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Is it worth it to splurge on name brands?

Other Rules for Shopping Generic

Some mass merchandisers, like Target and Walmart, have made a quantum leap in the way they present their store-brand items. Target is known for the quality of their generics, and by simplifying their design staff and processes, they've managed to create a unique brand that bypasses a lot of the stigma we once attached to generics while still keeping prices low: They currently offer more than 150 common items at $5 or less.

It's important to remember that all generic over-the-counter medications are legally required to contain the same dosages of the same active ingredients as the pricier items they're replicating. Likewise, asking for generics when you're filling prescriptions could make a big difference in the amount you pay for your medications.

In the past decade, national drugstore chains have focused on duplicating the formulations in all kinds of personal care items, from allergy meds to cosmetics. They look at the market and see which brands are leading the pack, and they choose those products to copy. In fact, it's perfectly legal to make exact copies of these sorts of products. Beauty lines from Ulta, Sally's and Sephora can give you identical results at half the price or less.

In general, the protection we get from the law means that most cosmetics and medications are identical to nongeneric versions. Baby formula has followed the same regulations since 1980, meaning that there's nothing available for sale that won't give your infant the proper required nutrition.

In the case of both medications and infant formula, however, it's important to find a product that works and stick with it. Changing formula brands can be tough on your child's digestion, which might make you second-guess yourself. Similarly, hopping back and forth between generic and name-brand medications could get complicated because of differences in formulation that have nothing to do with the active ingredient.

In most cases, it comes down to personal taste and remembering that most generics are just the same as the products they're replacing. If you don't enjoy the generic version, you can always go back to your brand-name favorite, but it's likely you won't see much of a difference -- except in your pocketbook.