Do You Always Have to Sacrifice Quality for Cost?

Buying stuff is easy. Buying quality stuff is the tough part. With so many options, the easiest way to decide is by price. Surely, if it’s more expensive, then it must be better quality, right?

That may be true in some cases, but finding a quality item means that it fits right, you feel good in it, and it will last when you need it to. Looking at three common purchases­­ — shoes, sunglasses, and clothes — I discovered what drives the prices and, more importantly, if the cost is worth it.

Shoes

Creating a shoe that’s comfortable and fashionable takes research, skill, and good materials. But this doesn’t mean that the most expensive shoe is always better. Consumer Reports compared four classic black pumps. The most expensive pair, hand-sewn Manolo Blahniks at $495, won Consumer Reports’ stamp of approval, but Nine West, a factory-made shoe costing a mere $69, came in a cool second.

Many retail stores sell similar shoes to designer brands, and the best way to determine the quality is by giving them a test-drive in the store or at home. A case in point: I bought beautiful ballet slippers from Steve Madden for $70; my friend bought a nearly identical pair at Target for $15. Her pair is comfortable, mine isn’t.

Tip: Regardless of how much you pay for your shoes, follow these steps for making them last longer.

Sunglasses

The big secret with sunglasses is that one company, Luxottica, has a monopoly on the market. Not only does it manufacture house brands, such as Oakley and Ray-Ban, and designer brands, such as Chanel, Prada, and Versace, but also it makes glasses for retail brands such as Target Optical, Sunglass Hut, and LensCrafters.

If you’re worried that the cheaper brands won’t provide the same protection as a pricer designer’s version, breath easy. According to Wall Street Journal source Dr. Jay Duker, chair of ophthalmology at Tufts Medical Center, “Three hundred dollar sunglasses don’t do anything better than $100 sunglasses, except maybe look better and have a brand name associated with them.”

Tip: Try on at least 10 pairs of sunglasses, so you can make a decision based on fit in addition to price. If you have a tendency to lose or break your sunglasses, invest in a cheaper pair.

Clothes

With clothing, the easiest way to determine what kind of quality you’re in for is by looking at the fabrics. Polyester doesn’t breathe well, but it is inexpensive. Wool is a natural fiber that breathes and is durable, but it is pricier. This article, from askmen.com, breaks down different fabric options.

Tip: Shop for quality when it matters. For example:

  • Work and interview clothes need to look polished and should be made of quality materials and follow more classic style rules. But they can be more expensive and often need special care such as dry cleaning. Look at them as an investment and build on your collection of professional items as your budget allows.
  • In your personal life, you’re probably outfitting yourself with the latest trends, which often fall out of style by next season. Go for retail stores that offer low-cost, lower-quality items that you can wear while they’re popular. Then, sell them to a consignment shop or donate them when you’re done showing them off.

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[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]

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