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Questions about buying/shopping for components
I am in need of a new chainring and front derailleur for my bicycle. Talking with my local shop guys I was quoted about $60 to replace my current chainring and $30 to replace the derailleur with equivalent components.

I am curious what the differences are in parts as the prices go up? If I was to buy a chainring or a derailleur that is one step up from my current equipment, what will the extra cost be buying? Should I expect lighter, more durable, or better manufactured items? Is there really much difference between lower or mid-range parts or does one need to jump to high-end gear to really notice a change?

I generally use my bike for commuting around town and for exercise. I am not interested in super high end components, just curious what I get for spending extra money (because sometimes there isnt really any tangible benefit).

Thank you for the help!
There is only a slight benefit when buying more expensive parts. They look nicer (well, the high end stuff does), they are lighter and - under laboratory conditions - shifting is better. Some also report differences in shifting behaviour between SLX and XT cassettes (I think), so two almost identical parts (but just almost). For the front dérailleur it can make a substantial difference, the step from just an ol' flat plate forcing the chain to move to a well engineered part with ramps and stuff is quite an eyeopener - as are the better thought out chain rings (I think shifitng in the front is more complicated to achieve crisp and fast than in the rear). Some of the really lightweight stuff is not as durable as the mid range, depending on the materials used.
You should replace chain and cassette at the same time (if the chain ring was worn the chain is too and so is the cassette).
In general I find that the cost to quality/performance effect is pretty strong at the low end and slowly diminishes as you go up. So going from 9th tier part to 8th tier will only cost a little more, but you'll feel a small, but noticeable improvement. Going from 2nd tier to 1st however costs a lot more and the change is still only small, but noticeable.

That said, you have to remember that these parts all have to work together. Putting one really high end part in with a bunch of entry level ones won't work much better than a mid-range part.
Good advice, thank you for the help.

I am not planning on sinking a lot of money into improvements on this bike. It is a hybrid, a few years old, somewhat banged up from not being able to put it in a safe storage space (which is why I need a new chainring), and will continue to be my general commuter bike. One day I will upgrade to a proper road bike. I was just curious if it might be worth spending a bit more to move up a level in components, especially since I have never really been happy with my front shifting.

I recently had a tuneup, new chain, and cassette put on. Afterwards, I started to get some chain suck and I have been wanting to address some chain rubbing when in the largest gear in front. I took it back to the shop and had them look at it and we figured out that my chainring was bent and my derailleur is worn out (6 years old now). Sadly, I am pretty sure the bent chainring is from idiot apartment maintenance guys working in the foyer and knocking bikes over into each other.

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