I am all for saving money. And since I started writing about cooking—and more recently spending hours researching prices for groceries and other goods at my local grocery and bulk stores—I’ve become an obsessed price-per-ounce reader and comparison shopper.
But even though I believe in getting the best possible price for comparable goods, there are some products where the list price doesn’t reflect the item’s true value. Some items are inexpensive for a reason, meaning they either won’t perform as well or last as long as something that you have to pay a little more for.
Don’t believe me? Here are six inexpensive things that you should stop wasting your money on—and what you should buy instead.
1. Off-Brand Food Containers
You know the ones I’m talking about here—those containers that, right out of the packaging, already don’t seem to match up with their lids. You spend a few bucks here and there at the dollar store on those white or black plastic containers. Then you spend way too much time trying to get the lids to fit on, only to get one on “good enough” and have it leak sauce in your fridge or tote bag.
What to get instead: Ziploc Containers Variety Pack, $19 for 24
2. Plastic Cutting Boards
Yup, you can get a plastic cutting board for just a few dollars at the grocery store and wherever else. But I’ve found that they scratch up, get stained, and mysteriously melt at the corners (hot dishwasher? Too close to the stove?) almost instantaneously. So after using them just a few times, you’re not totally sure if they’re really clean or if, possibly, there’s salmonella lurking underneath the knife marks.
What to get instead: John Boos Walnut Wood Edge Grain Reversible Cutting Board, $119
Invest in a well-made wooden cutting board. I got one for my husband as a birthday present a few years ago. It was certainly a splurge, but to this day that cutting board and a bowl of fruit are the only two items we keep on display on our countertops. We’ve used it hundreds of times, but it looks just as good as day one. And we baby this thing with special oil so it shines. Well worth the money.
3. Paper Napkins
Paper napkins are some of the cheapest things you can buy—during some of my recent expeditions to places like Costco and Target, I’ve learned that you can get bushels of them for pennies apiece. But even if each napkin costs you a penny, it’s like throwing a penny away every time you use one. Eventually, those pennies add up! And I don’t want to be mad at my 3-year-old when she grabs a fistful of napkins to wipe up one tiny spot. Plus, paper napkins are wasteful.
What to get instead: Buffet Napkins, $10 for six at World Market
Invest in inexpensive cloth napkins that you can use again and again. They may cost you a few dollars at the outset, but they’ll last basically forever. I like the solid-color Buffet Napkins from World Market: The store has a wide array of colors that’s constantly updated—I like to switch them up seasonally and my kids love to choose their own colors when they set the table.
4. Cheap Plastic Bags
I just got a box of 130 plastic bags for less than $10. I was so proud of myself at the time and now all I want to do is kick myself in the bum. About every other bag that I pull out is defected. Either the plastic is melded together or there’s a slash in it for some reason. I’d have to guess I got a busted box, but I’ve had bad luck with other cheap-o plastic bags, too.
What to get instead: Ziploc Sandwich Bags, $18 for 90
Go name brand here with Ziploc or, actually, even the options from IKEA. That’s right—IKEA! (Read: How IKEA’s Plastic Bags Stand Up to Name-Brand Ones.) You want something with a good seal at the top and thicker plastic, so that you can you reuse the bag a few times.
(Image credit: Maria Midoes)
5. Off-Brand Aluminum Foil and Plastic Wrap
If you’ve ever bought off-brand foil or plastic wrap, you know the pain that is trying to rip off a piece and actually use it to wrap up food. It can be nearly impossible. So while you may save a few bucks on a cheaper roll, you’ll end up wasting more or just tossing the thing out of frustration.
Read these stories to see why:
6. Bad Knives
Before I got married, I only had “bad” knives—the cheapie kind that are actually dangerous because you have to jam and saw and really work to get them to cut. Although I managed to get a whole set for a small amount of money, I suffered many (fortunately minor) injuries before some generous folks came through with wedding presents.
Invest in one or two nicer knives, then slowly build your collection. The first time you chop something with a truly great knife, it’s magical.
Do you have anything else to add to this list? What are some cheapie things you’ve bought for your kitchen, only to later realize you probably should have just spent the money on something a little better?
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