12 Items You Should Buy Generic (and 4 You Shouldn't)
By Allison Martin
Why are you loyal to brand-name products? Do you think the items are truly superior in quality, or have you been won over by fancy marketing campaigns?
Either way, it's likely you're spending too much just for a label. A 2014 study "estimates Americans are wasting about $44 billion a year on name brands, when they could be buying the exact same products if they switched to cheaper store brands," according to CNN Money.
That study also found that people in the know, such as pharmacists and professional chefs, most often buy store brands for health care products like aspirin and cooking ingredients like sugar, respectively. Here are a dozen products that you should buy as generics -- and a handful of products for which a brand name is your best bet.
1. Pantry items. If professional chefs and bakers aren't overpaying for pantry staples like salt, sugar and baking powder, why should you? Sugar is sugar, regardless of which name appears on the label.
Will the everyday home cook notice a difference between name-brand garlic salt that costs 50 cents an ounce and the generic for 25 cents an ounce? The pros say "no."
2. Cleaning products. I've used generics and brand-name cleaning products interchangeably over the years, depending on what's on sale and/or has the best coupon.
The end result is usually the same, if not better, when I'm using the store brands. The only difference is in the aromas.
So skip the name-brand window cleaner, bleach and detergent, and take advantage of the more cost-efficient options. And for the super-frugal, there's always the do-it-yourself approach.
3. Produce. Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of our diet, but that doesn't mean we have to empty our wallets to fill our plates. If it's fresh and ripe, it's more than likely right for your tummy, even if there's not a big-name company on the label.
In fact, a number of grocery stores in my area sell produce from local farms, like the exceptional strawberries from Plant City, Florida.
If the produce comes in a can or is frozen, test for yourself to find out whether the generic is just as good in taste and quality as the big-name brands.
4. Water. Why buy bottled water when you most likely have a nearly free source of water at home? (If you don't like the taste of your tap water, get a filter for the faucet or a pitcher in the fridge.)
But for those times when you need to buy bottled water, go with the store brand every time. It's drinking water, whether it costs $1.35 a gallon or only 83 cents for the store brand.
5. Dairy products. Butter, milk and some cheeses have a similar taste across the board. As Money Talks News' Stacy Johnson says, "There are not too many ways to squeeze milk from a cow. How can a name brand be better?"
6. Over-the-counter medications. The pharmacists and other medical professionals mentioned earlier aren't wrong. Compare the labels. Federal regulations mandate that generic versions contain identical quantities of active ingredients as their name-brand counterparts, along with the same standards for quality and safety.
A pharmacist brought this to my attention years ago, and I've saved a ton of money ever since. If you still have reservations, ask your doctor.
7. Prescription drugs. Generic prescription drugs also must meet strict federal guidelines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says, "They are copies of brand-name drugs and are the same as those brand-name drugs in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use."
And what a difference in the price! You can save up to 95 percent by buying the generic version, according to Consumer Reports.
8. Beauty and other personal-care products. Store brands can work just as well, and may even have the same ingredients as the brand to which you are loyal. Experiment, and check for reviews and recommendations online.
For starters, see, "Does Bargain Toothpaste Work Just as Well?"
9. Gasoline.Business Insider contacted AAA about generic gas, and learned that the off-brands can be just as good as brand names.
10. Cereal. Same look, same taste, so what's the issue? I'm a big fan of the Walmart version of Froot Loops. It seems to resist sogginess longer and tastes delicious.
"While it may seem generic gas is too good to be true and not the best option for your vehicle, unbranded fuel should not damage an engine," AAA said.
"Even 'unbranded' fuel is required to meet legal requirements for RVP, ethanol percentage, octane, detergent content and more. In many cases, the local unbranded gasoline is actually supplied by a major oil company, but simply not sold under their name."
I also save $1 or more per box. What more could a mom ask for?
11. Soda. Does that generic version of Sprite really taste that different? If you've never ditched your Coke for a generic cola, I suggest giving it a try.
Some store-brand sodas are quite good, while others aren't. Experimentation is required here.
12. Salad and fruit mixes. The ingredients are the same, so why aim for the Dole when you can buy the store brand instead?
There are no guarantees with produce; a rotten apple is a rotten apple, no matter where it came from. Always check for freshness before you buy.
When Generics May Not Cut It
With several types of products, you may actually have to buy the brand name to get the best quality. These include:
1. Infant care products. I've never been a fan of skimping on baby gear for the best bargain. It's not worth the rash, soiled clothing or other adverse effects that may result.
What about formula? According to the Mayo Clinic, "Although manufacturers might vary in their formula recipes, the FDA requires that all formulas contain the minimum recommended amount -- and no more than the maximum amount -- of nutrients that infants need."
2. Household paint. Can you say cheap and thin? A watered-down paint will require more coats. Read online reviews before you make a commitment.
3. Paper goods. Ever tried cleaning up a large mess with paper towels from the dollar store? If so, you know the claims about the durability of some of these brand-name products are true.
Also, cheap, generic paper plates don't hold up well when they're piled high with picnic food.
4. Batteries. Generic batteries that aren't alkaline likely won't have as much power or last as long.
What's your experience with generic products? Do they perform as well as or even outperform the big-boy brands? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.