Whether you’re single or married, have a large or small family, finding ways to save money is always a good feeling. And with so many generic options out there these days, it’s often tempting to just buy the cheaper products and save your money for something else.
But “cheaper” doesn’t always mean better.
So, how can you know what brand names are worth the higher price tags and which ones just aren’t? Follow these tips so that the next time you go shopping, you’ll known when to go for quality and when to focus on your bottom line.
5 Best Things to Buy Generic
Eating a bowl of cereal each morning is a quick and cheap way to make sure you and the kids get breakfast before dashing out the door. For every brand name of cereal out there — Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, Apple Jacks and so on — there seems to always be a generic version right next to it on the shelf with an almost identical name. And it’s not just the name that’s nearly identical; the product itself normally is too. So why bother spending more just to get the name brand?
Related: 30 Items to Avoid at Walmart
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Take Corn Flakes, for example. The brand name version is Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cereal, and it will run you $2.98 for an 18-ounce box at Walmart. Go for Great Value’s Corn Flakes cereal instead, and you’ll only spend $1.98 for the same-sized box. There isn’t much difference in taste, and some people even prefer the generic brand.
Depending on how much cereal your household goes through in a month, this small change could add up to serious savings.
2. Spices and Seasonings
Skipping dinners out and cooking at home is a great way to save money. You don’t have to pay tax and tip, and the food itself is not only cheaper, but probably healthier as well.
To try to make your meals taste as good as the food you get at a restaurant, you’ll want to take advantage of a variety of spices to use on chickens and other meals. But just because spices can make a big difference in the kitchen when it comes to taste, that doesn’t mean you should be spending more than you need to on them.
If your recipe calls for basil, you could be paying $2.96 for the McCormick brand name bottle at Walmart. Instead, grab Great Value’s generic brand, and you’ll only have to pay $2.24. It might not seem like a huge difference, but those 72 cents can add up over time.
When it comes to babies, all parents want what’s best. It certainly makes sense to buy the brand name of baby food and other baby products, but not everything we buy for our babies is worth the brand-name price. Because babies go through so many diapers each day — not to mention each month — the generic brand will do just fine and save you a pretty penny.
If you buy the 88 pack of HUGGIES Little Snugglers, you’ll be shelling out $24.99. Choose the Target generic brand instead, called up & up, and you can get 144 diapers for $28.99. When you break down the price by individual diaper, that’s about 28 cents per diaper versus about 20 cents per diaper. You’d save almost a dime each time you change your baby’s diaper.
Related: 23 Savings Hacks for Target
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Many of us take medications, and many of us spend much more money on those medications than we should. As Business Insider points out, brand-name and generic drugs are both well-formulated, effective and have to go through the same rigorous tests for approval. But the difference in pricing is often staggering.
Take aspirin and ibuprofen, for example. At Walgreens, you can buy a bottle of Advil with 100 tablets (200 mg.) for $9.99. Its store brand bottle of 100 tablets (also 200 mg), however, only costs $7.29. That’s a savings of $2.70.
For commuters who drive to work every day, gas can be a major monthly expense. It can also be an opportunity to save when you choose the generic brand at certain places, like Costco.
Fill up your car at a Chevron located in California, and you might pay $4.79 per gallon for regular gas in some parts of the state. Opt instead for the Costco brand, and you’d only spend around $2.85 per gallon, saving you $1.94 per gallon! If your car holds 15 gallons of gas, that would equal a savings of $29.10 each time you fill up.
5 Worst Things to Buy Generic
1. Trash Bags
While it might be okay to buy the generic brand of some cleaning and kitchen products, skimming when buying trash bags can end up costing you.
A box of Glad Tall Kitchen Quick-Tie Trash Bags costs $11.99 for 106 bags at Target, slightly more than the up & up brand, which goes for $10.79 for 110 trash bags. Y ou’ll save more than $1 on each package by buying up & up, but you don’t want to sacrifice quality when you’re talking about keeping smelly trash contained. The Glad trash bags have gripping drawstrings and are more heavy duty; the up & up bags are flexible, but they have less-reliable flap ties.
2. Toilet Paper
Just like with trash bags, don’t be too cheap when buying toilet paper. Brand name toilet paper is much better quality, won’t break apart and is less likely to cause irritation when using it. As an added bonus, you can often find brand name toilet paper at a great price.
If you go with the up & up generic brand at Target, you would pay $6.79 for 24 regular rolls of toilet paper. Go for the brand name Quilted Northern Ultra Plush version, and you will only have to pay 20 cents more. Trust us, your you-know-what will thank you.
3. Major Electronics
While you can save some serious bucks when choosing the cheap version over the brand name for big electronics, you won’t be getting the bang you want. The extra money spent on brand-name TVs and other electronics is worth it, considering these items typically come with much better customer service and support than the cheaper options.
So, although a 40-inch Insignia TV at Best Buy would be nearly $190 cheaper than the Samsung one ($279.99 vs. $469.), you’ll be regretting your money-saving decision when you have to deal with the less-reliable customer service as soon as something goes wrong.
Much like major electronics, cheaper batteries can cost you in the long run.
Yes, you can save a lot when it comes to buying the generic brand. It costs only $3 for eight DG Home AA batteries at Dollar General compared to $6.37 for Duracell at Walmart. But when you’re powering items like speakers, generic batteries might not have enough juice to make them work properly. And with other products, the brand-name batteries will typically last you much longer.
While good cheese can definitely be a bit pricey, it’s one food product that is worth the extra money. For cheese lovers, the generic taste just won’t cut it though, and as many of us know, there aren’t too many things worse than bad cheese.
An 8 oz. package of Great Value Sharp Cheddar Sliced Cheese can cost $2.47 at some Walmart stores. Meanwhile, Sargento’s 8 oz. package of Natural Deli Style Sharp Cheddar Cheese slices can cost $2.50. It’s only 3 cents more — go with the Sargento cheese. Your taste buds will thank you later.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 5 Best and Worst Things to Buy Generic
- Who doesn’t know that impulse purchases are a bad idea? I’ve even realized it was a bad idea as I was doing it. So here are three quick tips: 1. Make a shopping list. Take it with you and stick to it. 2. Eat beforehand. An empty stomach can doom the most prepared shopper, especially at the supermarket. 3. Shop alone. Bringing children (or a significant other who acts like a child) is a sure way to fill your cart with impulse buys.
- When you shop online, there are hundreds of sites competing for your business. Buy those shoes at the first site you go to and you may be wasting money. Compare the purchase and shipping price at three or more sites before you buy anything.
- While you need to protect some things in your life – like your car or your house – you don’t need to insure everything. Check out 8 Types of Protection Not Worth Paying For and see what you can live without.
- Being disorganized about your finances leads to costly late payment fees and overdraft charges. You can easily rack up hundreds in fees. For example, even a single $25 late fee per month will cost $300 extra a year. Set up bill reminders and keep your checkbook balanced.
- Consumer Reports says the average person spends $600 a year on wireless service. But many people pay for services they never use. For example, I had an $85 unlimited plan and rarely used more than 1,000 minutes a month. So I switched to a cheaper 1,000-minute plan and saved $20 a month.
- Now that coupons are available online, you’re wasting money if you’re not using them. Do a quick coupon search before you buy anything, including clothes, groceries, and electronics. You can find coupons on our deals page or on sites like: RetailMeNot, Redplum, and SmartSource.com.
- Cars don’t need oil changes as frequently as they used to. If you’re getting your oil changed every 3,000 miles, you’re probably doing it too often (and wasting money). Follow the recommended mileage in your owner’s manual.
- Unless your car requires premium fuel, you don’t need it. Buying premium isn’t going to extend the life of your car or give you a significant MPG boost. In fact, Edmunds studied cars built from 2008 to 2012 and found that many models didn’t even need premium fuel – even though the manufacturer recommended it. Here’s what they had to say about it:
In today’s automobiles, advances in engine technology mean that even if the owner’s manual recommends premium gasoline, the car will typically run on regular without knocking. Its performance will suffer only slightly: Perhaps it might be a half-second slower from zero to 60 mph. The key for drivers is to know whether premium gasoline is merely recommended or if it’s required.
Edmunds has a list of cars that need premium fuel (and a list of those that don’t) in To Save Money on Gas, Stop Buying Premium.
- Many companies will match an employee’s 401(k) contribution up to a certain percent. If you’re not contributing enough to meet the maximum match, you’re losing out on free money. Ask your HR department for information on your company match.
- Some online or over-the-phone bill payment services come with fees. For example, my electric company charges $2.95 to pay online through their website. Instead, I use free bill pay through my bank. I still get to pay online, but I skip the fee and save $35.40 a year.
- In many hotels, you’ll pay automatic fees on top of your room price. Just paying those fees without finding an alternative (or fighting them) is a waste of money. Check out 7 Tips to Beat Hotel Fees.
- Automatic withdrawals make us lazy with our money. If you’re paying for something each month – like a gym membership, magazine subscription, or streaming service – make sure you use it, or those charges will add up to wasted cash. For example, here are mine:
1. Gym membership – $29.99 per month 2. Netflix subscription – $9.99 per month 3. Popular Mechanics subscription – $1 per month
That’s more than $40 a month. I make sure I get my money’s worth out of them.
- Becoming complacent about your insurance can cost you money. Stacy recommends shopping around for new insurance once a year – because when premiums drop or new, cheaper policies are available, no one’s going to tell you if you don’t ask. Check out our insurance comparison tool to shop for a better rate.
- Growing up, I got several lectures on leaving the lights on or keeping the front door open and “air conditioning the entire neighborhood.” I didn’t care too much then because I didn’t pay the bill, but now I’m strict with my electricity usage. The result: My summer utility bills rarely top $100. If you’ve got lights on in a room you’re not sitting in, you’re wasting money.
- I like to have a nice meal out every once in a while, but I’ve wasted a ton of money eating fast food I didn’t really want because I didn’t plan ahead. If I hit the drive-thru twice a week, I spend $12 on average. That is $48 a month – or enough for a really nice meal I actually wanted.
In 30 Tips to Save Money on Food, I’ve got a few ideas that will keep you out of the drive-thru lane – like keeping snacks on hand, freezing your leftovers to eat later, and planning your trips to the grocery store so that you always have something at home to eat. Check it out.
- In my area, a Grande Caramel Macchiato costs $4.55. Buy one every weekday and you’ll spend $22.75 a week, $91 a month, and $1,092 a year. By comparison, a 16 ounce bag of coffee costs me $5.99 and I can make about 82 cups per bag. That is 7 cents per cup, a savings of $4.48 a day. Make your coffee at home and skip the fancy coffee-house drinks.
- Many popular software programs have free alternatives that are just as good as the paid versions. For example, the free OpenOffice suite includes word processing software. Pixlr offers free online photo editing with both vintage effects and a basic editor. For more advanced editing, use free software like Gimp.
- Most wireless plans include free long distance. If you call during off-peak hours, you won’t use your minutes, either. You can also make long-distance calls over your Internet connection with Skype and Google Voice – both services offer free state-to-state calls. International calls cost 2 to 15 cents per minute through Google Voice. Check out their rate plans here. Skype ranges from 2 to 23 cents per minute. Check out Skype’s rate plans here.
- You’ll pay up to $35 to check your luggage when you fly. Some airlines – like JetBlue and Southwest – don’t charge extra for baggage, but most do. Check Airfarewatchdog’s Airline Baggage Fees Chart before you book. If you’re getting charged, only bring a carry-on (they’re free) or find a better airline.
- Between 2009 and 2010, full-time students spent an average of $17,464 on tuition, room, and board, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But you can get a college degree cheaper (or even free) with scholarships. There are thousands out there. Check out 5 Ways to Score Scholarship Money.
- By law, the three major credit bureaus have to give you a free copy of your credit report once per year. Don’t buy one until you’ve used up your freebies at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Once you order your free credit reports, dispute any errors you find with the credit bureaus. Errors lower your credit score, and a lower credit score means higher interest rates and wasted money. Check out 18 Tips to Give Your Credit Score a Boost for more ways to improve your score (and your interest rate).
- I’m an avid reader, but I haven’t paid the suggested price in years. There are plenty of free or cheaper options for getting new books:
1. Get them from the library for free.
2. Use a book-swapping service to trade books you no longer want for ones you do. Check out the 4 Best Sites for Trading in Your Old Books.
3. Scour garage sales for books. I’ve bought many hardcovers for $1 this way. Check out 10 Ways to Save Time and Money at Garage Sales for shopping tips.
- Some brand names are worth paying a little more for, but in many cases, the cheaper generics are the same quality as the brand names. For example, basic food stocks like rice, sugar, flour, and butter taste the same no matter what the label says. And generic over-the-counter meds? They work just as well as the name brands. Check out 7 Things You Should Always Buy Generic before you buy anything else with a brand name.
- Use the search feature on your smartphone – connect to a WiFi network and you won’t use your data – or dial free 411 (1-800-Free411.) The results are sponsored by companies, and you’ll have to listen to a 10-second ad, but it’s free.
- My bank charged a $2.50 “convenience fee” for using an ATM that’s not in its network. Convenient for who? I didn’t live by a branch, so I was paying around $130 a year to use my own money. I changed banks, and now I use an app – ATM Hunter – to find a branch ATM.
- If you’re not paying your credit card balance off in full each month, you’re wasting money on interest. If you carry a $1,000 balance on a card that charges 18 percent, you’ll waste $180 every year just on interest. If you can’t pay off your credit card, check out our credit card comparison tool and look for a card with a lower interest rate. Also look for money-saving zero-percent transfer offers.
- A 16-ounce bottle of water costs about $1.50 at my local gas station. Buy a bottle of water five days a week, and you’ll spend $30 a month and $360 a year. While it’s not really free, water from your tap is much cheaper. If you hate the taste – and I do – you can buy a water-filtration system for as little as $20. Check out Consumer Reports’ Water filters: green buying guide 2/12.
- Big banks charge an average of $110 a year for checking accounts if customers don’t meet their minimum requirements, U.S. News & World Report recently revealed. Your options?Move your money to a community bank that will offer better terms, or head to a credit union. The National Credit Union Administration has a Credit Union Locator tool to help you find one in your area.
For those comfortable enough with the tech, consider going to an online-only bank. Without the overhead of brick-and-mortar branches, the terms are often much better. Consumerism Commentary offers two lists that are a great starting point: The Best Online Checking Accounts, June 2012 and The Best Online Savings Accounts, June 2012.
- The average cost of cable is about $100 a month right now. And it’s still rising. A recent study by consumer research firm NPD Group says it “expects the average pay-TV bill to reach $123 by the year 2015 and $200 by 2020.” I canceled my cable about six months ago and haven’t looked back. I keep up on the TV shows I like with Netflix ($9.99 per month for streaming) and Hulu (free for basic, $7.99 per month for extended). Many networks also stream their shows on their websites. For example: ABC, NBC, The CW and Comedy Central.
To learn even more, check out You Don’t Have to Pay for Cable TV.