Best Items to Buy Generic Over Name Brand

by Sean Bryant on April 5, 2013

Generic GroceriesIn addition to identifying the best time to buy items, opting for generic brands over name brand versions is a great way to cut costs. In fact, buying store brands can save consumers between 30 and 52 percent, according to Consumer Reports.

Despite the savings potential, Americans are still suspicious of store brands. I’ll freely admit to once being part of the skeptical crowd. But, when I finally tried generic versions of select products, I discovered just how financially damaging buying name brand can be. Upon discovering this, my brand loyalty quickly faded. Quality isn’t necessarily the reason for the price discrepancy, as is the case with these items. I always find it best to buy generic.

Baking Products

I’m a big fan of baking and grew up with C&H sugar and Gold Medal flour. Once I started purchasing these ingredients for myself, I quickly turned to store-brand versions since I couldn’t imagine much chemical difference between brands. Thankfully, I was right. The FDA demands all brands of flour, sugar, salt and spices have the same ingredient and production standards. Despite standardization, the range in price across brands of spices are incredible, with branded bottles of basil costing upwards of four-times more than store brands.


Buying brand-name cereal may be one of the best ways to waste money, but parents’ inclination to do so is understandable given how much advertising is directed at kids. Bright colors and friendly cartoon mascots are irresistible to small children, yet parents might find the 25 to 50-percent price difference between generic and name-brand cereals hard to refuse. Generic cereals look the same, often come in a bigger box, and differences in taste are minimal. Don’t believe me? Check the results of this all-kid panel of taste testers coordinated by fellow blogger Len Penzo.

A/V Cables

My husband will be the first to tell you never to purchase A/V cables from the store. These cables carry heavy markups and are often pitched as better quality than no-name brands. Not so! As a recent article in PCWorld points out, “cheap, generic HDMI cables provide just as good an image and sound as the high-priced alternatives.” Instead of caving to the sales pitch at your local electronics retailer, order your A/V cables from Amazon or MonoPrice.

Black-and-White Ink Cartridges

To paraphrase Jane Austen, “it is a truth universally acknowledged” that ink cartridge prices incite rage within even the calmest of people. I tried twice to purchase the $30 ink replacement for my Kodak printer, only to leave the store grumpy and without ink. According to Lifehacker, generic ink cartridges are fine for basic black-and-white printing, but aren’t the best for high-quality color or photo printing.  Consumers with basic printing needs can use sites like to easily compare the cost of generic, remanufactured and OEM cartridges to find the cheapest price.


Despite the foothold Tylenol, Advil and other brands have in the minds of consumers, store-brand medications are just as effective and cost significantly less. In fact, generic medications have the same active ingredient dosage as their name-brand counterparts, as required by the FDA. (This requirement extends to vitamins and prescription medications, too.) For example, a small bottle of Tylenol Extra Strength capsules cost a little over $3.50 at my local Walmart. The Equate brand features the same number of pills and dosage of acetaminophen, but costs just $0.98.

Select Toiletries

I’ve read a few stories that suggest generic cosmetics are just as good as their designer counterparts. I know several women who would vehemently disagree, however, so I’m going to leave that one alone.  Still, I can personally attest to select personal-care products being better generic buys. I used to spend $15 on Aveeno face moisturizer until I compared its ingredient list to the generic option priced at a whopping $10 less. The same goes for eye-makeup remover. The store-brand version of Neutrogena’s oil-free product is a couple bucks less and contains the same ingredients.

Baby Formula

When it comes to feeding a new baby, it’s understandable most parents gravitate toward name brands — especially since the samples brought home from the hospital are typically Enfamil or Similac. However, the Infant Formula Act passed in 1980 guarantees all formulas are identical in the nutrition they provide, and further certifies any formula you buy is good and healthy for your baby. Differences in formula are confined to taste and texture, so it’s worth trying the generics before opting for pricier name brands. When in doubt, consult with your pediatrician.

What items do you buy generic? If you typically purchase name brand items, what’s keeping you from trying the store brand versions?  Is it just because of Brand Loyalty?

Kendal Perez is a bargain-shopping blogger for where she shares personal stories about her pursuit of savings.

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Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant created in 2011 to help pass along his knowledge of finance and economics to others. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in economics he worked as a construction superintendent before jumping into the world of finance. Sean has worked on the trade desk for a commodities brokerage firm, he was a project manager for an investment research company and was a CDO analyst at a big bank. That being said he brings a good understanding of the finance field to the One Smart Dollar community. When not working Sean and his wife are avid world travelers. He enjoys spending time with his two kids and dog Charlie.

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  • About food I don’t care too much for brands. The only one I don’t give up is cream cheese because the other brands here don’t last as long, so half of it would go to waste. Toiletries we use brand mainly because my boyfriend wouldn’t change. For bigger items we choose brands mainly for customer service and guarantee if something goes wrong.

    • There are definitely some foods that don’t taste as good under the generic brand. I learned that about graham crackers — the generic alternative to HoneyMaid tasted like cardboard! I’ve read that some toiletries like bath tissue and paper towels are better name-brand buys because the generic alternatives are too flimsy. Thanks for commenting, Pauline!

  • slccom

    Generic medications are not necessarily the same in the way they work in your body. OTCs we only buy generic, but there are critical meds that have a narrow therapeutic window that are very dicy to buy generic. That means that the difference between ineffective too-low dose and toxic too-high dose is very small. Anti-seizure and other brain meds often should be brand-name only.

    • Yeah I think more specific drugs like you mentioned I would feel more comfortable with name brand unless my doctor said it was ok.

    • I wouldn’t buy generic prescription meds unless checking with my doctor first. Once approved, shopping around can save you money. I just read an article in Consumer Reports about the huge price difference between generic versions of popular drugs (Plavix, Lipitor) which you can purchase through drugstore pharmacies. Costco offers these drugs for significantly less than CVS in every instance.

  • I always look to off name brand stuff especially food. When I used to work at a grocery store I remember one of the managers told me that half the store brands were the exact same thing. All the manufacturer does is change out the packaging. I know this is not true on everything, but just to give you an idea.

  • There are certain things we like to buy that are name brand and others we could care less about. Really for us what it boils down to is price and knowing the best prices. If I can get a name brand item cheaper on sale and with a coupon I will use that. If I can get generic items like ketchup on sale where Heinz is not I’ll get the generic. When it comes to vanilla we only buy pure vanilla and not the vanilla flavour. We have a friend who will buy a whole new printer because it’s cheaper and comes with black and white and color ink. We won’t refill our ink and have searched online to see if anyone was selling it otherwise we pay for the generic ink. Shared on FB to see what my fans have to say!

  • I’m all about saving money but good health is even more important. When buying baby formula, or food of any sort for that matter, read the labels before making your choices. If the food is produced or packaged in an area with high pollution (China would be a good example), think twice. Also look at the additives. If a food has fewer additives, I’m willing to pay more for it.

    • Good point, Beth Anne. I think the best generic buys are the ones that have nearly identical ingredients to their brand-name counterparts with little or no additional ingredients.

  • I’ve also heard that some brand-name companies manufacture the generic alternatives and the product is identical. It’s crazy they can get away with that!

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