Thanks to clever marketing, advertising, and the fetishization of brand names, spending more doesn’t always mean getting a better quality product. In fact, Consumer Reports regularly finds when testing appliances and other products that a high price tag is no guarantee of quality or durability.
But here are some cases where spending more can mean better quality and value, and what to look for to ensure that’s the case.
There’s a running theme to this list: You can buy something cheap and have to replace it more often, or you can do a little research and buy something once. Another rule of thumb is that if you use it all the time, make sure it’s going to hold up.
“The more I use a gadget, the more I'm willing to spend,” says Pete Berthold, a computer graphics artist. “I always get the newest iPhone because I use it often, every day. Otherwise I tend to go lower or mid range on items that I don't use frequently.”
Click ahead for 10 products you shouldn't feel guilty about spending a little extra on.
By Colleen Kane
Posted 23 Nov 2010
Price difference: about $30 for a bespoke men’s shirt
With few exceptions, tailored clothing is always going to look better on most bodies than clothing worn straight off the rack. For this reason, some pay extra for bespoke shirts created especially for the wearer.
“I work in a museum/library, but last year I was deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard. I came back and bought shirts made to fit,” said Neil Gussman of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. “They cost about $30 more than an off-the-rack shirt at the men’s store where I buy clothes. But all last year I wore the same clothes. Now that I am back at work, I wanted to wear clothes that really fit. Also, the average guy with my neck size is wider around the middle. The fit of bespoke shirts is really different.”
Not so cheap: 700+
Furniture is one category in which many consumers admit to spending a little more cash. It’s fine to skimp on some furniture items, such as a bookcase that has no moving parts and gets little wear and tear, but many have been burned by buying low-budget on items that get more wear, such as dressers (those plastic runners break, rendering the drawers useless).
It’s even more important to go for quality when you spend one-third of your life on a particular piece of furniture, that is, the bed (and for some, the sofa). Models on the lowest end of the cheap mattress selection are not recommended, but shelling out a few grand is no guarantee of a good rest, either. Mattress shopping wisdom cautions to always test it first. At stake here is not only comfort. Regularly missing out a good night’s rest can affect health, concentration, and work performance.
Cheap: 512 MB kit for an Apple MacBook: $10
Not so cheap: 4GB kit for Apple MacBook: $99
With computers, choosing the better option may not be a matter of simply upgrading to a pricier model with more bells and whistles, but to one with better performance.
“Since time is the only thing I can't replace, I spend a little more for things that I know will definitely impact performance,” says Seth Clifford, CIO, Nickelfish IDM. “I will be satisfied with a not-spectacular TV, since it doesn't really affect my bottom line, [but] my laptop is a little more of a hot-rod. If I have to work, I want it to be done as quickly as possible, and as effectively as possible.”
Of course, Clifford acknowledges, not everyone needs a hot rod, so this extra expense doesn’t apply to everyone. “It's like when you buy appliances. You don't buy the cheapest, and you don't buy the high end one. You land somewhere in the middle.”
Anyone who is given the choice of different health plans from their employer knows that the cheapest option isn’t always the way to go.
“It’s important for people to remember that sometimes the least expensive premium is not always your best bet,” says Jack Taylor, professor of retail at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama, and an expert on insurance.
“A way to find out about inexpensive insurance premiums is to talk with the folks that service insurance companies such as auto mechanics, roofers, etc. They’ll be able to tell you quickly which companies are good to work with and which ones hassle on everything.”
Cheap: complete set in a knife block for $30-$75
Not so cheap: $100 each and up
Sure, you can pick up a whole set of knives at the local big-box store for less than one fancy kitchen knife. But should you? That depends on how much do you like sawing away at your food with a dull blade. Cheap knives dull faster and will need to be replaced.
High-end kitchen knives are forged from materials like carbon steel and ceramic (the latter which is harder than steel and cheaper, but breakable ) . When treated with care and sharpened regularly, they can last a lifetime. The cutting ease alone inspires admirers to invoke Crocodile Dundee: “That’s a knife.”
Not so cheap: $100+
Thanks to the ubiquity of discount shoe chain stores, you can buy the same model of synthetic material shoes in three different colors for less than the cost of one leather pair at a department store. But then there’s the comfort, the craftsmanship. Then walk even heavier knowing the toll that cheap, mass produced shoes take and leave on the environment: they’re made from petrochemicals, the material rips and breaks easily, the glued parts come apart, and the shoes soon end up in landfills.
The old standby is classic for a reason. With leather shoes, repair is inexpensive and if treated well (shoe trees!), a quality pair of well-made leather shoes can in time become the oldest item in your wardrobe.
“I''ll admit that I am as obsessed with pretty footwear as Imelda Marcos,” says publicist Denize Springer, “But I spend a lot of time on my feet at work where I have to have a polished appearance. I'm forever in search of really good-looking shoes with excellent orthopedic support. This doesn't mean that I pay full price either. I stick to a few favorite brands and search for them on sale over the Internet. There are very few brands of inexpensive shoes that are comfortable, nice looking and durable.”
Cheap: $10-$20 cremes and treatments
Not so cheap: $100 and up
A user of pricey skin products weighed in on the reasons behind her favorite indulgence. “Without a doubt, it is anti-wrinkle cream and deep moisturizers for the face, especially as the harsh cold weather approaches,” said Klea Theoharis. “As a woman over 50 and in business, keeping skin in good condition is important.
Why not go with the cheaper brands? “I've tried a lot of them and, contrary to what we read about all products in this category being alike, I have found that a couple of higher end items in the face cream category really stand out, especially for someone with very sensitive skin like myself. Products such as this also give you a psychological lift, especially during the dreary winter months.”
Not so cheap: $200 and up
It’s an overlooked small wonder of these modern times that anyone can purchase eyeglasses without a prescription at the dollar store. But that doesn’t mean you should, if you can help it. Eyeglasses in opticians’ and ophthalmologists’ shops can carry an enormous markup.
However, you’re purchasing a major component of the overall look you’ll sport a (potentially) daily basis for the next few years. That eye-care practitioner selling the pricier glasses can also provide a choice of lenses and coatings, measurements, repairs, and adjustments, not to mention they’ll have a technician on hand to help you choose the most flattering frames.
By most accounts, the low-end glasses do the job just fine. In this case, though, it’s not as much about the quality of the materials—$400 plastic is still plastic—but more about spending more for a well-designed frame people will see on your face every day.
Direct domestic flight, NYC to LA: $249
Domestic flight with transfers, NYC to LA: $264
Direct international flight, L.A. to London: $744
International flight with 1 transfer, L.A. to London: $596
International flight with 2+ stops, L.A. to London: $812
As you might have heard, air travel is enough of a hassle these days without having to contend with making additional airline connections. Opting for the nonstop flights, while sometimes more expensive, can save travelers that most valuable of assets, time, not to mention lowering the possibility for calamities like missing or misdirected luggage.
When you look at the price breakdown above for the domestic flights, this one is a no-brainer. (Pondering the international rates is more of a puzzler, as this search had the highest price for the most stops.) As another check mark in favor of nonstop flights, one writer makes the casethat direct flights create less emissions than taking off and landing that extra time or two, since 50% of carbon emissions of a flight come from landing and takeoff.
Not so cheap: $150+
In 1926, Vogue termed Coco Chanel’s simple black sheath “Chanel’s Ford,” i.e., something available and useful to women of all classes. That proved prophetic, as the little black dress remains today as versatile for women as a good suit is to a man.
A fetching black dress with the right classic style and the appropriate accessories can be worn to the office, to a date, or if blinged up with sparkly accessories, can even be worn to attend a wedding. Get a wrinkle-free LBD, and it becomes a travel wardrobe staple—more room in the suitcase for souvenirs.
But face it, ladies, if you’re wearing a dress often, a cotton jersey knit number from the clearance rack probably won’t stand the test of time (not to mention the test of washing machine). The ideal little black dress must be a good cut, it should have quality workmanship, and it should be made of good natural materials: wool, linen, silk. And for that, as ominous as this sounds: you must pay.