Frugal NationFrugal Nation

5 ways to get cheaper generics

Think store-brand products couldn't be more affordable? Think again.

By Donna_Freedman Jul 13, 2012 11:56AM
Image: Groceries (© Tetra Images/Corbis)Private labels rule, and I'm not the only person who thinks so. A new survey from the research firm Accenture says 77% of shoppers would not stop buying generics even if their disposable income returned to post-downturn levels.

Certain store-brand products really don't taste/perform the same as their name-brand cousins. (More on that in a minute.) But if you buy enough generics, the money you save will underwrite the cost of the high-end brands.

Especially if you buy generics the way I do.

My cupboard census turned up even more store-brand products than I realized. Among them: canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, flour, relish, cream cheese, baking soda, soup, lentils, salt, spices, vinegar, rice, teabags, vitamins, baby wipes, bleach, antihistamine, cold meds, antibiotic ointment and sunscreen.

They all work just fine, thanks -- and the following tactics made them even cheaper.

Bringing costs down

1. Shop the dollar store.
That's where I got my generic Benadryl for a penny a pill and a 70-count pack of baby wipes (aka "shower in a pouch," for use when traveling). Both were produced in the United States.

2. Hit the dented-can bin.
Slightly traumatized store-brand tomatoes cook up the same as the unscathed cans. (Post continues after video.)

3. Pay with free gift cards.

I bought a year's worth of Kirkland brand glucosamine chondroitin with Amazon gift cards I got for free from Swagbucks.

4. Visit ethnic markets. I bought a 4-pound bag of Western Family brand popcorn for $3.69 (it really is the world's most frugal snack). The same market has a big selection of 99-cent spices, including specialized or semi-fancy ones like pickling spice and fennel seed.

5. Read store ads.
If a supermarket's house-brand soups are three for a dollar I get the maximum allowed. Private-label products are regularly featured in the Walgreens coupon insert; sometimes they carry "Register Rewards" instant rebates.

Some exceptions apply
I'm rarely disappointed with generic items. However, I do agree with "5 store-brand items to skip," which called out:

  • Paper products.
  • Mac 'n' cheese.
  • Diapers.
  • Cleaning products.
  • "Coupon-heavy" items, i.e., those whose name-brand counterparts are frequently the same price, thanks to manufacturer coupons.
I also think some generics work best as supporting characters. For example, I use store-brand  ketchup in meatloaf or sloppy joes. Yet I confess to a fondness for Hunt's or Del Monte if it's to be eaten on top of that meatloaf. And sometimes you just want an Oreo.

Which generic products do you use? Which do you avoid?

More on MSN Money:

Jul 14, 2012 7:13PM

I almost always buy the store brand select-a-size paper towels.  Yeah, I know I'm supposed to use rags but when you have to clean up cat barf, nothing works like a paper towel!  I've already got enough laundry to do, thankyouverymuch.  ;o)  I also get the generic coated paper plates.  When I'm just having a sandwich or a non-runny snack, they work fine for me.

Sep 18, 2012 5:09AM
I buy generic of *almost* everything.  The two items I've found that are just horrible generic are toilet paper and stuffing.  I must have Charmin and Stove Top.  Many generics are name brands with different labels.  They are made in the same factories with the same ingredients as the name brands by the name brand companies, then given different packaging.  We as consumers are too strongly influenced by brand names and colorful designs.  Do a taste test in which you don't know which product is the brand name and which is the generic and see if you can even tell the difference.
Aug 16, 2012 11:08AM
I was raised by an accountant mother and a father who was also very careful with money, so I have always understood the importance of frugality. My mother used coupons when I was younger and bought the generic brands. She taught me to price check (gotta be by the oz. or sf for paper products), but there are a few things that just have to be name-brand. Gotta have Jif Peanut butter, Hunts Ketchup, Velveeta Cheese, and Kraft Miracle Whip. I recently bought store brand Cinnamon Toast Crunch because it was so much cheaper than GM's Cinnamon toast crunch (which I usually have a coupon for anyway), but I really could tell the difference in the taste. Not sure my step-daughter noticed, but after living with my husbands mother who would always purchase her name-brand everything, she picks over it for the more "colorful" boxes. I ALWAYS check to see which product is cheapest by the oz, subtracting coupon values first if I have one. Often, I find that if the product isn't already on sale, the store brand product is still cheaper. You have to check everytime, though, because the stores are sneaky (especially walmart!).
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.