Reader Q&A: Quality vs. Cost?

Reader Q&A

Today’s Reader Q&A comes from my wonderful friend Aliza. Thanks so much for reading KOAB – and for asking the tough questions!

I really want to get a bread machine but I am torn as to the caliber. My general MO is to buy something top of the line – why bother with a lesser brand when it will just break, but this time I am really torn.  Do I buy a $50 bread machine and test the waters of whether I use it?  Or do I just splurge, get a decent one for double that (at least) even though I could decide 6 weeks from now that I should stick to baking cakes and cookies – and therefore don’t need a bread machine at all?

By the same token, what happens if I LOVE baking bread and I bought myself a $50 piece of junk that lasts only a few months – and then have to pay for a better model on TOP of the original? Basically, what I’m asking is: Do you skimp in case the item falls quickly into disuse or splurge because if you do love it, a better quality item will stand the test of time?

This is such a good question! And I’m not sure that there is any right or wrong answer.

I’ve been trying to come up with a succinct “soundbite” answer, and I just can’t! So, instead, I’m going to give you a list of questions I try to ask myself when making “big” purchases – that’s almost as good, right?!

  • I’m always mindful of the fact that keeping kosher doubles – or quadruples, if we’re talking Pesach – the “equation”. Aside from the multiplying costs, I also have limited space issues. So whether it’s a bread machine or any other kitchen appliance, I always ask myself: Is this really something I need? How often will I use it? Do I have the space to store it? Can I keep it pareve or will I ultimately need two?
  • What is the difference between a $50, $100 and $250 machine? Is this a perceived difference, or have I done the research to back up my assumption that the $250 will serve me better? (For example: reading Consumer Reports or online reviews, asking my friends, etc?)
  • Do I have the money – not put-in-on-my-credit-card money but planned-for-and-funded-in-my-budget money — to pay for the more expensive item?
  • Is the extra money “no big deal” to me? Or will it mean I can’t do other things that I was planning to do this month? I.e. what’s the opportunity cost of getting the more expensive item?
  • Can I borrow this item from a friend for a few days to give it a test drive? I think I would have totally convinced myself that I “needed” an iPad had I not borrowed my dad’s. Turns out I didn’t fall in love with this admittedly super cool gadget. Phew, way to dodge that $500 bullet.
  • Is this something I will use daily or weekly, or just once in a while? If it’s the latter, maybe I really can get the cheaper one. I have a very nice Cuisinart food processor for year-round use, but for Pesach, I bought a $20 machine at Walmart. It is LOUD. It has a smaller bowl. And it has fewer slicing/dicing attachments. All in all, it’s a much lower quality machine, but you know what? I only use it 8 days a year (and not even really, when you consider yom tov). I can deal with loud and small for eight days.
  • When all is said and done, if the difference is $25 or less, I’m probably going to go with the higher end appliance. If it’s more than that, I probably will either get the cheaper item – as long as it has decent reviews – or look for mid-price options. OR if I am really convinced that the more expensive item is that much better and that I will actually get a lot of use out of it, then I will squirrel away money until I can pay cash.

I‘d love to hear how you guys make these decisions: Do you go for quality first, cost second? Or does the price point make the decision for you. Do you have a pantry filled with used-three-times-and-forgotten-about-them appliances? How do you avoid appliance graveyard syndrome?


  1. I think borrowing from a friend is a great idea. Then you can really tell if you are going to use it or not. We do not use a bread machine. We actually try to use very few “specialty” appliances. We do not have even a microwave or a toaster. Funny though, I do have a pitzelle maker – and at the time it seemed very important to me to have it. I use it a few times a year and chalk it up to being Italian that I needed to have it. I need to keep my ethnic self happy.

    Limited space is an issue, but also I was influneced deeply by a great book I read called “Miriam’s Ktichen”. It spoke about Americans cooking and how we have a gadget to cut onions and to core a pineapple and to poach eggs, and on and on and we eat out and barely cook for ourselves even though we have these stunning kitchen chalked full of every gadget. And how our grandmothers owned a few pots, a paring knife and a wooden spoon and were able to cook glorious multi-course meals. So I have taught myself to pare my vegetables with a knife and live without a microwave (it is not hard) and brown bread in the broiler and knead dough by hand.

    • Dana – You are such an inspiration! The image of the Italian grandmother with her paring knife and soup pot makes me HUNGRY!

  2. I ask myself, “would I *rent* this thing for this much money?” With the bread machine question – let’s say you buy it for $50, fall in love with it, then it breaks after 6 weeks. Would you have been happy to have rented it for just under $10/week? If yes, then you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of it, and just move on.

    I have the quality-vs-cost issue with t’shirts. I don’t know what the problem is with my t’shirts, but they get little pinholes in them after a couple of months. So I never used to spend more than $5/shirt, so they’re cheap to replace. Then my sister did 2+2 and pointed out, if I bought a $15 shirt, it probably wouldn’t get holes. It’s a hard pill to swallow to drop $15 on ONE T’SHIRT, but I wear t’shirts every day (work from home), and not one of my ‘expensive’ shirts has a single pinhole in them after years of washes.

    • Same thing happens to me with tshirts. I bought three cheap tshirts at Target last summer and by October, they all had fine little holes in them. Where are you getting the “expensive” ones from?

  3. borrowing from a friend is a great idea or there is this website that is aimed at keeping things out of the go there and post a wanted breadmaker posting. Everything on there is to give away also a good place to “Offer” things that you no longer use to someone who might.

    • I love Craigslist and Freecycle. It’s a bit tricky, though, with kitchen appliances for kosher keepers. Which is a bummer, because I’m guessing that’s a great way to “test drive” gadgets.

  4. I think with something like a bread machine, you really need to try it out and see how it works in your life. Some people love them and some pple don’t care for them (the bread tends to come out dryer and airier, things that don’t appeal to some pple when it comes to bread. ) My husbands aunt uses it just to make challah dough and she bakes it in a regular oven, to improve the texture.

    So, I’d go with borrowing or buying a cheap one, to see if it’s something you really like and need. Then, if it breaks or you find you’re loving your friends, you can make a better investment.

    Alternatively, you can try Mark Bittman’s no knead dough recipe and just bake your bread that way:

    • I’ve done no-knead for bread during the week (and we LOVE it… it almost tastes like sour dough. Delicious). But, would that work for challah?

      We also only use our bread maker to make the challah dough in. I am not impressed with bread that cooks in the machine.

  5. Okay, I don’t have a bread machine–yet…it’s on the registry because I’d like to stop buying challah–but I’d like to approach this question from a different perspective. I am not a music person. I like music, but I don’t buy a lot. I have collected ~30 CDs over the last 15 years. When I’d go on a long trip, I’d get one of those cheapie $20 CD players–and it seemed that I’d have to do that every time because they did not last more than a few months at best! During 2004-2005, the year when I was fortunate to go to Israel three times in about eight months, I bought an iPod. I figured that the investment was about the same as I had spent on several CD players in the past, and it would probably last longer. That iPod still works today (and I appreciate the ability to buy a single song for 99 cents on iTunes, rather than pay for an entire CD to get that song)!

    • Even a cheapskate like me has a PROFOUND love for our ipod. In fact, when our first ipod was lost (I will miss that ipod), we bought a SECOND one. We love it that much!

  6. I’m a longtime baker – used to bake by hand, then had a bread machine – several. Like a previous poster, I now am trying to do less with more appliances, more of a clutter thing than a cost thing. I love my good, 25 year old Kitchen Aid mixer. I used to make challah dough in my bread machine then braid and bake it in the oven. Now, I use one one of a couple of good challah dough recipes and just make it in the Kitchen Aid. One recipe is from the Spice and Spirit cookbook (“Kitchen Aid Challah”) and the other, from the King Arthur big book on whole grain baking, which came out last year. It’s all soooooo easy – and I have arthritis in my fingers and still say it’s easy to whip up in a Kitchen Aid!

    • If it weren’t for the fact that my husband is the challah baker, I’d probably switch to the Kitchen Aid – it really gives you the same functionality as the bread machine in a lot of ways. (Plus, I just really enjoy using the KA.)

  7. What a fantastic question! I’ve often wondered this as well. I don’t really have a system to make those decisions yet, but I think that I’m a fan of borrowing, asking friends for recommendations, and reading consumer reviews. My Achilles heel in this area, though, is that while I always want to do research on quality and price, many times I’m too busy/tired and end up making a shotgun decision. Here’s to breaking that habit!

  8. love hearing about everyone’s processes! I ask people about their experiences, what they like/disliked about the product, go online and look at consumer reports and customer reviews (a search for the item and “problems” sometimes tells me a lot) and look up different places and prices to buy said product. Meanwhile I try to do with out, maybe I’ll find it cheaper, or maybe won’t need it-for example-I use my mixer to make challa dough. Or keep doing it by hand-but finding a no knead recipe was great. We rarely buy bread any more.
    So I won’t be buying a bread maker now, but my parents have one and they love it.

    • Does your no-knead work for challah? Do you braid it? I’m intrigued, but trying to figure out how this would work!

  9. Thanks Mara! Your thoughtful answer really made up my mind. After weeks of pondering, searching the web for every bread machine known to man and really thinking about your post, I have decided to buy a $57 machine from Sunbeam that got mostly positive reviews on ( This is one of the lower end models and certainly one of the lowest prices that I could find (which is contrary to my usual of high end gadgets and toys in my kitchen – as a cupboard of dusty, unused appliances can attest!)

    The thing that resonated with me the most was the comment about frequency of use. Even if I love making my own bread I will use it MAX once per week, and at that probably only on the dough setting. At $57, if it lasts me 6 months it will be well worth the cost of the purchased challah or bread that I buy every week. Plus, my mom will probably be happy to take the machine off my hands if I don’t use it!

    Thanks again and happy baking everyone!

    • I can’t wait to hear how it works out for you. When you finally come visit (!), you and Frankie can have a challah-a-thon!

  10. I fall in the “try it for cheap” category. I don’t know how difficult it would be while keeping Kosher, but I would borrow something or buy it cheaply (I always see <$10 bread makers at the thrift store) and see how much I use it. If I do, then if/when it breaks, I can reevaluate how much I want to spend on a long-term one.
    For instance, I burned out a couple hand mixers in under 2 years, and I finally bit the bullet and bought the Kitchenaid stand mixer on after-Christmas sale one year. Four years later, it's still going strong, and I expect it to for years to come!

    • ITA about the Kitchen Aid. I *big puffy heart* mine! I’ve also recently realized that the immersion hand blenders with plastic casings MELT when I’m blending right in my soup pots, so I’m upgrading those to stainless as well. At least the $9 “investment” wasn’t too much for the melty ones.

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