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?

More Money Talks News


  • Mandasia

    As with EVERYTHING else in the world, experimentation is key. I fought and argued with doctors for a year regarding a generic vs brand name anti-depressant. Yes, both had the same main, healing ingredients; however, what was very different were the fillers in the med. Having Hepatitis C, I’ve learned to be quite careful with whatever I put into my body. (Result being 26 years into the disease, I’m as healthy as ever, especially, when 25 yrs ago I was given 20 years to live). Come to find out, the fillers did not agree with me….at all. They just did not work, FOR ME, in combination with the active ingredients. I can’t stress enough to EXPERIMENT, then stick up for your beliefs, because, after all, even little ole you can be correct.

    • Michelle Blackmon

      Absolutely. Generic drugs have to have the same active ingredient and within 80-125% (I think) of the same amount. They can have different fillers, binders, time release mechanisms, etc. My husband and I have quite a bit of health issues and some of our drugs we have to have brand name because the generics just don’t work for us or have bad side effects. I think the majority of people do fine on the generics. I also think most doctors and even some pharmacists don’t know this, but you can verify it on the FDA website.

  • pennyhammack

    The pantoprazole I take is always generic as required by Medicare. Recently my pharmacist switched manufacturers and the new pill did not work at all. It was a real hassle getting it changed. All generics are not alike.

    • It sounds to me like the placebo effect has been maximal in both cases. Since as much GERD is caused by a deficiency of stomach acid as an excess of stomach acid, you might want to try a couple of tablespoons of fermented apple cider vinegar, instead. Blagg’s is the best.

      • Simmie Davis

        Bragg is the name
        It tastes real good

      • Greg G

        Again, you stray from the choice between generic and name brand. Quit sidetracking elsewhere with unsolicited medical suggestions,:”doctor” and simply stay focused on the actual comment and actual discussion. It is NOT about prescription vs homeopathic or surgery vs OTC drugs or any other medical suggestions you might dispense — answer the actual points and ONLY the actual points.

  • Larry

    OK I was going along with what they had to say until they tried to say no difference between generic and name brand sodas. At that point they cast doubt upon evrything they had to say.

    • Greg G

      DId you even read the article or just skim it? You managed to misread 4 short sentences. The author NEVER said there was no difference between generic and name brand soda. He said that they may not be that different and suggested you give it a try to see if it was a good substitution or not. That certainly sounds like he said there IS difference between them and it’s up to you to decide.

  • Non Compos Mentis

    As many on this board have said, and I repeat for emphasis, “all generics are not the same”. Experiment.
    One thing that does not come in a generic is the action/thriller novel, Burial Mound, which is finally available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

  • SFRinAZ

    Generic anything is basically crap from China and DOES have different ingredients and fillers – and will NOT last as long or do the job of the brand name product. Buy cheap from china, you will not be happy and you will lose your job to outsourcing.

    • So, what you are saying, without realizing it, is that everything is crap, because even the brand name things are mostly made in China in the same plants, just as it is done here?

  • With the exception of the extreme minority of women whose breasts don’t produce milk, mother’s milk is superior to anything that any manufacturer can produce, beyond the fact that there are no commercial formulas that contain colostrum.
    Generic paper towels lack the proper construction to be as absorbent as those from the multi-million dollar conglomerates that make the brand name towels.
    It is foolish to compare alkaline brand name batteries to carbon zinc generic batteries, apples and oranges.

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