On a bus heading uptown, a woman in the seat behind me exclaimed, “I always say you get what you pay for!”
Her male companion immediately agreed. “You know it,” “he echoed.
“Buy cheap, you get cheap!” declared the woman.
“You got that right,” agreed her friend.
As it happens, I have often found that to be baloney. There are times I’ve paid top of the line prices only to receive bottom of the line quality. I’ve also paid rock bottom prices for things that turned out to be of excellent quality.
I learned a lesson on this subject when I first moved to New York. Prior to that, my haircuts had been done by a small-town barber. But now that I had a job at a top fashion magazine, I decided to go all out and have my hair cut and styled by a celebrated, pricey salon. Since they were the experts, I put myself completely in their hands, having every confidence I would come out looking like the million dollars I was paying them.
I don’t remember any of the details of the experience itself except feeling hot and frazzled from beginning to end. When it was over I gazed at a stranger in the mirror, stunned… unable to fathom that the gigantic helmet of board-stiff curls plopped on my head belonged to me. In a state of shock I made it home and prayed that a steaming hot shower could flatten that mess into something that looked like it belonged on a human head.
I again found out that a high price didn’t guarantee high quality when I tried on a costly shirt in a Madison Avenue boutique. Though the shirt was well cut, the collar was puckered at the edges — the result of poor workmanship. Working down the whole rack, my saleswoman searched for another collar minus the poorly sewn puckering, but came up empty.
Conversely, decades ago, I bought a pair of comfy, hang around the house pants in a discount store for a ridiculously low price. Beautifully sewn and constructed of some hardy fabric that just won’t let go, those pants are still going strong many years later.
And speaking of ridiculously low prices, I’ve paid a big $10.00 to neighborhood street vendors for good-looking watches that operate perfectly year after year.
Next we come to my thrift shop finds where I really hit the jackpot, unearthing amazing high quality items for amazingly low prices. A few weeks ago I found a book originally priced at $50.00 that I had long lusted for: “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”. In Almost new condition, it set me back a tiny $2.00. Another great buy in immaculate condition was a blue glass box designed by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany’s that I was shocked to spy sitting on a Goodwill shelf surrounded by tchatchkes. That elegant gem cost me all of $4.00.
Price also has no relation to quality when it comes to generic products. According to Life Hacker, Consumer reports ran a blind test between some generic and name-brand foods and discovered that not only were the differences between them marginal, but in some cases the cheaper store brands actually tasted better to the testers than the national brands. Kirkland’s salsa, for one, tasted better to consumers than Old El Paso chip dip and Walmart’s au gratin potatoes won out over Betty Crocker spuds.
I for one am a huge fan of Trader Joe’s excellent quality house brands that sell for way less than name brands. It’s the only food market in New York City that will put me on a subway and bus for a 146-block round trip to cart home a rolling book bag packed with groceries.
So price and quality don’t always correlate. It takes an adventuresome, sharp eye to spot the high quality prizes costing a pittance and carry them triumphantly home.
More on the shopping trails:
- Scouting the Thrifts for Gems
- From Wimpole Hall to Goodwill NYC
- Street Vendor Extraordinaire
- Tales of Big Apple Shoplifters