cheap is not always a good thing

March 3rd, 2008

Cheap Is Not Always A Good Thing

I have this problem. I honestly don’t have the skills necessary to determine if something is “quality” or not, other than if other people tell me it is so. I have a problem figuring out when it is better to spend more money for something. Yes, in retrospect, I can tell, if I buy something for half as much, and then it lasts only a quarter as long as whatever I could of bought would have, it was a bad decision. But I really lack the ability to tell these things in advance.

Maybe everyone does. But I find myself on the “cheap” end of the stick a LOT more often than I would like.

Name brands aren’t everything, right? Why pay a ton of money for a name brand clothing item when I can find much much less inexpensive things elsewhere? I’m just paying for the “brand” after all, when I buy a name brand item? Except, I think I’m not. I think there is actually a significant quality difference between some name brands and some no-name brands. I’m just not sure how much of a difference and how much that difference is worth.

My case in point. A few weeks ago, I found this adorable sweater, turtleneck, and corduroy pants combo marked down at Aldi for $4.99. I don’t often buy clothes at Aldi, in fact, I am not sure I have ever bought clothes at Aldi. But this caught my eye because it was marked “Clearance” (I love clearance), it was adorable, and it was in my son’s size. My son needs some more pants, and he could also use another sweater or two. $4.99 to fulfill both these things, and also get a turtleneck – great! I admit I did not look the clothing over as closely as I probably should have, but I did inspect it for tears, runs, or any other obvious imperfection.

Well, a few wearings (and washings) later, and I am regretting the $4.99 I spent more and more. The sweater is unraveling at the seams, and the button fastener on the pants doesn’t fit in the buttonhole correctly and has to be forced, which is making that loose and feel like it will come off too. The turtlneck is okay, but is very thin and not too exciting. The sweater makes me so sad. it is the cutest little striped sweater (which is ultimately why I was drawn to it) but it is so shoddy that I am not sure it will even survive another wearing. Sigh.

I know, it was only $4.99. What do I expect, anyway? It was a poor buying decision that I know I am doomed to repeat. In my quest to buy affordable clothing for my kids, I often end up buying clothing that doesn’t stand the test of time.

I think from now on I’ll stick to Goodwill. If I can find name brands there in good condition, they’re guaranteed to be cheap. And I can call myself frugal instead of silly. Still afraid to buy a new vacuum though for fear of being cheap instead of frugal…

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31 Responses to “Cheap Is Not Always A Good Thing”

  1. I’ve found that with clothing, the weight of a garment is a good indicator of it’s quality. A heavier tutleneck will probably be of better quality than something of a thinner fabric. This isn’t always true, but works most of the time!
    I find it a lot harder to resist when buying clothes for my kids than when buying something for myself anyways!

  2. I often go to TJ Max, Marshalls, Stein Mart, or other stores similar to this, I have managed to find some great quality name brand clothing at a fraction of the cost. Case and point, I was shopping for a blazer and managed to find one that fit the needs I was looking for. It was fully lined (good sign of quality), and the texture was nice to the touch. I debated about buying it, but since it was on the clearance rack I decided it couldn’t hurt. The price I paid ended up being $38 when it originally retailed for $380! I happy trotted out of the store feeling like a bank robber because of my wonderful deal. :-)

  3. Aw man, that’s a bummer. I hope you’ll take it back–don’t forget Aldi’s 100% satisfaction policy!

  4. I have a hard time with this too! Maybe it is universal! I’ll tell you what I do when I need to make a purchase like a vacuum cleaner or something else a bit more expensive and really don’t have a clue what to get. I buy a one-month online subscription to Consumer Reports. It costs $5.95 and you have access to their site for a month to look at all their reports in all the categories. I did this last year when I needed to buy a new refrigerator and washer & dryer. I felt better about my decision because at least I had some facts and wasn’t going in blindly. I think it’s worth the $5.95.

  5. I was leery about going to Goodwill the first time. I envisioned a bunch of stained, smelly clothes being rummaged through by the local homeless. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Our local Goodwill is clean, well-lit and laid out almost like a “regular” store. We have found so many great bargains for our daughter, which is nice since she’s outgrowing clothes faster than we can buy them lately.

  6. Buying a brand doesn’t mean it has to be an expensive brand. You don’t have to buy Tommy Hilfinger sweaters that are good quality. If you find some brands that are reasonably priced that last start buying more of them. There are middle of the road brands that produce quality product without the high end price.

  7. Clothing is something I am not cheap about. I want quality clotehs that will last me a while. I find this particularly important for the clothes my children wear. I don’t blink twice about buying my oldest quality clothes because I need them to be in good shape so that my second son can wear them too. I just bypass having to pay full retail price by buying on sale or clearanced and using % off store coupon. I also buy a lot of clothes at the end of one season so it can be worn the next. Whatever needs to be complemented I buy as the season passes by. For adults I shop around. I am not very big on buying used clothes for adults because I find those to be hard finds, but when I do find one I buy it. Most of the time I buy neutral items at the outlet shops or end of season sales.

  8. One of the biggest reason we try to buy some of the best-quality clothes out there is because of the hand-me-down factor we have in a family with 6 kids. :)

    The wife has always worked at a department store with pretty good name brands and an inside-knowledgebase of which clothes might have wear issues and defects. So we get most things with a good wear-factor knowing we may get to reuse them for 1-2 more children.

    We’ve also made a deal with our older kids that if they take extra special care of their clothes so the other kids can inherit them, we’ll buy them more things more often. At middle-school age this can be very important. :)

  9. Sophie from France Says:

    March 3rd, 2008 at 10:38 am

    They will take it back if you return it, so I think you should!

  10. You can try stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx for good deals. Also, Target has some really cute clothes at great prices often, and Old Navy has great deals. Gap Outlet is really good as well. I don’t know if they have one anywhere near you, but if they do, it is worth the trip. They sell different clothing than the regular Gap stores, and if you shop around the sales there, you can get amazing deals. The quality is just as good as normal Gap, too. I just finished college and am in my first post-grad job, so I have stocked up on tons of work clothes there. I’ve gotten dress pants for $8, button down shirts for $15, and really nice sweaters for like $10 each.

    Another thing I find is that it’s worth it to sign up for the email lists at the Web sites of your favorite stores, even if they are not necessarily the cheapest ones. I get coupons in the mail and in my email all the time from Express and the Limited… $15 off any purchase and $30 off $75 are the ones I have right now, actually. If you go when they’re having a sale and use a coupon, you can really stretch your dollar somewhere you might normally not consider shopping at because of the prices. Just some ideas! :)

  11. I’m totally 100% on the TJ Maxx/Goodwill train for sure, what great stores for PF’ers!

    There’s also Rugged Wearhouse for those in the DC/MD/VA area (they may be expanding to other areas to but not sure). I find they tend to carry more “trendy” hipster type clothing at super low prices. Think Armani, Urban Outfitters, etc.

    Either way, I think everyone’s on the right track here. Clearance + Sales + Coupons = Happiness.

  12. I agree with Good Fountain about using Consumer Reports for larger items, except that I just pick up the appropriate issue at the library for free! If I’m going to take more than three weeks to shop, I’ll just make a copy of the pages about the product and then return the magazine to the library.

    I bought a Consumer Reports “Best Buy” vacuum cleaner a couple of years ago and still love it!

  13. Consult with Consumer Reports on durables, but I can tell you that they recommend a Kenmore for both upright and canister vacuums…although I bought a Dyson and it has served me fine.

    For clothing, if you have a “seconds” or “outlet” shop nearby, those are often good places to purchase new clothing at (sometimes) discounted prices.

  14. Well I’m a big generics users when it comes to both clothing and food. That’s one of the things I learned from my college and graduate business education. Most of the perceived value we have for goods is based on perceived value due to advertising and proper product positioning rather than based on its true quality and value.

  15. It’s that old adage…if it seems to good to be true, it probably is! When my first generation of children were small in the 70′s, I bought all their clothes at Sears…Toughskin jeans that lasted forever. I don’t know what the quality is like these days at Sears, but Goodwill always has name brand kids clothes that seems very durable.

  16. I agree that weight is a good indicator when it comes to clothes quality. Fiber content is also important–in my experience, blends tend to fall apart quicker. I think both of these will tell you more about quality than a brand name will–I see so many “fashion” items sold for high prices that I know would fall apart after a few washes or any kind of moderate activity.

    I love Goodwill and other secondhand stores…when I spend an hour or two really digging through the racks I usually find lots of good stuff.

  17. I’ve never heard of Aldi’s, so I don’t know their return policy. Walmart and Target accept returns up to 90 days, and I would never hesitate to return clothing that wears out within a few weeks. I learned this same lesson about shopping thrift stores over a decade ago when my children were 5 and 7. They really wanted the Power Rangers swim trunks and I bought them new from Kmart. Within a couple of weeks, they were ripping out at the seams, and unraveling at the edges. I learned to shop Savers/Goodwill during the off season for swim trunks. They cost less money and were such good quality they lasted the entire summer, swimming every single day in chlorinated water. OH, and steer clear of Fruit of the Loom’s Golden Blend t-shirts. Mr. A bought a couple packs several weeks ago and they were threadbare out of the package. Terrible quality.

  18. It’s true. Cheap clothes don’t last. Quality ones do. Many of the clothes I bought my grown kids ended up being worn by 6 kids and still looked fine. That was because I bought a lot of Winnie-the-Pooh and Oshkosh things, and my friend bought another good department store brand (and then passed them to my eldest when her slightly older child outgrew them). With a few exceptions, the cheap clothes barely made it through one child.

    In fact, my 5 year old has worn a number of things that belonged to her older siblings and that had been sitting in a box for a dozen or more years. And some of those are now being worn by her young nieces!

    I read on someone’s blog (sorry, can’t remember where) that the key thing when you buy clothes is the cost per wearing, not the cost of the item. By that standard, most of these items probably cost less than a penny per wear.

    If you combine buying quality children’s clothes on sale with some consignment store shopping you can get great things for a reasonable price that will last through several kids.

  19. Ah, the debate about cheap clothes vs expensive clothes vs brand names etc etc rolls on :)

    Aldi does have a great return policy, but I don’t have the receipt any more. Bad me! I may try to return it this weekend anyway. The sweater is so cute… but such a disaster.

    I would love to buy “generic” clothing that lasts, and not name brands, but I am pretty bad at determining what will last. I will try to pay more attention to weight and if it looks shoddy or not. I have found good stuff at yard sales, and my friends pass down great stuff to me. Yard sale season is almost upon us so hopefully I will be able to find some stuff for my son for next fall. :)

  20. Being an Apparel Design Major I know lots about clothes and quality. It kills me to spend money on cheap clothes- but many of the “old” signs of quality are not unnecessarily true anymore. Thinner shirts are popular and can be quite durable if they are quality. Look for words like “ring spun” which is the strongest way to spin fibers into thread- especially on package tees. Fabric content is a good sign of quality, an incorrect blend will result in pilling (it has to do with the weak fibers breaking off and and creating the little ball, and the strong fibers holding the ball on). Look for fleece that states it is “anti-pill”. Also, pull the seams apart and see if there is “seam grin” or if you can see the thread from the right side of the seam. This means that the thread tension was off when sewn and the manufacture probably could care less about other aspects of construction. When looking at pants, the back seam should have two rows of stitching (a single line, then a space, then the overedge row). These are good ways to determine quality, even on cheaper goods.

    Hope this helps a little bit!

  21. I agree with A. I’d also suggest to avoid buying anything with a significant amount of a non-natural fiber (e.g. acrylic or polyester). My experience is that they deteriorate much, much quicker.

    Also, I disagree that heavier material equals better quality. Two of the best sweaters I’ve ever owned (and still do) are thin, small gauge wool. They’ve lasted far longer than any other heavier wool sweaters, and in my experience, the heavier sweaters pill much more quickly.

    Finally, I’d just recommend avoiding buying clothing anyplace that doesn’t specialize in it. I can’t imagine that a grocery store or drug store would have quality clothing. There are both in my city that carry clothing, and I’ve never seen anything that looked like it was good quality.

  22. I’m currently wearing one of my favorite shirts (read: I wear it often) – a blue thermal shirt from The Limited that I got as a *hand-me-down* about, oh, 13 years ago. (I’m tiny… it was very over-sized then, it’s still slightly over-sized now.) As far as I can tell, it’s no worse for the wear. It’s casual and comfy, not the most stylish of shirts, but I love it!

    But sadly, items like this are getting harder and harder to find, even at Goodwill. I have a lot of clothes, but few that have the combination of quality + comfort + looking presentable that I seek out.


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