Unknowingly, my grandparents -- both sets made me aware of the need to have quality cooking equipment. Neither set of grandparents had much money, although my paternal grandparents had a little more than the maternal side.
When you went into their kitchens, you would find the heaviest gauge cast iron and aluminum cookware that was available to them -- some were commercial grade. They figured, and rightly so, that they could not afford to replace things that wore out, so they bought the best they could which was Club aluminum.
The family was a large one, and they needed some larger sized pots and pans to cook for their children, grandchildren, and other family members who lived with them. And of course, my grandmother baked and sold her pies.
They waited and saved to do this. And of course, if they could find a quality piece of kitchen equipment they wanted used; they bought it. Sometimes they would get a nice piece of kitchen equipment from their employer’s kitchen.
This was their pattern even as far as knives and utensils were concerned also. They owned mostly the heavy carbon steel knives that butchers used at that time -- Dexter Russell and Foster Bros.
They had a huge garden, picked wild greens, and of course since they had no freezer, would do a great deal of canning.
My grandad worked for a long while at a creamery, so they had all of the milk, cream, and butter they wanted.
I am willing to pay only what I have to for quality.
That means, I will do my research and find what I believe is the best quality and put it on my wish list. I research prices retail, then I buy my stuff as much as possible second hand for pennies on the dollar. Since I know what I am looking for, I am then armed to recognize the treasure amongst the trash.
This book was one of my bibles when I first started out. It is still very relevant today.
I am willing to do the garage sale, thrift shop, church sale, ebay, metal salvage yard [great for hotel pans, commercial Vollrath heavy gauge steel pots & pans, utensils etc.; heavy duty Dexter Russell forks and utensils], used restaurant supply stores, craigslist, or whatever to get what I want for the best price I can.
I try to stay away from the consumer grade equipment whenever possible and try to go for the equipment that is catered towards restaurants and professional kitchens. I often find that not only is commercial equipment better most of the times, but it is usually cheaper (utensils) than the stuff that is sold in department stores.
To me, real commercial grade cookware focus on functionality. I won't even say commercial grade cookwares are better, but they are better value. They don't look as good and they are often not as polished. They also look very plain.
Commercial stuff is built to be abused by psychopathic dishwashers, so it needs to be either essentially disposable, or durable. I choose the durable stuff.