The best of both worlds: How to find quality products without spending a lot of money

Investments

Our recent three-part discussion on choosing quality over price has been interesting. (If you missed it, here’s part one, part two, and part three.)

It’s clear that most of you money bosses value quality, but not all of you are willing to pay a premium to obtain it. And some GRS readers don’t think it’s ever worth paying more to buy the best. (In fact, some folks think this philosophy is foolish.)

One thing we all seem to agree on: It’s always best to pay less.

I’ve shared a few of my strategies for finding cheap quality items over the past week, and various GRS readers have chimed in with theirs. But these tips and tricks are scattered across three articles comprising thousands of words. Today, I’m going to pull everything together in one place.

Here’s a compilation of this community’s favorite ways to find quality products without spending a lot of money.

Consumer Reports

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m a lifelong fan of Consumer Reports. I subscribe to both the magazine and the website. (It’s a business expense, so it’s easy to justify.) Consumer Reports does a fantastic job of demonstrating how price and quality aren’t always correlated.

Here, for instance, are there current top five space heaters. (I need to get a better one for my writing shed.)

Consumer Reports space heater ratings

As you can see, an expensive Dyson heater ranks second on the list at $450. But the top Vornado heater is just one-third the price. And the fourth-place heater, which has decent quality, can be had for just 10% of the Dyson’s cost (and one-third the cost of the top heater).

While the Consumer Reports magazine is great, I like the website even better. It’s easy to find whatever you want. You can sort products by different criteria. You can create comparison lists. And, best of all, each product has its own specific page (including reader reviews!). A subscription to CR online costs $35 per year.

Clearance and Close-Outs

Another technique I use to pay less for quality items is to shop clearance and close-out sales from brands I trust. (Or, for electronics, I check out refurbished items.)

On those rare occasions that I shop for clothes, my first stop is always the clearance racks. This is true whether I’m in a high-end store or a discount retailer.

Some stores, such as REI, have amazing clearance racks where you can find great clothes for as much as half off. The selection is usually relatively random — it’s end-of-season stuff or unpopular items — but if you’re able to find something you need, you can save big bucks.

(Another tip for REI: Wait for your store’s annual “garage sale”, where they gather up all of the returns and remainders to sell for cheap. If you’re handy, you can buy a $120 pair of pants for $12 because it has a broken zipper. Fix the zipper, and you’ve saved a wad of cash!)

Retailer websites are a slick way to find these clearances and close-outs. Again, selection can be limited, but the prices are good. Here are the sales pages from companies the GRS community likes:

On a related note, one reader pointed to a list of brands that deliver consistent quality at the “You Look Fab” fashion blog. In that article, the author notes: “Price is not a good indicator of quality, and for the most part, neither is the brand. The best we can do is make discerning decisions about quality before purchase, launder with care, and hope for the best.”

Hot tip! Even websites without a sale or clearance section often have sale or clearance items. If you can’t find a dedicated page for discounted items, simply type “clearance” into the search box. Here, for instance, is the result of searching for “clearance” at Dr. Martens. (If “clearance” doesn’t work, sometimes “sale” does.)

Reader Suggestions

Those are my top tips for buying quality items for less. When I need to buy something, I check Consumer Reports first to narrow my options to top performers at reasonable prices. For products that CR doesn’t cover (such as clothing), I look for clearance items.

There are other ways to go about this, of course. Here are some other things GRS readers do to pay less for the good stuff:

  • Several readers shared that they mitigate the cost of quality by intentionally choosing products that carry lifetime warranties. While this doesn’t reduce that actual upfront cost of the product, it does mean that you’ll never have to buy it again. (In theory, anyhow.) This sounds like a great strategy for organized people. Me? I’m not so organized. Maybe I should start a spreadsheet to track the things I own that carry lifetime warranties!
  • In the GRS Facebook group, Michelle Wigg suggests setting up on alerts on eBay and Craigslist for the items you want. Then, be patient. Judy Blanc uses EstateSales.net to track down sales in her area. (She says she finds better deals in “normal nice neighborhoods” rather than mini-mansion areas.)
  • A number of GRS readers recommended Wirecutter, a site owned by The New York Times. From the site: “Wirecutter is a list of the best gear and gadgets for people who want to save the time and stress of figuring out what to buy. Whatever sort of thing you need—tableware or TV or air purifier—we make shopping for it easy by telling you the best one to get.”
  • At Fincon last month, I learned that I’m not the only fan of The Luxe Strategist, the blog about “personal finance for people who like nice things”. This site has a dedicated following among financial bloggers precisely because it tries to answer the question, “How can you buy quality items without spending a fortune?” Here are two Luxe Strategist articles related to our current discussion: A practical guide to shopping for high-quality clothes and How to find hidden gems at thrift stores.
  • Speaking of thrift stores, that’s probably the most common way people find good stuff for less. I live near an upscale consignment store called Simply Posh. When Kim and I need new clothes, we try to check there first. If you’re patient and willing to buy used, you can save huge amounts of money while still enjoying quality clothing. And thrift stores are good for more than just clothes. In the past, I’ve bought great tools, furniture, electronics, and more at thrift stores. (And I’ve donated great stuff too!)

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To wrap things up, I’ve got two final tips from an email conversation with reader RayinPenn.

First, he suggests knowing what to buy when: “Timing is everything…getting a great deal may require waiting.” Pricing on many items is cyclical — even for items like paint and mattresses! Here are “best time to buy things” guides from Consumer Reports and from Lifehacker. (I should put together a similar guide of my own!)

Second, Ray says that before he and his wife buy anything, they check to see if a coupon is available. (My girlfriend does this too.) You can often find coupons for things you wouldn’t expect. Ray writes: “A few years back, I wanted a greenhouse. I found the one I wanted for $1,100…[My wife] jumped online and BAM!, a 10% off coupon was out there.”

I’m no coupon expert — maybe I should do some research and write an article! — so I’ll point you elsewhere for info on how to find coupon codes online. (I think all Kim does is type “[productname] coupon” in Google, but I could be wrong.)

Okay, that’s it, I promise. I’m done writing about the relationship between cost and quality! (At least for a little while haha…)