Personal Finance

12 Items You Should Buy Generic

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What does your loyalty to brand-name products stem from? 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 more than you need to just for a label. A new 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,” CNN Money said.

That study also found that those in the know, like pharmacists and professional chefs, most often buy the store brand for health care products and baking supplies, respectively, while the rest of us are much more likely to buy name brands, which often cost twice as much, CNN Money said.

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 what 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 18 cents an ounce?

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 detergents, and take advantage of the more cost-efficient options. (Some may disagree with me when it comes to liquid dish detergent and its grease-cutting capabilities.)

And for the super-frugal, there’s always the do-it-yourself approach.

3. Produce

Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of our diets, but that doesn’t mean we have to empty our wallets to consume the recommended amounts. 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, Fla.

And if it’s in a can or frozen, check yourself and see if the big name means better taste and quality.

4. Water

We’ll never be one to encourage you to regularly buy bottled water, because you most likely have a nearly free source of water at home. (And if you don’t like the taste of your tap water, get a filter.)

But for those times when you need to buy 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, “[T]here’s 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 in that study we mentioned aren’t wrong. Compare the labels. Federal regulations mandate identical quantities of active ingredients in the generic version, 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 must also meet strict federal guidelines to go on the market. 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.”

Consumer Reports adds:

… In addition, manufacturers of a generic must demonstrate that the drug is “bioequivalent” to its corresponding brand by showing that it delivers the same amount of active ingredients into a person’s bloodstream in the same time as the original brand. A 2009 analysis of 2,070 bioequivalence studies found that the average difference in absorption — using two measures — between a generic and its branded prototype was about 4 percent, the same variation that is found between two batches of the same brand-name drug.

And what a difference the price makes. You can save up to 95% by buying the generic version, CR says.

8. Beauty & Other Personal-Care Products

The store brands can work just as well, and may even have the same ingredients as the brand you’re loyal to. Experiment, and check for reviews and recommendations online. (Also see: “Does Bargain Toothpaste Work Just as Well?”)

Unless you’ve found, through trial and error, a particular makeup or skin care product that works wonders for you, be open to store brands. However, I’d strongly suggest testing the waters before you dive in and fully commit.

9. Gasoline

Must you really purchase gas from a name brand like Shell or Hess? Business Insider says the off-brands can be just as good.

“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 in an email.

“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.”

10. Cereal

Same look, same taste, so what’s the issue? I’m a big fan of the Walmart version of Froot Loops. They seem to resist sogginess longer and taste delicious. I also save $1 or more per box. What more could a mom ask for?

11. Soda

Does that generic version of Sprite or Ginger Ale really taste that different? If you’ve never ditched your Coke for a generic cola, I suggest you give it a try. Some store-brand sodas are quite good, while others are not. Some experimentation is required here, too.

12. Salad & Fruit Mixes

The ingredients are the same, so why aim for the Dole when you can buy the Publix 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 Won’t Cut It

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. And let’s not forget about the cheap wipes that may not hold up.

I’m not suggesting that all store-brand infant products are bad, but you should test the waters before moving forward.

What about formula? Says 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 we say cheap and thin? A cheap, 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 that the hype surrounding the durability of some brand-name products is true.

Also, cheap paper plates don’t hold up well when they’re piled high with picnic food.

4. Batteries. Generic batteries that are not alkaline likely won’t have as much power or last as long.

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.

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Image: iStock

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