"You get what you pay for" is one of those financial aphorisms that's always taken as pure fact. Higher cost is always assumed to equate with better quality, and when we're shopping, it's one of the things we keep in mind when deciding between brand-name products and their generic counterparts. We'll buy the former because we've conditioned ourselves to believe the latter is just a cheap, watered-down knockoff that doesn't look, taste or perform as well.
How wrong that assumption can be. We're passing on the opportunity to save money on generic products that are just as good -- if not better -- than the brand names we're so loyal to. "One secret of store brands -- or 'private label' brands with seemingly bargain quality -- is that they're often made by the same companies that manufacturer big name products," writes Melanie Pinola of Lifehacker. In fact, according to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, those generic brands can save more than 30 percent than the national brand.
Keep this in mind the next time you go shopping, and consider some of the following store products versus their competing name brands. You'll be surprised how well they measure up, and how much money you'll save.
1. Costco Liquor
Store-brand spirits conjure up images of unrecognizable labels, bitter aftertastes and flimsy plastic packaging compared to other prestigious distilleries. But the alcohol sold by warehouse shopping clubs like Costco (under its Kirkland Signature label) is actually manufactured by some of the same top-shelf brand names. Kirkland vodka is made by Grey Goose, its bourbon by Jim Beam and its scotch by Macallan 18. The Costco versions come at better size/value ratio, at a fraction of the cost. For example:
- Kirkland Signature vodka (1.75L): $30
- Grey Goose vodka: $68 for 1.75 L; $35 for 750 mL
2. Trader Joe's Groceries
"It's no secret that Trader Joe's sells marked-down name-brand products disguised under its own label," writes Kristen Aiken of The Huffington Post. Walk down any aisle of this modern-day trading post and most of Joe's packaged goods are a near-identical (or in some cases, simply repackaged) version of the name brand. (The best part is that many of these products are organic):
- Trader Joe's chili: $2.29 (14.7 oz.); Amy's Organic version: $4.19
- Trader Joe's Garden Vegetable Lasagne: $2.69; Amy's Organic version: $5.39
- Trader Joe's Mac 'n Cheese: $2.99; Annie's organic version: $3.49
3. Target Groceries
Target's proprietary Archer Farms label is surprisingly gourmet quality and rivals many other name brands when it comes to condiments, beverages and other items. The Target brand might be a bit higher in cost, but worth it, since some of the flavors and varieties aren't offered by many others -- coconut macaroon coffee, anyone?
- Archer Farms Fair Trade coffee beans: $8.49
- Archer Farms Chipotle Lime dressing (16 oz.): $2.99
- Archer Farms Basil Pesto Alfredo sauce (16.9 oz.): $3.39
4. Harmon Discount Hair Care
Salon-quality shampoos and conditioners demand costlier price tags because of their concentrated, premium ingredients, but this beauty supplier offers its own house equivalents for brands like Paul Mitchell, Nexxus and Matrix, at a fraction of the cost, but with almost identical labels. No skimping on quality here:
- Harmon Awapuhi Botanical shampoo (16 oz.): $5.99; Paul Mitchell version (16 oz.): $10.98
- Harmon Hair Therapy Moisture shampoo (16 oz.): $5.99; Nexxus version (13.5 oz.): $10.49
5. CVS Over-the-Counter Medications
Store-brand medications must be FDA-approved and must carry the same active ingredients as name-brand drug manufacturers. These are the same exact products, and there's clearly a savings here when opting for the pharmacy brand:
- CVS aspirin (100 count): $2.49; Bayer version (24 count): $3.69
- CVS Tussin DM cough medicine (4 oz.): $5.79; Robitussin version (4 oz.): $8.29
6. Kroger Breakfast Cereal
Depending on where you live, your favored supermarket could be Albertsons, Safeway, Shop-Rite, Food Lion or Publix, and each will carry its own thinly disguised versions of popular breakfast cereals. (What would Toucan Sam think of "Fruit Rings"?) Like other staple food products, if you're on a budget, and you must have the brand-name version of certain items, always choose the generic brand for cereal -- it tastes the same and is often produced by the same manufacturer.
- Kroger cocoa puffed cereal (28 oz.): $2.99; Cocoa Puffs (11. 8 oz.): $3.29
- Kroger Fruit Rings (28 oz.): $2.99; Froot Loops (12.2 oz.): $2.50
7. Generic Cosmetics
"You might be hesitant to buy a dress or shoe knock-off, but as far as makeup goes, no one will ever know the difference. And in some cases, the cheaper version is actually identical or better," writes Peggy Wang of BuzzFeed. When it comes to putting your best face forward, do what works best for your skin and your budget. It's hard for cheaper brands to measure up to the likes of Guerlain, Tom Ford or MAC, so test different products for efficacy versus price. But color for color, consistency for consistency, some of the following products have been rated very closely.
- Benefit lipstick: $18; Tom Ford's version: $48
- OPI nail polish (15 mL): $7; Chanel version: $26
- Maybelline mascara: $7; Lancome's version: $26
8. Walgreen's Razors
Skipping a day or two of shaving here and there doesn't make it easier to deal with the fact that razor blades from big names like Gillette or Schick are expensive. I discovered that the replaceable blades manufactured under Walgreens' house brand, Studio 35, are just as sharp, last as long and come at a significantly cheaper price. (At one point, I did a shave-by-shave comparison to test this theory).
- Walgreens twin-blade cartridges (10 count): $8.79; Gillette Trac II version (10 count): $17.49
- Walgreens triple-blade cartridges (8 count): $10.99; Gillette Mach3 version (8 count): $15.25
- Walgreens five-blade razor: $5.99; Gillette Fusion razor: $14.29
9. Generic Gas
Like medications, fuel must meet certain regulatory guidelines. Despite the myth that generic, "off-brand" gasoline is weaker -- or even more damaging to your car -- it's just as effective as names like Shell, Mobil or BP. "Even 'unbranded' fuel is required to meet legal requirements for RVP, ethanol percentage, octane, detergent content and more," AAA told Business Insider. Some even come with their own cleaning additives. Generic gas prices will depend on the area you live in; your best bet is to consult GasBuddy.com for local pump prices.
10. Saks Fifth Avenue Designer Clothing
Saks' elegant house line is not exactly what you'd call generic, but it stands up in fit, fashion, cut and quality as any other big-name designer. According to Lifehacker, the Saks Platinum Collection is sewn in the same factory as Armani fabrics. While the Saks prices are still prohibitive to most, the difference between them and Armani equivalents do afford some big savings if you're looking for a one-time wardrobe splurge. (If both are out of your price range, most high-end department names have outlet stores with discounted prices, like Saks Off 5th.)
- Saks women's cashmere cardigan: $350; Armani Collezioni wool/cashmere cardigan: $595
- Saks men's leather bomber jacket: $698; Armani Collezioni lambskin jacket: $1,475