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When to buy generic and when to buy name-brand

Frugal Living: Andrea Woroch


Corporate spending on marketing and advertising is the No. 1 reason name-brand products are pricier than store brands. Sometimes, this investment turns sour and leads to legal repercussions. Kellogg recently settled a class-action lawsuit for misleading marketing claims about the health benefits of its popular Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal.

Since buying store-brand items can save consumers up to 30 percent, parents infuriated by this lawsuit may be inclined to go all generic. However, some name-brand products are actually better values than their generic counterparts. Here’s a handy reference list to help you determine when to save and when to splurge.

SAVE: Sunscreen. This summertime essential is an important purchase and many consumers perceive generic brands as inferior quality. However, effective sunscreen has two primary components: broad-spectrum coverage and avobenzone as the active ingredient. As long as the product contains these, you can skip the pricey name-brands and get the same protection.

SPLURGE: Condiments. Another summer staple, name-brand condiments fare better in taste tests than store-brand options. If you slather your New York strip in steak sauce, there’s no sense (or cents) in choking down the generic brand for the sake of savings.

SAVE: Printer ink. Thanks to special technology, printer brands practically force us to buy their marked-up replacement ink. Some printers require name-brand ink to operate, but for those that don’t, compatible and remanufactured cartridges are the way to go. You can easily find cheap ink through Inkjet Willy, which compares the price and cost-per-page for hundreds of cartridges.

SPLURGE: Trash bags. Generic brands of trash bags are often less durable and lack the capacity of name-brand counterparts. Nothing will ruin your day quicker than a trash-bag blowout over your carpet. To save on this household staple, buy them in bulk from warehouse club stores for 30-percent less than grocery stores.

SAVE: Spices. At some point, everyone has cringed at the $4 price of a bottle of oregano. But what is the chemical difference between generic and name-brand spices, sugar and flour? If you think there isn’t one, you’re right. The primary difference is price, so put down that schmancy brand of cumin and give the store brand a try.

SPLURGE: Paper products. The last thing you want to fall apart is toilet paper, making it and other paper products a better name-brand buy. Generic brands contain less fibers and are therefore less absorbent than brand names. Stock up during sale time at the beginning of the month and be sure to stack store and manufacturer coupons for big savings.

SAVE: Over-the-counter medication. When it comes to medication, most consumers feel recognizable brands are the safest. That’s why brand names often include the term “trust” in their marketing campaigns. However, the FDA requires that all generic meds be as effective and safe as the name-brand drugs. In fact, close to 50 percent of generic-brand medications are manufactured by brand-name companies, so there’s no reason to pay 30 percent more for your ibuprofen.

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. Follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.