Purchases Where Spending A Bit More Makes A Big Difference In Quality


Some things have inflection points of quality. Sometimes the best thing you can get at price X is substantially better than what you can get at price X-n, where n is a relatively insignificant amount of money. This is a strongly opinionated, unabashedly subjective, list of them. I intend to update it as I discover more.

When Spending More Matters

This is sorted by price, low to high. Inflection points are in parentheses.

  • Chocolate ($2)
    • Spending just a couple bucks more dramatically improves what you can get.
  • Dairy Products ($4)
    • Organic whole milk surprisingly has a much richer flavor than non-organic
    • Grass-fed butter tastes much better than budget butter
  • Cocktail Cherries ($4)
    • Get a $4 jar of Amarena cherries sometime. It will ruin regular $1 maraschino cherries for you forever.
  • Cheese ($4)
    • The difference between a block of your local grocery store brand’s cheddar and a non-mass produced cheese is huge.
  • Streaming movies ($4)
    • If you have a 4K screen and/or nice speakers, spending a dollar more to rent in 4K delivers a much better experience
  • Bacon ($5)
    • Do yourself a favor and pay $5 for 12oz of bacon at Trader Joes some time. The difference between it and a ~$4 slab of Oscar Meyer’s is just enormous. You’re welcome.
  • Spices ($5)
    • I say $5 but it really depends on the spice. In general, fresh/unground spices are considerably better than dried/pre-ground spices. Nutmeg, cloves, and peppercorns stand out with respect to unground spices. Basil, cilantro, and parsley with respect to fresh – the dried versions have basically no taste by comparison.
    • Smoked paprika: the best that you can get for ~$3/oz is La Chinata, and it blows the best you can get for ~$2.25/oz (McCormick out of the water in terms of depth of flavor and smokiness
  • Produce ($5)
    • i.e. Fruits + Vegetables. Not all of them are worth it, but nice tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, and mushrooms are wayyyy better than cheap versions. As are melons and berries.
  • Beer ($9)
    • The best beer you can find in a six pack for $9 is (unquestionably) Dogfish Head, which is worlds better than the best six pack you can get for $6 (Yuengling)
  • Dishwasher detergent ($12)
    • Cascade complete tabs/pods/whatever will run you $5 more than other options, but are literally the difference between the dishwasher working and not. I have no idea what dangerous chemical makes them so effective, but not having to hand wash things after they’ve gone through the dishwasher multiple times is easily worth the added cost.
  • Ribeye ($16)
    • A cheap ribeye costs ~$11/lb at the large budget grocery store near me, while a grass-fed ribeye from the nice grocery store near me costs $16/lb. The difference in quality and freshness between these steaks is enormous. Nicer steaks usually have better marbling (where the flavor comes from) and are fresher, meaning they can be safely dry brined and cooked at lower temperatures, both of which make an enormous difference to the taste.
  • Blanco Tequila ($20)
    • Blanco tequila is basically undrinkable skunk water below $15. But at ~$20 you can start to find truly excellent bottles
  • Running shoes ($140)
    • This is the price point where you can start to find shoes with carbon fiber plates in them. They are a game changer. Every other running tech is a gimick compared to plated shoes.

When Spending More Doesn’t Matter

  • Produce
    • As mentioned above, not all produce is worth spending more on, e.g. bananas and apples tend to be the same quality no matter what you spend. Same for celery, bell peppers, onions, potatoes.
  • Bourbon
    • Kentucky straight bourbon is Kentucky straight bourbon. The category is so heavily regulated that the difference between bottles is fairly small (though not non-existent). I’ve done double blind taste tests. I’ve had Pappy. It is not 100x better than Evan Williams Black. I will die on this hill.
  • Vodka
    • Maybe I’m just a cheap date, but I can’t tell the difference between vodkas. Certainly not in a cocktail, which is the only context I’d ever drink it.
  • London Dry Gin
    • Similar to bourbon, this is a heavily regulated category of spirit. I’ve done double blind taste tests. Gordon’s is much better than bottles 2x or 3x the price, e.g. Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire. And no, before you ask, Aviation is not a London Dry gin. If you think your gin of choice is much better than Gordon’s, it’s probably not a London Dry.
  • Clothes
    • Obviously clothes is a more complicated category – people don’t just buy clothes for practical purposes. They want to look a certain way, display their status, express themselves, etc. But just speaking in terms of quality – how the clothes are made, materials used, durability, lifespan, etc – quality tends to actually be inversely proportional to price. If you’re paying more than what you’d pay at Lands’ End or L.L. Bean, you’re not paying for quality.
  • Poultry
    • As far as I can tell, the only thing you pay for with chicken is the ethics – which is not to dismiss the ethical concerns. I just don’t notice any improvement in quality in expensive chicken. I’ve likewise never been impressed with a nice turkey from a butcher. Preparation seems like it makes all of the difference.