12 Items You Should Buy Generic (and 4 You Shouldn’t)

Name-brand items often aren’t worth the extra cost. Here’s a list of items you should always buy generic, along with a few exceptions to the rule.


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?

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