Feb 5, 2010

False Economy

Today as I baked bread with measuring spoons that kept bending, then mopped with a mop whose wringing mechanism wasn't working right, I was reminded how buying cheap often leads to false economy. Although it's important to consider price when shopping for your home, it's also vital to look at quality.

For example, I could buy eating utensils at the Dollar Tree and within a month, they begin breaking and I must buy new ones. Or I could spend $40 or $50 at Target or Wal-Mart for stainless steel utensils and never need to buy new ones. Even though it costs more initially to buy the utensils for $50, in the long run, I'll spend less.

Not all shopping decisions are this easy, of course, so here are a few tips:

* For larger items be sure to check out consumer reviews. I long ago lost faith in Consumer Reports (they don't recommend many of my favorite household tools), but I do take the time to read reviews at Amazon and Epinions. Look at the big picture first: Do most consumers seem to like the product, or not? Then look at details. Why are some people dissing the product? Are their concerns similar to yours? For example, if you're buying a blender and some reviewers give a low ranking to a particular blender because it won't fit under the counter, consider whether this feature is a big deal to you. If it's not, you can disregard those poor reviews.

* Consider materials. Some materials simply last longer than others, or work better than others for certain applications. For example, I'd never buy anything other than a nonstick pan for cooking eggs, because they just work so much better for cooking that particular item. I also make sure my household work horses (like measuring cups) are made of materials that should last my lifetime.

* Know what the going price is. If you shop around (either online or off) and see that, say, stainless steel measuring cups generally sell for $20 to $30, you'll know to be skeptical when you see some for $10. (I almost guarantee they'll be too flimsy to be useful.) You'll also know to take note of more expensive products; what makes them cost more than the competition? Sometimes there is a good reason that can make a real difference in your home, making the more expensive product a better deal - in the long run - than the cheaper one.

* Check small items for quality while in the store. Items not in packages are easiest to look over. For example check utensils for bend-ability; if you can flex them too easily, they won't last. Some items should bend easily (like plastic spatulas) so check they aren't too stiff. See how things are put together; if there are screws, they will come loose and need re-tightening, for example. If items are in boxes and there's no display model, ask a sales clerk to remove one from a box so you can examine it. Avoid items in plastic wrap that can't be opened and examined.

* Look for warranty information. Look for products that offer a complete guarantee. How many times have you purchased a product only to have it break right after the warranty ends? So look for products with the longest guarantees you can find. (Then be sure to file away warranty info - including a receipt - in case you need them later.)

* Choose your store wisely. When it comes to many household tools, it makes sense to buy commercial grade. For example, if you need new kitchen gadgets, be sure to check out the local restaurant supply store. Generally, commercial items last far longer than products made for consumers because they withstand much harder use

* Finally, don't continue to use products that don't work well. For example, by continuing to use a mop that doesn't work right, I waste time (because it takes me longer to do the job) and gain a lot of frustration. It's better economy for me to purchase a new mop than to continue using a mop that costs me so much.

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1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with everything you say here (except that I end up buying more stuff than I need). I've found that there are some random kitchen tools that get a variety of jobs done, especially when you're tight on cash. I think my favorite small items that I use a lot are my hand-held citrus juicer (good for lemons, limes, garlic, etc.), my cheese grater (good for cheese, chocolate shavings, julienne veggies, lemon zest), and aluminum sauce pans. They aren't the best kind of pans to get, but they do the job and they are priced GREAT. Shop online from a restaurant supply store if you can (not all are open to the public). My favorite is Mission Restaurant Supply. They only have stores in Texas, but as far as I know they ship anywhere. :)