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Tip #17: Buy generic for the stuff you don’t care about

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This is Tip #17 of of the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge. (See past tips.)

Today’s tip is to buy generics for the stuff you don’t care about — while continuing to buy brand-name for the stuff you do care about.

generic-candy.jpg

When I was growing up, I was a pretty good kid, but I still remember one of the most annoying/bratty things I ever did. For some reason, I demanded that my mom buy me this expensive shirt (it was Ralph Lauren, I think). My mom tried to talk me out of it for HOURS, but I screamed and cried and she finally got it for me. The next day I wore it to school, where I was on lunch duty, and my dish that day was berry cobbler. Because I was a young and dumb, I thought it’d be fun to smack the cobbler with my spoon — which immediately turned my brand new shirt purple and ruined it forever.

The cost difference between generics and brand-name goods can be significant when you add it up, but the differences in quality have been steadily dropping for years. Yet we tend to buy what we know, which is always amusing because I have friends who insist advertising does not affect them. They say this while eating Cheez-Its, holding a Starbucks frappuccino, and paying for their new Nike shoes with money from their Kenneth Cole wallet.

When it comes to generics vs. brand-name goods, one of the most under-considered factors is prioritization. If you want to save $1,000 this month, you have to prioritize because you can’t have the best of everything. So buy brand-name for the stuff you care about, and cut costs mercilessly on commodities you don’t care about by buying generic.

My friend Jim Blomo does this better than almost anyone else I know:

I remember him calling me up a while ago, telling me he had just gotten another raise. “Awesome!” I said. Ironically, that was the same week he moved into an even cheaper place to live. Maybe it’s not actually that ironic. Whereas a lot of us take our new raises and spend it, really rich people take those raises, invest them, and continue living on the older wage that they’ve become accustomed to.

He makes conscious choices about what he spends his money on. Jim has told me over and over that he doesn’t care much about living in a fancy place, so he saves money on that. He cooks at home when he can instead of eating out every day. But he loves outdoor stuff–biking, camping, travel. And so he splurges on those things. He has a top-of-the-line bike. He just got back from a week-long trip to New York, just for fun.

Read more about Jim’s conscious spending.

What could you de-prioritize?
If I were to ask which of your purchases you don’t care about, what would you say? Would you say you don’t really care about your hair products? Or that you could probably live in a cheaper place? Maybe you’d say that you don’t need to eat fancy cheese.

Most of us don’t think like this. We’re also hesitant to experiment with downgrading. “But Ramit,” you might say, “I need that shampoo. My hair goes crazy without it!”

Maybe it does. Maybe not. But you won’t know until you test it by buying a less-expensive comparison shampoo and try it out. Until then, you’ll slavishly continue buying the more expensive goods. Combine all the name-brand things you buy and you could be overspending by thousands each year.

(If you’re worried about the quality going down, think again: The world is full of people claiming they can tell the difference between things like wines, soft drinks, and shampoos, and when you run double-blind experiments, of course, they really can’t. More about them in my delicious/expertise bookmarks.)

To put it bluntly, we can’t afford to buy the best of everything. When you buy, what can you cut costs on by buying generic?

How I balance quality with generics
For me, I do two things: First, I experiment regularly with the stuff I buy to see if I can downgrade. Recently, I bought generic Safeway sandwich cheese (those little orange squares). They tasted horrible, so I went back to buying Kraft cheese. That’s right, I live large.

Second, when I buy something that I care about, I buy top-of-the-line products and hold them for a long time. But when I buy something I don’t care about, like shampoo or luggage, I cut costs mercilessly. Read more about in Conscious Spending: How My Friend Spends $21,000/year Going Out.

I asked my researcher to go to Safeway and dig up some cost comparisons. Here’s just a sample of what he found:

cheerios-generic.pngpeanut-butter-generic.png

fish-oil-generic.png aspirin-generic.png

Ask yourself:

  • Can you really tell the difference between Cheerios ($5) and the generic version ($2.50)? Have you ever tried?

  • What about prescription drugs, batteries, or vitamins? How much could you save each month?
  • Would it be worth trying out some generics to see which you’d be willing to compromise on?

Of course it would. Even if it costs a little extra to duplicate what you’ve got in generic, it’s a spend-once-save-forever proposition: If you save 50% on Cheerios for the rest of your life, that’s a lot more than the $2.50 you spent on trying it out.

Some examples of areas you could save money: Toiletries, food, clothes (especially jeans, gloves, underwear, undershirts, slippers), stuff for your pet (I would rather feed my pet a box of napkins than buy Premium food….this may be why I don’t have a pet), and auto stuff.

Try it today: You can’t get the best of everything. What can you compromise on?

Total savings: $50 to $500 per month

Last thing to do
1. See other tips in the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge
2. Leave a comment on this post describing how much you’re saving with this tip and any unusual techniques you use to make this tip work.

If you liked this tip, check out my Premium tips — one long, tactical tip per week. Save money or get a 100% refund.

scrooge

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76 Comments

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  1. I do this- it does work well. One example is that I have really horrible dry, sensitive skin and I have found from experience that I can’t just use whatever random lotion or soap/body wash that’s on sale unless I want to aggravate my skin to the point of hives. So, I shell out for the stuff I know my skin will tolerate. But, I have found that Suave works just fine on my hair and it’s about three dollars cheaper than Pantene or whatever, so I save there. It’s not just about always buying whatever the cheapest thing is at the time. It’s about consciously deciding what things make a difference if they are a specific brand and what things don’t. It’s certainly not a waste of money for me to buy the Aveeno lotion that my skin tolerates. But, it might be for someone else whose skin is just fine with the store brand.

  2. I agree 100% with this article with one exception: the dog food.
    I wouldn’t eat McDonalds everyday, and I will spend more money to buy my pets decent quality food. Those who can’t or won’t buy anything above the cheapest pet food also need to consider the cost of check-ups and vet visits.

    Otherwise, I agree with everything! I’ve started buying generic cereals lately. The one thing that I can’t do is off-brand Parmesan cheese. yuck!

  3. I prefer to purchase products that are multi-use (like vinegar for cooking AND cleanser) and are non-toxic and eco-friendly (like Dr. Bronners). I save a bundle with that every year. I buy generic for random things like office supplies, trash bags, faux-ziploc bags..etc and some of these are things I’m trying to phase out.

  4. I totally agree with jaye britney about the dog food. Your pet’s health will suffer. Not only that, you you often have to feed your dog twice of the generic food, so in the end it’s just as expensive. Not to mention that you have to clean up twice the poop on generic food. Yuck.

    And Cheerios: that is one thing I do always buy brand name. I can definitely tell the difference. The store brand is like little cardboard doughnuts.

  5. Thirded – pet’s are not a place to be trying to save money (especially on food) – cheap pet toys can be dangerous (cheaply made, fall apart quicker) – of course, this doesn’t apply to those who buy heated beds or ceramic bowls – but even those are a one time deal.

    Pet food though – animals have very different digestive systems to humans – our bunny can’t tolerate cheap hay blends, or over processed rabbit food “mixes” and we run serious the risk of serious medical problems if we feed them to him. Dogs digestive systems adapt to one type of food, and you can’t deviate from that without slowly changing them over – so you can’t buy based on sales. Buy them cheap food, with lots of crap mixed in, and you’ll be repaid with lots of that crap coming out too. Get them good food to begin with and life will be much less poopy.

    For humans though – I’ve got a wife with some serious food allergies, I have to be very careful what brands I buy – cheaper foods have more fillers.

  6. Another person who believes people overspend on pets! Honestly, if I had a pet that needed expensive medical coverage or fancy food, I’d be pricing bullets.

    I have a fish that is still eating the same can of food for over a year. I change his water once every two weeks. He lives in a bowl with no electricity. That’s enough pet for me. :)

    But yeah, I agree with the generic items. I will buy most everything generic. My mom, on the other hand, swears by expensive foil. I don’t know if it’s better as she claims but maybe it is. I will spring the extra money for Cheez-Its (if I bought junk food any more) because they are so much better than the cheap kind you can buy at Walmart.

    Electronics I will also not skimp on but I also won’t go into the super high range. Just enough where you get a durable product is what I say.

    I also won’t buy cheap cola. It’s just Diet Pepsi for me. I can’t stand Coke or store brand so I wait for Pepsi to be on sale. Luckily it’s on sale just about every other week at one market or another.

  7. Don’t just buy generic for the stuff you don’t care about… buy it for almost everything that you don’t mind giving up brand name to.

    In my family, we just buy whatever is cheaper most of the time. So if the brand name is cheaper, we buy that.

  8. Owning a pet is a financial commitment. It is a responsibility. It is not an accessory or a toy. If you don’t wish that commitment, don’t buy one, but to talk about putting one down because of cost just makes you seem like a total asshole. (I realize this was a commenter, but you brought it up and thus started the mindset that it was okay to act like an unfeeling dolt about animals.)

    I budgeted for my pet. I waited until my life was stable enough to take on the responsibility for the animal. There are sacrifices. But that’s what you talk about on here all the time, right? WHy is it different because it’s a pet? You don’t want to be a pet owner – that’s fine – but don’t be dismissive towards a living thing.

    You cannot necessarily skimp on pet food. Some pets might be fine. Others will end up getting so sick that you will spend more on vet bills.

    If you’re not a pet owner it might be better to not counsel others on how to best care for their animals or to suggest that they use their pets as a way to cut costs.

  9. Funny you mention Cheerios. Cheerios is one of the few cereals that I’ve never been able to find a good generic equivalent to. Generic copies, yes, but not that same taste.

    Good tips though. I do this myself.

  10. Don’t buy generic for anything you put into your mouth, period.

  11. Great Blog, & amazing information. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    Thanks,

    Darrell
    http://www.AlwaysMakingMoney.com
    ——————
    Learn From Experts, Increase Your Wealth

  12. I’ve been buying generic cereal for years now. I’ve actually found that I enjoy some of the generic brands (“Mini-Scooters” and “Coco-Roos”) BETTER than their non-generic counterparts. I’ve recently been going a step further and buying whole grains in bulk (couscous, bulgar wheat) and making my own hot cereal. Mix in a bunch of dried fruit, nuts, milk, butter etc and it’s fantastic.

    The way I save money on clothes though is to buy brand names… used at consignment and thrift stores. Looking for a brand name label sometimes helps to separate the wheat from the chaff easily at grungier thrift stores in my city.

  13. I definitely agree that both Kraft cheese and Cheez-Its are significantly better than their generic counterparts! My grocery items probably look strange to people at checkouts – I usually have a lot generic brands, but then I buy organic for milk, eggs, etc. :) I concur with Lisa too – sometimes the generics taste better than their name-brand counterparts!

    I also agree about pets – one of my best friends in college used to complain all the time about being broke, barely able to afford her bills, but then she went out and adopted 2 huge dogs. Its one thing to have pets that are already “part of the family” and decide you don’t want to get rid of them if you face hardships. But to constantly be broke and then go adopt pets? Sorry, no more sympathy from me when you are having trouble making ends meet!

    Basically, I don’t have anything to add, I’m just letting you know I agree with a lot of what’s already been said!

  14. Grad Student - Vanderbilt, Nashville-TN Link to this comment

    Jaye is right – no point on saving money on pet food and spending on the vet because your pet got ill. (same for medicines, vitamins, etc… you must be sure about quality).

    Otherwise, good tip :)

  15. While there is nothing wrong with buying generic, there are reasons why the products are cheaper. Beyond the packaging and the lack of advertising, generic foods are sometimes made with lower quality ingredients. Compare the labels carefully before you buy, especially the sodium content, and the use of high fructose corn syrup and fillers. If they really are the same ingredients , I’d say go for it. If you stick to whole foods rather than processed crap, generics are less of an issue. Save money by buying in the ethnic food section of your grocery store. Rice and dried beans are about 1/3 cheaper. Off season, eat some of the vegetables your grandmother used to cook – (no pre-peeled baby carrots or pre-peeled, cut up squash-you pay a lot for that convenience) Cabbage is a good choice. Don’t like it? Make cole slaw. Make your own salad dressing; it takes about 5 minutes. Contact your county extension service. Many have publications for inexpensive meals. You’ll be eating better and won’t have to make the generic/name brand choices.

    Would you feed your child cheapo hot dogs (you know what’s in those…), generic Spaghetti-O’s and grape flavored fruit drinks for dinner every day? Of course not. Why would you want anything less for your pet? Pet foods are where they skimp on quality ingredients the most.

  16. wow you mean buying store brands saves money? You mean that I’ve been paying for a fancy label this whole time? How foolish of me. These tips are pretty much every tip I’ve ever read on how to save money. Come on man, challenge me! Throw something unconventional at me. Like save money by giving your kids up for adoption! Or, Never own a dog! Those are ways to save money that aren’t in the books.

  17. Sorry man I am also not really feeling this tip to be honest. Maybe it’s just me but growing up poor I have known about generic brands for many years. I find that many people are just superficial and like to be caught with brand name everything, which is just hilarious. Who do you impress with a horse on your shirt or a alligator?

  18. Richard, why don’t you submit a savings tip yourself?

  19. Gotta agree with the rest of the commenters on the pet part. My cat is a part of my family, and his health is as important as mine. Some of the cheap-o brands of food are real bad for pets. They’ll lead to medical problems that will make your pet sick, in addition to being more expensive with vet bills in the long run.

    If you’re going to have a pet, please be responsible about it. Know when you’re ready and can budget and afford the additional expense.

  20. This is a great tip! I’ve started realizing that so much of what I do is because of the way I was raised, which isn’t necessarily the best or most frugal way.

    For example, my mom took me to the Clinique counter when I was 13 or so to get my first makeup. For the next 12 years, I always bought Clinique makeup – $28 foundation, $25 lotion. I only bought during bonus time so I would get lots of blush, mascara, eyeshadow, etc., for free.

    I discovered about a year ago that I don’t, in fact, need $28 foundation. CoverGirl from the drugstore is fine for me. I’ve also just realized that maybe I don’t need the fancy face lotion; as soon as I run out of my existing stash, I’m going to try a drugstore version of that, too.

    I was raised to be pretty frugal, but I now know that even I was brought up with some expensive habits that I can cut.

  21. I also agree with everybody about the food (both for pets and us).

    Studenomics — yes, while the horse or alligator on the shirt is a status symbol for many, they are simply better quality clothes than what you’ll find at Target for example. If you don’t care about this, great, that’s the point of this tip. I have some recent personal experience in this area: after becoming tired of the cheap polo shirts I’ve been wearing from Target (Mossimo) and Kohl’s (whatever brands they carry), I went to TJ Maxx to find some nicer quality stuff (but still heavily discounted). Turns out, a Ralph Lauren polo shirt is much, much nicer than a Mossimo polo shirt in both fit and quality. It looks nicer too.

    As for tips? Generic brand water: tap water poured into a re-usable, washable bottle. Filter it if you must. Buy a few bottles to keep a decent stock in the fridge.

  22. Another idea is look for free stuff. Walgreens every month has free products. You have to buy them and send in the rebate – but you can have it put on a walgreens card and then you just use that mney the next month. Look in your local area for similar offers. Coupons are also amazing. With double coupons and being flexible with your products – you can save hundred’s of dollars.

  23. I’m with aa. I bought generics and “cheapest” possible foodstuffs for years until I began researching what passes for food these days, the poison it’s grown in, the megacorp takeover of the world’s food supply and the danger all that poses to life and health. I’ve completed the eat local challenge, the slow food challenge and several organic food challenges and you know what? My food bill went down, not up.

    So, while I agree it’s silly to buy based on a brand-name, I think education is a more important tool. Nothing (not even an alligator polo shirt) costs more than illness.

    I disagree with this tip on another point as well. There are quality goods available that will last ten to twelve times longer than their cheap counterparts. Example: My youngest has just outgrown a Hanna Andersson turtleneck that was given to my oldest on her fourth birthday. That shirt is now 12 years old and has been worn by every one of my children for a minimum of two winters and falls each. It cost (to the gift-giver) was $26, expensive for a shirt, true, but the option? Spend $9 for a similar knockoff that will not even last one child one season. The colors are vibrant, the fabric sound, the seams unstretched. 12 years. That’s gotta count for something.

  24. Another water idea is but a metal bottle and refill. That will also keep the concern about plastic and cancer out of your mind, and will keep the landfills less cluttered.

    Some of the bottles are a bit pricey – Sigg sold at Dick’s is a little over $20 but once you own it – no need to keep buying plastic bottles. Target sells a differennt brand metal bottle but i have heard it has a metal taste.

  25. I just have to add to the food comments. You are what you eat. If you are eating a ton of cheez-its, diet pepsi, and individually wrapped cheese squares, regardless of the brand, your health will suffer. Buying organic grains and legumes in bulk is cheap. Buying seasonal (organic) vegetables at the farmers market is cheap. Add to that some (expensive) organic meat and dairy and quality sea food, and you’ll still save money (especially if you view these as seasonings, not staples). Not to mention that you will save on health costs in the long term. It is neither difficult or expensive to eat healthy, whole foods.

    Same for pet food. Never skimp on pet food! If you can’t afford it, don’t get a pet. I feed my cat Wellness (wet in the evening, dry in the morning), which is one of the most expensive foods out there, but we spend less than $25 a month on his food! We got some can covers and started feeding him half a can of the wet food each night. When we realized that he wasn’t finishing it, we started feeding him a 1/3 of a can, and that is just right! An indoor cat doesn’t need to eat that much.

    Reducing the amount of food you waste will also save you tons of money.

  26. All food, even pet food needs to be of highest quality. If you can’t commit to the cost of a pet don’t get one. Period.

    We raise our own meats, buy local veges and are picky about the other food stuff we buy. Skimping by buying poor quality generic foods can result in more illness. The cost of cheap generic human food is obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Better to spend a lot less on other stuff and a lot more on food.

    For good generic hair care try mane and tail horse shampoo. A gallon jug costs about $20 but you don’t need conditioner.

    Instead of buying cheap Wal-Mart or Target clothing look instead at cost per wear. If it’s something you will use and keep for a long time spend the bucks for the high quality item. Fashion trends are the place to save money as they won’t last long anyway. But for solid classic clothing it’s better to spend $200 on a pair of shoes you can wear for 15 years than $20 on a pair that lasts less than a year. Just buy less clothing and take care of it well.

  27. I must agree with (almost) everyone here on pet food – buying generic/lower quality pet food is not going to save you any money and has a potential to ruin your pet’s health. If you care about your pet – consult with a vet, or lookup some info online – even certain brand names are very bad for pets, resulting in illness (suffering + vet bills).
    As for the rest of the stuff, I think a reasonable approach is to consider a value/price ratio, rather than just the price. Of course, the importance of a brandname to someone is part of that calculation – is the “value” side.
    Finally, as far as food is concerned, I think a more reasonable way is to stick with less processed foods – which will cut into one’s purchase of cereals and Cheeze-its. Healthier and a LOT cheaper.

  28. For all the “don’t buy generic for anything in your mouth” people, aren’t the generics for the most part the name-brands of one sort or another packaged differently? I agree that there’s a difference between natural peanut butter and the stuff pictured above, which is preservatives and colourings, but if you generally just buy Jif anyway why not go generic?

  29. guinness416, you have to read the label. Sometimes generic is healthier with fewer additives. But most of the time, instead of using sugar, generic products use high-fructose corn syrup or corn syrup solids. To cover using lower-grade food in their products, MSG or other flavor-enhancers can be added. Cheaper fillers are often used to bring the manufacturing cost down to that “generic price” level. If you’re eating peanut butter, wouldn’t you want to be eating peanuts rather than corn syrup solids, sugar, soy protein, hydrogenated rapeseed oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, monodiglycerides, diglycerides, molasses, niacinamide, folic acid, pyridoxine, hydrochloride, magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, ferric orthophosphate and copper sulfate (quoted from an actual generic label)?

  30. This is also a strategy I employ, especially with clothes. Yes, for some people with young kids it makes sense to purchase a good quality shirt that can be a hand-me-down for the next several years. My recommendation, if you are committed to buying brand name clothing, is to wait until the end of the year and pick up as many items as possible during the largest store sales.I agree with everyone that you are what you eat!

    Easily see where you are headed financially at http://www.buildmybudget.com

  31. Ramit, you know I’m a crazy cat lady, so, as expected, I’m here to rail on you.

    Buying generics makes sense for plastic bags, dish soap, or maybe cereal. What makes even more sense is asking yourself if you really need plastic bags (instead of reusable containers that you only buy once), if you can buy dish soap in bulk (which you def. can here in SF), or if there’s something you can eat for breakfast that doesn’t come with packaging and marketing cost (like bulk oatmeal – $0.15 per serving – instead of box cereal – $0.46 per serving).

    However, cheap pet food (and human food!) can end up costing you thousands (yep, thousands) more in vet care. I’d rather keep my pets healthy and happy than throw away thousands of dollars on treatment for a lifetime of crappy feeding. And no, you can’t just put them down when they get sick.

    You’ve got the right idea – why waste your money paying the salaries of marketing and PR execs at product companies? Much better to spend those dollars on high-quality food and things without the associated fluff cost (by buying local, warehouse, bulk, or online…)

    I’m not sitting on the homestead sewing my own jeans and shoes, but I do believe there are ways to challenge pricey conventional consumerism that don’t involve compromising quality.

    Crap always ends up costing more in the long run.

  32. When I buy food I don’t buy anything if I find the package advertising condescending. This means everything from Oreo Cakesters (I’m not three and I’m not buying your product) to anything labeled “All-natural” (I know that phrase has NO MEANING, stop putting it on everything). This probably doesn’t save a lot of money but I do eat somewhat healthier and feel less like a brand whore.

  33. In addition – if you HAVE to have something that’s a brand name, only buy it when it’s on sale and when it is, stock up! For examples, I actually really can taste the difference between Cheerios and generic O’s, but I’m still not spending $5 on a box of the real ones. I wait until they are just as cheap as the generics, and then use a coupon, and buy 4 boxes. This way, I get the quality I want, without spending more for it. I do this whenever possible, otherwise, I go generic, or I make the conscious decision to spend a little more for something that matters to me.

  34. I was delighted to discover recently that my favorite cereal (Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs) now has a generic equivilant. In the grocery store, I always tend toward generics, and usually only go name-brand when the generics are bad.

    Of course, that’s with the understanding that the *real* cheese and lunchmeats are going to come from the deli counter versus the name-brand OR generic pre-packaged stuff, but the generic pizza rolls aren’t going to be any worse for me than the name-brand ones, and the peanut butter is more than likely the same product with a different lid and label. I also tend to pick up my shampoo and body wash at the grocery store, and I pick up the store brand there as well–I’ve never been able to tell the difference. And the store-brand fruit-on-the-bottom Stop & Shop yogurt I’ve been getting lately tastes better than any name-brand I’ve tried.

    Oddly, the two items where I DO go for the name brand are mac & cheese, and pop-tarts. Off-brand pop-tart filling always has a much moister, gooier, and painfully sweeter consistancy to it, and store brand powdered cheese just doesn’t taste right versus Kraft or Velveeta… though my mom does some pretty impressive stuff with her homemade mac.

    I can also wholeheartedly recommend generic burnable optical media–that is, blank CDs and DVDs. There can be HUGE differences in quality between different CD/DVDs, but those differentiations have NOTHING to do with brand–all major manufacturers buy from the same manufacturers and brand them themselves, so there can be huge differences between two spindles of Sonys shipped three months apart or Verbatims with the same label in different qualities, and a spindle of Maxwell and a spindle of TDKs could be the exact same product with different labels. Taiko-Yuden has a reputation for manufacturing the best media, but none of the major companies are in the habit of marking who manufactured what batch, so unless you want can find a place online that’s noting which ship-dates and batch-numbers came from which manufacturers it’s going to be a crapshoot anyway. Just buy the cheapies–they’re just as likely to suck as the super-expensive stuff, but they cost less.

  35. This is a good point. There are things that I’ve bought a store brand and even my 10 year old won’t eat it! So I tried and I learned, not everything can be bought generic. But in most cases it’s just fine. My son likes the Target brand cheese crackers as much as Cheez Its.

    For those of you who are complaining about the ideas given in this challenge, then don’t read anymore! Not everyone knows all about saving money like you seem to..and if you already know all of it, why are you here?

    Thanks Ramit, I have been reminded of some of the things I’ve done in the past! I haven’t been keeping track of what I’ve saved/made, but I know it’s more than last month! So Thanks again!

  36. I seriously love how angry all the pet owners are getting at one sentence in this whole post. I told you guys, this is why I don’t have a pet.

    For some background, I posted this around 6:30pm yesterday (a Saturday night) and checked a few hours later via my phone. 14 comments.

    Indignant pet owners = lots of comments.

  37. Indignant pet owners unite!

  38. Great ideas Ramit – it is so easy to spend too much if you blindly buy expensive stuff. Rememer too that many stores, at least here in Denmark, will carry their own generic brands with the EXACT same content as their top-of-the-line brands.

    I do not agree with you on the jeans part however, but for clothes in general you can save a ton of money buying from ebay or your local outlet-store. No quality drops, and lots of money saved.

  39. I’m pretty with you on this. I look damn good rocking $15 jeans and dress shirts from Wal Mart, and I only eat food with generic labels. BUT I wouldn’t save money on pet food (this was mentioned earlier, but I’m echoing it). Most cheap dog food such as WalMart’s venerable brand “Ol’ Roy” have corn as their first ingredient. On the other hand, the good stuff like Iams starts off with meat. Dogs really need the protein, not just sugary carbs, or it makes them kinda haywire.

    Also, one very key way in which generics can help people cut costs is on weightlifting supplements. Whey protein is whey protein, so even though the pricey ones claim to be better, they’re not. This is important because 5 lbs (about a one month supply) is around $80 for the pricey stuff and $30 for the generics and they are the exact same product. Ditto creatine, which is $60 for a month’s supply if you buy premium and $40 for a year’s supply if you don’t.

  40. Ramit, it looks like you opened Pandora’s Box with the generic tip. LOL
    I am quoting you, “Today’s tip is to buy generics for the stuff you don’t care about — while continuing to buy brand-name for the stuff you do care about.”
    If it makes people stop and ask themselves that question, you will have accomplished your mission. I forgive you for the pet comment. And I thank you for all of the tips. They have helped me to focus on the money that trickles away.

  41. Many generic items are actually the exact same product as the brand name counterparts, but the manufacturer boxes it separately for stores. (ie: Aldi’s, Publix) Publix often has a buy ours, get their’s free so you can test the difference. Out of all the grocery stores, I really love the Publix brand for food. The quality at the very least, matches the brand name item.

    For stuff I don’t care about like soap, cotton balls, whatnot, I prefer the WalMart brand Equate. It is dirt cheap and I can’t tell the difference.

    Becoming The Marshmallow

  42. HollyS: I agree with you on the marketing lingo, and I’ll add one to it. To paraphrase the late George Carlin: why is “homemade” on this packaged food? I don’t care if the foreman is living in the basement and cooking on a hotplate, this food is note “homemade!”

  43. I love all the food snobs and pet owners going bat-crazy on this one.

    Seriously, will eating your organic oatmeal and eggs and butter make you live all that much longer or have that much higher a quality of life? Sorry, you will live 10 years less because you bought the store brand Cheerios. Seriously, get over yourselves.

    So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
    -Matthew 6:31

  44. This article has lots of great ways to save money. And remember, even if that generic brand only saves you a dollar, those savings add up over time! Save $1 per day = $30 per month = $365 per year
    Save $50 week = $200 per month = $2,400 per year

  45. I use generic shampoo. Previously I was reluctant about using the cheap stuff but too poor for the good stuff. I just went to a fancy salon to get my hair colored and the stylist and her apprentice were ooooing and ahhing over how healthy my hair is.

    I wanted to say “Yeah, I wash it three times a week with herbal essence, don’t use more than one product at a time and use as little heat as possible on it.” but I resisted and just went with a smile and “thank you”.

  46. Yes in fact I do think that eating local food, organic veges, appropriately raised meats, and as little processed food as I can and especially avoiding all corn syrup I will in fact have a much healthier life. The benefits go far beyond my own life though, reducing food miles, eating in season and eating fresh is also healthier for the planet.

    I would argue that the real basis for saving should be to include *all* the costs. That means poor health, less energy, illness or obesity, more pollution due to poor quality, less nutritious food or excessive packaging or long distance travel for your food and the expenses to treat those conditions should be included in the cost of a generic product you purchase and especially for this challenge.

    Am I perfect, never buying anything that isn’t good for me? Absolutely not, but saving money now might be a long term disaster for me or my environment. We have to weigh what is best for us right now at the moment vs what is best in the long run for both us and society.

    As the pet owners have pointed out, buying cheap food is not a long term savings. It can cost not only money and vet bills but as recent contamination issues have shown, your pets’ life.

    Similarly given the huge numbers of contaminated and dangerous products coming from China, lack of safety standards and lack of control over use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides in other countries we import food from I think that we have to weigh carefully the cost of buying cheap generic food (much of it is imported and you have no idea where it came from) vs buying more expensive in the short run but less expensive in the long run food produced in ways that are less damaging to ourselves and our environment and that are produced here where we can see and control the potential problems. Because saving a few dollars this year won’t help if we the US taxpayer gets stuck paying for the health issues of the country that result from poor quality food or for replanting forests lost to logging to make generic printer paper vs sustainably harvested paper products.

    I would much rather have seen this tip be

    “Buy only items you need that have the lowest long term cost to you and your environment.”

    But of course that won’t necessarily save you any money this month. The focus on short term gain is part of what got us into this mess. It would be nice to see tips that not only save money but point out a more sustainable way to live.

  47. I have just recently started doing this the past month or two. I grew up on brand name everything and I am slowly venturing away of the brands I know. I have only been living on my own for a couple years, so a lot of financial changes of course have come about. And I am actually surprised how many generics are similar to the brand name. Now my boyfriend and I are living together so my grocery bill has grown. But on top of buying generic grocery items, I have also picked up the lost art of coupon clipping and I am amazed on how much I am saving. On top of those savings, I shop at Frys mainly, and they also have a program where everytime you accumulate $100 spent at their stores using your membership card, you receive $.10/gallon off on gas. So I am getting savings on groceries and gas at the same time.

  48. @ Jessica – I generally shop at Kroger, which has the same spend $100 / get $.10/gallon program. However, I never shop to TRY to get over $100, because I have a 10 gallon gas tank. That means even if my gas tank is completely empty and I fill it up completely, I save $1. Every dollar is nice, but it is not worth spending an extra $5 or $10 a month on groceries to put me over that $100 mark, just so I can save $1 on gas. I’m sure that between the two of you you probably easily spend over $100 per month on groceries, I’m just pointing out this fact for anyone who does manage to get by on less than $100 per month at the grocery store (or if you boyfriend is out of town for a while or something, and it’s just you you’re buying groceries for).

  49. I total agree with this. I just love spa treatments and have spent a lot on them. However, one friend of mine who owns one let it out that many places use generic products like moisturizer, oils or scrubs. The only difference is the time and amount used that makes such a glowing difference. Since then, I have started doing a lot of at-home treatments (& saving a packet). But i still do go for regular massages..again as Ramit has said, it is your priority!

  50. BUY IN BULK! and never buy packaged foods. I have several shops where I can buy high quality organic food (rice, flour, oats, beans, chocolate, tea, etc) for cheap. With all that money I save on food I bought a nice slow cooker and a bread machine. Dinners have never been: easier, cheaper, or more delicious. I don’t ever buy boxed cereal. I don’t ever buy cookies or crackers. I don’t ever buy bread. During the summer I grow half of my own vegetables and at the end of the season I save my own seeds for the next year. When the produce stands shut down for the season I’m there, basket in hand. Then its back to my kitchen to preserve that harvest for the winter. My college food budget was ~$150 per month. Now, that’s what I spend on food for me and my wife and we have a lot more fun eating it too…

  51. I’ve been doing this for a long time.

    I agree with your “stuff for pets” comment, and I’m a pet owner. I don’t believe in skimping on pet food (I agree it’s bad to feed cheap food to your pets), but most pet toys are seriously overpriced. I have dogs, and they are happy enough with affection from their owners, and lots of exercise. My dog is happy with a stick or tennis ball (I bought a box of 50 used tennis balls on ebay for around $20), and a walk, or a hike, or a trip to the dog park. Dogs don’t need a cheaply made $10 toy that they’ll chew through in 10 minutes to be happy. And I’m sure the same goes for other pets.

  52. Nice tip. I already do this to some degree naturally but I never consciously thought about it.

    The only places I really worry about buying less than premium is stuff that will affect my health. Like prescip. drugs- name brand just sounds safer on things like that. Also, I don’t want to be buying cheap products for skin/hair/body care if they will do some sort of damage in the long term.

  53. And to tie Cardinal’s comment in with the pet stuff topic… cheap drugs for pets are also a bad idea. Prescription flea/tick preventive can be pricey but the OTC “equivalents” can be outright dangerous—take it from a vet tech who once had to give a half-conscious, twitching cat a bath due to drug toxicity after the owner used the OTC crap. And flea collars are awesome at flea prevention… for the inch of skin and fur around the pet’s collar.

    Battra92, congratulations on being a truly reprehensible human being!

  54. I tend not to skimp on groceries as much as I should and as much as I used to (and I do buy premium cat food… we finally found a brand that my cat isn’t allergic to and that doesn’t import ingredients from China, so I’m sticking with it, and the $15 bag lasts a month or more so it’s hardly a huge expense) but I have always bought generics. I think it’s generically, er, genetically hardwired. :)

    Lately it’s been, I buy generic if the generic version is not significantly more filler- or crap-eriffic than the brand name. Also, I like to buy organic versions of packaged foods if they are available and affordable, not so much because of the organic part but because they tend not to include hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, etc. Usually they are ridiculously expensive and in tiny packages, but the Meijer stores around here have a line called “Meijer Organics” that is quite reasonably-priced and I’ve been very happy with the quality (I’ve tried their versions of Teddy Grahams, pasta sauce, whole-wheat bread, crackers, cereals, canned soups, etc.) Sure, buying only locally-produced scratch ingredients and making that kind of stuff myself (or not eating it) would be “optimal,” but the fact of the matter is I’m going to buy convenience foods here and there, so I prefer to buy these somewhat healthier, simpler versions.

    I also like Costco (and their gas is usually enough cheaper than nearby stations that I don’t have to worry too much about not “making back” the cost of our membership… the gas alone usually makes it worth it over the year). I can get great-tasting fair trade coffee beans “roasted by Starbucks” for about $5.50 a pound. This is cheaper than some versions of Folger’s. Cheaper than store-brand generic coffee? No, but definitely cheaper than regular non-fair-trade Starbucks in the grocery store (hello, $7.99+ for 12 oz.), which is what I’d probably be buying otherwise.

    There are certain crap foods that are old favorites or “staples” (American cheese, etc.) and, unlike some of the rest of you, I can’t tell the difference between Meijer 2% Singles and Kraft, so I buy the Meijer. Likewise, if I didn’t care so much about coffee I’d probably also get the Meijer brand… I default to generic unless I know I don’t like it. But then I guess that was the topic of the post, right?

  55. Two related ideas:

    1) Be creative and use dollar stores – I recently got a neoprene sleve for holding additional lenses (for my DSLR) – $1 per piece and they fit perfectly. Lens cases regularly run $15-$17 if you buy Targus / Caselogic.

    2) Two sided tape – $1 for a gigantic roll vs $2 for a half-sized roll somewhere else

    Great tips, Ramit. It’s great to find them in one place too ;-p (and coming from someone other than your mom).

  56. Cosmetics. I was a commercial make up artist for seven years. Drugstore stuff does just fine even for photo shoots. I’ll second dollar stores and up them with thrift stores and Ikea for kitchen stuff unless it is an appliance.

    Cheeto’s rock. Cheeto substitutes – FAIL. Even the Cheetos Puffs are nasty.

    Vitamins = GMO in a bottle. Waste of money. Nutrients should come from food not what an overpaid scientist made convenient for you guessed it marketing purposes. Supplements will not make you live longer and you will not die without them.

    Jeans I disagree with and I wish I could shop like a guy and pick up pants at Costco.

    Pet Food: Coming from a marketer buy the healthiest GENERIC pet food you can buy. Animals don’t have a preference. Animal owners do!

    You should only have animals, not pets, animals for two reasons: a cat to catch the mice and a dog to warn you of intruders on your property. That’s it.

    If you love your animals why not give the real food. Make them dinner sometime.

    Would you only feed your child cereal, raviolis and water? Don’t think so.

  57. you should NEVER pay over $4 for brand name cereal! A brand is always always on sale so boxes are under $3 at the grocery store and family size boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats are $2.50 at target!

    So i don’t buy generic, i just get the brand name at the generic price

  58. You people and your pets… I have 2 dogs, one that sheds, and one that needs cut. I cut his hair myself. They are both small dogs and only need 1 large bag of food a month. We buy treats for them and bones, but never the generic. Still we spend less than $25 a month total for both dogs. The key is in cutting costs, not pets. Pets don’t need extra things, they are animals not humans.

  59. I’m a cat lover and buy my cats Hill’s products (not cheap), however – I took the pet food comment with a grain of salt (generic of course) just to make a point. I laughed – ha ha it was funny. I try many generics, and most I do not like. But it does not hurt – or cost you ANYTHING to try them – both Safeway and Wal-Mart offer 100% Satisfacation Guaranteed on their brands. I have to totally agree on the foil – cheap is bad.

  60. My frustration is that when I do save up for something ‘brand name’ that I would like, it ends up being of poor quality anyway. I’m thinking specifically about clothes – after getting a new job last year, and saving up for a bit, I decided to splurge and do my fall shoe shopping at Kenneth Cole instead of Payless. The shoes were gorgeous and fit well, but within 3 months were falling apart. I was extremely disappointed. Sure, I wear them every day, but that’s the point of getting supposedly high quality shoes – they should wear well, and last longer than crappy plastic. Very disappointing.

    I don’t believe that the brand name items (or even foods) are neccessarily of better quality than generic. I agree with the commenters above who said you should look at the ingredients, and figure out what you’re actually getting. Some brands may be top quality, and others might be crap, and at this point I don’t think the price you pay for them will help you figure out what’s worth it and what’s not.

  61. I buy equate (wal-mart brand) mouth wash. It tastes 95% like advanced cool mint Listerine but costs nearly 3X less! It’s a little over $6 for Listerine (1.5L) and a little over $2.50 for equate brand. The active ingredients are 100% identical. You rinse your mouth with it and spit it out (literally money down the drain). If you have an emotional attachment to Listerine or scope or whatever, just pour some of the equate brand in your brand name empty bottle. I bet you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. I also buy the cheapest toilet bowl cleaner, I think it’s called snobowl or something similar (less than $1 for the normal size bottle). Why do you need CLOROX brand or Scrubbing Bubbles (which cost over $2 per bottle) to clean your toilet? You’re truly flushing money down the toilet. If you clean it once a week like I do the bottle lasts 4 or 5 cleanings. You don’t need to use half the bottle to clean with like some of my friends do. Unless you havent cleaned your toilet in months, the cheap stuff works perfectly fine.. Now toilet paper, I splurge a little and get Charmin with ripples, the cheapest stuff feels like sandpaper.

  62. I have to disagree with most of the pet people. I had a cocker spaniel and for her ENTIRE life (over 16 years) she ate wal-mart’s “Ol’ Roy” canned dogfood – 1/2 can a day. Then of course she supplemented with scraps from all over the neighborhood. Maybe that was the difference? :) Well, if you live out in the country you can do that!

  63. I concur with OogieM. Luggage is a great example of “Buy only items you need that have the lowest long term cost to you and your environment.”

    I travel frequently and one time needed an extra suitcase so bought cheap ($30?) wheeled carry-on from the drugstore. I was so frustrated when, within a year, the frame detached so that it became unusable and had to be sent to the landfill (no recycling program available for luggage in my area so far and no one thought it was fixable). I also added frustration to my life by trying to drag around poorly-balanced luggage with rough wheels while the suitcase was still intact.

    The high-quality suitcase I had before that had lasted for more than 10 years of rough use, including grocery shopping. For my next purchase, I spent $300 on a suitcase with a true lifetime guarantee including damage caused by airlines (boils down to manufacturer repair and take-back when necessary), so I hope never to buy luggage again or have to send a suitcase to the landfil. Plus, it’s a well-designed piece of equipment that is a pleasure to use and contributes positively to my professional image.

    Even if it only lasted 10 years like my other suitcase, this is a better value financially and in terms of my time than spending $30 a year on poor-quality item.

  64. To build on Jordan Pearce’s suggestion about giving animals a varied diet, here is a column from the San Francisco Chronicle which links to some resources:

    While for many of us, this falls into the category of values which trump financial calculations, If you’re buying your own food unprocessed and cooking at home, I bet this is pretty cost-effective too.

  65. I like the more expensive salon brands of shampoo and conditioner, but hate spending all that money on them – $20 for 2 regular size bottles that last maybe 2 or 3 months tops. I pay a little over $40 for the large bulk size of the shampoo and conditioner – this lasts me 6 months or more. That comes to a little over $6 a month for shampoo and conditioner. I can’t even get some of the higher end drugstore brands (Pantene, Dove) for that!! Just a tip…

  66. You mention getting generic brand named prescription medicines here too.

    I often hear this suggested (mostly by the pharmacist), and can understand why… “It has the same active ingredient…” Blah Blah Blah.

    However, both my girlfriend and I have been stung by buying generic brands. Sure, the active ingredient is the same, but the other stuff they put around it differs wildly – She had a massive allergic reaction (hives, etc) to generic antibiotics (making the origin condition worse, too!) – I’ve had my air-ways close up from a reaction to stuff they put in generic pain-killers (the strong ones you can only get from the pharmacy).

    Neither of us have allergies to any particular drug that we know of, and the doctors at the emergency room couldn’t figure it out. Which leads me to believe that even if you can live with taking the generic medicines, the quality is not worth the risk – your health should come before money always.

  67. Jess, it may have been the coating on the generic meds that you were allergic too. This appears to be a known problem.

    Ramit, great job on the inadvertent flamewar! You got everyone really thinking about this one.

    I am also so glad to see so many people in agreement on how to treat a pet.

  68. I buy Levi’s 501′s mint conditon at thrift stores for $3 & $4 for grandkids; get nice shirts (many brand new 99 cents); I have a recipe for make your own dog food & would do that if I have a dog rather than purchase ANY kind of “dog” food available on the market if you truly care about your pets. Yes, it takes time & effort but if you truly loved your pet it is worth it, just like good home cooking is far better for us humans! I do buy generic things like chocolate chips $1.19 a package; but belong to group that buys health food & get superb prices like lb of premium cinnamon etc for $2.35; look for the items on sale that month, & get far better quality for less than you get in stores. Ex: bulk cocoa superb quality $16 for 5 lbs; inferior in store on sale $3 for 8 oz; common sense isn’t so common anymore!

  69. I love this one: I’ve been doing it for years with almost everything in the grocery store and OTC medications. I think only about twice has the name brand been significantly different (Mac & Cheese I think – strange!)

    The odd times I’ve been in discussions about this the push back I’ve got has really amazed me. Some people are convinced, for example, that OTC brand pain-relievers are always better than store brand. I suppose if you believe it to be so, that’s what you’ll get.

    Only thing I quibble with: if you are going to buy vitamins are all, search a reliable brand. Most grocery and pharmacy brands are dubious quality at best. I’ve found Vitamin Shoppe to have a great selection – and 8 out of 10 times *their* generic brand is excellent.

  70. I’m all for buying generic stuff, but don’t EVER compare generic Cheerios to real Cheerios. I buy generic Raisin Bran and Rice Krispies, but generic Cheerios suck. I’ll spend the $5 a box for the real thing. Actually, no I won’t. I just won’t buy them at all.

  71. A great tip for those of you that are suckers for good marketing campaigns. My “other half” is one of those suckers, and develops a hankering for whatever he sees on a commercial… I have been utilizing this technique for years, but a good reminder is important.
    In addition to buying generic foods & vitamins, ever thought about buying generic toiletries, like tampons or shave gel?? Sounds tough to some, but i’ve found there is little or no difference, and the amount saved makes up for the difference.
    In terms of clothing, I think i dress quite well, but I make a point of not purchasing anything “designer” Why should I pay a premium for an article of clothing made in China in the same factory where a similar article is made that retails for $5.99??? I shop at cute little boutiques where nothing is over $50 and I never spend more than $20 on a fancy top or dress. I work in the entertainment industry and do a lot of red carpet events, and am always being complimented. Also, ROSS is my best kept secret. It takes a bit of time, but the hunt is well worth it. Happy hunting folks!

  72. My husband is way into Kraft Singles – I think they are a total rip-off – VERy expensive for fake cheese with less nutrition than real cheese – my kids like cheddar! Anyway, because they are fake,they last forever, adn the DO go on sale – instead of $649 (!!!) for 20 singles, you can find them once a month in my supermarket at 2 for $5. SO I keep an eye out for that and then I stock up. We live in NYC, so if the big one hitsx, those things will keep unrefrigerated for months, I figure.

    Another item to buy when on sale is bread – sandwich bread has gone up a LOT and most non-cooks dont realize that bread and all baked good FREEZE very well – virtually no damage. I buy 2 loaves or 3 when on sale (100% whole wheat – more FOOD in there – you can get used to it in 2 weeks) and then I freeze a loaf – my kids eat sandwiches every day, so I usea loaf a week – this saves me $7 -$9 per month.

    Same with ice cream – I only buy the premium Ben and Jerry’s when it’s 2 for $5, which is often.

    And I buy GENERIC otc drugs – advil, benadryl, children’s motrin, etc- I know several doctors and that’s what they buy, that’s what they give at hospitals.

  73. I switched to generics and my kids of course hated almost everything I bought – mainly cereals, ice creams, cookies, crackers, etc. I ended up buying the name brand one more time and saved the box/container. Then I got the generic brand again and re-filled the name brand box with the generic. Sounds like a hassle but I wanted to prove a point to myself and them. Not one of them complained or made comments about it not tasting the same when they were eating the generic brand item out of the name brand box.

  74. [...] 17: Buy generics when it doesn’t matter, name-brand when it does. Preaching to the choir here, Ramit, buddy. I used store-brand organic peanut butter to make my [...]

  75. [...] me, Ramit undermines his own “anti-frugal” position when he gives suggestions such as Buy Generic For Stuff You Don’t Care About and Turn Your Thermostat Down 3 Degrees. Both great suggestions and both great examples of being [...]