When I was in college, some of my poorer friends (that is, unsubsidized by the government or their parents) would get their products as cheaply as possible. I have distinct memories of afternoons with certain friends and the beverage of choice for lunch being “No Frills Cola.” These days, I don’t go so far, but I do opt for generic brands when the perceptual difference between the generic and the name brand isn’t significant enough to be worth the difference in cost.
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Over time, these choices save quite a bit of money without sacrificing experience.
Soft drinks. When I’m eating out, I usually choose to drink water, lemonade, and once in a while, Sprite (or the functional equivalent offered, like Sierra Mist). From my home, I buy name brand orange juice (Florida Natural or Tropicana), varieties with the added calcium and Vitamin D as I do not drink milk. I’ve tried other types of orange juice, but these are the only brands that taste good to me.
I’m not a big soda drinker, but when I shop for home, I will pick up the store brand Black Cherry flavored soda or Root Beer. The store brands taste just as “good” as the name brands, and provide just as little nutritional content.
Pain relievers. In the last few years, Aleve has been the only over-the-counter pain reliever that consistently eliminates my headaches, after going through phases when my body preferred Advil and Tylenol. The good news is that the generic version of the drug in Aleve (naproxen sodium) is just as effective for me. Also, the generic costs anywhere from 50% to 75% of the price of the name brand.
Bread products. The store brand wheat loaves, hot dog rolls, and hamburger rolls are all excellent. They don’t carry that much of a price savings, but I see no need to overpay in this category. On the other hand, what I put in or on bread products will generally be name brand items, like Nathan’s or Hebrew National hot dogs, or fresh from the grocery store’s deli counter or butcher.
Gasoline. I herd a commercial on television recently about a certain name brand gasoline supplier which mentioned that their brand is much better in terms of performance than “cheap” gas. This is an outright lie. When you have two stations on the same street corner, and one is a generic brand and the other is well-known name brand, chances are almost absolute the two stations are getting their delivery from the same supplier… and the same truck. There is some research here, if you’re interested.
There are some purchases where the store or generic brand’s discount is not worth the difference in experience.
Certain toiletries. I’ve done quite a bit of experimenting with this, and I have come to the conclusion that Cottonelle is my favorite toilet tissue. It’s not as expensive as some other brands, but it’s quite comfortable. If I want thin, scratchy paper, I’d use the rest room at my office. On the other hand, I can deal with store brand paper towels as they’re fine for cleaning up spills.
Musical instruments. When it comes to acoustic instruments, the best manufacturers are clearly defined. I would only buy a Buffet clarinet, a Bach trumpet (or another top notch brand), or a Martin guitar.
Once I’m able to afford a piano, I’ll get the best brand my budget allows, and you can bet Yamaha will not be on that list. I have never heard a Yamaha piano whose sound I liked, and they were everywhere in college.
Clothing. All I ask is that my clothes stay together after multiple wears and washes. Some brands are much better than others when it comes to durability. I’m not looking to buy brand name clothes as a fashion statement, but a $12 pair of generic jeans may last 6 months of just occasional wear while a moderately priced basic brand name pair of jeans, will cost 2 to 3 times more but will last 6 times longer. Often, when I want to make sure the fit is just right, I have to pay additional money to a tailor to alter the clothing, so I’d like to keep my purchase costs as reasonable as possible while still get some good quality threads.
Why do people buy generic? For most, it’s probably a price issue. If the generic or store brand is as good as the name brand, you might as well save some money. Also, psychology plays a role, like it does everywhere else. Some people just feel good that their money isn’t going to some major corporation’s marketing campaign or research and development budget.
Updated April 12, 2011 and originally published April 24, 2007.