10 Must Buy Generics (And 5 Branded Items Worth the Price)

There is a challenge I go through every time I shop and it’s one that I am betting you think about, too. It’s the brand names versus the generics thing that is kind of the “Ali versus Frazier” matchup that we all go through regularly!

When it comes to saving, generics are a great way to reduce spending. Here are 10 generics you should buy, plus 5 branded items I believe are worth it.

There is often some fear in people when it comes to shopping and buying an item they may never have heard about or seen before, and that’s even truer when it comes to generics. Those are the items that are not national brands, but swear that they can still do the job to satisfy your needs and wants!

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.

10 Must Buy Generics

So here are some of my favorite picks that can help you save your hard-earned money if you are willing to try going generic. After my 50 years of experimenting though, I do still stick with a few key branded items that I think are required and I am going to share them with you, too. Here’s my list for your approval, so see what you think. First, the generics…

1. Water

I don’t endorse buying bottled if you are going to try to save, but if you must buy bottled water, choose a store brand and save your money. Bottled water is really just for convenience sake only.

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 actually comes from a tap, according to the National Resources Defense Council. The federal government does not require bottled water to be safer than tap. 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. Tap water is the quintessential generic. If you’re still unsure, get a good filter of your own and run your tap water through it.

2. Generic Medicines

Buying generics is generally a great way to save on medications. 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 and are considered to be as safe as the original formula in each case. Ask your doctor when considering a generic purchase to be best informed.

3. 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.

4. Milk

The more local, 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!

5. Sunscreen

Just 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 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.

6. 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, try a can and compare to see if it meets your taste approval. You will find some of them to be really good!

7. Plastic Wrap and Aluminum Foil

Some of these kitchen aids are just as good as their brand-name cousins, but others are not. You need to try and experiment with the generics because good generic foil and plastic wrap will save you a bundle.

8. Cleaning Products

Many people use generic or brand-name cleaning products interchangeably depending on the availability of coupons and sales. But, unless you’ve got a favorite cleaner that you believe outperforms all others, you can get the job done and save money with generics.

9. Gas for Your Car

Buy the cheapest gas you can get that’s convenient and close to you while driving. Experts agree that if you are getting the right octane level for your vehicle, you might as well use the gas that’s the cheapest! Check Gas Buddy to find the best price where you live or work.

10. Ice Cream

The price gap between products is wide. Compare $1.99 to $5.99 each for a 48 oz. package…whoa! I have to call this one a no-brainer because unless you are a connoisseur, you really can’t taste a difference. Besides, with a 100% plus price difference, I think this savings is well worth considering.

5 Branded Items Worth the Price

1. Pancake Syrup

Any brand (on sale with a coupon, of course!) will do. The thin and runny consistency of store brand syrup is enough to turn off your taste buds. Compared to sweet name brands, the watery generics don’t really stand a chance. Let’s face it, if you’re going to have all the calories in syrup, you might as well get the good stuff.

2. Nabisco Oreos

After 100+ years, there’s still only one Oreo. Did you know that since 1997, Oreos have been Kosher and even Vegan? It’s true. While store brands have made strides and closed the taste-test gap, Oreo is still the clear winner in look, texture, and taste. If you’re gonna continue to binge on these calories (and we do), why not go with the winner and still champion?

3. Saltine Crackers

I have tried many, many different saltines in my day, but the best tasting and not overpriced clear winner is any name brand saltine cracker. And no wonder…unless soggy cardboard taste is your thing, you’ll want to go name brands every time on this one. Try Nabisco again here and use your coupons and loyalty cards when you do.

4. Paper Towels

Towels don’t lie. Brands like Bounty are truly durable and can last through messes! While the generic brand might save you a little bit of cash, the brand name paper towels last longer and you use less each time, plus they do a better job!

5. Toilet Paper

I don’t care how much it costs, this is one area of your life where you should just never, ever skimp. It’s not very expensive anyway, so trust me and treat yourself like royalty! You will regret it when you don’t buy a brand!

Final Thoughts

To be perfectly honest, I could have made this post 99 generics and 50 branded items, but I chose not to. The important takeaways here are these: Don’t be exclusively brand loyal and don’t always think that a generic is cheaply made and just plain inferior or unworthy. Both of those assumptions are just not true!

You should at least try a generic, a small investment most of the time, just to see what could be in terms of saving and satisfaction. If you aren’t doing it at least occasionally, you are probably wasting your money!

What generics do you regularly use and which brands are a must in your life? When you shop, are you willing to try the “unknown” for a chance to save?

7 Comments

  1. Dana E Dolvig

    The one storebrand I almost always trust – and for at least paper towels and toilet paper above is Kirkland. I know Costco is not always a savings, but on these things, I like their quality, the large quantities don’t go bad, and it is cheaper than name brands (but more expensive than store brands). And, at least for me, it is right on my way with the cheapest gas too. I also like a lot of the kirkland brand frozen meal stuff – not a price win compared to making things from scratch (and using other store brands) but a savings vs eating out when time is tight.

  2. Funny to hear which items people feel are a “must buy” when buying brand-name vs. generic. I’ve observed that people frequently like what they grew up with. Do you agree? For example, do you like Hellman’s mayo, or Kraft – and does it relate to which one your family served when you were a kid?

    I like French’s yellow mustard. I’ve tried many brands of mustard & even made my own, but French’s will always be my favorite mustard. Yes, it was the one I grew up with.

    There are a few things I’ve changed my mind about over the years, though. Cheap candy is not the same as really good chocolate!

    1. I think I agree, Baby Boomer, that the influences you grew up with definitely affect your choice in your “favorites” and “must buys”. I think I do love Hellmann’s better than any other mayo, but the frugal in me often buys the store brand at $1.99 a jar. I’m fussy about my cream cheese and I do love the Philadelphia brand which I grew up with as a kid, but once again, the $0.99 on-sale store brand draws me in like a fly to honey. I may love the brand names, but I often don’t buy them. Thanks for chiming in.

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