6 Items You Should Always Buy Generic

Many people assume that purchasing a name-brand item will guarantee quality. But is that really the case? Are generics just cheap imitations of the real thing, or are they less expensive, but equally reliable alternatives? As with many things, the answer to that question is yes and no.

Even though the answer isn’t “cut and dry”, we can still list several things that you should always buy generic:

Over The Counter Medication

It amazes me that you can have a product that sells for 40% less than the exact same product, just because it comes in a different color box or bottle. However, this is the case when it comes to over the counter (OTC) medication.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have requirements in place that ensure that generic OTCs have the exact same active ingredients (in the same doses) as the brand name drugs with which they are competing.

The generic counterpart is no different than the more expensive brand name. As with many other brand versus generic comparisons, we find that most of the difference in price is due to the difference in marketing, advertising, and packaging budgets (among other things).

This is not only true for pain relievers, but also for cold and cough medication, eye drops, pain relief patches, and most other OTC medication. Just be sure to check the active ingredients on both to be sure.

Prescription Medication…Sometimes

Yes, I know that the title of this article says “always buy”, but hear me out. Remember what we said about the FDA and OTC drugs above? Well, the same regulations hold true for prescription drugs as well. The generic version of a prescription drug must have the same active ingredient(s) as the branded counterpart.

However, for some people the branded medication will be more effective for their condition. Actually, there are some people who fair better when taking the generic version of a drug than they do with the brand. I have no idea why that is (because I’m not a pharmacist or a doctor), but after working for a large pharmaceutical company, I know this to be true.

Make sure you talk to your doctor before deciding to opt for the generic version of a drug. Based on your condition, other medications that you are taking, or other factors, he may recommend that you stick with the branded version.


When I first began driving, I remember hearing stories of certain gas stations watering down their gas! The common theory was that any “no-name” gas station, whose price was significantly less than a name brand station directly across the street, added water to their gas in order to make more money per gallon. Therefore, they were able to have lower prices.

When we (my friends and other drivers I knew) didn’t notice a difference in the performance of our cars with either type of gas in the tank, we then believed that the gas was just inferior and that explained why it was cheaper. The big oil companies just took the “good” oil for themselves and left the no-name ones with the “bad” oil! Hey! We were kids, give us a break! 😉

Then a relative got a job working for one of the largest oil refineries in the country. He told me that these huge oil tankers from every oil company would come to fill up with gas. Each company received its gas from the same supply lines; meaning that there is absolutely no difference in the gas as it gets pumped into those trucks.

The other amazing thing that he told me is that (at the time), if a company wanted to say that their gas contained special detergents that was good for your car, they only needed to add one gallon to each oil tanker!

What this means is that you can feel comfortable with buying the cheapest gas in your area. I guess it also means that you definitely should not pay a premium for gas that claims to be full of detergents to clean your fuel line!


Bleach is bleach!

I guess I should write more than that, right? Both name brand and no name bleach solutions are mostly water. What you have to compare is the percentage of the active ingredient (sodium hypochlorite) in the solution. Of course there are other types of bleach for more specific uses, but if you are just buying regular, household chlorine bleach to clean the basic areas of your home, save your money and go generic.

As long as the bottles have the same amount of the active ingredient, they are virtually identical for cleaning purposes.


Being a former musician and emergency sound-man, I’ve had to purchase a number of cables in my life. Add in the fact that I love gadgets and computers, and that number grows and grows! I honestly do not know of too many products for which you can find such a wide variety of prices for essentially the same product!

I’ve purchased computer cables from the local dollar store that work just fine! No need to spend $50 for an Ethernet cable from an electronics chain! The same is true for those insanely expensive Monster cables (yes I purchased one or two in my younger days)!

The less expensive cables are fine, and you will not destroy your expensive electronic devices by using them.


This is another odd one. There are huge markups for basic spices in most grocery stores. You’re just buying salt, pepper, oregano, nutmeg, etc – these are all things that we get from the local dollar store when we run out. I really don’t think that the other companies have a better salt “recipe”!


  1. lunaKM says

    On the wires/cables front, don’t ever buy coax cable. Your cable company will come out for free and make as much coax as you need. Their cable is higher quality and who can pass up free?

  2. Alan says

    This depends on where you live but for most people generic water (tap) is just as good as brand name (bottled) water…saves money too.

  3. Julie @ The Family CEO says

    I don’t buy many wires or cables, but I buy generic versions of the rest of the items on your list. I recently read an article that did some taste testing and determined that higher priced olive oils are worth the extra cost, but vinegars are not. I would agree with that.

  4. Lucy says

    Actually, generics are required to be within 12% of the name brand, and they can be minus 12% in one batch and plus 12% in the next, so if you are sensitive (especially with prescription frugs) generic may not be right for you.

    “Taste tests” are a regular feature in my house.

  5. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter says

    I would also add whole grains and dried beans. You don’t need to buy name brand for these items.

  6. Justin says

    I’m a huge fan of buying generic- I just wish my wife was!

    I think you hit the nail right on the head with OTC medication. You can literally save at least 50% by doing that- things like antibiotic gels, cough medicine, etc. It’s pretty much all the same stuff, but the bottle just looks a little different. (luckily my wife feels that same way).

    Next goal- getting her to agree that generic peanut butter isn’t horrible….

  7. John the coupon save helper says

    Thanks for letting us know! As a Customer I find always nice to get a discount on shopping. I have one more online store to add to the list which provides Online coupons (e-coupons), they are a great way to save even more on the items you purchase. And chances are high that the very websites you shop on offer them if you only take the time to look.

  8. Tracy says

    My husband and I have certainly tried many more generic or store brand food items in the past year. Some we like enough to make a regular purchase. Others, like a generic grape jelly I tried for my PB&J, did not measure up, but it was worth a try.

    The cables are a great tip. What would have cost $60 for 3 different cables at a large chain, cost $12 with shipping for all 3 cables online.

  9. Khaleef Crumbley says

    @ lunaKM, I agree with you…free is best!

    @ Alan, tap water is definitely another item that can be added to the list. Many times the municipal requirements are more strict!

    @ Julie, I love taste tests. They help to prove how much of a role marketing plays in our decision making.

    @ Krantcents, are there any brands that you are loyal to?

    @ Neil, I can understand your apprehension in regards to buying cheap shoes. Have you taken a look at this article? http://notmadeofmoney.com/blog/2011/03/how-the-cost-per-use-method-can-help-you-when-comparison-shopping.html

    @ Lucy, that is very good information. I guess that helps to explain why some people do better with the generics and some do better with the brand.

    @ Miss T, that’s another great addition!

    @ Justin, have you tried doing blind trials of generics vs. brands? that may get her to come around.