“You get what you pay for.”
While that expression certainly seems logical, in modern life it doesn’t always – or even often – work out that way. You can pay big bucks for name-brand aspirin, for example, when sitting next to it on the drug-store shelf is a generic brand with the same ingredients for half the price. You can buy any number of items sporting designer labels only to discover the hard way the designer had nothing to do with the design or the quality: They just licensed their name and collected a check. You can visit an expensive restaurant and have a terrible meal.
In short, when it comes to “getting what you pay for,” it feels like the exceptions often outweigh the rule. Maybe that’s why there are so many articles and sites devoted to saving on virtually everything you buy.
But there are situations in life when being penny wise can be pound foolish. (By the way, if the phrase “penny wise, pound foolish” doesn’t make sense, this expression is British: The “pound” is England’s version of a dollar. Right now, it equals about $1.56.)
So how do you know when paying extra is worth it? It’s an inexact science, but it boils down to whether you’re actually going to get a better product or experience for the extra money.
Whether you’re in the kitchen or the garage, inferior tools aren’t going to get the job done. You’ll either spend longer to finish a project or not get good results. Take kitchen knives for example – a high-quality knife slices fruit evenly. A low-quality knife turns strawberries into mush.
But you don’t have to pay retail prices to get good tools. Find a brand name you trust and look for it on sale. Overstock stores like Tuesday Morning, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls often carry brand names. I just bought a Le Creuset Dutch oven at Tuesday Morning for 35 percent less than the retail price. Or scour the Internet – plenty of sites sell brand-name tools at a discount. Check out:
In the video, Stacy talks about his used Mercedes. Conversely, I own an unsafe and barely running clunker. The difference? Stacy bought a high-quality used car. I bought the cheapest vehicle I could find.
Look for a car rated highly for safety and reliability, with low maintenance costs. Sites like Edmunds.com have tons of information on every make and model. Then find one used. On average, cars depreciate 45 percent in five years, according to ABC News. Let someone else pick up that tab – and buy their car for less.
Whether it’s a doctor or a mechanic, it’s worth paying for experience. When you’re hiring a professional, start with referrals from friends, and create a short list of possibilities. Once you find two or three professionals you think you can trust, ask for estimates – then go with the cheapest price. Check out "The Right Way to Pick a Doctor."
4. Life experiences
When I’m older, I hope to look back and remember all the fun I had – not all the nice shoes I owned. So I’m willing to pay a little more sometimes to eat at a fancy restaurant or visit a unique place.
Some of my favorite vacation memories are from a cruise I took with friends. But with cruises, or pretty much anything else, you can still find a deal if you look for it. For example, check out "10 Things to Know Before You Book a Cruise," "20 Ways to Save Big on Your Next Vacation" and "How to Cut Your Restaurant Bill in Half."
5. Where you live
Where you live matters. I bounced all over New Orleans for years because I rented based on price and not location. Now I’ve found my ideal neighborhood. I still got a deal on my rent, but I do pay more than I did to live in less-desirable neighborhoods.
And that’s the secret. Find the neighborhood you love first and then worry about the price. There are all kinds of ways to get cheaper rent or buy a home for less. Check out "5 Tips to Save on Rent" or "5 Dumb Moves Homebuyers Make."
6. Quality services
Paying more sometimes gets you better service. I once had cell phone service with Verizon Wireless. Any time I called or went into the store, I got great customer service. Then I switched to another company to save $30 a month – and the customer service is a nightmare.
When you’re looking for a service – whether it be cell phone providers, cable companies, or your dry cleaner – look for a highly rated company. Check out the company’s Better Business Bureau review or read a consumer review site like Epinions.com.
Once you find a trusted company, check their website for special deals or simply call and ask. Many companies are happy to give out deals to new customers.
While off-brand electronics may work fine at first, they won’t last as long or come with as good of a warranty as many name-brand electronics. Fortunately, electronics retailers love having sales and the Internet is full of bargains. Often, you can find high-quality electronics on sale cheaper than the regular price of lesser-quality ones. For deals, check out our deals page, as well as:
8. Pet Care
Giving your pets the right food and medicine can greatly extend their life. And if you’re like me, you get joy from treating your pup with the pricey doggie jerky every once in a while.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t save some money on the better-quality stuff. You can find deals on everything from organic dog food (it has a higher meat count than the commercial stuff) or flea medications. Check out "9 Sites for Saving Money on Pet Supplies" and "6 Tips to Save on Pet Medical Expenses."
Energy Star-certified appliances typically cost more up front, but they’ll save you on utility bills for years (or even decades). But there are several ways to get a great deal on high-efficiency appliances – like buying floor models or shopping during the big sale seasons (in the fall). Check out "9 Tips to Save on Appliance Purchases for more ways to save."
10. Home improvements
Done right, home improvements can raise the value of your house. Done wrong, you’ll end up paying more to repair the shoddy work. It pays to hire the right contractor and buy good materials.
But you can still save some money. For example, revamping what you already have, doing small jobs yourself, and visiting building supply auctions can save you hundreds. Check out "23 Ways to Lower the Cost of Home Improvement" for more tips.
That’s our list of things when quality can potentially trump price. But what about you? Are there things you’re willing to pay extra for, or do you always try to find the lowest price on everything you buy? Sound off on our Facebook page!
Angela Colley is a writer for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.