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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor
| July 19, 2018
Ever wonder why certain brands cost so much? Prestige is one factor. Owning a pricey product from a coveted maker carries cachet. People know it and aspire to it. If money is no object, by all means load up on all the high-end brands that make you happy.
But money is an object to most of us, and trying to keep up with the Joneses is a sure-fire way to squander yours. As such, your decision to invest in an expensive item should also factor in quality and value, says Bobbi Rebell, a certified financial planner and host of the Financial Grownup podcast. Is there a true difference in the construction and functionality of the product, compared to a cheaper alternative, to justify the high price tag? Equally important, does the brand stand behind what it sells?
Items purchased from high-end brands, generally speaking, tend to be better constructed from higher quality materials, and return policies and warranties tend to be more customer-friendly. But not always. We asked several shopping experts to share their top picks for pricey goods that are worth every penny. Here's what they had to say.
The Canfield Sport 40mm (Courtesy of Shinola)
When it comes to your everyday timepiece, spending extra on a higher quality watch that can hold up to regular wear-and-tear can prove to be a smart financial decision over the long run, says Jeanette Pavini, a savings expert for Coupons.com. "Buying a less expensive watch only to have to constantly get it repaired or even replace it defeats the purpose," she says.
If you're in the market for a new watch but don't have a Rolex budget, Pavini recommends Shinola handcrafted watches. The Detroit-based accessories manufacturer offers women's and men's watches ranging in price from $475 to $2,800. The watches come with a limited lifetime guarantee, which means if your timepiece has a defect resulting from faulty workmanship, it will be repaired or replaced free of charge.
Screenshot from Tumi.com
Frequent travelers know that cringe-worthy moment when the zipper on the suitcase you purchased half-off from a discount retailer splits open while you're on the road. Sure, paying full price for a luggage set from a high-end brand can get costly. But if you're in and out of airports or train stations on a regular basis, investing in luggage that can handle the constant use can be money well spent.
Look for luggage constructed from a durable material with reinforced zippers, says Pavini, and rolling bags should have four wheels that spin for maneuverability. She recommends the 43-year-old Tumi brand, which uses solid steel machine screws and abrasion-proof nylon fabric to construct its bags. Prices range from $295 to $1,795 on everything from garment bags to large suitcases.
Under Tumi's five-year warranty, with few exceptions damaged luggage will be repaired or replaced free of charge during the first year of ownership. During years two through five, luggage is covered for manufacturing defects and normal wear-and-tear only.
Beth Midrise Baby Bootcut Jean (Courtesy of Hudson Jeans)
Denim is a wardrobe staple, so investing in a pair of designer jeans that don't have to be replaced every year is a no-brainer. Smart shopping expert Trae Bodge recommends the Hudson brand. Prices range from $165 to $295 for women's jeans, $175 to $315 for men's jeans and $45 to $59 for children's jeans. You'll want to opt for a style that skews more traditional (straight leg or bootcut) rather than trendy (distressed or acid wash), Bodge says, to extend the longevity of your jeans.
Hudson jeans are available at more than 700 retail locations throughout the U.S., as well as online at HudsonJeans.com. Domestic online orders get free shipping and returns. If your jeans have a manufacturing defect, such as a ripped seam or faulty zipper, you're entitled to a full refund or exchange. The jeans must be unworn with the original tags still attached.
Screenshot from Balenciaga.com
Finding a stylish, high-quality handbag that's functional for everyday use as well as special occasions can be tricky. Cheap bags fall apart fast, and trendy bags quickly go out of style. Much like jeans, the solution is investing in a luxury bag with a classic shape, says Bodge. "You can wear it between seasons, or when you're in need of something that's a bit more traditional for a special occasion or work event," she says.
Balenciaga's Everyday tote, which retails for $1,250, should be on your radar, Bodge says. The calfskin leather bag checks all the style boxes, and the Balenciaga warranty guarantees free repairs for U.S. customers for the first four years of ownership. You'll need proof of purchase, and the damage must be the result of manufacturing defects under normal conditions to be covered.
Courtesy of Kai USA
A set of quality kitchen knives can handle all of your slicing, dicing and chopping needs for years, even decades, to come. Andrew Schrage, co-owner of the personal finance site MoneyCrashers.com, favors Shun cutlery. The brand's handcrafted knives are constructed from hard steel for the blades and hardwood and resin for the handles, which offer durability and water resistance. Shun's Classic 5-Piece Starter Block Set, which includes a chef's knife, a paring knife, a utility knife, a honing steel and a six-slot bamboo block, retails for $520.
You can buy direct from the manufacturer's website, on Amazon.com, or through various big-name retailers including Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table and Macy's. Knives purchased from Shun or through an authorized dealer come backed by a limited lifetime warranty for the original owner against manufacturing defects. The warranty also includes free sharpening, though you'll have to pay shipping and processing fees ($5 for the first knife, $2 for each additional knife).
Screenshot from Gevalia.com
If you're willing to spend a bit more upfront on a top-notch home coffee brewer, you can start skipping Starbucks and save a lot in the long run, says Schrage.
The Tassimo Home Brewing System by Bosch, which has several models that come with a one-year limited warranty, is your best bet, Schrage says. The T47 model automatically adjusts the amount of water, temperature and brewing time for each drink based on the type of T-Disc pod (similar to a K-Cup) that's inserted into the machine. In addition to coffee, you can use the T47, which retails for $140, to make hot chocolate, hot or cold tea, cappuccinos and lattes (using real milk, unlike other home brewing systems).
Courtesy of All-Clad
Inexpensive pots and pans, like the ones you'll find at most big-box retailers, rarely last. They're often made from lesser quality material such as anodized aluminum, says Schrage, and the nonstick coating is susceptible to scratches, rust and peeling over time.
Schrage prefers the All-Clad line of cookware because the brand offers products made from more durable stainless steel and copper. All-Clad's 14-Piece Stainless Set comes with two frying pans (10- and 12-inches), two sauce pans with lids (2- and 3-quart), two saute pans with lids (3- and 6-quart), a chef's pan with lid (12-inches), and a stock pot with lid (8-quart). The cookware is made using tri-ply construction, which means there's an aluminum core with stainless steel layers around it that help provide even heat distribution. The set retails for $1,155.
All-Clad offers a limited lifetime warranty on its products, which includes free repairs and replacements of any defective cookware. You can purchase their products directly from the All-Clad website, Amazon, or at brick-and-mortar retailers such as Crate & Barrel, Bed, Bath & Beyond and Bloomingdale's.
Courtesy of Tuft & Needle
Considering you spend a third of your life on your mattress, you should invest in one that promises a good night's sleep. Coupons.com's Pavini says Tuft & Needle brand mattresses, which sell for $575 for a queen and $700 for a king, are worth the modest splurge. The young company, founded in 2012, makes its mattresses using heat-wicking material and cooling gel to help keep you comfortable while sleeping, and an adaptive foam that conforms to the body. By comparison, a basic queen-size spring mattress can be found for under $200.
Adding to the appeal, the company's return policy is especially generous, Pavini says. When you purchase a mattress, Tuft & Needle allows you to test it out for up to 100 nights. If you don't like it, customer service will help you coordinate with a nearby charity to donate the mattress. Once Tuft & Needle has your proof of donation, you'll receive a full refund. If you keep the mattress, it comes with a 10-year limited warranty that covers any defective materials (such as tears or unraveling stitches) and workmanship.
Courtesy of Nikon
Smartphones have made it so much easier to snap candid moments on the fly, but for photography purists nothing beats a multi-functional digital camera. "The quality of the pictures -- i.e., vivid colors and higher image resolution -- is better. Also, if your phone gets lost, you could potentially lose all your photos," MoneyCrasher.com's Schrage notes.
You can find a simple point-and-shoot digital camera for less than $100, but it won't be an upgrade from your phone. Instead, Schrage advises serious shoppers to invest in Nikon's D500 DSLR camera, which sells for $1,900. It's WiFi and Bluetooth compatible and shoots 4K UHD video. When it comes to high-quality digital cameras, "Nikon is one of the go-to brand in that niche," Schrage says. The D500 model received top ratings from PC Magazine and C|Net.
The camera comes with a one-year limited warranty, which covers manufacturer defects and workmanship issues. Nikon will repair or replace a defective camera free of charge while under warranty.
Wyndham Parka (Courtesy of Canada Goose)
If you live in an area with brutal winters, it's worth spending extra to stay warm outdoors. Financial Grownup's Rebell recommends Canada Goose outerwear, which includes parkas, hooded bomber jackets, all-weather vests and rain coats for women, men and children. Their outerwear is insulated with a down filler, which holds more warmth than a synthetic filler, according to CanadaGoose.com. Prices range from $395 to $1,550 for women, $350 to $1,550 for men and $350 to $725 for kids.
Another plus to buying a coat from a high-end brand is that when you're ready for something new, you can re-sell your existing coat (as long as it's in good condition) on a luxury consignment site such as TheRealReal.com and get a decent chunk of your money back, Rebell adds. We spotted a Canada Goose men's Fur-Trimmed Chilliwack Bomber Jacket that recently sold for $595 on the consignment site. It originally retailed for $795.
Canada Goose allows returns on unworn items with original tags still attached and in their original packaging. Their warranty protects against manufacturing defects, as well as or poor workmanship.
Courtesy of Big Green Egg
If you're the resident grill-master, having the option to fire up the grill no matter the season or weather is a dream come true. The Big Green Egg Ceramic Grill promises to let you do just that and offers several cooking options beyond grilling that you won't get with a traditional charcoal or gas grill, Schrage says. This includes roasting and smoking meats, as well as baking foods such as pizza or bread.
The charcoal grill has a ceramic heating mechanism that provides more control over the cooking temperature, plus you don't have to worry about the flame going out due to wind or rain because the firebox is enclosed. "You can even cook at 200 degrees or go all the way to 900 degrees, if necessary," Schrage adds. The grill comes in varying sizes (mini to 2XL) and prices range from $599 to $2,899.
You can only purchase the grill through an authorized dealer. (Use Big Green Egg's search tool to find one near you.) It comes with a limited lifetime warranty for residential use, which covers materials and workmanship on all the ceramic heating components.
Courtesy of T3 Whirl Trio
Skimping on hair-care products -- especially heating tools -- can come back to burn you, literally. There are countless cautionary YouTube videos circulating of product-testing vloggers singeing off their hair and scorching their scalps. That's why it's important to invest in quality heating tools such as flat irons and curling irons that won't leave hair severely damaged, Rebell says.
If you're looking for a new hair curling tool, she recommends the T3 Whirl Trio Curling Hair Wand, which retails for $270. It comes with three interchangeable ceramic wand barrels of varying sizes (ceramic-coated barrels allow for even heat distribution to prevent "hotspots"), has five temperature settings, one-hour automatic shut-off, and is equipped with special technology that allows the wand to measure and adjust its temperature while in use.
The T3 won Allure magazine's annual Best of Beauty award for 2015, 2016 and 2017. It was also selected as one of their 25 Best Curling Irons at Every Price Point for 2018.
Evidence is mounting of the health benefits associated with eating foods free of added growth hormones and pesticides. But stocking up your refrigerator with organic milk, eggs, meats and produce can get costly. The USDA's most recent report examining retail prices on organic foods found that the cost for 17 popular organic food items including spinach and eggs ranged from 7% to 82% more than the same non-organic items.
There's a middle ground for health-conscious shoppers on a budget, says Lisa Lee Freeman, a consumer and shopping expert and co-host of the Hot Shopping Tips podcast. "If you don't have the money to buy everything organic -- and most of us don't -- splurge on organic versions of produce listed on the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list," she recommends. This includes strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes and peaches. They tend to have the highest levels of pesticide residues when grown using conventional methods, Freeman adds.