When we were growing up, my four brothers, three sisters and I quickly learned to economize. To this day, it is rare for any of us to pay full price for anything. Yet, the most important lesson I have learned about purchasing products is one that I have learned as an adult: Trust the Experts. When buying just about anything, my husband and I research the best recommendations we can find and purchase accordingly.
Who qualifies as an expert? Generally, you can trust the recommendations of people or organizations that judge all products against the same criteria. Also, look for organizations that do not universally recommend either the most expensive (or least expensive) options. Be careful about trusting sources that accept advertisements, and be especially careful about trusting sources that sell their own products.
Why do my husband and I use this method to make most of our purchases? Well, you certainly can't believe what you hear about a product from the advertisements. Personal recommendations, though a great supplementary source of information, sometimes make a poor choice as a primary source of recommendations simply because most consumers do not have the knowledge required to be a source of thorough product reviews. Many people stick with a particular brand because they inherited a belief that that brand is superior (My dad always bought Fords) or because they themselves have had either good or bad luck with a particular brand or model. Also, most people (myself included) tend to rate consumer products based on feelings, not fact. (My weakness, for example, is to always look for what seems to be the least expensive solution, which can turn out to be more expensive in the long run.) Finally, we use this method because it works.
Our favorite source for reviews is Consumer Reports, a great resource for saving money. Four years ago, for instance, my husband and I needed a vacuum cleaner, so we checked out our trusty Consumer Reports. The top one listed was a Kirby or Electrolux (I can not remember which) for $1500. Yikes! No way could I (or would I) pay $1500 for a vacuum cleaner. But the second-highest rating went to the Hoover Encore, which retailed for about $65. So for $65, we got a great vacuum cleaner with an extremely useful set of onboard tools. We generally check this publication as a first source when preparing for any major purchase, and it has never failed us yet.
We turn to specialty sources, too. Cooks Illustrated is a magazine (and website) that consists mostly of recipes that their staff has tinkered with and tested until they are just right. That in itself is great! Who of us has the time, money or kitchen space to test 101 ways to roast a chicken? What I really love about this publication, though, is that they test and review kitchen equipment and foods, which can save time, money, and sanity. For example, I had just about given up making peanut butter cookies because mine always turned out dry and crumbly, even though most of my baking efforts turn out great. After reading the CI review of peanut butters, I realized why I was not getting good cookies; I was using the wrong peanut butter! (For the curious ones among you, Skippy is the one with which to bake, and Reese's or Jif are great for sandwiches.) Of course, that won't save me much money, just frustration. But CI can save money, too. A chef's knife is essential but can be quite expensive; it is easy to pay more than $100 for a good one. The Cooks Illustrated recommendation? A Forschner Fibrox for $31.
Here's one that will be of special interest to women: my favorite resources for skin care and makeup item reviews are the books by the "Cosmetics Cop," Paula Begoun. Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me is a huge book that contains reviews of drugstore and department store brands. She rates makeup based on objective criteria, similar to the way Consumer Reports rates products. (NOTE: Paula Begoun does produce her own makeup, but she gives positive ratings to lots of different brands.) Not surprisingly, in every category of makeup there is at least one good, inexpensive choice. It has saved me lots of money and my skin is happier for it.
These are just three examples of good sources. I'm sure there are many more available. Any source that publishes objective and thorough ratings and reviews will help you save time and money. And many great sources can be found on the Internet or at your local library!
"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by mailto:MyStory@stretcher.com
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