Brand Names vs Generic Brands: When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Cut Costs

When you’re shopping on a budget, you might often find yourself with tough choices. Most items have a name brand and cheaper generic alternative, but are you sacrificing quality for savings? When it comes to things like food and medicine, it can be tough to decide when you should go for a name brand or when you should opt for the cheaper option.

Not all items are created equal though. Some generic items are as good as or better than name brands, and you might be overspending without getting better quality. Before you shop, check out which items you should buy generic or by brand.

The Pros of Buying Brand Names

Generally speaking, brand name products are thought to be higher quality than generic products. It varies from item to item, but that’s why you’re usually paying a premium for a brand name. Brands offer some security and consistency. You know what you’re getting if you buy Coca Cola, for instance.

Of course, it’s not always that simple. The difference between two types of painkillers is more important than the brand of soda you buy, so just taking brand names at face value isn’t always the best idea.

As a good rule of thumb, when comparing name brand products to their generic counterparts, look at the ingredients. Most ingredients will be the same, and you can research any that concern you. In food products you can spot more or less healthy ingredients, and in medication you can ensure the active ingredient is the same.

What You Should Always Buy By Brand

Electronics and accessories: Phones and the gadgets that come with them are expensive, but for a good reason. Most Americans have a big name smartphone by now – Apple, Android or Samsung – but be cognizant of brands when buying things like chargers and headphones too. Buying a new charger directly from your phone manufacturer will be more expensive than an off-brand charger, but those are more likely to break or malfunction and cost you more over time. Good Morning America investigated claims that off-brand chargers can catch on fire, and found that it can happen and become a serious issue. Products that aren’t certified by Apple often have some serious safety hazards.

Tissues, toilet paper, paper towels: When it comes to paper products, you can tell the quality as soon as you open the package. Rough tissues, flimsy toilet paper, and non-absorbant paper towels will all do more harm than the savings are worth. We won’t say you need to buy any specific brands, like Kleenex, Charmin or Brawny, but always opt for the brand name over the generic paper product. For a discounted option, you can hit Cosco and buy Kirkland brand, which is technically generic but still comes with name brand quality.

Self-care/hygiene products: When it comes to taking care of yourself, the difference between generic and name brands can really show. For instance, generic razors wear out quickly and can often be less effective, so you cost yourself time and money by constantly having to buy new ones. The same goes for things like shampoo, conditioner, tampons, detergent, and band-aids. Stick to a brand you trust, even if it cost a few extra bucks.

What You Should Always Buy Generic

Bottled water: A lot of people have a favorite bottled water brand, whether it’s Poland Spring, Aquafina or Dasani. In reality, though, these name brands are almost identical in quality to the cheaper store brand options on the shelves next to them. With water, always choose the cheapest options. For a super generic option, switch to tap water and a refillable bottle to maximize savings! You’ll also be doing the environment a favor by cutting down on plastic waste. If you do want to stick with plastic bottles, consider buying gallon jugs and refilling them.

Over the counter drugs: For most care items, we’d suggest buying based on brand, but when it comes to over the counter drugs like Tylenol you’re better off buying generic. Over the counter drugs generic drugs have the exact same quality and active ingredients as their brand name counterparts, but usually at a cheaper price. They have to meet the same FDA standards but won’t put the same dent in your wallet.

Canned and frozen foods: One of the best ways to save money grocery shopping is to always go generic with frozen and canned foods. You get pretty much the same taste and quality for a discounted price. If you aren’t sold, try a blind taste test with name brand and generic frozen vegetables and see if you can tell the difference.

Gasoline: If you live in a city or suburb, you’re probably used to seeing multiple gas stations on the same street. Often a brand name gas station will have slightly higher prices than a generic gas station and yet still get more business. At the end of the day, most experts agree that cheaper gas doesn’t pose any threat to your car, but will obviously save you some money. In some cases, generic gas stations won’t have as many additives in their gasoline as name brands, which can lead to your engine wearing down. If you’re leasing or renting a car this won’t present an issue, but if you have a new car you intend to keep for years, consider using injector cleaner if you want to stick with generic gasoline.