Smart SpendingSmart Spending

12 items you should buy generic

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.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 30, 2014 12:13PM

This post comes from Allison Martin at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyWhat 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 usually cost twice as much, CNN Money said.

Fortunately, we've identified items you can buy generic without sacrificing quality,  along with a list of items where the store brand just won't cut it.

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 amounts suggested in the health chart. 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?"

 Assorted Cleaning Products Without Labels © Ocean/Corbis6. 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 percent by buying the generic version, CR says.

8. Beauty and 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. For instance, PopSugar recommended its favorite generic beauty products a few years ago.

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 and 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 after your bundle of joy has a wipeout.

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.

What's your experience with generic products? Do they perform as well or even outperform the big-boy brands?

More from Money Talks News

Jul 30, 2014 2:07PM
Wow, obviously this was someone's opinion and not based upon any scientific studies.  Personally, I found there is a huge difference in generic vs store brand.  I am all for saving money, but not when there is a change in taste or quality - goes with out say - "you get what you pay for".   Many of the name brand companies will make it for the store & put store brand name on it, but change the ingredients minimally.  I've noticed huge difference in cereals like Quaker instant oatmeal vs store brand....Store brand has an off taste & different texture.   There is a huge taste difference in brand waters vs store waters- especially living in FL, the water is terrible....I didn't know they made generic fresh fruit/vegetables.  Some store brands add perfumes to cosmetics/shampoos - which is horrible for those of us sensitive to smells.....saves them $ using fake smells vs real ingredients.  Many generic items use cheaper ingredients, hence the cheaper price.  Again, you get what you pay for.
Jul 30, 2014 2:15PM
I actually switched to Walmart's generic Froot Loops until I realized it was turning the kids poo green.  Fine for my own kids, but I have daycare kids and I don't want to freak out their parents.
Jul 30, 2014 3:43PM
Every single day, the line between a real researched / fact-checked article and some random person's BS blog is furthered blurred on msn and yahoo... I don't know why I still click on this ****.
Jul 30, 2014 2:06PM

   Great article, but reading labels won't tell you everything. Many sub-par products from China, India and South America don't have the same quality controls especially when it comes to medicines and supplement products. All you can do is experiment to find out which products are truly equal.

Good Luck.

Jul 30, 2014 2:55PM

"depending on what's on sale and/or has the best coupon."

You just said it. Sometimes the brand name with a coupon r even a doubled coupon is a better deal. 

I call b.s. on #s 2 and 11. Generic cola doesn't taste like Coke. Never has, never will. Maybe a generic root beer or ginger ale, but Coke is Coke.

Not all generic drugs are the same as the brand or even each other. If you don't feel it works as well, tell your doctor and pharmacist. Maybe another brand of generic works better and maybe you need to go back to the brand name.

Jul 30, 2014 5:01PM
Name brands are more expensive because they spend tons of money advertising their products.
Generics don't get all of that support convincing you that they are great.
The article says to give the generics a chance, without assuming that they are inferior, my experience is that many generics are as good or better than the "name brands", but some are just not the same taste or quality you are used to.
I like saving money and am willing to try new things.
Jul 30, 2014 3:06PM

Well, one could also go to Costco or Sam's Club and get name brand for less than the generic at most supermarket's or retailer box stores. Also, use coupons, especially the buy one get one free coupons for name brands. (Not talking perishable items here)

It's called do some homework folks. My only problem at my age is to buy bulk items like Bounty paper towels and Charmin tissue. Storage is the main problem.

Jul 30, 2014 3:04PM
One of the biggest ripoffs on the planet is a $10 gallon of water. I can purchase almost 3 gallons of gas for the price of one gallon of Water. I have never bought bottle water, and never will.
Jul 30, 2014 6:06PM
Batteries ,Paper goods, Household paint ,Infant care products are not near as good as name brand only cheaper and you get what you pay for==Gasoline this item is the same no matter where you get it as long as you use the same octane.
Jul 31, 2014 12:16AM
Part of a class I took in college was testing AA batteries. All the students were encouraged to use ANY brand they wanted, new right from the packages.
The test lasted a week. Each battery was tested for 'maximum energy for three seconds' then an exact load was attached.  Several intervals each day energy was measured and finally everyone turned in a graph of the results.
It was as scientific as one can imagine, ambient temperatures, data to the 1/1000th whatever's (it was a long time ago and don't recall exactly what was measured) but I remember this: the Dura..., and Energiz...., were so close to exactly the same, and the middle brands were really good too. The very cheap, cheapest of cheap fared ok too. The biggest difference was COST! Beware of high price AA batteries. We were told the experiment was performed every semester for many years and the outcome has always been the same. For what it's worth:)
Jul 31, 2014 1:02PM
A lot of the generic dish detergent's end up having to add more and more to the water just to get the dishes done.
Jul 30, 2014 5:58PM
With one wife having heart problems with a generic version of Dilantin and a new one wit a generic version of Cymbalta, I will yell very loudly whenever someone proclaims that they are just as good as the originals.
Jul 30, 2014 2:06PM
Why not use rebate magazines such as refund world, in which you can get rebates for brand name products, which usually bring the price of the product below the generic. Then you don't have to worry about cheaply made generics.
Jul 30, 2014 6:37PM
Jul 30, 2014 2:39PM
So the author would buy generic drugs, but won't buy generic paper towels?  Glad to know she has her priorities straight.
Jul 31, 2014 9:28AM
why does my comment ..get blocked...
Jul 30, 2014 3:53PM
The key to the quality of this article and knowledge of the author turns on this phrase: "off-brands can be just as good".  Not "are" or "better than". The only leverage for pricing the generic also ran products is they do waste money or consumers' time on insulting stupid, repetitively boring, unimaginative and unthinking advertising. Generics save a ton of money there and sell for less.

The only saving feature of the recent soccer matches is the lack irruptions by asinine advertising. Quality products don't need advertising; those you see advertised are products that are not worth their selling price. (Think American cars. The quality is removed before name goes on. Anything built in a minute should not cost any more than a worker's hour of time.) To insult consumers with the current base level of content of advertising is enough to send everyone to generics. ©2014 Doktor Thomas™. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, paraphrased, nor redistributed. All statutory exemptions specifically revoked by author. Protected by Amendment, Federal law and international treaty. For educational use only--not intended as legal, medical, accounting nor tax advice; for users to use as such violates TOS and may entail financial penalty and other sanctions.
Jul 30, 2014 2:39PM
So you ever wonder if anyone knows anything. Where is the deal tab?
Jul 31, 2014 2:59PM
My father worked for over 20 years in a building that overlooked one of the largest gasoline storage and distribution facilities in the Midwest.  He would watch as every gasoline tanker truck, regardless of the name on the side, was filled from the exact same storage tanks.  He would never pay one cent more then he had to for gasoline and considered any attempt to promote any brand of gasoline as superior to any other as complete fraud. He also kept his cars for years and never had a gasoline related issue with any of them.  There might be additives that some brands put in the tankers after they are filled and I can't say that in some cases such additives might not  have some benefit, but the basic product that comes from the refineries is the same at every station no matter whose name is on the pump and don't believe anyone who tells you different.
Jul 30, 2014 5:19PM
Number 1 is definitely wrong, there is cane sugar and beet sugar and they are not t he same. In coffee you probably wouldn't know the difference but in cooking there is a big difference. Also the cheap spices are no where near as good as the name brand. I know this for a fact, 
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.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.