The rule of second crappest

I like to think that as a parent I have passed on a wealth of knowledge and experience, setting my children up to thrive as adults, make sound choices etc etc.

In reality it’s likely that the only thing they will remember is my rule of ‘second crappest’.

(Probably because of the catchy title.)

The rule of second crappest is a simple yet effective one. Whenever you are looking to make a purchase or choice of some kind you simply go for the second crappest. In Tesco looking for baked beans? You don’t want to buy the super cheap ones where they can’t even be bothered to use coloured labels, but there’s no need to splash out on Heinz unless it’s your birthday or something, so instead you plump for the Tesco own brand. Second crappest.

Although I’ve always done it, it became a proper thing when Bee started shopping on her own. She would text me from the shops:

‘Which pasta should I buy?’ she’d ask.

‘I don’t know, whichever you want!’ I’d reply. (Patiently.)

‘But there are so many!’

‘Just get the second crappest.’


And there it is.

Often I think brands are very aware of the rule, and deliberately set up their product range to take advantage of it. I’d imagine that a big part of why supermarkets introduced their ‘basics’ ranges was to bump the own brand range up to the position of second crappest. If you only had own brand or Heinz to choose between, Heinz would seem like the nice choice. When you add a bottom rung the own brand suddenly seems more attractive.

It’s like flights. If you could afford it, you’d want to travel business class wouldn’t you? Second crappest. There’s first class, but we all know that the benefits aren’t worth the massive extra expense. The airlines only really put first class there to make you feel like business class is good value – it’s a trick designed to herd you towards second crappest.

It’s the same with wine in restaurants. Someone in the industry was telling me recently that apparently restaurants know that we tend to pick the 2nd, 3rd or 4th cheapest on the wine list, and so they position the options accordingly. All wine lists will have one really cheap one that they know most people won’t pick because no one wants to be that person. Second crappest.

Supermarkets even arrange their shelves according to the rule. Have a look next time you are shopping. You’ll notice that the very cheapest version of things is often on the bottom shelves, like we won’t be bothered to actually bend over just to save ten pence. The best stuff is top shelf, because it’s fancy. Eye level is the home of second crappest. It’s the supermarket saying ‘oh hey there, we know your brain isn’t cut out to deal with all this choice, so let’s make this easy for you. Second crappest is just here.’

When you think about it like this, you do feel a bit stupid and it makes you realise how easily our brains are manipulated, but generally the rule works well for me.

There are of course some things that the rule of second crappest doesn’t apply to. I wouldn’t recommend it for instance if choosing a life partner. You want to aim a little higher in that case, at least initially.

Think about your own shopping habits – how often do you apply the rule of second crappest without even realising it?

If it’s not often then you might want to adopt it.

You’re welcome.

the rule of second crappest


Image – chrisdorney/shutterstock



  1. 23 January, 2017 / 10:37 am

    I’m loving this philosophy and will be applying it to my next shopping trip

    • Jo Middleton
      23 January, 2017 / 1:51 pm

      Let me know how you get on :-)

  2. Judith Allen
    23 January, 2017 / 9:36 pm

    Reminds of when our rule was second cheapest from argos. You know, in the days before Amazon, or owning a car to go to out of town shopping centres. Don’t buy the cheapest toaster (or whatever) it won’t last a month. Get the second cheapest. We followed that rule for years.

  3. Danielle
    23 January, 2017 / 9:55 pm

    This is exactly what I do. I didn’t realise it was a thing till I read this

  4. 24 January, 2017 / 10:33 pm

    We call this ‘one up from house’ in our family as we started doing it with the wine selection at restaurants (no longer do this though, house all the way!) In supermarkets I’m happy to go for most crap sometimes for example kidney beans, I mean are they really any different?

  5. 25 January, 2017 / 2:04 pm

    Second crappest is the way we should be living. Although once I did do a pretend tesco groceries online shop using only the crappest of the crappest to see how much I could save. Didn’t even hit the £40 limit, but it was a bit depressing. There’s nothing depressing about second crappest, it’s nice and normal.

  6. 25 January, 2017 / 5:23 pm

    I’ve done some reading about the psychology behind the things that retailers do to entice us to buy certain products and it’s very interesting – it does make you feel a bit conned though!
    In the interest of saving money, I usually try the supermarket’s basic brand first and then if I don’t like it I’ll move to second crappest. It’s unusual that I’ll buy a branded product, unless it’s something that the supermarket and basic brands don’t have a patch on, like cream crackers for example. I’ve made some good discoveries – Tesco’s basic potato salad is really nice and Tesco’s basic baked beans are actually my favourite baked beans!
    When I was studying GCSE Food Technology at school, we did a blind taste test of Asda’s Smart Price baked beans, Asda’s own brand baked beans and Heinz baked beans. Interestingly, we collectively rated the Smart Price ones the best and the Heinz ones our least favourite! It just goes to show how we’re often unwittingly brainwashed by branding and advertising to think that branded is best when it isn’t always the case!

  7. 27 January, 2017 / 7:18 am

    Made me laugh. I do that a lot actually but sometimes will settle on the crappest . Depends how skint I am!

  8. Claire
    2 February, 2017 / 11:43 am

    I just can’t seem to do it with tinned Macaroni Cheese! It has to be Heinz as all the rest are crappier than crap. Always when they’re on offer though, I’m not that daft. Ditto, Napolina chipped tomatoes. Yes, you can have the good stuff if you shop wisely! If you buy the crap you’ll only then have to buy tomato puree to make them taste less crap.

  9. 4 February, 2017 / 4:45 pm

    We have a similar philosophy when something breaks in our holiday flats. When we took over it was all crappy, so when something breaks or needs replacing, instead of going for the best we try and replace “plus 1” which means the next best in the ladder. Not sure if its the best way but the flats are slowly improving :)

  10. 7 February, 2017 / 9:58 pm

    I do this a lot but have always just referred to it as the middle range. There can be so many choices that I tend to stick with the middle (not the most expensive but not the cheapest either) .
    I do it with food items mostly but I realised I was doing it with paint the other day. I was trying to find a nice paint. I knew I didn’t want to spend on the money on the top range but I didn’t trust the cheap stuff so I looking to see what paint would be a good middle.

    I think it’s because we would feel like fools to spend the money on the most expensive but we feel we deserve better than the cheapest option.

    • Jo Middleton
      8 February, 2017 / 11:56 am

      ‘Middle range’ is a much nicer way of putting it!

  11. 8 February, 2017 / 10:16 am

    This is exactly what I always do

  12. 9 April, 2017 / 8:02 pm

    Brilliant this is so what I do too. No one wants to be in the queue at the till with all the crappest ones with no colour in the trolley!

  13. 22 May, 2017 / 10:31 am

    After reading this post I’ve realised i actually do this every time I go shopping! Even if i go clothes shopping I tend to use the second crappest rule – I don’t shop from Primark very often because their clothes don’t last very long, so I’ll opt for the ‘second crappest’ instead of splashing out on more expensive items. Great post!

  14. 20 August, 2017 / 9:13 am

    Hilarious! Love this. Makes me feel sane and it highlights just how often we do it!

  15. John
    17 October, 2017 / 7:39 pm

    I have the suspicion that the crappiest and second crappiest are identical, and only differ in price and labelling.

    • Jo Middleton
      18 October, 2017 / 1:14 pm

      Oooh! Controversial! Perhaps I need to conduct some proper research? I’m thinking Jaffa Cakes might be the place to start? ;-)

  16. Fiona jk42
    1 December, 2017 / 3:45 pm

    My father many years ago told me that when in a restaurant, choose the wine that is 3/4 of the way down the list in price. Essentially it’s the same rule as yours, and I’ve applied it for years not just for wine but for most purchases.

  17. ElizM
    2 December, 2017 / 12:02 am

    Love this post!

    Reminds me of when I was a partner in a law-firm and my former trainee moved from my care in medical negligence litigation to wills and probate. I remember her popping in to my room shortly afterwards, somewhat traumatised, having just got back from her assignment from the partner running that department – to go and buy a coffin for a deceased client – and you can guess the criteria she was told to apply; “Not the cheapest, but the next one up.”

    • Jo Middleton
      2 December, 2017 / 9:18 am

      Hahah! That’s a brilliant example of the rule in action :-)

  18. Lesley Bain
    30 December, 2017 / 9:13 pm

    This made me laugh. Unconsciously I’ve been doing this for some time. I don’t like that I am so predictable to the suppliers though!.

  19. Susan B
    14 February, 2018 / 11:12 am

    Oh, yes, I am guilty.

    Another well written and thought-provoking post. Thank you.

  20. 12 March, 2018 / 11:03 pm

    Haha this made me laugh! I wonder if the cheapest are ever sold out as I imagine so many people think the same!

  21. 27 March, 2018 / 10:36 am

    Sound advice Jo, very sound advice. Question though: Is it second crappest or second best???

    • Jo Middleton
      28 March, 2018 / 12:34 pm

      Always second crappest – work up from the bottom :-)

  22. 30 April, 2018 / 6:59 am

    That’s how I shop as well, except with dried pasta I do go for the cheapest

    • Jo Middleton
      30 April, 2018 / 9:56 am

      Exceptions to every rule! I’m the same with chopped tomatoes.

  23. Simon
    26 May, 2018 / 8:54 pm

    I laughed so hard at this! Doesn’t work as well as Aldi though!
    As I’m an uncultured philistine I get to guzzle house red and enjoy I because my palate is so untrained!

  24. 14 June, 2018 / 12:22 pm

    I clicked it because of the title, not gonna lie. Pretty damn clever.

    And a good point – I didn’t realize I normally veered this way but here I am – a second crappest in learning.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.