brand name vs generic

Brand Name vs Generic: When to Spend and When to Save

The U.S. monthly grocery budget ranges from 12.4 percent up to 33 percent of the household income. If you are looking to stay on the lower end and save money, what are some ways you can save?

You’ve seen the generic brands at the grocery store before, but are they really worth buying? We help you understand the differences between brand name vs generic and how to know when to spend and when to save. Click here for more info.

Brand Name vs Generic Quality

So, are brand name products of better quality? Not necessarily! Check your labels – sometimes the generic food brands have less carbs and sugar than the brand name products.

Several brand name products actually make the generic brand. For example, Bumble Bee produces Costco’s Kirkland Signature canned tuna, and they are manufactured in the same factories! The key difference is packaging.

Which is Cheaper?

You think generic is always cheaper, right? Again, it depends. If you use coupons and sales, you may find the name brand is actually cheaper.

Wall Street Journal found that generic brands are raising the prices of nonperishable food at the rate of 5.3 percent versus 1.9 percent for brand name. However, generics still cost about 29 percent less than name brands. Some stores are starting to close this gap.

Do your research – just don’t assume that the generic is always cheaper. Be sure you always check your prices and compare prices by size (or per ounce).

Buying Generic

When you are trying to decide whether to purchase name brand or store brand, you should choose the store brand if it is regulated. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all medication including generic. What should you buy generic?


As mentioned above, the FDA regulates all the ingredients in medication. All over-the-counter medication includes a complete list of active ingredients on the box.

You can compare the ingredients between the two. For example, compare Zyrtec’s to the generic. Cetirizine is the active ingredient in both medications, and the generic version is much cheaper.

You should also sign up with your pharmacy to get the generic prescription when available. You won’t believe the cost savings. If your prescription does not have a generic version, talk to your doctor about an alternative.


If you have to buy bottled water, you should always go with the generic to save. You can save even more by filtering your tap water.


Check the labels on your milk cartons to check the dairy location. You want your dairy to be as local as possible for the ultimate freshness. Store brand regularly originates from the same dairy as the more expensive brands.


Despite what you hear, cheaper gas is not bad. There is little variation because it is regulated. The additives don’t make a difference as long as you use the correct octane level for your car.


The FDA also regulates sunscreens. You want to find a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more for the best protection. These products are tested to make sure they pass the broad-spectrum procedure.


You want freshness in your spices. Brand names are not any fresher than generic. Plus, you add these to food, so you are not always tasting directly.

Pantry Staples

Many chefs purchase the generic to save money. You should look for generic baking soda, salt, and sugar. You can also taste test oils and condiments to see if you can tell the difference.

Aluminum Foil and Plastic Wrap

Try experimenting with the two because typically brand name products are not better in this category. You can save a great deal of money by buying generic.

Frozen Vegetables and Fruit

If you are cooking, making smoothies, or baking, most likely you won’t see any difference in the taste. Why not save with generic?

Cleaning Products

You can save a lot of money with generics. This is one area you can watch for sales and coupons, and many people will interchange the two.

Personal Care Products

Most generic brands have the same active ingredients as the name brand and work the same. You can save a lot of money by buying generic. Try generic versions of moisturizers, soaps, cleansers, hair products, and face creams to save money.

When to Buy Brand Name

There are some products you can justify splurging on. Here are some products to buy name brand – most likely you can find coupons for these products.

Paper Goods

You will see a difference in toilet paper and paper towels. If you use daily, you should get the brand name. However, for things you don’t use daily, like paper plates, buy generic.

Baby Care Products

As adults, we can stomach some of the more generic foods, but your baby may be different. Baby products are regularly on sale, so you may end up paying the same price anyway.

Major Electronics

When you need to buy a big ticket item, you may want to get the brand name. The bigger names like Sony, Apple, LG, and Samsung are higher quality and offer more features. These names consistently rate high in Consumer Reports.

Coffee and Tea

If you are a serious coffee or tea drinker, you will probably notice the difference between name brand and generic. Some of the cheaper brands contain unsafe levels of fluoride, aluminum, and lead.


“You get what you pay for” is true for this sweet treat. Look at the labels for cheap chocolate. It may not even be real chocolate if it says “chocolate-flavored” or “chocolatey.”


You can taste the difference between the two. This is something that may be more an image factor. You can always find sales on name brand sodas.

House Paint

Some of the generic paints don’t cover as good as the name brand. This means you will end up buying more paint anyway and you won’t save money. Be sure to ask a professional before buying generic paint.

Looking for More Money Saving Ideas?

Now that you’ve seen when to buy brand name vs generic, look for other articles like top 10 ways to save money or saving at restaurants.