Getting Over The “Taboo” Of Generics And Store Brands

Many Americans (including many of my friends) are conditioned by many years of marketing to select name brand products at the store. They’ll skip right by the generic rice puffs and buy the identical Rice Krispies for a dollar more per box. They’ll skip by the 100% store brand juice and pick up Juicy Juice, the same thing with a fifty cent markup.

It’s completely understandable that people wish to choose the product they’re most familiar with, but it’s also an expensive choice in many cases. Generics are often prepared identically to name-brand products or are only slight variations on the name brand, but the cost is far less. Why? Advertising – with the name brand, you have to support the company’s marketing budget as well.

Yet, for many, there still remains a certain “taboo” about buying generics. If you feel that way, I encourage you to try the following things the next time you’re at the grocery store.

Find the “generic” parallel for some of your purchases. Many canned products, breakfast cereals, and so on have generic forms that are very similar. Quite often, people rush through the store and grab the name brand on instinct without actually bothering to find the generic item.

Compare the ingredients in the generic and the name brand. I was shocked when I first did this – many times, the ingredients in the two are identical – no difference at all. In a few cases, the generic was more healthy – it would have the same ingredients, but in a different order, indicating a smaller proportion of high fructose corn syrup, for example.

If there is a noticeable difference, decide whether the cost difference is worth it. Quite often, you’ll find the generic’s ingredients are just fine compared to the name brand one, even if there are some differences. For example, you might find that the name brand tomato paste has no salt in it, while the generic has a tiny amount of sodium in it. Is it worth $0.50 for that difference?

If it brings comfort to you, use the non-generic packaging at home. Something my mother used to do to reduce complaints in the morning is put generic cereal in the name brand box. I didn’t realize this for years, but if I didn’t actually witness my mother buying the cereal at the store, it was usually the generic form in the name brand box.

For most purchases, I buy the store brand – there are very few name brands that I purchase over the store brand, and the only reason I do in those cases is that I’ve tried both and the name brand has enough of a quality difference to make it worthwhile (diapers come to mind here). I also put in an effort to pore through the ads for the store and also the Sunday coupons to see if I can get a deal on the name brand that’s even cheaper than the generic – and it happens more often than you might think.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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