Go Cheap or Pay More for Quality?

Have you ever regretted buying something on the cheap? Who hasn't? Here's one of my many shopping regrets: I bought bamboo shades for two windows in my bedroom about a year ago at Target, paying about $30 a piece. They looked great and I felt pretty good as friends and family marveled at the deal I got. My happy dance ended though a few months later when I gently pulled the cord to open the shade and it snapped. I tried to fix it but soon realized that sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

Shoppers are constantly faced with the decision to buy the cheapest item possible whether it be window shades or groceries, or to spend more for what may be higher quality. Sometimes the lower-priced item turns out ok. And other times it just doesn't cut it as in the case of my window shades. Now I have to spend even more money for another set of shades. I have learned over the years to not cheap out on certain things: diapers, trash bags and certain electronics. I now add window shades to that list. I buy certain brands of these items, even though they may be a little more money. But I have no problem buying the absolute cheapest paper towels or generic over-the-counter medication.

What in your life is worth the extra money because the cheaper brand just doesn't cut it? What are your favorite cheap or generic items?

By Tania Anderson |  March 5, 2009; 12:00 AM ET General Interest
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Take a look at Consumer Reports and you will find that there is not necessarily any correlation between price and quality. You mention trash bags as an example where higher price means better quality. I buy mine at Costco's where the house brand costs half what name brands cost and the quality is, if anything, better. Don't be brainwashed by advertising.

Posted by: iansmccarthy | March 5, 2009 9:14 AM

I generally feel like short term items are good for buying cheap. The snowpants your kids will wear 2 or 3 times a winter (around here) are from Target. The white patent leather Easter shoes are from Target or Sears. However, the bathing suits that the kids wear ALL summer are from Lands End. The cheaper ones just don't hold up and you end up buying an extra one in August anyway.

We did the cheap plastic blinds once and the wand to tilt the blinds wore out. Now we have the expensvie wooden ones and haven't had a problem. I do buy the Target brand trash bags that look just like the Glad ones and have never had a problem. The Target wipes that looked like Pampers were decent, but not quite as good.

I buy some generic medicines and toiletries, but a lot of that stuff doesn't smell/taste as good or comes in cheap packaging. I am not going to rub my kids with foul-smelling suntan lotion (NO-AD comes to mind) every day of the summer. I'll pay $8 for Coppertone or Banana Boat! I use contact solution and most of the generic stuff is fine, but some of it has an annoying lid that I don't want to deal with. So I might buy the cheaper stuff and pour it into my nice Renu bottle!

Posted by: LBH219 | March 5, 2009 9:29 AM

It depends. Sometimes it helps to view cheap things as a collection of parts.

Ikea has lamps I sometimes like, but the cords/electric part often aren't very reliable. Sometimes you can use the lamp part and replace the shoddy socket with a better one from the hardware store and still come out ahead money-wise.

Their hardware is often made of the softest metals I've ever seen. I've had my electric screw-driver ruin their screws. If I'm mounting something I'll often buy my own high-quality brass screws/brackets and use those instead.

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 5, 2009 10:27 AM

"So I might buy the cheaper stuff and pour it into my nice Renu bottle!" Is this really worth risking an eye infection? Really not a good idea at all. Either spend the money on Renu or get used to the poorly designed bottle. Trust me on this...you are playing Russian roulette with regards to contamination.

I agree with IKEA comment...the basic construction materials are fine, but there is a fine line between tight enough and over-tightening on their screws and fasteners when they just shear off and it is not like you can go to HD or Lowe's for a replacement.

Private label (store brands) are often a 95-100% match to major brands, so go ahead and by Target trash bags. OTOH, I will pay more for a vacuum or cookware (see Tuesday's response).

Posted by: skipper7 | March 5, 2009 10:50 AM

I agree. Things for short-term use, I buy cheap. But if it's something I will keep and want to use for a long time, I go ahead and spend the money for a quality product. For an example, take sandwich bags. I use one for my sandwich for a week and then throw away. It's not something which needs to be long lasting so I buy the Target store brand bags instead of the more expensive Ziploc. But I do spend the money for the more expensive Ziploc freezer bags since I want to make sure that whatever food I'm storing in my freezer is properly protected.

Posted by: LittleRed1 | March 5, 2009 10:58 AM

Pouring sterile cleanser into a bottle that just had sterile cleanser in it? Doesn't seem to be a problem. Haven't had an infection yet and have been wering contacts for over 15 years! When Renu is on sale, I buy new bottles of it, so it's not like I have been using the same bottle for years on end!

Posted by: LBH219 | March 5, 2009 11:01 AM

Black Dress that fits perfectly after some alteration? Full price Eileen Fisher. Shocking orange cardigan to wear over it this season only? Target.
Salad spinner of which I will somehow destroy 2 a year? IKEA. Copper pan for making jam? Williams-Sonoma.
My car is a KIA but I have some art that is worth more than the car was new.
Wine with tonight's dinner 7 bucks a bottle (but a Wine Spec best buy)
To me it's cost per use (or per joy)

Posted by: LisaMary | March 5, 2009 1:53 PM

LBH291: Not to quibble over this, but in the process of going from a sterile environment to another sterile environment the fluid is passing through a non-sterile environment - your home. I don't care how meticulous you are with cleaning it is just the reality unless you are doing this in a lab. If it works for you, great, but not something that you should really be doing. I buy all sorts of CL solution and cannot imagine what would make the bottle design of some inferior to Renu.

Posted by: skipper7 | March 5, 2009 4:22 PM

Beware of store-brand and no-name cheap blank DVD's.

From my experience, the stores and the no-names mix bad DVD's with good ones, with the bad ones typically near the bottom of the spindle. They hope that by the time you reach the bad ones, the store return policy will have expired. Plus, even the good ones tend to become unreadable after a few years.

Stick with name brands like Maxell and Verbatim.

Posted by: taskforceken | March 5, 2009 5:15 PM

I buy generic ibuprofen, cold medicine, contact lens solution, trash bags, printer paper, olive oil spray, some cooking staples like granulated and confectioners' sugar, and a number of other items that work perfectly fine. Generic Ziplocs are not worth it, as the zipper in the generic brand breaks as often as not, rendering the whole bag useless.

I also bought a generic, large wheeled suitcase at Tuesday Morning and it has held up way better than the Lands End suitcase it replaced.

Worth the money for the good stuff? Cookware (cheaper brands fall apart). Shoes. A good suit. Swimsuits (I concur with LBH219 -- Lands End are the BEST.) Fleece (cheaper brands pill; Lands End and L.L. Bean are the best).

My favorite generic brand story ever is my TV and VCR. My TV was a generic Montgomery Wards brand (MW is now out of business) and I got it secondhand from a friend in 1988. Only last year, in 2008, did it start to get a few pixel problems. I donated it to charity and got a flat-screen.

Same thing with the VCR. Generic Montgomery Wards brand, bought in 1988. It still works perfectly. I bought a separate top-of-the-line, top-rated Panasonic DVD/VCR combo in 2003, and within 3 years the DVD player broke.

Posted by: Californian11 | March 5, 2009 6:18 PM

I buy the most inexpensive household items from WalMart. Most of my splurging goes to bail out Robert Nardelli at Chrysler ($214 million severance for him at Home Depot)or Citibank or AIG. That's thanks to Washington DC and New York. My dog food diet lets the "top dogs" eat fillet Mignon. Thanks, DC. Home of Whole Foods, lobbyists, lawyers, and their minions. Bringing a global economic depression to a middle American town near you.

Posted by: gnpszul | March 5, 2009 7:57 PM

High end skin care is the only thing that I must have. I've tried several drug store brands but they just don't feel as well on my skin or don't give me the results that I want. My favorite products are Artistry products and if I know I'm going to be tight on money I'll budget around my skin care system.

Posted by: sunny01 | March 6, 2009 9:53 AM

Cereal -- Many store brand cereals are manufactured in the same plants as the name brands (General Mills, Kellog's) because those factories do not run at 100% capacity, and therefore look for other ways to monetize their facilities. So, when I'm at Giant, I pick up the crispy rice (11 oz for a $1!!!!!) and it's the same as Kellog's minus the Snap, Crackle and Pop guys. Just FYI, not all cereal producers do this, so you might have a bit of trial and error at first.

Posted by: zzrawlins | March 9, 2009 1:34 PM

I disagree about the trash bags, I have bought cheap generics and they rip much easier. Although I suppose not all cheap generics are created equal (I never tried Costco).

I must splurge on decent toilet paper. I hate the rock-hard, thin-ply stuff, I think you end up using more and it falls apart.

I don't mind generics for most over the counter meds or paper towels.

Posted by: cjbriggs | March 10, 2009 4:02 PM

For trash can liner bags, I have found stores like GFS marketplace in PA sell the same quality as Hefty at 70 percent savings.

I also swear by America's Choice private label brands at SuperFresh. Their 2x liquid detergent is as good as Cheer or Tide and costs 40 percent less. Their plastic storage bags are just as good as the national brand at more than 50 percent savings. Their pourable salad dressings and black olives are of the highest quality at upwards of fifty percent savings.

I think if you can find a quality private label brand and if it is less expensive than the equivalent national brand after double or triple coupons, then by all means go for it.

The only food product that the national brand is far better in taste and quality is Kellogg's Pop tarts.
No house brand toaster treats can compete, no matter how cheap they sell them for.

Also Aldi's is now carrying a European skin cream for a fraction of the cost of Clinque or other department store brands, that has had the blog boards in a frenzy.

Definitely there are bargains to be had on the cheap, but sometimes it's all about trial and error, and finding the right ones.

Posted by: ziggyzippy | March 11, 2009 12:01 PM

This is the new skincare system being sold by Aldi's now in its US stores. This is a cut and paste from their latest newsletter.

Introducing Lacura™, an award-winning skincare system that's sweeping Europe and is now available for the first time in the U.S. - exclusively at ALDI.

Lacura™ features a complete line of skincare essentials, including gentle cleansers, hydrating masks, invigorating toners and luxurious moisturizers - plus soothing balms for eyes and lips.

Posted by: ziggyzippy | March 11, 2009 12:09 PM

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