20 Products You Should Always Buy Generic

Loyalty usually is a great quality, but it can be costly when you shop. Sticking to just one brand rarely makes sense when the only meaningful difference between a national brand product and its generic version is the price.

Sometimes brand-name products offer something unique. More often, though, they don’t. Here are 20 generics we consider worthwhile. All can save you big bucks over their brand-name counterparts:

1. Water

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If you must buy bottled water, choose store brands and save money. However, if you want to rack up serious savings, forget bottled water entirely and drink tap water — the quintessential generic. If you’re still unsure, get a good filter and run your tap water through it.

Even generic bottled water is a lot more expensive and not necessarily any safer than tap water. An estimated one-quarter or more of bottled water comes from a tap, according to the National Resources Defense Council. The nonprofit adds:

“It’s important to note that the federal government does not require bottled water to be safer than tap. In fact, just the opposite is true in many cases. Tap water in most big cities must be disinfected, filtered to remove pathogens, and tested for cryptosporidium and giardia viruses. Bottled water does not have to be.”

2. Medications

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Buying generics is generally a great way to save on medications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that generic and brand-name medications — whether over-the-counter or prescription — conform to safety standards.

In “10 Expert Tips for Slashing the Prescription Drug Costs,” we explain how you can use the federal agency’s [email protected] database to confirm whether the FDA considers a particular generic prescription drug equivalent to its brand-name version.

3. Baby formula

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The FDA also regulates baby formula and holds generics to the same quality and safety standards as brand-name products. So, this is another opportunity to save money and still have the peace of mind that you are safe in using the generic product.

4. Milk

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The more local your dairy, the fresher your milk will be. Read labels on milk cartons and bottles to see where the milk originates. Often, a store-brand product comes from the same dairy as a costlier brand-name product.

Generics may not be the best choice for all dairy products, though. For example, The Kitchn advises that you skip generic yogurt. The blog says generic yogurt “usually features extra additives and sugars, and distinct quality and texture differences distinguish brands.”

5. Sunscreen

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Like medications and infant formula, the FDA regulates sunscreens.

Look for an SPF (sun protection factor) rating of 30 or more and protection from both UVA and UVB rays, known as broad-spectrum protection. To be sure a product offers the latter, look for sunscreens with the phrase “broad spectrum SPF” followed by an SPF number on the front of the product. Under federal law, manufacturers can use that phrase only on products that pass a broad-spectrum testing procedure.

6. Seasonings and spices

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Freshness is what counts when buying herbs and spices. Brand names do not necessarily guarantee freshness. Try your store’s generics, and see what you think.

7. Meat

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Depending on the product and the source, store-brand meats can be just as good as heavily advertised brands. As always, read labels to confirm ingredients and the source of the product.

If you must buy brand-name meat — or to save more on store brands — consider buying meat at a wholesale club. We cite meat in general in “18 Best Buys at Warehouse Stores.”

8. Frozen fruits and vegetables

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Especially in cooking, baking and making smoothies, it’s unlikely you’ll notice a difference between store-brand and nationally advertised frozen fruits and vegetables.

9. Canned vegetables and beans

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You can routinely save on groceries by buying your grocery chain’s canned beans, vegetables and fruits. If you are wondering about the generic version of a particular item — canned tomatoes, for example, can vary widely in flavor — try a can of each and compare.

10. Plastic wrap and aluminum foil

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Some of these kitchen aids are as good as their brand-name cousins, others are not. But experiment with generics because good generic foil and plastic wrap will save you a bundle.

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