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Tue, Oct. 15

PRACTICAL SAVER: When to choose generic over name brand

Question from reader: I find that generic products are better priced than name-brand products and are often just as good in quality. What do you think about generic products?

Answer: Most of the time, when I have the question of generics versus name-brand grocery products presented to me, price comparison is the motivator. On typical grocery items, generic products are generally less expensive than comparable name brands. However, when you employ the simple shopping strategies I am going to give you today, you can often save more on name-brand products than on generics.

One of the general money-saving strategies I teach is to buy and stock up when an item is on sale at a significant discount, not because you are out of it. But obviously, there are times when you are in need of a few items, and sadly, the items may not be on sale. This is when generic products are a good value. Let's assume Hunt's ketchup is priced at $1.59 and no coupon is available. The generic alternative is $.89. In this case, I suggest buying just enough generic ketchup to get you through a short time period, and wait for a sale on the name brand to stock up. Stocking up when an item is on sale is an excellent way to prevent purchasing items at full price and avoiding purchasing generic products.

Another strategy is watching for a name brand to go on sale and then team up the product with a coupon. Most of the time when this strategy is used, the name brand product is the clear winner on the price competition. For example, generic ketchup may be priced at $.89. An equivalent sized bottle of Hunt's brand ketchup may be on sale at Fry's for $.99. But there is a bonus. It is common for Hunt's to have a coupon available for $.25 off one bottle. The current Fry's coupon policy makes all coupons worth at least a $1 discount. That means the $.25 coupon is now worth a $1. The result: the bottle of Hunt's ketchup is free!

People often tell me they avoid buying generic products because of inferior quality or taste. Generic products may taste different from the name brand that we are accustomed to, but "different" tasting doesn't necessarily mean "worse" tasting. It is widely reported that the companies that produce the name brand product are also the manufacturers of generic products. They just slightly change the recipe for the generic equivalent. Regardless of which company makes the product, Consumer Reports shows that in a blind taste test, generics are often the winners.

Nevertheless, if your family is only accepting of a certain brand of a specific grocery item, another shopping strategy comes into play: staying loyal to your price point. My family only likes Kraft Mac 'n Cheese and prefers not to eat a generic alternative. This is fine. I respect their taste buds. But at the same time, we respect the budget. I will only purchase Kraft Mac 'n Cheese if it is 50 cents or less a box. Otherwise, the family finds an alternative food to eat. On the other hand, we are not concerned over which brand of cereal we eat. If a coupon doesn't bring a name-brand box of cereal down to our price point, then we opt for purchasing a generic brand.

Name brands are typically the best value when they go on sale and a coupon is used. Many times name-brand products are free when using this strategy. And free is delicious! Generics are rarely, if ever, free. However, when you don't have a sale available or a coupon, generic products usually win the race.

Learn more ways to save at Kara's FREE class, Spend Less Live More, Feb. 25, 6 to 8 p.m. at Heights Church, 2121 Larry Caldwell Drive, Prescott. Register at

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