7 Generic Items You Should Always Buy — And 8 You Shouldn’t

Smiling mother chooses baby's favorite treat at grocery store stock photo
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Whether you’re single or married, have a large or small family, finding ways to save money is always a good idea. 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 which brand names are worth the higher price tags and which ones aren’t? Follow these tips so that the next time you go shopping, you’ll know when to buy generic — and when not to. 

Best Things To Buy Generic

Sometimes paying more for a brand name isn’t always the best option. Here are the items that you’re better off buying generic.


Eating a bowl of cereal each morning is a quick and cheap way to make sure you and the kids have breakfast before dashing out the door. For every brand name of cereal out there — Cheerios, Apple Jacks, Lucky Charms — there is almost always a generic version right next to it on the shelf with a similar name.

And it’s not just the name that’s similar; the product itself normally is too. So, don’t bother spending more just to get the name brand.

Make Your Money Work for You

According to the blog Taste of Home, most generic cereals can be swapped out for their more expensive name brand counterparts with little to no difference in taste. The main difference might be in how the cereal looks, but your wallet won’t care about that.

Depending on how much cereal your household goes through in a month, switching to generic could add up to serious savings.

Spices and Seasonings

Cooking at home instead of always eating out 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 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. 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.

Roxanne Edwards, of the Consumer Affairs Department at Stop & Shop told the blog The Kitchn, “that the cost differential between the store brand and the marquee names is primarily based upon one simple factor: marketing.” In other words, enjoy your generic spices-you’re unlikely to notice much difference.


When it comes to babies, all parents want what’s best. So, it certainly makes sense to buy the brand name of baby food and some other baby products — but not everything you buy for your babies is worth the brand-name price.

Make Your Money Work for You

Because babies go through so many diapers each day, the generic brand will do just fine and save you a pretty penny. While it might take a little trial and error to find a brand you love, and it is always more cost effective to buy in bulk, it won’t be hard to find a generic option that works, according to VeryWellFamily.com. Diapers are only being used for a short period of time and will be thrown away immediately anyway.


You probably spend more money on medications than you should. Instead of throwing money away, prescription medications are one of the best items to buy generic. Generic does not mean inferior, just less expensive. Generic drugs go through the same level of testing and formulation as do brand name drugs, according to Business Insider.

According to Dr. Niteesh K. Choudhry, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center for Healthcare Delivery Sciences at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, if more patients substituted generic drugs for their regular brand-name drugs, national drug spending could drop by as much as $5.9 billion.

Baking Supplies

With basics like flour and sugar, you often can save money when opting for generic.

“If you don’t bake very often, this might not make a big difference, but for those that do bake a ton and especially around the holidays when budgets tend to already be tighter, focusing on buying what you can for generics means being able to put your savings towards the supplies you prefer premium levels for, including mix-ins like premium chocolate chips, better butter, and more,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews.

Canned Goods 

According to Ramhold, generic canned goods are often indistinguishable from brand named ones.

“If you’re making something like a tomato sauce where the flavor or the canned tomatoes is going to feature prominently in your finished dish, go ahead and splurge on a bigger brand,” she said. “But if you’re making something like soup or chili and need some canned beans, you can absolutely stick to generics and your dish will turn out absolutely fine.”

Paper towels 

Brand name paper towels often cost significantly more than generic options, without providing much added benefit. The main purpose of paper towels is to absorb spills and messes, which generic towels can do just as well.

While brand name towels may be a bit more durable or have decorative prints, those differences rarely justify paying 50% or more extra. Opting for a generic paper towel brand is an easy way to save money in the kitchen without sacrificing functionality. The small difference in quality is not worth the large difference in price for most households’ paper towel needs.

Worst Things To Buy Generic

On the other hand, there are many products that are worth the brand name — and the price. Here are some items you should never buy generic.

Toilet Paper

Generic toilet paper is often uncomfortably thin or rough, like the stuff you find in a port-a-potty stall, the rolls often smaller and in the end, the little bit extra you might spend on the brand names is worth the comfort it brings.

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 quality you want. The extra money spent on brand-name TVs and other electronics is worth it, considering these items typically come with much better warranties, customer service and support than cheaper options.

According to SimplyThriftingLiving, generic brand electronics may not be compatible with other brand name products in your house-and, they write, “off-brands are notorious for being poor quality.”

What this adds up to is that you might save money in the short-term, but when your generic electronic breaks down or gives you problems sooner than a name-brand one, you’ll find yourself now having to buy the same item again. Save yourself the trouble and the cost.


While good cheese can definitely be a bit pricey, it’s one food product that is worth the extra money.

In order to keep a low price-point, generic cheese often have more additives and fillers that aren’t necessary, according to registered dietitian Jennifer McDaniel, owner of McDaniel Nutrition in St. Louis, MO, for TheHealthy.com. “Plus, they tend to score lower than brand-name fromage on taste tests and overall, don’t save you that much anyway.”

House Paint

Paint can certainly be pricey, especially if you’re painting multiple rooms. However, “You get what you pay for” with house paint, according to professional painters told The Wirecutter.

They surveyed a number of paints looking at those that required the least number of coats to cover, those that last longer and look better than generic/cheaper alternatives. You’ll have to live with that paint for a long time, so go with a reliable name brand.


“This doesn’t encompass all generics, but it does seem that the very cheapest generic batteries have little to no shelf life or may even come out of the package already drained,” said Ramhold. 

“Depending on where you shop, you may find the cost per unit is worse than if you were to buy larger packages elsewhere, which just makes the waste of money that much worse,” she added.

As for what to do instead, Ramhold shared that you should skip small packages of generic batteries at dollar stores and instead buy mid-size packages of generics at stores like Walmart, Target, and even Best Buy “as you’ll usually have better luck with those batteries and can get them at a better price overall as well.”


When it comes to condiments like ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, the brand name versions tend to have better, more complex flavors compared to generics. The difference is especially noticeable in ketchup, where leading brands use higher quality tomatoes and have perfected flavors over decades. Paying a bit more for condiments you use frequently is worth it for the superior taste.


Generic sunscreens often rely more heavily on older UV filtering ingredients compared to brand name options utilizing newer, more effective compounds. Brand name sunscreens also tend to provide better protection from both UVA and UVB rays. When it comes to protecting your skin from sun damage, it’s best not to skimp on cheaper formulations that could leave you vulnerable.

Pet Food

Generic and store brand pet foods frequently contain lower quality ingredients, fillers, and less complete nutritional profiles. When feeding your furry friends, you want to provide quality nutrition vetted by professionals. Sticking with proven brand name pet foods, especially those recommended by your veterinarian, helps ensure your pet stays happy and healthy for years to come.

Another thing to be wary of is the copper content in your pet food — ask your vet if there are healthy levels in the brand you feed fido. The minor savings of generic pet food don’t outweigh the benefits of brands designed specifically to meet your pet’s dietary needs.

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