We've all been there, wavering between the pretty box of "Tylenol" and the cheap "acetaminophen." The store brand costs so much less -- but is this really the place to look for savings? Medication?
And what about the stuff you'll be feeding your kids? Can you scrimp on that?
The fact is, there are products you want to spend on if you can, like toilet paper and maybe lamb chops. But there are just as many goods you can get on the cheap and, if you're like most people, never know the difference. (In fact, the real difference is typically marketing dollars.)
Here, 10 store-brand items you can count on to improve your bottom line without sacrificing quality. First, for your cereal (or sippy cup) …
There are no brand-name cows. The udders supplying milk to Borden (or whichever company supplies your area) are no different from the udders Kroger is milking. So save some dough and buy the store-brand jug. It's the same stuff inside.
Not all milks are alike, of course. For instance, you may want organic. But in the "let's rake it in like Whole Foods" age, you'll likely find that in a store-brand, too.
Next: Save on baking …
Baking basics are, well, basic. Core ingredients like flour and sugar (and cornmeal, baking soda and walnuts, for that matter) don't vary a whole lot in composition. They simply are what they are.
So go store-brand on the basics and spend a little more on the extras, like gourmet chocolate chips. There's no substitute for fine chocolate.
Next: Save on breakfast …
If your cereal bowl holds fancy stuff, like all-natural flaxseed granola without raisins, you may not find a similar store brand.
However, if you love the oldies, like flakes of corn, crisps of rice, or bran of raisin, check the ingredients on the store versions. In many cases, they are exactly the same -- or else so darned close you'd never taste the difference.
Next: Save on baby …
It may be the last thing you'd think to skimp on, but consider the facts: Store-brand baby formula has to meet the same safety standards and nutrition guidelines as brand-names, and they're made with the same basic ingredients.
Formula is also very expensive, which makes it an area worth saving in.
If your baby has allergies or extreme fussiness, you'll want to examine the fillers in the different brands (store and name brands, alike); otherwise, try the cheaper one.
Next: Save on hydration …
If you spend on bottled water, you apparently haven't yet been swayed by the "water is water" argument. But how about this one: Bottled water is bottled water.
Mineral and/or carbonated water is different, of course, but if we're talking about regular old "purified water," the store-brand water is just like the brand-name stuff. Both contain H2O molecules; both went through the same types of purification processes; and both quench thirst and taste, well, like water. The only real difference is that the name brand (which, unless it's labeled as "spring water," is likely from the tap) can cost twice as much.
Next: Save on seasoning …
And really, unless you're quite the gourmet, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between store-brand and name-brand oregano, basil and thyme, too. (Or any other seasoning in your spice rack, like chili powder, garlic powder or sage.)
Save on the cheap salt and pepper so you can spend on the real vanilla -- the artificial stuff is a pale imitation.
Next: Save on clean …
When it comes to bleach, some go with scented, scentless, splashless or cold-water-specific. There may not be store-brand substitutes for those. But for those who grab a big old jug of basic laundry bleach, grab the cheaper one.
The active ingredient (either sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide) will be the same for both. The only potential difference is the concentration of that ingredient, but that won't make much difference to your dirty socks.
Next: Save on wrap …
You're using it to line pans or steam on the grill. Maybe wrap some leftovers. Aluminum foil is purely utilitarian and pretty simple as far as "ingredients" go: It's the element aluminium, shaped into thin sheets.
Not all store brands are as strong as the name brands, but lots are. (After all, according to Consumer Credit Counseling services, the manufacturer of Reynolds Wrap also manufactures store brands.) And you can always upgrade to the heavy duty, which will probably still cost less than the brand-name regular. So try it. You'll probably find there's no need to splurge on this kitchen essential.
Next: Save your stomach …
When your heartburn starts acting up, you don't need to spend more to cure it. Just look at the ingredients on the back of each box of antacid -- the store brands have the same active ingredients as the name brands (and probably the same ingredients in general). That means it's going to do the exact same thing to your heartburn, but for less money.
Finally: about the Tylenol …
As with antacids, pain relievers are a great place to save. Store brands have to meet the same efficacy and safety standards as name brands. They typically come in various forms (caplets, tablets, etc.) to suit your preference. And the active ingredients are identical -- for example, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Your headache doesn't care whether the ibuprofen has its own ad campaign.
A dollar here and there can really add up over time, so don't underestimate the power of the store brand. Fifteen bucks a week may not cover your mortgage, but it can probably take care of your texting.
For more money-saving ideas, look over the links on the next page.
Dollar stores — where most items cost just a buck — always seem to make money. HowStuffWorks finds out how they do it.
- 10 Items You Should Always Buy Generic
- 10 Things Stores Don't Want You to Know
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- 5 Tips For Shopping Online
- 5 Extreme Coupon Tips for Normal People
- Groceries: Do You Know the Price?
- How to Raise a Large Family on a Budget
- How can you throw a cocktail party on a budget?
- How can you throw a fun dinner party on a budget?
More Great Links
- Store brands vs. brand names? Consumer Reports. October 2010. (Jan. 31, 2011)http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/october/shopping/store-brands-vs-name-brands/overview/index.htm
- Barger, Jan. "Are generic or store-brand formulas less nutritious than name-brand formulas?" BabyCenter. (Jan. 31, 2011)http://www.babycenter.com/404_are-generic-or-store-brand-formulas-less-nutritious-than-bra_1334547.bc
- Generic and Store Brands vs. Brand Name. CBS News. June 19, 2010. (Jan. 31, 2011)http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/06/19/earlyshow/saturday/main6598113.shtml
- Johnson, Stacy. "7 Things You Should Always Buy Generic." Money Talks News. Sept. 9, 2010. (Jan. 31, 2011)http://www.moneytalksnews.com/2010/09/09/7-things-you-should-always-buy-generic/
- Johnson, Stacy. "Followup -- What's in a (Brand) Name?" Money Talks News. Sept. 30, 2010. (Jan. 31, 2011)http://www.moneytalksnews.com/2010/09/30/followup-whats-in-a-brand-name/
- Not better than the real thing, but just as good. MSNBC.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38600485/ns/today/
- When to Buy Brand Names vs. Knockoffs. AskMen. (Jan. 31, 2011)http://www.askmen.com/money/investing_150/166_investing.html