Name Brand or Generic? 10 Items Where It Pays to Pick Right

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By Trent Hamm

It's a decision you face dozens of times shopping for groceries and household necessities: Should you buy the generic or the name-brand item?

On the one hand, the branded version has a name you recognize and, in theory, higher standards. On the other hand, the generic version is cheaper and nearly identical.

Naturally, if you find products for which the generic works just as well as the name brand (or better), it can be an easy way to save money. The problem is that this requires trial and error and sometimes results in the purchase of generic items that just don't work out.

Over the years, I've discovered a number of generic products that work really well -- and a number that aren't quite so good. Here are a few tips that can save you both money and a headache on your next shopping trip.

Name Brand or Generic? 10 Items Where It Pays to Pick Right
Dried herbs and spices have identical ingredient lists. The only difference is the method used for drying them, and if you're not able to easily determine that information, the generic version is as good as the name brand. The exception is from a store that does the drying for you –- but you'll usually be paying a stiff premium for that.
They're just trash bags, but you want to be choosy about what you throw your garbage in. With generic bags, you generally have to stop filling them about two-thirds of the way full or they'll easily rip, whereas with a higher quality bag, you can fill it to the rim without ripping. Thus, it's usually worth paying as much as a 50 percent premium per bag to get the name brand version. I personally use Glad ForceFlex bags, which, when bought in bulk, meet that 50 percent threshold.
The petroleum industry is so heavily regulated that the gas available at one station is, for all practical purposes, the same as the gas at another station. Let the price lead you when it comes to fueling up.
Generic paper products, such as toilet paper, paper towels, and paper plates, have a tendency to shred and fall apart at the least opportune times. To clean up a mess, you'll often have to use twice as much. And with paper plates, you often have to double-layer them if you don't want your food to slide off the plate. Why not just pay a little more to get durable products and create less waste? The cost-per-use is a lot lower.
This is a perfect example of how comparing ingredients and nutrition facts makes all the difference. Almost always, you'll find that they're identical among different brands of sugar and salt. There's no reason to go for a name brand here.
When you're in a situation where you need a baby wipe, you want to be able to grab something that works to clean up the mess. Generic baby wipes are often dry right out of the package and sometimes fall apart mid-use. My solution is to skip both the generics and name brands and use a squirt bottle of a gentle cleaning solution along with a bunch of soft washcloths. They always work, and they're reusable – just toss them in the laundry.
The difference between electronic cables of the same type is negligible. Much like gasoline, the specifications on these cables are so tight that there's little variation between cable brands. Just choose the cable that meets your needs in terms of length and adapter, and buy the one with the lowest price.
Off-brand electronics are more likely to have poor customer service support in the event of a failure, as many generic electronic companies are based overseas and have unresponsive departments. Before you buy electronics, make sure the customer service department for that company has good marks, or you may find yourself with a $1,000 black box you can't return or do anything with.
For most types of breakfast cereal, such as bran flakes, corn flakes and so forth, the generic cereals are indistinguishable from the brand name ones. If you often start your day off with a bowl of cereal and a healthy splash of milk, give the generic version of your favorite cereal a try. Such cereal is often sold in bags, so save your old box and put the new bag inside for easier storage.
The big difference between a good diaper and a bad one is the dreaded "blow out" – when a baby's outfit quickly goes from "cute" to "disaster." Most comparison studies find an enormous difference between generics and name brands; check out this disposable diaper comparison review for details. (Better yet, go cloth. We love them.)
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Trent Hamm is the founder of the personal finance website TheSimpleDollar.com, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.

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