Do You Get What You Pay For?

by Andy Hough on April 23, 2007

The phrase “You get what you pay for” is often used to justify paying a higher price for an item. The higher price is equated with higher quality. As a general rule of thumb it is true that a higher price is often an indicator of higher quality but there are so many exceptions that price shouldn’t be relied on as a sole indicator of quality.

The recalls of pet food and peanut butter showed that the same manufacturers were making both the store brands and the higher-priced brands. Often the only difference between a store brand and a name brand is the label. In that case when you buy the name brand you are paying for advertising and packaging, not for higher quality. There are plenty of other situations where the higher priced item is not higher quality than the cheaper item or at least not of sufficiently better quality to make it a better value. “You get what you pay for” is often used to rationalize an expensive purchase. Instead of making a purchase based on perceived value it should be made on actual value.

Sometimes even though the higher priced item might be of higher quality it still isn’t the best choice. An example would be cell phones. A new phone that takes pictures, plays MP3’s, and has tons of other features would be considered higher quality than my bottom-of-the-line 2002 cell phone that does little more than make and receive phone calls. However, since I only use my phone to make and receive phone calls and would be unlikely to use the extra features on a new phone the extra features would have little value for me.

I’m not saying that you should always buy the cheapest item. Many times the better quality and durability of a more expensive item justifies its higher price. My point is that you shouldn’t just assume that the higher priced item is a better choice. Your decision should be based on which product provides you the most value for your money.

1 Richard April 24, 2007 at 7:06 am

I disagree with an assertion you make here: “The recalls of pet food and peanut butter showed that the same manufacturers were making both the store brands and the higher-priced brands.”

Many composite foods have a single main ingredient, or set of main ingredients. So although a single manufacturer may make the same ingredient for 10 products, that does not mean that the 10 products were all made by the same manufacturer.

It’s akin to saying that 10 of us bought cheese at the same place, and then went on to make a macaroni pie with it… and then saying that the farmer we bought the cheese from made all the pies.

Not to say that I don’t agree with the overall gist of the story. But this statement in particular was just misleading.

2 Alex April 24, 2007 at 7:15 am

Excellent post, TFM. It’s so true that you can’t always be sure that your higher-priced name brand item is any “better” than the cheaper store brand. My mom used to inspect breakfast cereal plants and discovered that the same plant produced both name brand and store brand cereals. Guess which one we bought after that little discovery? 😉

A real boon for me has been Consumer Reports. When my vacuum cleaner died this spring after merely 2 years of service, I vowed that I would never buy such a crappy one ever again– no matter how good the sale. If I had so much money, it might have been tempting to purchase a Dyson–after all, a $500-$600 vacuum cleaner just *has* to be good, right? The vacuums are so pretty! The commercials are so snazzy! And the dude has such a lovely British accent! After checking out the Consumer Reports story on vacuums, however, I discovered that I could get a better vacuum cleaner– for $150. Go figure.

3 Tight Fisted Miser April 24, 2007 at 8:37 am

Richard- I am not referring to just the single ingredient. I am referring to the actual product. The same manufacturer often makes national and store brands. For example :
\”Menu Foods, the largest maker of wet dog and cat food in North America, makes canned and pouched products for dozens of companies, including P&G and Wal-Mart (WMT).\”

That should make it clear they are making the actual product, not just supplying an ingredient. The full article is at

Alex- The same realization came to me many years ago when I worked a temporary job at a potato chip factory. I was surprised to see the name brand and the store brands all coming off the same line.

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