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 a bunch of generics we consider worthwhile. All can save you big bucks over their brand-name counterparts.
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. Prescription drugs
Buying generic drugs is generally a great way to save on medications. We reported on a study that found Walmart had by far the lowest prices for prescription drugs.
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.
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.
4. Food storage bags and containers
Many people just call these “ziplock bags,” after the famous brand-name products that your grocery store probably stocks on its shelves.
As we point out in “7 Things I Never Buy at Costco,” Walmart’s Great Value brand sandwich bags and storage bags can be an excellent substitute for TV-advertised brands, They do the job, and at a lower cost.
Generic trash bags can vary in quality. Aldi is one good place to find durable, non-brand trash bags at a lower price.
You’ll find good prices on plastic food containers at dollar stores.
Some brand-name products are the result of generations of research and trial and error, and imitators can’t always knock off something that’s truly perfect. Melt-in-your-mouth Hershey’s kisses, for example.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do some research to learn which generics work for you. Try buying generic chocolate bars, no-name chocolate chips and bulk chunks of chocolate for baking and find out for yourself which are as good as the original or at least good enough for you. And, speaking of Aldi, it’s a good place to start your research into lower-priced but delicious chocolate.
6. Gift wrap and gift bags
Why pay two or three times more for brand name gift bags, boxes and wrapping paper? It’s likely to be thrown away in an instant. Buying generic wrapping paper instead is a great way to save.
A bulk supply of printed “craft “paper is another approach that can keep you in gift wrap for years. Or buy your gift wrap at the dollar store next time you’re there.
7. Organizing products
There’s no need to spend a fortune shopping at specialty stores for brand-name boxes, totes and storage containers for the kitchen, bath and closets.
You’ll save massively by shopping for generic storage and organizing products at big box stores, dollar stores and even, for instance, some grocery stores.
8. Coffee and coffee filters
Even if you think you’re addicted to specialty roast coffee, here’s another area where conducting your own taste-test may surprise you.
Do a blind taste test, including testing a cup with half of your more-expensive coffee with half generic. What’s at stake? Big bucks, if you’re paying for high-priced brand-advertised coffee.
In addition, generic coffee filters do the job just fine, and at a reduced cost.
9. Over-the-counter medications
The study we mentioned above that found Walmart had the lowest prices on prescription drugs also reported Walmart was among stores with the lowest prices on over-the-counter medications.
It’s good to know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires medications — whether generic or brand-name, whether over-the-counter or prescription — to conform to safety standards.
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.”
11. Frozen fruits and vegetables
Especially when cooking, baking and making smoothies, it’s unlikely you’ll notice a difference between store-brand and nationally advertised frozen fruits and vegetables.
12. Canned vegetables and beans
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.
13. Plastic wrap and aluminum foil
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.
14. Baking and cooking supplies
The researchers who wrote the “Do Pharmacists Buy Bayer?” study also looked at the shopping patterns of chefs and other food professionals. The pros, they found, use store brands more often than the average grocery shopper. (NPR made a chart from the research showing how likely chefs were to purchase certain foods in either generic or brand-name form.)
The top 10 products that professionals most frequently preferred in generic brands include:
- Baking mixes
- Baking soda
- Powdered sugar
- Brown sugar
- Baking supplies
If these generics are good enough for professional chefs, consider that they’re probably good enough for you, too.
15. Snack foods
Who doesn’t love frozen pizza, chips and other snacks? In many cases, you can save money and go with store brands. Professional chefs in the “Do Pharmacists Buy Bayer?” study favored multiple types of generic snacks over branded products. In additional to frozen pizza and snacks, they included:
- Spreads and dips
- Dried fruit
- Pickles and olives
16. Cleaning products
Many people use generic or brand-name cleaning products interchangeably, depending on the availability of coupons and sales. Unless you’ve got a favorite cleaner that you believe outperforms all others, you’ll get the job done and save money with generics.
You can save even more with the DIY approach. Case in point: “9 Expensive Cleaning Supplies You Can Easily Make for Pennies.”
17. Personal-care products
Some store brands of personal-care products have the same active ingredients as name brands and work equally well.
Every expensive name-brand product you can drop from your routine –substituting a less-expensive generic version — adds to your bottom line. Try generic or low-cost versions especially of soaps, hand and face creams and moisturizers, facial cleansers, bubble bath and hair products.
Additionally, “Is Cheap Toothpaste a Bad Idea for Your Teeth?” explains how to spot cheap but high-quality toothpaste.
When the Orange County Register examined whether cheaper gas really hurts a car’s engine, as advertising sometimes claims, the newspaper found that highly advertised additives don’t matter.
“Buy the cheapest gas you can get that’s convenient and close,” Steve Mazor, chief automotive engineer with the Automobile Club of Southern California Automotive Research Center, told the Register. Mazor has been testing gas for more than 30 years.
As long as you’re getting the right octane level for your vehicle, “you might as well use the gas that’s the cheapest,” William Green, a chemical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the newspaper.
19. Fresh produce
Prices for fresh produce vary enormously. Local, no-brand fruits and vegetables usually are your best bet. They don’t have to travel as far to reach your table, so they are likely to be fresher and more flavorful. Look for them at farmers markets, independent grocers and farm stands. Generic produce found at Trader Joe’s and in big-box stores like Costco is often an excellent deal, too.
Try out generic versions of your favorite cereal — be that flakes, loops or nuggets. The chances are good you’ll find that store brands and off-brands have the same look and taste for as much as $1 less a box. What’s not to like?
Many generic diapers do the job as well as brand-name ones, but at a huge savings. Of course, not all generic diapers are created equal.
Test the off-brands for yourself, buying a small package before investing in bulk purchases.
22. Soda pop
Is brand-name soda really better-tasting? The answer, it turns out, is quite complicated.
We are not suggesting that all generic cola is as good as its brand-name equivalents. But consider this: Repeatedly in taste tests, subjects tell researchers they prefer what they think is a brand-name drink when it’s really a generic.
Of one study, the Huffington Post wrote:
“Interestingly, when the scientists scanned the subjects’ brains using MRI technology, drinking what they thought was name brand soda created activity in the reward center of their brains. But drinking what they thought was generic soda triggered activity in … the part of the brain used to make value judgments.
Scientists believe that when we use ‘brand name’ products, we already assume that they’re of good quality, so the part of our brain used to assess whether something is worthy of appreciation shuts off, so we take more pleasure in the experience.”
If you ignored the common prejudice toward famous national soda brands, could you enjoy a generic soda as much as your favorite brand? Why not give it a shot? You’ll certainly save money.
23. Sparkling water
The popularity of brand-name sparkling water products means there are many sparkling waters on your grocer’s shelves to choose from and not all are as costly as the advertised brands.
Try store-brand sparkling waters for a refreshing change.
24. Bath products
Do you love bath bombs, bubble bath, bar and liquid soap and fragrant bath salts and shower gel? Home goods stores, food coops, membership chains and lower-priced retailers like Trader Joe’s and Aldi are giving the brand names a run for their money in the expensive category of bath products.
Candles set a romantic scene, cast a dinner table in a warm glow and banish the darkness on a winter’s night. They can also burn a big hole in your budget.
Save money on dinner table tapers, pillars and votives by choosing no-name candles. Place them in attractive candle holders or on a tray or stand. Once you remove the wrapping from name-brand candles, any difference will be invisible.
26. Baking mixes
Cornbread, cakes, biscuits, muffins, cookies and pizza dough. If you shop around you’re sure to find generic products you like as much as your familiar favorites. In fact, baking mixes were among the generic products that professional chefs buy most, according to a 2015 research study.
27. Canned seafood
Staple products in many American households include canned tuna, salmon, clams, oysters, anchovies and sardines.
You’ll like some of the generics more than others, so do shop around, but the savings from eschewing brand-name labels makes it worth a try.
28. Reading glasses
The range of prices for off-the-shelf reading glasses — fondly known as cheaters — is surprisingly big.
On one end of the spectrum are the celebrity-branded readers found hanging from attractive displays at drug stores and other retailers. At the other end: no-packaging, no-frills readers that do the job at a lower price.
Check big box stores, dollar stores and even hardware stores for low-priced cheaters. Just be sure that the magnifying power on the glasses is correct for you.
29. Greeting cards
Buying a handful of cards can cost a bundle and prices keep rising. You’ll get your sentiments across just as well by shopping for generic greeting cards at much-reduced prices. Dollar stores are an excellent place for stocking up on greeting cards. And when you’re at Trader Joe’s, investigate the super-low-priced greeting cards.
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.”
31. Seasonings and spices
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.
32. Baby formula
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.
What generics do you recommend? Are there more expensive name-brand products you swear by? Post a comment below or on our Facebook page.
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