When you’re doing everything you can to pad your budget and pay down your biggest debts as fast as possible, it can seem counterintuitive — to say the least! — to choose to spend more money on something than you absolutely have to. In the past I’ve shared my love of generics and store brands as a way to get more for your dollar, and savvy grocery store shopping will definitely help you cut a nice chunk out of your food expenses if you’re careful.
But sometimes, spending a little more for a name brand product will make your life so much better that it’s worth every penny.
Though things like generic medications are subject to strict rules about their ingredients and will work just like their pricier brand-name counterparts, food and other household stapes are a different story. While it never makes sense to splurge on fancy tomatoes when the ones from your local farm stand are at least as good, there are certain products that just haven’t been matched.
So even though I’m frugal by nature, I’m willing to spend a little more for these 10 common items — and you should be, too.
- Cascade Dishwasher Detergent
I will admit that I rarely actually splurge on this item because I have a pretty new dishwasher that works really well, but when I do use it, I’m always impressed. Both the power packs and the gel get top marks from Good Housekeeping, and if you can get your dishes perfectly clean in one shot — without any pre-washing — the savings on time and additional dishwasher cycles are definitely worth it.
- Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen
This extra-thick lotion smells like summer to me, but that’s not the only reason why you’d have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands to get me to give it up. It consistently tests at the top of Consumer Reports’ sunscreen ratings, and it really works. It’s a broad-spectrum SPF that holds up well in the water and has a decent amount of minerals in it — that white layer helps you know you haven’t missed a spot.
- Dawn Dish Soap
This bottle of liquid blue magic does a whole lot more than just clean dishes — though it’s great at that, too. It’s the best de-greaser out there, which is why it’s the first choice for cleaning oil off of wildlife during environmental disasters. You can also spot-treat grease stains on clothing for an effective laundry pre-treatment. Best of all, it only takes a few drops to be effective, which could actually save you money over watery generic soaps in the long run.
Sometimes you just want a crunchy, salty snack that will coat your fingers in addictive flavor powder. Is there a worthwhile substitute for Doritos anywhere? Sure you might find a nacho cheese tortilla chip somewhere, but they’re thin and sad. And you’ll never find a generic version of Cool Ranch Doritos — that stuff must be patented or otherwise kept under lock and key.
- Duke’s Mayonnaise
You can easily make mayonnaise yourself, of course, but people have been known to come to blows over which brands they like best. Hellmann’s? Miracle Whip? (That last one’s not really mayonnaise, but lots of people like it anyway.) For my money, I’ll take Duke’s Mayonnaise, which is a Southern favorite with a distinctive tang that comes from cider vinegar.
- Heinz Ketchup
Have you ever noticed a brand-name ketchup in a diner that wasn’t Heinz? (McDonald’s is the only notable exception.) Probably not, and that’s because this ruby red elixir is pretty much the standard for how American ketchup should taste. It’s smooth, sweet, tangy and salty. What more could you want? Besides, a big bottle of ketchup should last you for months, making the extra cost so miniscule over time that it’s not worth worrying about.
- L. L. Bean
There’s an old German saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. A great winter coat, hiking boots or wool socks is always worth the money, and you can’t go wrong when it comes with a lifetime warranty. My L. L. Bean Wellies cracked after several seasons, and they took them back without any questions. I used my store credit to replace them with an even better pair of snow boots. This policy could mean I never have to buy a pair of boots again. Pro tip: Save your receipts, or you’ll only get the last recorded price for the item, which could be discounted.
Are these good for you? No. Should you make room in your budget for them every week? No. But when you’re craving a comfort food from your childhood, Oreo cookies are nearly impossible to imitate. There’s something really unique about their texture and that slightly charred flavor of the chocolate cookie that generics don’t get quite right. And a homemade version? Forget about it.
- Quaker Oats
I’m not a huge oatmeal fan, but good, old-fashioned oats are great for all kinds of baking recipes, and you can sprinkle them on top of yogurt or cottage cheese for a yummy snack. When you do, it pays to have a can of the good stuff. The flavor might not be so very different, but you’ll notice that there aren’t nearly as many broken bits as in the generic versions.
- Turkey Hill Ice Cream
As a native Pennsylvanian, I am partial to ice cream from my home state. Turkey Hill is made in Lancaster County, and it’s thick and creamy and delicious — and if you visit the factory, you can make your personal flavor. If your personal favorite ice cream is different, then you should splurge on that instead. The important thing here is that if you’re going to spend money on a treat, you should love every bite of it.
So there you have it — my list of splurge-worthy items that earn their keep in my grocery cart. What are your can’t-live-without name brands? Is there a Doritos substitute that I don’t know about? Share your thoughts in the comments!