What do you associate with the word “generic?” Do the words “inferior” or “tastes like cardboard” come to mind? Or do you, like many people, associate name brands with people who are well-to-do, while people in poverty opt for generics? All of that is complete nonsense, but commonly held attitudes. The truth is that generics are often a great buy because the quality of the product is exactly equal to, or sometimes even better than, the name brand counterpart. Here are six winners:
You really can stop paying $4 a box for cereal because excellent generic options are typically 30% cheaper. In several blind test studies, kids who were given brand name and generic cereals could not tell a difference. If your kids are picky about their favorite cereal, try combining the name brand and the generic brand in a plastic container so they don’t see the packaging. Gradually move the mix to more and more generic until they’ve made the switch.
If you are buying name brands like Advil, Tylenol, Bayer Aspirin, Prilosec, Zyrtec, Claritin and Sudafed, you are wasting your money. You are paying up to three times as much as that medication’s generic version.
By law, a generic drug must be created to be the same as an existing approved brand name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality and performance characteristics. I was shocked to learn Americans waste about $32 billion a year buying name brand pills over-the-counter where generic alternatives are readily available.
Government regulations require the same manufacturing and storage procedures for all staples such as flour, sugar, eggs, milk, salt and so forth, no matter the brand. Buying the generic brand is just as safe and tastes the same because it is the same as the brand name. Buying generic is almost always cheaper (except for those rare occasions when the brand name is on sale for less than its generic counterpart) because there is not marketing and advertising built into the product’s price tag.
The Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates and requires the same nutrients in all infant formula. This means your baby will get the same benefits from the name brand as with the much less expensive generic option. Generic formulas have to follow the same manufacturing and safety guidelines, too, so there’s no added risk there. You really can be confident in generic infant formula.
I cannot say that all generics can compete with their name brand counterparts. But there are many generic cleaning products that perform equally or even better. I have to agree with those who find that name brand paper towels and window cleaner are usually worth the money. Generic paper towels tend to be too thin and generic window cleaner often leaves streaks. However, off-brand scouring powders, disinfecting wipes and bathroom cleaner are nearly always equal to, or even better, than the name brand options.
The generic options for things like pasta, canned fruits and vegetables, crackers, soda and bottled water tend to be equal in quality. Do not hesitate to give them a try. Here’s a good rule of thumb as you make the decision: The fewer ingredients you see listed, the more likely it is that the generic brand tastes just as good as the name brand.
National brand manufacturers spend a lot of money on advertising and attractive packaging to sell you a product that may not be better than the generic one. And in some cases, the generic and name brand companies are the same. Hint: If the labels say the products were made in the same town, chances are pretty good they were made by the same company.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, ”Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”