When to save, when to splurge on everyday items

These days, all of us are looking for ways to save money when possible, but you don't want to sacrifice quality -- especially on items that you use every day. Sometimes, it takes a lot of work to decide where you can save money and when you need to spend a little extra.

"It would be wonderful to have somebody who could just kind of say, 'Hey for this price if you buy this.' And kind of save me some time-- that would be great," said Dina Baptist of Clawson, who spoke with Local 4 while she shopped at Holiday Market in Royal Oak.

That's where Consumer Reports and bargain shopper mom Melissa Buckles come in.

"Obviously, I'm always going to go for something that costs less that's just as good a quality," Buckles said.

Consumer Reports is always doing product testing and posting reviews of products people use every day. The magazine says one of the

staples you can save money on, without sacrificing quality, is toiler paper.

Consumer Reports found Walmart's White Cloud 3-Ply Ultra toilet paper gets consistently high marks for quality, in spite of just costing $.25 for 100 sheets. 

Buckles also has an online shortcut to savings. "Amazon! You can get high-quality toilet paper delivered right to your door for about the same price that you can get at...Walmart," she said.

Chocolate taste test

You might think that you need to splurge on your favorite chocolate, but not so fast.

Buckles and Consumer Reports both agree that Trader Joe's chocolate is just as good as the more expensive brands for about half the price. Ruth to the Rescue went to the streets of downtown Royal Oak to see how the Trader Joe's dark chocolate performed against Godiva.

"It has a sweetness to it. It felt like the second one was on the bitter side," said Lindsay Gilbert, after tasting both chocolates in a non-scientific blind test. She chose the Trader Joe's.

And, the overwhelming majority of people who took the test preferred the less expensive brand.

"Usually when somebody's looking for a nice gift, they buy Godiva, but I'd rather have Trader Joe's," Gilbert said.

Splurge items

When it comes to coffee, many people said their taste buds could not be tempted by the less expensive brands.

"We drink good quality coffee. We love coffee. We're coffee snobs," said Debbie Mast of Pleasant Ridge.

Consumer Reports and Buckles agree on that point as well. The consumer magazine found Starbucks House Blend earned the highest score in blind taste tests, while less expensive options like Folgers and Maxwell House received low ratings.

Buckles said she still waits for discounts and coupons even on Starbucks.

"I have been known to get the little smaller bag you get at the grocery store for about $5 versus $9," she said.

In addition to Consumer Reports, local bargain blogger Melissa Buckles has cost-saving tips on her website, Everydaysavvy.com.

Items to scrimp on:

  • Toilet paper: No one likes flimsy and scratchy bathroom tissue. And the great news is that you don't have to pay a lot to get an outstanding combination of strength and performance. White Cloud 3-ply Ultra (sold at Walmart, shown) was the clear winner in Consumer Reports' tests. At a quarter per 100 sheets, it was a bargain.
  • Dishwasher detergent: Finish Powerball Tabs at 18 cents per load, did an outstanding job on dishes as well as pots without spotting or leaving mineral deposits.
  • Dark chocolate bars: Trader Joe's 72% Cacao, at 60 cents per serving, was excellent (complex flavors and distinct roasted notes) and a bargain to boot. By contrast, Godiva 72% Cacao, which was equally sublime, cost more than twice as much.
  • Bacon: Costco's Kirkland Signature, 47 cents per serving, was everything a bacon should be: It crisped up nicely and consistently, had balanced fat and meat flavors complemented by wood smoke, and a hint of sweetness. It was the only bacon to earn an excellent score.

Items to splurge on:

  • Vanilla ice cream: Ben & Jerry's and Häagen-Dazs (both at $1.03 per serving) towered over the cheaper competition in terms of flavor and texture. Edy's/Dryer's, Turkey Hill, Friendly's, Blue Bell, and Blue Bunny didn't come close.
  • Coffee: There was a bottleneck of fairly similar brands near the top of the rankings of coffee blends. Starbucks House Blend earned the highest score, narrowly, in blind tastings, at $11.37 per pound. Inexpensive stalwarts including Folger's and Maxwell House were low rated.
  • Sunscreen: Using any sunscreen is better than none, but the product is only part of the equation. You need to rely on clothing and hats to protect your skin, too, and judiciously reapply an ounce (2 tablespoons to cover your face and body) every 2 hours. The lotion we tested that offered optimal UVA and UVB protection was Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 (shown). At $1.38 per ounce, it's a modest splurge.
  • Paper towels: Bounty Duratowel, at $4.04 per 100 square feet, proved outstanding. It offered excellent absorbency, wet strength, and scrubability. For tough jobs or repeated use, no other towel came close.
  • AA batteries: Lithium batteries performed much better than alkalines, especially in cameras, which tend to drain a charge quickly. Alkalines cost far less, and some perform almost as well as lithiums in low-drain devices such as flashlights and remotes. Among the lithiums, Energizer Ultimate, at $5.50 per pair, was the standout. Once dead, both types can generally be tossed in the trash.
  • Facial tissue: Puffs Ultra Soft & Strong lived up to its name. The tissues were the only ones judged excellent at resistance to tearing and stretching. That strength comes in handy if you're battling a cold or allergies. And they were soft, too, though slightly less so than a few others that compromised on toughness. Puffs Ultra Strong, at $1.69 per 100 sheets, outperformed less expensive tissues from store brands such as Costco, Walmart, Whole Foods, Target, and Walgreens, as well as those from Scotties and several Kleenex versions.

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