The main reason for buying generic products -- saving money -- is simple enough. But there's also the satisfaction of not giving in to the marketing hype and buying something just because a company promotes it everywhere.
The generic labels may not be as fancy as the brand-name products, and the taste of generic items, such as soda, may not appeal to you depending on your tastebuds, but it's worth trying generic brands to see if you like them. The savings can add up over a lifetime, as a savings calculator can quickly show you. And if the savings isn't enough, or the brand name is much better than the generic, you can always go back to the branded product. You can even buy popular brands from the past.
But remember the power of brands. Since the same manufacturer of a brand-name product often makes the generic product with the same ingredients, what the company selling the branded item is selling is the perception of something better. Consumers don't buy generic products because they think it makes them look bad, said Jason Gurwin, CEO of Pushpins, a mobile coupon company.
"People don't buy generic because it's a reflection on their personal wealth and it's a reflection on their personal taste," Gurwin told WalletPop in a telephone interview.
If you're ready to put that feeling aside, or at least fill that old bottle of expensive olive oil with a cheaper generic brand, here are 10 products you should always buy generic because they're just as good as the branded items and will save you plenty of cash:
1. Over-the-counter medications.
Since the Food and Drug Administration requires generic medications to have the same active ingredients as the patented medications they replace, over-the-counter medications are the best way to save money by buying generic. No one wants to skimp on their health, so you'd think that a generic brand might be iffy. But that's not the case, said Cathy Rosenbaum, a pharmacist and CEO of Rx Integrative Solutions, Inc.
"There's a public perception that generics are cheap and bad," Rosenbaum said in a telephone interview with WalletPop. "Typically the generics are just as effective as the branded products, and they're typically cheaper." Sometimes over-the-counter medications may be used to replace prescription medications with the advice and consent of your doctor and pharmacist, she said.
In general, generic cough and cold medicines are much cheaper and just as effective as branded medications, she said. While generic works for most over-the-counter medicines, prescription medicine is something that shouldn't be switched back and forth between generic and brand names, she said. Absorption of prescription, as well as over-the-counter, medications could be different between different products, so sticking with brand or generic and not switching back and forth, especially with prescription medications, is important, she said.
Insurance companies prefer that doctors write for generic prescription medications instead of branded medications because the generics are cheaper, but if the branded label works better for the patient, a doctor can write to the insurer and explain that the branded product is needed, Rosenbaum said. Be persistent, communicate with your doctor and pharmacist, and stick with one pharmacy for all your prescription medications so the pharmacist has an accurate history of all your prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as dietary supplements you are taking, she recommended.
Cereal is one of the biggest values when buying generic, said Pushpin's Gurwin, equaling 25% to 50% in savings. A $5.50 box of brand-name cereal can cost $2.99 generic, and usually comes in a bigger package for less money, he said.
"The taste is very similar, and they look exactly the same," Gurwin said. For parents of children who insist on the brand, he suggests buying it once, then when it's empty, replacing it with a generic bag inside the branded box.
3. Pantry staples.
Flour, sugar, salt, spices and other single-ingredient items are all the same. Really, they are. Government regulations require the same production and storage for generics as they do for brands, so buying a label is like giving money away for something you use every day. And since the brand-name versions are rarely on sale or have manufacturer's coupons, generic is the best way to go.
This is the one item Gurwin says goes against his principle that items that are cheap to produce don't save a lot of money when bought generic, but that the most money can be saved on generic items that are expensive to make. Soda is cheap to produce and the generic versions are often much cheaper than the brands, he said.
But as with all generic foods, give this one a taste test before buying cases of cheap cola. I can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi in a blind taste test, but Gurwin says most people can't tell the difference between a generic cola and a name brand. Whatever you call it -- soda, pop, coke or something else -- it's a bias that you may be surprised to learn that the generic tastes the same as your favorite brand.
Just like pantry staples and other generics, buying "off-brand" gas gets your car essentially the same gas as name-brand stations. The price difference can be about 20 cents a gallon. Some off-brand stations often get their gas from the same tank trucks that deliver to the brand-name stations.
6. Electronic cables.
If you're going to spend $1,500 on a new TV, why not $100 or so on HDMI and other cables to connect it? At least that's what you hear from the salesman. Because $9 cables will make the same connection and work just as well, Gurwin said. People are afraid they'll screw their TV up if they don't buy the highest-priced connecting cables, and sales people pounce on that fear. The copper conductors on the expensive cables are claimed by the manufacturer to give a better signal transfer, but in reality any cable will work just as well, Gurwin said.
7. Makeup and other beauty products.
Drugstores have learned that they can duplicate brand leaders' beauty products and still make a profit, while saving consumers half what they would have spent on the branded products. If the technology isn't patented, there are no rules against making an exact copy of a beauty product as a generic one. A list of store-brand beauty products that stand out includes items at Target and many of the big drugstores.
Brand name batteries, from Duracell to Energizer, advertise that they last longer than other batteries, including generic ones, which they normally do, but the cost isn't worth it. An unscientific study by batterytruth.info found that while the branded batteries provide more hours of energy, their high cost makes generic batteries a better deal.
It found that the Thunderbolt Magnum batteries hold less power, but are nearly 57% cheaper than the next best value, Duracell CopperTop batteries.
9. Salad mix and produce.
Lettuce is lettuce and an apple is an apple, no matter if it has a brand name selling it or a private label or generic label. As with all produce, check for freshness and you'll be in good shape. But a sticker on a banana saying its from Chiquita isn't going to guarantee a better banana than the cheaper banana without the sticker.
10. Baby formula
Like medicine, this is another area where people don't want to skimp because everyone wants the best for their baby, and think that because it costs the most, it must be the best. Wrong. The Infant Formula Act requires specific procedures be followed in making infant formulas. Paying $13 more for a can of Enfamil or Similac over a generic brand is a waste of money since both are certified by the FDA as good and healthy for your baby.
As Wisebread reported, there are minor differences between generic and branded baby formulas, but they come down to texture and taste. Take a look side-by-side at the ingredient labels, and you won't see much, if any, difference. And like some medicines, choose one and stick with it. Your baby's digestive system will thank you.