Was your mother right? Do you really get what you pay for? Is spending the extra money worth it?

We ask ourselves that whether we're buying a lipstick or liposuction.

One day not long ago, I wandered into the drugstore to buy a little treat, bright-red nail polish. There I stood, utterly confused and unable to make a decision.

Was the $8 Essie better than the $2 Wet n Wild? Should I believe Revlon's extravagant ad campaigns and plunk down $6? Or do I split the difference with a $4 Sally Hansen?

That's when I decided to buy them all and put them to the test. But why stop at four?

I went online and bought a bottle of OPI, a favorite at nail salons. My final stop was Barneys because the cosmetics there are notoriously decadent.

I breezed in and demanded, "Show me your most expensive nail polish!"

When the sales associate presented me with a small vial of Serge Lutens and I saw the price -- $65 for a bottle of nail polish! -- I needed CPR.

"How about the second most expensive?" I croaked.

That was By Terry, which was still a laughable $30 for 0.33 ounce, the teeniest of all the brands I bought.

Then I rounded up a team of five co-workers who were willing to paint their nails crimson for many weeks as they tested the six polishes through spring cleaning, orange peeling, dishwashing, lots of typing and, yes, wine-cork yanking.

The bottom line? You can get a great polish for $8. The cheaper ones were inferior. And don't waste your money on the $30 splurge.

(All testers used Revlon base and top coats, $8 each at Walgreens.)

OPI's Color So Hot It Berns

($8, 1/2 ounce, www.drugstore.com)

• "Got a good six days out of it before the mani showed signs of fatigue. (No major chips, just minor wear on tips of each nail.)"

• "Scored 4 out of 5 for durability."

Revlon's Fire Fox matte suede

($6, 1/2 ounce, Walgreens)

• "Poor coverage. I would not buy this polish again."

• "Chipped the easiest of all the brands."

• "Lasted almost a full seven days with no chips through workouts, dishwashing, mopping, showering." (She's the only tester who liked it, but she broke our two-coat rule, using three coats of polish instead.)

By Terry's Nail Laque Terrybly, Trafalgar Red

($30, 0.33 ounce, www.barneys.com)

• "OK coverage with two coats, but really needs three coats for best look. Not as durable as Essie or OPI."

• "Not as durable as the Wet n Wild" -- which costs $2, 93 percent less.

Essie's Jelly Apple

($8, 0.46 ounce, Walgreens)

• "Consistency was perfect for application."

• "A favorite" -- ranked top for durability.

• "Good, full coverage, and it went on nicely."

Wet n Wild's Megalast, I Red a Good Book

($2, 0.45 ounce, Walgreens)

• "Goopy."

• "Gloppy but durable."

Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails, Tough Love

($4, 0.45 ounce, Walgreens)

• "I don't like it. It's chipping after one day."

• "The wear isn't fabulous -- I would probably look for something that wore a bit longer."