

To further your search, here's a link to a Lifehacker post in which folks answered the question, "What Won't You Buy Generic?" that may offer a few other good ideas (though I must say I disagree with the folks who won't buy generic soda - long live Dr. Bob and Mister Fizzy!)
posted by zeph at 5:10 PM on April 13, 2008


I don't like cheap shoes at all and they tend to go out at the worst times. Nobody needs $700 shoes, but a $5 pair of heels won't do you much good for long either.
posted by PinkButterfly at 5:12 PM on April 13, 2008

Disagreeing with sachinaq: I just installed PIAA silicon wiper blades on our cars and: Damn! I'm never going back. Absolutely worth the $35 a pair.

Also: Spend the money for good spices and herbs. Never, ever economize on them.

OTOH: 1+ing Scott Toilet Paper as cheap but good. The original that is. The softer variety has the tensile strength of a Communion wafer.
posted by mojohand at 5:17 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

- Flat iron: My $30 Helen of Troy works miracles when compared to my old $15 Conair.
- Pantyhose: Pricier brands tend to be softer and (usually) more run-resistant.
- Pet food and treats: Higher-quality input makes for higher-quality output!
- Kitty litter: Echoing sentiments about reduced litter dust.
- Catnip: My cat prefers toys filled with homegrown catnip over catnip toys from PetSmart.
- Ice cream: Cheap, chemically ice cream is evil.
- Beer: Seriously.
posted by korres at 5:18 PM on April 13, 2008

toilet paper. salad dressing. candles. cake mix. cereal.

last time I got sick I had a bad cough/chest congestion but no sinus problems. All of the name brand cough syrups (Tylenol, Robitussin) were marketed as cough medicine (needed) with sinus decongestant (not needed). The only syrup I could find without the decongestant was an off brand. So sometimes especially with products that have multiple ingredients, it helps to compare or you might end up paying for and ingredient you don't need or want.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 5:19 PM on April 13, 2008

Mayonnaise. Never ever buy cheap mayonnaise.
posted by snookums at 5:31 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

These have pretty much all been mentioned, but....
-Beer - cheapest American beers are really, seriously, crummy compared to good beers, and good beers are not that much more expensive (beer advocate is a good place to start for finding what beers are good, and figuring out what style of beers you like)
-Chocolate - it's another stereotype but it really is true that mainstream American chocolate (Hershey etc) is noticeably less flavorful than chocolate elsewhere. The highr-end stuff in the supermarket is an improvement, but at some point in your life you should try to get real chocolate of the sort that's baseline normal in France; when I did this it just blew my mind how much clearly better the French stuff was.
- Real maple syrup definitely.
-Produce: this is more a knowledge thing. Learn the difference between a mealy, flavorless red delicious and a crisp, ripe Braeburn and you will not go back. There is a tiny price difference compared to the quality difference.
- Cheese, yes - though again a knowledge thing.
-Bread -yes
-Coffee - the difference between brewed from grounds and instant is a very big difference to me. And if you're going to brew from grounds it's worth getting mid-level grounds rather than bargain-basement grounds.
-Sheets - yeah, this is another place I think it's worth it. I have one luxury set of sheets that is just very obvious - the least-sensitive person I've ever had stay on the guest bed noticed how nice they were. But the price difference doesn't have to be huge -- this is an area where you want to feel the material before you buy. I've gotten $30 sheets that were great, and have seen very fancy expensive ones that were no good.
-Towels: buy 100% cotton, not synthetic; bonus tip -- never put fabric softener/dryer sheets on them since it makes them stop being absorbent
-Socks: wool, not synthetic and not cotton-only (athletic socks of cotton, ok, but for everyday wear you want thin wool unless you've got an allergy)
-Clothes: Well-tailored work clothes, made of good material, make a world of difference to how professional you look. (ditto dress shoes)
-Haircuts: if you find a good stylist, it is really worth it because the cut will keep its shape better as it grows out, and the person will be good at figuring out what works with your face etc.
-Hand tools: I've had a cheapo hammer come apart while I was using it, and that's not a good situation. Worth a little more to get a reputable brand, then you don't have to buy them again.

NOT worth the extra to me:
-toilet paper (the Scott kind is fine with me)
-fancy butter (can't tell the difference in the finished product)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:38 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome. I'm not marking a best answer because there'd be too many. (Still hoping for more cool suggestions!)
posted by Furious Fitness at 5:44 PM on April 13, 2008

Toilet paper. There is no way I'm wiping my nethers with the same stuff prisoners and high schoolers are forced to use.

Paper towels as well. As with toilet paper, there is no point in buying the cheap stuff if you have to use twice as much to get the job done.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:47 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

In the US, the very cheapest of a series of items is often not really part of the series, but a crude useless imitation--like th shadows in Plato's cave. You can find this crap at dollar stores (of course) but also at (slightly) more reputable-seeming emporia.

Things like 39¢ screwdrivers, 99¢ towels, 10 for $3 socks, and toys made out of that soft greasy plastic--they are made strictly to be bought. They are almost guaranteed to fail on first use (see LobsterMitten's hammer above). The entire purchase price is paying for appearance and there is nothing left to pay for function or durability.

These products prey on the ignorant, so my rule for the ignorant is: If the cheapest version is less than half the price of the next-cheapest version, skip the cheapest version.

And always check that your Hello Kitty merchandise is licensed by SanRio, and is not some creepy disappointing Hello Katty or Hello Kitsy ripoff. Kitty knows when you get that stuff and it makes her cry!
posted by hexatron at 5:57 PM on April 13, 2008 [8 favorites]

I agree with the respondents who note that this rule applies to most things- "what isn't worth the added expense?" is a more interesting question. To which I nominate:

- Bottled water
- OTC drugs
- Blank CD's/DVD's
posted by mkultra at 6:03 PM on April 13, 2008


Plumbing parts.

Spark plug wires.
posted by yohko at 6:03 PM on April 13, 2008

Blowdriers. My new, slightly more expensive one dries much faster than old, cheaper one.

And going the other way - just bought a $1 iPod nano case (more like a rubber sheath) from a Dollar Store that seems to work well, compared to the rather-more-expensive iPod brands.
posted by lindsey.nicole at 6:08 PM on April 13, 2008

Actually, everything.

but to mention what everyone else hasn't: make-up. You could experiment, but there's a cost.
posted by drea at 6:08 PM on April 13, 2008

Worth it: 400 (or higher) thread count 100% cotton sheets are worth the cost - they feel great and they last longer.
Carpet with Olefin - may cost more but cleans easily and resists cat fur, spills and wear.

Not worth it: any sheet with polyester - it will pill up.
Cheap socks (for adults and kids) they just don't last as long and lose their shape
Cheap carpet - get the good stuff - not the stuff they put in rentals, it will only last 3 or so years before it looks like crap in the walking areas.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 6:11 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll also add cold medication to the not-worth-the-extra-cost list: the ingredients in generic vs. brand name are usually identical. (Of course, that's not considering the possible psychological effects of thinking you're being treated with the best and most expensive medication).
posted by lindsey.nicole at 6:12 PM on April 13, 2008

eye brow waxing and facial/beauty products.

I worked at an AVEDA spa for a year, and the pampering I got as a result of free eye brow waxing and being able to take home products over night (not to mention ordering stuff on the way cheap) was well worth the hell I got while working there. Student budgets, sadly, make me unable to afford the 30$ shampoo and 100mL bottles of face wash. Store-bought stuff just doesnt equate. 17$ was also well worth the eyebrow wax quality I got (although I got them for free)
posted by Planet F at 6:17 PM on April 13, 2008

Ice cream. Some brands have a lot of air, or gummy tasting fillers. The fancy brands (Haagen Dasz, Ben and Jerry's) are markedly better.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:17 PM on April 13, 2008

Two words: Disposable Razors.
posted by Space Kitty at 6:17 PM on April 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

I forgot to add haircuts...and hair color. My hairdresser is worth every dollar I pay her; in fact, even after moving to a different city I still make the trip to see her. Especially with very wavy or curly hair, a Supercuts haircut will look it. And a more expensive, professional dye job is also worth it when you've grown up and beyond your gawth faze and want your hair to look natural, or if you're covering gray.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:20 PM on April 13, 2008

Shaving cream! A tub of the good stuff, the mug-and-brush variety, will probably last six months, anyway.

Also, olive oil, vinegar, bicycle equipment, laundry detergent, most condiments.

Nthing beer, bread, tea, cheese, sheets, etc.
posted by trouserbat at 6:35 PM on April 13, 2008

@Space Kitty - make sure you towel dry, though - you'll double their life.

And I'd never seen those wipers before; I've dropped 20-something on the RainX ones and was so not happy when they started streaking in three days (as all others have done on my car). I hate my blades. So I just dropped $45 on these. If they stink, I'm going to cry.

Also, yeah, pop. I'll be damned if anything matches the glory of Diet Squirt. Also, controllers for your console. Logitech wireless aside, there's nothing like first party controllers (even if the Xbox directional pad is crap).
posted by sachinag at 6:37 PM on April 13, 2008

Quite often it's false economy to buy cheap goods because they don't last as long as the more expensive ones. I'm very budget-conscious, and I sometimes make the mistake I call "cheaping out". I buy an inexpensive version of something only to discover it doesn't work properly or just breaks down altogether, and then I have to spend more money to buy more of the inexpensive brand, or the expensive version.

It's really an individual trial-and-error process. You're the only one who can decide whether it's worth it to you to buy the higher-priced version of something. Fortunately it usually costs very little to experiment. Most people can afford to try out the expensive toilet paper once and find out if they've been missing anything.

Here are some of my findings:

- the cheapest jam is like sugared rubber. Get the store brand of the "twice the fruit" kind in it.

- buy real maple syrup. There's no imitation or substitute that can compare.

- spend money on the shoes and purses you wear every day, and save on evening slippers and bag you only wear occasionally. The exception to this is sandals, which only last a season before becoming revolting-looking no matter what you pay for them. Get a couple pairs of cheapos every summer and throw them out at the end of the season.

- don't buy electrical appliances from a brand you've never heard of. When it comes to TVs, telephones, stereos, vacuums, stoves, washers, dryers, etc., you're better off going for the smaller or less-fancy or even secondhand model of a brand name rather than the new bigger one with more bells and whistles but that is made by an unknown brand.

- don't buy cheap sewing thread. It won't work at all in most modern sewing machines, and it's not worth it even for mending by hand. Buy Coats, Mettler or Gutterman.

- if you knit, don't buy the nasty acrylic crap novelty yarns. Chenille yarn is basically thread surrounded by fuzz and will hardly withstand even your working with it, let alone being used. Acrylic worsted can be amazingly cheap and good — I love it for children's sweaters because besides being cheap, it wears like iron, never pills, can be thrown in the washer and dryer, and is warm. I also like an acrylic bouclé which is incredibly cheap and feels wonderfully cosy and warm yet light to wear. But otherwise buy decent yarn with at least some natural fibre in them.

- if you're artistic and want to make things that last, don't buy crappy art supplies. Buy the best supplies you can reasonably afford.

- don't buy cheap cookware. The good quality coated baking and roasting sheets and pans are way easier to scrub clean. Good pots and pans will outlast cheap ones and do a better job of cooking your food.
posted by orange swan at 6:41 PM on April 13, 2008 [10 favorites]

Jeans, scotch tape, and beer.

I'd also definitely put in a plug for good makeup - I put the stuff on my face every day, so quality really does make a big difference. Wet & Wild to L'Oreal is as big a step up as L'Oreal to Smashbox, too.

Oh, and hair spray - HUGE difference.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:38 PM on April 13, 2008

In my experience food, haircuts and clothes are all worth whatever extra money you put into them. The difference in food really comes out in the flavor and the fullness you feel when eating it.

I've never walked away from a $50 haircut feeling anything less than confident, but I've had plenty of 25$ haircuts that made me want to shave my head.

After spending a lifetime in the cheapest clothes I could find, I recently started spending as much as I could afford on a few items, and I was shocked to find that clothes could be comfortable and flattering. Plus, the few items i get seem to last longer.
posted by lekvar at 7:43 PM on April 13, 2008

Dawn dish washing detergent. I have been very disappointed in many generic cleaning products, andDawn is especially worth the extra buck definitely.
posted by pointystick at 7:44 PM on April 13, 2008

scotch tape.

true frustration is trying to wrap a gift with the cheap stuff. i will go generic for just about anything. never tape, though. auuugh.

(oh, and contact solution. eyeballs creep me out. but that's another story.)
posted by pea_shoot at 7:44 PM on April 13, 2008

Oh man, condoms.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:56 PM on April 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think that in general, it's unwise to generalize about almost any of these things. Price and quality aren't directly related in a meaningful way, which is why resources like Consumer Reports are so helpful. It's all contextual and varied.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:20 PM on April 13, 2008

Yes - tape of all kinds. Yes yes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:24 PM on April 13, 2008

A very wise man once told me:
Spend money on your shoes and your bed, because if you're not in one, you're in the other.

(okay, there are exceptions, but it's still a good rule of thumb.)
posted by exceptinsects at 8:53 PM on April 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

@LobsterMitten: what is the name of some of that French-quality chocolate, and where can I find it? I don't like being teased like that...
posted by lhauser at 8:56 PM on April 13, 2008

Building on Orange Swans comment about the false economy of buying cheap stuff, I'd like to mention the one most obvious way that spending a little more can save you in the long run: buy in bulk. It always amuses me to see people buying 4-roll packs of toilet paper. If it's a friend, I'll always ask them, "Why the small pack? Are you planning on weening yourself off of them?" I never buy toilet paper in anything smaller than a 20-roll pack, and I buy the large packs of dove soap. Almost anything that won't spoil, you can buy in bulk. Even if it is something I can't find in bulk, I'll usually buy 4 or 5 of something I use frequently, like my favorite brand of shampoo. I'm sure I'm saving at least some gas by not having to run to the store every time that one little thing runs out. Aside from that, it's nice to be set up in case things get busy and I don't have time to go shopping in a while.
posted by snookums at 8:59 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not everyone has mass storage space for industrial quantities of t.p. and soap, though.

To me the added expense notch for many of these things has to do with how they smell. Or, more to the point, how the classier ones don't smell while the cheap ones do.
posted by zadcat at 9:19 PM on April 13, 2008

lhauser: I don't know, my colleague who teaches French brought some back for me. I think it was just basically grocery store chocolate bars from Paris, but it was just unreal. One item was a bar of dark chocolate, maybe about 3.5"x7", cut into segments sort of like a Kit-Kat bar. May have been Callebaut. Another was quasi-truffles in a sealed gold foil bag, but they were cocoa tasting all the way through their slightly mushy center, never the more diluted buttery taste that I've had in a lot of fancy truffles (which I normally dislike). I'll see if she can tell me the names.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:43 PM on April 13, 2008

Olive oil. Motor oil. Meat. Worcestershire sauce. Bread. Glassware. Milk. Tonic water. Power tools, actually all tools. Alcohol. Keyboards!
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:48 PM on April 13, 2008

I'll be quick but thorough.

Shoes. Whether dress or athletic, there is a HUGE difference between a model made for looks and one made for function (the function of dress shoes is to NOT hurt the wearer).

Watches. If you need something to tell the time, then yeah, whatever. If you need something to last, a $500 watch will be something you can pass onto your kids, who can pass it onto their kids, etc.

Suits. A suit that is supposed to fit you will feel good. Better than a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Being in a suit-infested area, if your suit feels better than the other suits' are already at an advantage.

Organic milk. I shelled out an extra few bucks for the organic 1% milk at costco a few months back. HOLY KRAP. I didn't know milk was supposed to taste like that. I realized that my milk is actually being finished and not going bad anymore.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:55 PM on April 13, 2008

I think it'd be much, much easier to answer what isn't worth the extra dosh.

At the moment I can't think of anything where the cheapest item is a better value, in the end, than the higher-quality version. Maybe something like an innertube for a wheelbarrow; probably can't go too far wrong buying the cheapest one on the shelf.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:55 PM on April 13, 2008

Tea. Real tea should be actual leaves. You will actually save money buying real tea to make tea in a pot over buying tea-bags which contain the very lowest quality tea dust. Avoid English brands that have beautiful packaging but are still low quality. Tea comes from Asia - so buy at Asian retailers or through specialty merchants. Avoid blended teas - anything 'breakfast'. If you get serious about tea it is something that you can be a connoisseur in for much less cost than say wine or cigars.

Milk. Organic milk from a cow with nothing done to it. If you can get unpasteurised even better.

Things that you wear or are in every day — Sheets, underwear, socks, shoes (almost) and haircut.

Cook more with high quality produce and ingredients and save on take out or restaurant costs.
posted by Sitegeist at 12:01 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can tell you two places where spending a lot more, not just a little more, is absolutely worth it:

Business shirts. I used to buy cheap shirts, and after a few washes they looked faded, the fabric became thin, the stitching started to go, and I'd lose buttons. I'd buy more cheap shirts, because there's no point wasting money on something that I'm only going to wear for a few months, right? Then I started buying more expensive shirts - all cotton, the occasional French cuffs, AUS$80-$100 - and they look as good as the day I bought them three years later. I look great in them, too, and people treated me differently when I became a snappier dresser. The best thing is I actually spend *less* on shirts over time - much, much less. Stupid false economy.

The same goes for business shoes. I'm a big guy, so I'd wear through cheap synthetic soles (and heels in particular) in no time. So I upgraded to shoes I could reheel and resole. They lasted a bit longer that way, but not a lot longer. So I decided to see if the shirt logic would work again and sprang for $350 for a pair of RM Williams dress boots. They're the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned, I look great in them, and the soles and heels show no sign of wear (I got oil resistant soles, not leather). I figure if they last me five years, that's $70 a year - half the price I used to spend per year on shoes that were uncomfortable and fell to bits after six months. They're a thing of beauty, and a pleasure to polish.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:41 AM on April 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

What are the things that you use all the time? Like, every day?

It's worth doing some extra research and shelling out some extra cash on them.

I agree with most of the above recommendations, but will add some opinions/suggestions:

Olive oil. It's been said, but for cooking simple foods (grilled meat or veg), or drizzling over salads, mixing into hummus/baba ghanooj, the difference is obvious.

Knives. It may seem absurd to spend upwards of $100 for a good, say, chef's knife, but they usually come with a lifetime guarantee, are sturdy, comfortable, and will take a sharpening, as opposed to the lower-quality out there. Think Wüsthof or Shun.

Chocolate. Most American chocolate is crap. It's got a high wax content, is gritty, flavourless, and ill-tempered (in the cooking, not the behavioural, sense). Spring for something good--Green & Black's, Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, &c (browse the past AskMe chocolate threads for more suggestions than you know what to do with). I can go through a bar of Hershey's or bag of M&M's without even noticing, but a few small squares of good chocolate are more than satisfying. Great way to watch the weight, also, because you are satisfied by less.

Furniture. Good quality, well-built/upholstered furniture is more than worth the expense. I'd imagine there are more than enough suggestions in this recent thread about what to look for.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 5:26 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've moved from managing dental offices to the world of full time student hood. But I also teach knitting now for a living. So on that front....

Circular knitting needles are worth it to me to go up from the second cheapest (with dull tips and a bad lumpy join) to the third level, with a smooth join and a needle that spins to prevent awkward kinking. The very cheapest have crappy joins and weird kinks in the plastic cord, and a funny bend on the join end of the needle that makes my wrists hurt.

And if you want to know more about the various opinions that knitters hold about all the items we use, check out Ravelry. Of course, you have to join to see all the good stuff. Find a knitter who will let you peek.
posted by bilabial at 7:29 AM on April 14, 2008

Organic milk is double the price of regular milk, but the difference in taste is worth it.

Cheap razors are not worth your time or your skin.
posted by bobber at 9:48 AM on April 14, 2008

1) Photo labs - it is worth paying a few more cents a print for a place where the equipment is better and the staff are more careful.

2) Kitchen knives - good knives cost dramatically more than the (terrible) IKEA variety, but will last several lifetimes if cared for properly.

3) Tents and outdoor equipment - the really cheap stuff is badly designed and not durable. Somewhat more expensive stuff, at least of certain brands like MEC, is dramatically better.

4) Headphones - mid-priced options sound much better and are usually more comfortable.

5) Web hosting - some hosting providers cost a little bit more, but have much better tech support and fewer clients per server.

6) Sunglasses - provide you won't break or lose them, it is worth investing in a good polarized pair, especially if you spend lots of time outdoors.

7) Rain gear - well designed, breathable outerwear is similarly worthwhile, if you spend much time outside.

8) Pens - I recommend trying something like a Pilot G-2 and evaluating whether it is worth the extra cost over a Bic.

9) Wireless networking gear - the cheapest stuff is maddeningly unreliable.
posted by sindark at 11:00 AM on April 14, 2008

Refrigerators fall into the pay a little more now or pay a lot more later category .... the more expensive ones are far more efficient than the cheap ones and will save you tons in the long run.

Also, socks.
posted by Camofrog at 1:58 PM on April 14, 2008

Worth the extra:
Tools, especially knives. Hard drives and flash memory-faster and/or longer life. Booze. Cigarette papers. Computer keyboards. Food, in general.

NOT worth the extra:
Glasses-same thing without a huge markup if you buy online.
posted by 999 at 5:20 PM on April 14, 2008

re: Snookums' comment on the 4-pack toilet paper

I usually try my best to buy in bulk as well, but sometimes I just don't have a lot of money, so the 4-pack is really all I can afford at the time. My logic in buying a 4-pack is that in a few weeks I WILL have more money, and so I can go out and get the packs that can stock a fallout shelter. Other times, I will just plain be out of toilet paper and will need to run to the store REALLY quickly (like, REALLY) to just pick up a cheap pack that will suit my immediate needs.

As far as what one really needs to spend extra money on, I definitely second olive oil. Also, furniture - when I got my first apartment, my roommate and I decided to go cheap on everything, including furniture. By the time I moved out, we had needed to replace the couch (which had developed a terrible depression), the 2 kewl zebra patterned toilet seats (they broke within a month) and the rug (which just refused to let go of ANY stain, no matter how hard we scrubbed).

Also, paint. When I moved out of the aforementioned apartment, I decided to do everything as cheap as possible and so I went to Home Depot and got the cheapo 18 dollar cans. I also got $10 drop cloths. Big mistake on both. It took about three coats of primer and three coats of paint to even BEGIN to hide the previous colors my roommate and I had painted it (bright orange and bright green) and, on a light enough day, you could still make out the faint hue of the previous coats. Meanwhile, the drop cloths tore wherever I placed my chair and paint kept leaking through them and, well, it just was not pretty. I essentially re-did the entire apartment using good paint I got at a local paint store, which worked wonders.

Though, I am a part of the cheap toilet paper club - it's about the same as you'd find in a public toilet.
posted by KantGoOn at 7:19 PM on April 14, 2008

As I have only recently discovered: moisturizer. This stuff totally knocks my socks off and makes my Pond's cream seem like a serious amateur move. Alas, I don't think I'll be spending a hundred bucks on two ounces of face cream any time soon. But the expensive moisturizers are actually totally worth their salt. (Shiseido's Benefiance line is pretty good, too, and less expensive than the Prescriptives stuff.)
posted by brina at 2:41 PM on April 15, 2008

Butter, at least 82% butterfat, is MUCH better than the waxy-tasting supermarket stuff.
And any butter is MUCH better than the best margarine.

Swingline SF 4 Premium staples -- they never jam or bend, and they have a dry lubricant that makes them go in easier than the standard ones.

Listerine mouthwash, over the grossly inferior drugstore brands.

On the other hand, ammonia is required to be made to a standard formula. Get the generic.

Aspirin is a standard product. Bayer and the cheapest generic have identical action.
posted by KRS at 1:42 PM on April 16, 2008

KETCHUP! Dear god, Heinz is king in the ketchup world. Anything else (including every "fancy" brand I've tried) can't hold a candle to Heinz. I agree with everyone else: TP, socks/undies, cameras, computers. I don't think anyone can be wrong on this one.
posted by whiskey point at 1:48 PM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lugage - You might have to shell out a lot for that samsonite, but it'll last forever.

Nail clippers - Nice ones only cost a couple bucks more, and your nails will actually be straight.

Computer speakers - You don't need $500 speakers, but even going from $20 speakers to $60 speakers is a huge jump.

posted by Autarky at 3:20 PM on April 16, 2008

Clothes Iron ($20 target brand sucks compared to the $65 Panasonic) just remember to empty the water out when you're done using it each time (keep a cup by the ironing board)

Floor mop- stay away from the things made out of 100% plastic, namely the rag mops that you twist to wring. I use my mop as a scrubber somewhat too, so it needs to stand up. Look for metal workings, a cheap easily replaceable mop head and a decently sturdy handle. I had to go to a locally owned hardware shop to find one that fits the bill, Target's were rubbish and overpriced.
posted by ijoyner at 4:51 PM on April 16, 2008

Ditto on eggs and beer. Any kind of booze, actually -- mid-range spirits (Jim Beam Black Label, for instance) are head and shoulders above plastic-capped dreck.
posted by Bill Katz at 6:21 PM on April 16, 2008

KETCHUP! Dear god, Heinz is king in the ketchup world.

Regular Heinz is awful shite. Organic Heinz is damn good and is what made me realize ketchup isn't a kiddy idiocy glooped over a hotdog. Real ketchup is, indeed, an real condiment.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:00 PM on April 16, 2008

Following on from the Ketchup - only Heinz Baked Beans, anything else is criminal.

Also tights (pantyhose), expensive ones don't run, don't give you nora batty ankles, don't get all twisted or saggy round the middle, and they feel, oh, so much nicer.
posted by Helga-woo at 7:24 AM on April 17, 2008

It's true as they say: "It's more expensive to be poor than to be rich."

Good quality shoes last longer, cost less in pain and comfortablelessness (...), and thus cost less in the aggregate than to buy a new pair of crappy shoes every six months, cursing them every single day of their short lives.

(Anyone have a reference to where "they" said this?)
posted by avocade at 8:07 AM on April 17, 2008

Don't cheap out on razors. The disposable ones will tear up your skin. Spending that extra money will save your face time and time again. Until you get it lasered off. Does this work? Is it costly? I think it would be great to never have to shave again. Time is money and if you add it up, I could save about 122hrs from not shaving till I'm old and gray. Where do I sign up??
posted by Brent Mitchell at 9:40 PM on April 17, 2008

Jeans. I wear my more expensive jeans so much more often than my cheapo denim. The difference in fit and durability is unbelievable.
posted by riane at 7:36 AM on April 18, 2008

Expensive stuff that's not worth it:

Premium gas.
Mutual funds with management fees > 1%
bottled water
high end corkscrews
the electric can opener
posted by storybored at 8:26 PM on April 19, 2008

I don't agree with everything here, including some that for everyone else I've met are total givens. The best example is shoes, and I think I just must be blessed with awesome feet that don't need the extra comfort or something...for important professional work shoes I splurge and pick carefully, but I love having a pair in practically every color and style for my fun outfits, so I buy tons of cheap ass but cute and faddish shoes from Payless. Sometimes I have to buy Dr. Scholl's type heel guards to put in them, but that's only another 2 or 3 bucks for like a 5-10 dollar pair. I am a big fan of "disposable shoe" fun. But that's just me. I've also never noticed any crucial quality thresh hold with tampons or pens--sure, I can tell one brand is better than another, but I don't need the margin of improvement offered. This goes especially for the pens--I need a million in every part of my house, car, workspace, and purse, and I go through 'em like water. I also lose pens fairly often. Bics are just fine. Pilots are great and if I'm writing a fancy letter I'll bring my secret stash of 'em out for it, but for every day writing I'm fine with cheap pens. Pentels though, man they suck!

I've also noticed there isn't a correlation with jeans for me, but there can be brand loyalty. Fit is the most important thing, and sometimes cheap jeans have it. My favorite pair of jeans was less than 25 dollars...

I do whole heartedly agree with maple syrup (but I'm from upstate New York and routinely visited Vermont so....), ketchup, razors, moisturizer, and fresh produce. Oh, and haircare, yes.

Don't agree with make up, but I only wear eyeshadow. If it was skin stuff I'm sure I'd agree with others. Premium gas is indeed not worth it.

Cushy toilet paper, while very comfortable indeed, is actually worse for your plumbing.
posted by ifjuly at 11:22 PM on April 19, 2008

Oh, staplers! And yes yes a thousand times yes to beer, coffee, and chocolate. My favorite chocolate is Cote d'Or, Cafe Tasse, and Dagoba. I think I give 'em a shout out like every 5 months in Ask Me...
posted by ifjuly at 11:24 PM on April 19, 2008

running shoes if your a runner
posted by metacort at 10:13 AM on May 1, 2008

Anything you use on a daily basis is worthy of spending a little more for greater quality. Although cost isn't the only thing that signifies quality, it certainly has a noticeable corollary.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:34 AM on December 15, 2008

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