Is it worth it to splurge on name brands?

Think twice before you pick up a store brand -- many generics are equal in quality and much less expensive. See more pictures of boxed food.
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Many of us think of generic or store-brands as being of lower quality, lesser nutritional value or simply poorer construction than their high-priced counterparts. But in fact, most "generic" products are identical in ingredients and preparation to their more expensive versions. Most of the time, the difference comes down to strategies in marketing and not the products themselves.

Corporations spend a lot of money telling us their brand is the best, and that we should spend our cash on their products because it will make us more successful, more attractive or happier in some way or another. It's called branding, and it's a way of tying our money to our feelings about a given product.

When a company decides to make a generic version of its own -- or someone else's -- product, the point is to multiply the ways they have of getting your money. Since the higher-priced brand didn't get your attention, or you don't have the money to blow on their more expensive version, they'll appeal to your sense of thrift, offering virtually the same product at a lower price, just without the power of the brand behind it.

In the same way, most store brands are really just repackaged versions of the more expensive stuff, often even manufactured on the exact same factory floors by the same companies. By making the packaging less inviting, putting lower-priced items on lower shelves, making it hard to see what company made the product and advertising it as little as possible, they're able to pass the savings on to you. They can sell generics at these low prices because they never spent the money advertising the brand in the first place.

Either way, it's about separating you from your cash. So the question becomes whether or not you want to give them lots of money, or less money, for the same products.

When you look at it that way, you might wonder why we spend money on brand names at all. Is it worth it to splurge occasionally on the higher-priced item? Are there any rules of thumb for deciding? Are there any generic categories or products to avoid? Let's take a look.