When To Buy Generic Vs. Brand Name Goods At The Grocery Store

woman grocery shopping

It’s easy to think we’re getting a great deal when we spring for generic no-name items over brand-name ones. But it’s also easy to forget that you get what you pay for, and oftentimes that comes at the price of quality, even your health.

We tapped Andrew Schrage, founder of the personal finance blog, Money Crashers, for insight on when it’s smart or really stupid to choose brand name over generic products.

To keep things simple, we mostly focused on grocery stores, the place where we drop about $500 a month, or at least a significant portion of our monthly budget, according to Get Rich Slowly’s blogger, J.D. Roth.

Feel free to share your own tips in the comments!

Buy generic non-perishable snacks.

'With non-perishables, you can generally go with the strategy of not buying brand-name products,' says Schrage, who adds that oftentimes these foods, like crackers, cookies, and canned foods, taste better and are often higher in nutrition. 'Whole Foods has a great store brand.'

Choose brand-name dairy products.

'With perishable stuff like dairy products, I think you want to err more towards trustworthy brands that you know went through the pasteurizing process,' Schrage, the Money Crashers blogger, says. 'These have a history of consumer trust and quality.'

Also choose brand-name meats.

'Ideally, you want to know what's going on with your food,' Schrage says. 'You want to know that it has no preservatives or pesticides, and as a consumer, you have to get familiar with the brands that supply that.'

Name-brand medications are the way to go.

'With drugs that you don't prescriptions for, you don't want to trust any one brand,' warns Schrage. 'You want to know what went into the production of the pills. Some brands can be frauds, manufactured under another company's name, so it's better to choose a brand with an established reputation.'

Try generic household cleaning products.

With these products, loyalty isn't an issue, says Schrage, as 'there are plenty of off-brand products that are significantly cheaper than the cream-of-the-crop brands.'

Still, mid-tier is often the best route to go, since you've kind of heard of these brands and know what to expect. A low-tier detergent, glass cleaner, or tub cleaner may not work quite as well and leave residue.

Stick to name-brand pet foods recommended by your vet.

Your vet knows what diet is best for your pet, says Dr. Gene Pavlovsky, an animal doctor with Banfield Pet Hospital in Champaign, Illinois.

Some generic pet food brands may lack the necessary amino acids and protein that your pet needs to stay healthy. And feeding your pet poor nutrition could make him or her very ill. Skimping on this cost could you thousands in medical bills later.

Don't skimp on your baby's products—buy name-brand items (except diapers).

While there's probably no harm in using cheaper diapers, you want to be careful about feeding your baby an improper diet.

'There are key nutrients and supplements that your baby needs,' says Schrage, 'and a cheaper brand will deprive him or her of this.'

Ask your pediatrician for recommendations.

Buy quality name-brand clothes for special occasions.

Typically, consumers associate brand names with quality, but when an item is more expensive that should make you strongly consider what you're buying, says Schrage.

'You should ask yourself, is it something you really need or just a luxury you'll wear once or twice?' he says. 'Buying cheaper items will make you rationalize a lot--$5, $10 is nothing--but for $30 you'll only get two shirts,' which may be of higher quality.

Clothing choices come down to personal preference so think about how often you'll wear it, how you feel in it, and whether the garment will fray after a machine wash.

Scout discount shops for name-brand clothes.

A great way to find quality garments for less is to go the secondhand route, where you can find 'near-near clothes in great shape.'

Some places to look: resale shops, pawn shops, even antique shops.

'Many of these items have been used once, twice, or three times and you can tell if they're in good shape or not,' says Schrage.

Also look out for sales and get on the email lists of your favourite stores to be the first to hear about deals.

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