Do You Buy Generic?

Really generic peas, courtesy of rstinnette on flickr.

Our ever-souring economy has raised a crop of articles about how “frugality” is now hip, from this New York Times piece on Recessionista-chic, to a USA Today piece on how to pinch pennies at the grocery store. In fact, Jezebel had a great post about how lot of the money-saving “tips” in articles like these are really things that normal people with normal incomes do all the time (don’t buy that $100 beauty cream! Go to a consignment store once in a while!) because, um, we’re not millionaires.

So far, one of the more interesting pieces I’ve found is this Wall Street Journal article about how more and more people are buying generic. Apparently, these hard economic times are uprooting people’s brand loyalties—even their deep brand loyalties (like laundry detergent).

Is it just me, or was anyone else surprised that buying generics is a new shopping habit? Maybe it’s because I read too much marketing news (or, I’m really not meeting my earning potential), but I almost always try to buy generics when I can. I’m a big fan of Giant-brand plastic bags, generic sparking water, generic all-purpose cleaners, and generic oatmeal.

Granted, there are some things that I won’t skimp on, like my face products (yes, those CVS-brand face cleansers are $3 cheaper than the Neutrogena stuff, but I will spend the extra $3 rather than risk a horrible break-out), and WonkthePlank has drawn the line at generic Cheerios (only the real thing will do). But Generic Rice Krispies? Bring it on. Generic Bathroom Cleanser? You betcha. Generic bar soap? Oh my God yes.

While some generics don’t fly (I still remember getting a horrible welt under my eye from some generic acne-cleanser my mother once bought me from Costco), I like the feeling that, when I’m buying a generic, I’m paying for the product rather than the snappy logo on the front of the box. I mean, God only knows how much of the cost of Quaker Oatmeal is paying for their advertising campaigns. So I think that buying generic doesn’t only have to be smart shopping in a recession—it can be smart shopping for any economic conditions.

What about you? Is there anything that you buy generic? Some things you won’t compromise on?



  1. alice said

    I splurge on face moisturizing/cream (Alba) because the generics feel greasy. Other than that I get generic brands of all my hair and bath products. I’m a big fan of the house organic lines like the Safeway/Dominick’s “O” line or the Whole Foods 360 line. Are those considered generics?

  2. moderndomestic said

    I always think of store-brand items as Generics, but I’m actually not sure what the official definition is.

    I was actually thinking about how much I love love love Whole Food’s 365 Organics Moisturizer (with the grapefruit – you can get a huge bottle for $4). It’s such great moisturizer and it’s so cheap!

  3. Joellen said

    The Whole Foods 365 stuff is so great that it kind of defeats the purpose of calling it generic. I have started buying generic trash bags and a few other things, but I have stayed with my trusty Tide detergent and Easy Off oven cleaner. I would NEVER in a million years try generic oatmeal – Quaker Oats all the way, baby!

    BTW, I think you should take on Top Chef. I loved reading your plot summaries of Top Design.

  4. platefull said

    I rarely purchase generic. I ‘ve been using shopping skills (couponing amid other skills) in order to use all the name brand products my family wants. For example, I never pay for toothpaste (full-size tubes of Crest), toothbrushes, or deoderant to name a few items. And I only pay a few cents for full bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

    By taking some time to plan ahead our family eats very well and we are using the excess grocery budget to pay down our mortgage without using generic items.

  5. Nonna said

    I am with you on the face stuff. I like my Neutrogena, Clinique and so on. But generic hand soap is fine by me. So are cotton balls and trash bags. Giant milk, fine by me. I tried generic detergent (CVS). Don’t do it! You end up using 4X as much, and it doesn’t feel like your clothes have been cleaned. I want my All! Maybe you can put together a Best of Generics…Top 10?

  6. Marissa said

    Generics are great, I buy generic for most items. The best deals are generic pharmaceuticals, like ibuprofen and loratadine (I bought a 350 pill Costco bottle for the same price as the 30 pill Claratin pack), since it’s one active ingredient that is the same across all brands.

    I don’t know if Trader Joe’s is a brand name product or generic… But they always have the best deals on good quality food. I suppose they are the one “brand” I am loyal to, but only because it’s so much cheaper than other stores.

    Oh, and I always buy Kotex… 🙂

  7. Deb Doyle said

    I’m with WonkthePlank on the Cheerios issue…I felt like I was eating cardboard…never again! However, the Shop-Rite brand of Honey Bunches of Oats was exactly like the Post brand. Generic plastic wrap, bags, paper towels etc., I also didn’t like generic dishwasher detergent, so now I’m back to Cascade.

    I use Arm&Hammer laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, etc., because it’s low priced and good product. I do splurge on Aveda hair product, but mainly because I am over 50 and your hair changes texture, and nothing else seems to work. Make-up, mostly Avon or store-brand items, except mascara, which must be Cover Girl!

    All generic aspirin, but won’t skimp on Neosporin (the miracle first-aid cream). Gosh, reading this back, lI guess really don’t do many generic products at all! No wonder I’m always broke!

  8. Rebecca said

    Things I will buy generic: toilet paper, popcorn, soda, cereal, rice/ pasta, frozen veggies, bread, milk, cheese, eggs… most stuff I guess.

    things I won’t buy generic: tampons, orange juice, coffee, candy, chips (read: Cheetoes, ummmm)

    But another bit of advice is to compare not only the price, but the price per unit. Sometimes there are only 2oz bars of generic soap that look less expensive but upon further examination we discover that brand name soap is a 3oz bar for $.20 more.

  9. moderndomestic said

    Wow, thanks for the comments and the advice – I had no idea this so was near and dear to everyone’s hearts! Rebecca – that’s such a good call; I totally don’t pay attention to the price per/unit difference between generics and regularly-priced options.

    Marisa and Deb – I’ve totally tried to buy generic medications (like aspirin) but whenever I take them they don’t work as well. And I even know that it’s all in my head (like, they’ve done studies on how people believe generics won’t work as well, so they’re not as effective, even though the ingredients are EXACTLY the same), but it still doesn’t help!!

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