Quality vs. quantity

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When does it make sense to spend a little extra money on a purchase? We took a stab at answering that question by looking around the house. We found many items on which you could save money in the long run by opting for the higher-priced but better-quality product.

Cheapism typically recommends the best inexpensive goods. But even we acknowledge that there are times when it pays to step it up a notch. Here's a list to consider:


The kitchen is a central core of any home -- and the repository of numerous consumer goods. For many of these items, it's worth paying more (not lots, mind you) to get more in the way of quality.

  • Skillets:

    Buy a set of three cast iron Lodge skillets for $25 instead of one Teflon coated non-stick pan with a starting price of $10. If cared for properly, cast iron will last generations.
  • Knives:

    Some experts are very fond of very high-end knives, such as those bearing Wusthof or Hattori stamps, but many at-home chefs do just fine with cheaper options. That doesn't mean picking up a $5 or $10 Santoku knife or the $25 multi-knife set on display at the supermarket. Try a well-known brand like Victorinox, which offers an 8-inch carving knife for $50, and match it with a good paring knife, like one from Chicago Cutlery for $10. Be sure your pick is full tang (the metal blade extends into the handle's full length), a feature missing in some cheap knives but critical to efficient performance and durability.
  • Storage:

    Instead of plastic containers, which are prone to warping and staining over time, invest in glass mason jars for storing leftovers. The screw-top lids sometimes get lost or rusty, but packs of 8 or 12 cost just a few dollars. The jars themselves are available at many dollar stores and sticking with well-known brands like Ball or Kerr guarantees quality, no matter the price. Trendy bars and restaurants have started using smaller mason jars as glasses, a practice you can replicate at home.
  • Extra Tip:

    Shop for kitchenware at a restaurant supply store rather than a consumer-focused specialty store. The items won't be as stylish or colorful, but they're often cheaper and made to survive years in a hectic professional-kitchen environment. Some basic items, like stainless steel measuring cups, are half the price of nearly identical products sold in other venues.

Big-Ticket Items.

Large appliances and furniture cost a pretty penny no matter what, And for certain consumer durables, spending more now is the ticket to better performance and fewer replacements over time.

  • Vacuums:

    Although Kirby's door-to-door sales tactics have given the company a sour reputation, owners of Kirby vacuums crow about the years of service the machines provide. Prices start north of $1,800, but determined haggling can bring the sticker down to the $650 range. Alternatively, look for a used model on Craigslist or at a garage sale for an even better deal. This may seem like a lot to spend on a vacuum, but it beats shelling out $50 on a new machine every year or two.
  • Furniture:

    Ikea certainly has its fans, but spending more to get furniture made of solid wood that's been finished with varnish, lacquer, or shellac and can be repaired, not to mention withstand everyday wear and tear, is an investment that will pay off for you, your children, and even your grandchildren. For cheaper options, search for "bare" or "unfinished" furniture in your area and take on the finishing job yourself.
  • Dishwashers:

    The cheapest dishwashers tend to lose much of their cleaning oomph within a few short years. You don't need to break the bank on this appliance, but spending $400 or so on a model with a stainless steel interior is a good investment (plus, they're quieter). Consumer Reports lists Bosch, Whirlpool, and Miele as three of the most reliable manufacturers.
  • Sofas:

    This one may not apply to anyone with spill-prone children or pets looking for a new scratching post, but a well-built sofa is another major expense that is arguably worth spending a little extra on. Look for top-grain or full-grain premium leather upholstery or fabric made with synthetic fibers, which wears slowly and is more stain-resistant than natural- fiber fabrics. (If you go the fabric route, choose one with a high thread count and a "double rub" of at least 25,000.) A built-to-last sofa will have hand-tied coil springs and a hardwood or metal frame. Expect to spend $1,500 or more on a sofa from a reputable company like FlexSteel or Ethan Allen.

Home Services.

As any homeowner knows all too well, maintenance is a huge expense. When searching for a service provider to fix a roof or leaky pipe, being thrifty is obviously tempting. But Kristen Yarbrough from ClubLocal, an online home-repair booking service, cautions that estimates that seem too good to be true may mean the contractor is "sacrificing something in order to deliver that price." A paint job that starts cracking and peeling in a year, for example, is an expensive headache. Regardless what type of service is being performed, be sure there is a written guarantee behind the work. Consider using a service like ClubLocal or Angie's List that vets contractors.

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