The opposite of 'what is worth spending on'
November 22, 2012 7:41 PM   Subscribe

What store-brand products are a good value?

Mr Fig and I are starting to go on a massive saving kick for the next 2-3 years. To help, I am expanding the number of household products I buy that are generic. This has been met with mixed success. For example: toilet paper - generic is generally lower-quality, but suitable. Same with at least some cereals. Wal-Mart-brand K Cups are terrible, they keep clogging up the Keurig. (I know other forms of coffee are cheaper, but I like the Keurig, for now. It's on my list of future budget cuts).

What have you found to be good items to buy generically, and which have been terrible?

If it matters - we are not currently Costco members, but we do have a Sam's Club membership.
posted by Fig to Shopping (45 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
shoprite brand tomato juice is awesome, as is their tiramisu
posted by pyro979 at 7:49 PM on November 22, 2012

Safeway Select items are generally really good. I adore the cookies.
posted by empath at 7:51 PM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anything at Target.
posted by sanka at 7:55 PM on November 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Tip for shopping at Safeway, btw: the clerks are supposed to let you sample any Safeway branded product in the store you want, just ask.
posted by empath at 7:57 PM on November 22, 2012

If you drink diet coke or coke zero, the Safeway "zero" knockoff is surprisingly awesome. It just goes flat a little bit faster.
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:03 PM on November 22, 2012

Is President's Choice (Superstore brand) available where you are? It's a store brand that is so good I did switch supermarkets for it. Anything PC is a win, I especially like all their sauces (curry, bbq, etc).

I see a lot of people recommending Safeway - I like Safeway Select brand too but where I live Safeway is so expensive that even their store brand costs more than national brands at other stores. Just pay attention to prices and don't get caught thinking you are saving money just because it's a store brand.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:07 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kirkland red wine is good.
posted by fshgrl at 8:07 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

In general, I buy "generic" medicine - paracetamol (acetaminophen) instead of Tylenol, ibuprofen instead of Advil, etc. I also buy generic "day/nyquil" and such.

I actually find that "All Free & Clear" laundry detergent is cheaper than generics and much better.

Instead of WalMart Kcups - why don't you get the little insert that lets you put your own coffee in? That seems much more cost-effective.

I personally won't buy generic TP (only Charmin UltraSoft for my bum).
posted by dotgirl at 8:16 PM on November 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Generic cleaning supplies and most OTC medicine brands at Target are excellent. Target brand food? Often pretty disgusting. Tread carefully there.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:25 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have never found a difference in painkillers, cough syrup, and other over-the-counter medications when I've bought the store brand. If you drink soda, try a variety of store brands. They're often less than a third of the Coke or Pepsi price. Butter, from decent grocery stores. Lowe's Foods brand $2.50, Land of Lakes $4.80.

Costco's store brand is often excellent. Trader Joe's, too.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:43 PM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Kirkland (Costco) Shrimp
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:50 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never had a problem with generic versions of popular skincare items.
posted by acidic at 8:57 PM on November 22, 2012

I think most Target brand food is fine.

The Target knock-off of Northern toilet paper seems pretty much identical to me.
posted by belladonna at 9:06 PM on November 22, 2012

Not a store brand, but Malt-o-Meal cereals are way cheaper than their name-brand counterparts and taste exactly the same, or close to. I have a giant bag full of Fruity Pebbles-style cereal that I munch on when I'm really in the mood for over-sweetened crunchy stuff in milk.
posted by xingcat at 9:24 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Food: in general, anything complicated is terrible in generic form, whereas very simple things are equivalent to name brands. Ex: frozen dinners or cereal vs. canned beans or spaghetti

Some generics do make good complicated things, but that's a bit more trial and error to figure out. PC is almost like a name-brand generic and is usually better than the others, and sometimes even better than name brands.

Non food: basic cleaning supplies seem equivalent, but dishwashing detergent is really useless in some generics. Generic TP is awful. Generic bandaids never stay on. Generic medicines have the same active ingredients but the binders can be different which can affect side effects/release/etc - but this is rare enough that the generics are worth a shot.

As a rule of thumb it's usually worth trying the generic once for anything you buy regularly, but not so much for rare luxuries or anything that you really don't want to fail.
posted by randomnity at 9:27 PM on November 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Never buy a generic-brand pressurized spray product!

I speak from experience.
posted by jgirl at 9:46 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wal-Mart's Equate Ultra-Gentle Facial Moisturizer (Oil Free) is as good as Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture for Sensitive Skin, although the pump on the Equate version is more prone to breakage.
posted by neushoorn at 10:04 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Target brand boxed wine surprising doesn't suck.
posted by greta simone at 10:10 PM on November 22, 2012

I've heard that Costco's ORGANIC olive oil is outstanding. Haven't tried it myself.
posted by Dansaman at 10:32 PM on November 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

All my paper type products, garbage bags, and cleaning products I buy the generic store brand. Or, if I am at home depot, check their prices on cleaning products, they are surprisingly very competitive. Kirkland t-shirts and underwear are excellent quality and last for long time. House brand OTC medicines are also a great savings.

Gasoline is also all the same if it is the same octane. Buy the cheapest. If you use higher than regular (87 Octane) consider mixing it yourself. It is what the pump is doing anyway. It is sometimes mispriced whereby if you want 89 octane that costs more than filing up halfway with 87 and the other half with 91. (That will give you a tank full of 89)
posted by AugustWest at 10:59 PM on November 22, 2012

Aldi cheddar flavored rice cakes.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:00 PM on November 22, 2012

+1 on anything above that is Target, but I wanted to add: if you have a checking account and/or debit card, get the Redcard Debit Card. It's just an ETF from your checking account but you save an additional 5% on everything.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:03 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have a pretty good idea of prices at your local stores, take a look at Amazon prices for staple items. We buy a lot of food items from Amazon by necessity, but I've been pleasantly surprised at the prices. It also saves gas and could possibly help you cut down on the frequency of grocery shopping-- which will help you save by limiting the temptation of impulse buys.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:33 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have 2-3 years to work with and want to save money on coffee, make a popcorn roaster. Hunt around at your local roasters and ask if you can buy a large quantity of green beans as they'll last months in your freezer, buy in bulk, then roast as you need.
posted by mannequito at 12:46 AM on November 23, 2012

Consider being Costco members...? Kirkland four cheese ravioli; pesto; garbage bags, Tide-esque detergent... Loads of good stuff there. Also excellent prices on a lot of luxury edibles like pine nuts and artichoke hearts. If you have pets the Kirkland pet foods are for the most part exceptional value, with ingredients far better than the price suggests.
posted by kmennie at 4:29 AM on November 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

My store of first recourse is Aldi, which is all generics, and there's been very little over the years that I've had a problem with, quality-wise. Their $2 frozen pizzas do taste like $2 frozen pizzas, though, and even some of the fancier frozen pizzas were disappointing. I've also been unimpressed by their higher-end salad dressings. My husband likes their version of Kashi fiber twigs better than the real thing.
posted by drlith at 5:10 AM on November 23, 2012

(I will also point out that we've had Costco and Sam's Clubs memberships at various points, and each time we've wound up letting it lapse because while they do have really good prices on luxury grocery items, they have SO MANY of them that we wound up spending more than we otherwise would because of all the delicious-looking and cheaper-but-still-splurgy fancy foods.)
posted by drlith at 5:15 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you have a trader joes around you, but I would say avoid their name brands. Every single time I've tried them I've wound up throwing the remainder of the container/package away. The two items that come to mind immediately are dried pasta and natural peanut butter, but I know that there are several more. I will just not buy their label at all, extremely sub-par.
(Exception for 72% chocolate bar for cooking)

Costco (kirkland) name brands, on the other hand, I would take a risk on buying every time.
posted by newpotato at 5:36 AM on November 23, 2012

One thing I would recommend is to do two things.

1. Read the circulars in your area and buy ONLY what's on sale. This will save you about 50% right there.

2. Combine these deals with coupons and they practically GIVE you the damn groceries.

I started out by subscribing to The Grocery Game, with 4 stores, Walgreens, CVS, Publix and Kroger. Now I just do it on my own. It cost $20 per month and paid for itself many times over.

I'm pretty picky about my food, so saving a shit-ton of money on the consumer products, cleaning supplies, hair color, personal grooming stuff, etc, let's me spend a bit more on high-quality food.

What's great is that I buy the high-quality brands of items that I like, A-1, Hellman's Mayo, Heinz Ketchup, places where I just don't like to compromise, and pay LESS than if I was just randomly picking things up at the store.

Publix and Kroger have great store brands, with my heart going to Publix, because the packaging is adorable. I will always buy their kitchen trash bags, not just because they are excellent quality, but because on each size, is an appropriate sized dog, sniffing in the can on the package. Also, they are a great price.

I spend $100 per week for two humans and two cats for everything we need from the grocery store, that includes food AND non-food items.

I'd say that's pretty good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:13 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my part of the country—Northern New England—I find that Walmart shredded mozzarella cheese tastes better than any brand-name variety. Also, if you like hard candies Walmart has these ones called "Cherry Sours" that I like better than almost any other hard candy I've ever had and which I haven't found other brands for.

I'm usually willing to trust Walmart, Target, and Hannaford generic brands although they aren't always equivalent or superior to brand names. With the generic brands in other stores I brace myself for the possibility of it being crap but on occasion I'm pleasantly surprised.

If you have any Indian markets in your area I would say try buying spices there; I find that around here spices are invariably cheaper and often better quality at Indian markets.

Also, BTW, you can get refillable K-Cups.
posted by XMLicious at 6:22 AM on November 23, 2012

I disagree with newpotato about Trader Joe's - I think their store brand is great for just about everything. I eat their peanut butter all the time and love it.
posted by walla at 6:46 AM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, the Target version of Cascade "ActionPacs" dishwasher detergent packs are horrible. It's definitely worth paying the extra dollar to have your dishes actually get clean.
posted by belladonna at 6:49 AM on November 23, 2012

I've been fine with Kirkland everything except their boxed mac and cheese, which smelled weird and tasted sour and I returned.

Safeway's fancy dark chocolate is good.

Do they still make generic food, a la Repo Man? I liked those potato chips, which were greasy and salty just like Lay's.

I pay for brand name Ny Quil, because the Walgreen's version tastes worse.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:10 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just came to say that refillable k-cups are the way to go if you are trying to save money. K cups are surprisingly expensive.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I try the generic version, and unless I hate it, that's what I buy. Suave shampoo, deodorant, and soaps are fine, store brand canned soup, canned fruit & veg.(peaches, beets and others in winter), oatmeal, applesauce, are fine, etc. Cleaning supplies - dishwasher deterg., glass cleaner, ammonia, bleach, white vinegar, paper towels, etc. Simple, basic products are cheaper, and do a good job. Most paper towels never need to clean industrial waste or be ridiculously strong; generics are fine. I use single ply TP because I'm on a septic system.

The exceptions for me are milk - the local dairy has hormone-free milk, bread - I love artisanal bread, and some frozen goods, like green beans w/ spaetzle, that only come from Birseye.
posted by theora55 at 9:58 AM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

This might sound weird, but the Whole Foods 365 brand is fantastic. It's not as cheap as generic cereal or crackers or sauce at Target or wherever, but if you are looking for food labeled as organic (which also means non-GMO in the US), frozen and canned food, paper products with recycled content, and other slightly more earth-friendly goods, it's a great option. Is it as cheap as generic canned goods at the regular grocery or dollar store? No. Is it equivalent or superior to other organic or less processed options? Yes.
posted by barnone at 12:12 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in non-food options, the monoprice cables and gadgets are WAY cheaper than their brand equivalents and work just as well.
posted by barnone at 12:15 PM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'll second barnone's recommendation of 365 Organics as well as support walla in that Trader Joe's does make some good stuff. My greatest hits at TJ's are the pita chips, various kinds of trail mix, the mediterranean hummus, frozen mixed berry blend (smoothies!), and the unsalted, no sugar added crunchy peanut butter.

I wasn't satisfied with any of the house brand beer, but Two/Three Buck Chuck is passable drinking wine.

Costco also does private label Newman's Own juices that are still 100% juice like regular Newman's Own. Depending on where you live, their meat department is better than most groceries; they will also grind any meat they have for you if you want to make lamb or sirloin burgers, for example. Costco Tire does cheap mounting and installation even if you bring your own tires from Tire Rack et al.
posted by a halcyon day at 1:09 PM on November 23, 2012

Whole Foods 365 is only cheap compared to other things at Whole Foods! Their ketchup is good, though.

As someone pointed out, products from a simple "recipe" like plain pasta should be safe, and we do some of these. But we take some of those savings and spend it on stuff that we eat a lot of, especially organic fruit and Trader Joe's peanut butter & bagels.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:06 PM on November 23, 2012

Figure out what you have to have name brand of. I am picky about shampoo/conditioner due to curly hair with extremely dry dandruffy scalp. There is no generic that works on my hair. My husband has butt length curly hair, I am not buying him generic shampoo either.

Ketchup, dish detergent, chocolate chips, are all other things that I refuse to buy generic. Only because the name brand is better.

Everything else is up for grabs. Most things I have found are just fine in generic.

The things that aren't perfect in generic I weigh. Does it work/taste okay enough for the savings? Ketchup didn't. I like one brand of ketchup only. It isn't worth the savings. Other things like frozen vegetables are fine as generics.

OTC meds are all generics. Lotions, cleansers, etc, all sorts of things of that sort, we buy generic as well.

Research. We have found many of the things we like cheaper somewhere online. I get Kirkland's Zyrtec 365 count for like fifteen dollars on Amazon. We coupon (but not that fake extreme stuff) for things we have to buy name brand. When there was a coupon for buy one, get one on my shampoo/conditioner, I bought coupons, on Ebay, for almost nothing. I have a two year supply of of shampoo.

It takes me about two hours a week to go through, coupon, compare prices, and shop, but I save us about 50% off what our grocery bill used to be.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:00 PM on November 23, 2012

Of course, Trader Joe's is awesome. I've never had anything bad from Trader Joe's.
Safeway has good store brands too, especially Safeway Select, Eating Right, and The Snack Artist. Supervalu (Jewel/Osco here in Chicago) has a Culinary Circle brand that's good. Target has some good things - I love their lunch bowls and freeze-dried fruit!

In general, name brand cereal is a lot better than store brand, though Trader Joe's has some good cereals.

I too buy all my OTC medicines as generics. I buy the Target brand of tampons and contact lens solution. (There is always a HUGE price difference between store brand and name brand contact solution) Paper towels are generally store brand. I do prefer Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper and will pay extra for that - although CVS has a toilet paper that's pretty good.

I've posted this article before, but it's worth posting again: The Best Generic Beauty Products You Should Know About.

By the way, if there's a Safeway near you, you definitely need to check out Just4U and Deal Match on their site. There are some great deals to be had.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:28 PM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Giant's cereals are really good. In fact their mini wheats use cane sugar. I also like their organic brand (natures harvest? Head cold has me muffled) for peanut butter and oatmeal. (the plain store brand has tiny grains, but the organic store brand is often still less than Quaker).
We like both Giant and Safeway's soda waters. Also, I use store brand frozen fruit -- since we mostly use them for smoothies.
posted by Librarygeek at 1:49 PM on November 24, 2012

Save money on your Costco membership by shopping there without one:

Costco is known for their large quantities, cheap prices, and great return policy. They’re also known for their membership fees, which start at $50 a year and can get as high as a hundred (Executive Membership). Did you know that you can shop at a Costco without a membership?

The key is to get a Costco Cash Card, which is their gift card. If you have the Costco Cash card, you don’t need a membership. The gift card lets you go into the store and buy anything you want. You’ll need to use the cash card to pay for your purchases and, if it doesn’t have enough on it, you can use cash or debit card to pay for the rest.

The downside to this strategy is you can’t buy a new card or reload the card without a membership. You’ll have to find a Costco card-carrying friend to buy them for you and the minimum is $10. If you don’t know anyone, you can always try to buy the cards off Craigslist or eBay, but proceed with caution.

Oh, and if all you want is some alcohol, you don’t need a membership to buy booze in certain states.

posted by QuakerMel at 4:35 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all fantastic pieces of information - thanks!
posted by Fig at 10:37 AM on November 26, 2012

* Costco is the best place to buy Ibuprofen, vitamins, etc. They can be an order of magnitude less expensive than equivalent name brands in grocery stores. Meat is generally much cheaper at Costco, and organic meat even more so. Costco bacon is excellent and cheap sold in 4 pound quantities.
* Fresh and Easy has some excellent house-branded items. Many are similar to or the same as their Trader Joes counterparts (and are less expensive). F&E shampoo and conditioner are less than $4 for 32 oz, which is an excellent price. If you've got guys in the house, but it for them. They don't care. Fresh and Easy California Olive Oil is really great. F&E lunch meat can be half the cost of regular supermarket lunch meat and is the same thing. Fresh and Easy fresh squeezed orange juice is really great and often half the price of equivalent name-brand OJ. F&E sells organic ketchup that DOES NOT HAVE CORN SYRUP.
* Tide can cost as much as 33 cents per load. All and Sun can be had for 10 cents per load. Tide works better, but not triple the price better.
* Dorco (buy online) makes great men's and women's razors for as little as 1/4 the price you pay for Gillette and other name brand razors. (The 50 cent Dorco three blade is better than my old $1.80 Gillette Sensor Excel.)
* Straight Talk resells AT&T cell phone service for $46 per month. I was paying over $80 for the same service. TMobile also has low price plans. Virgin Mobile and Ting resell Sprint service for very little money. Don't buy a subsidized phone and get locked into a huge bill. Pay up front for an unlocked phone and save hundreds over the next two years, more if you keep the phone for a longer amount of time.
* Some people only need Ivory or Lever 2000 soap. Lever 2000 can be had for 60 cents per bar on Amazon. Dove is $1.20.
* Depending on where you live, farmer's markets can be significantly less expensive than grocery stores.
* Use an app like Fuel Finder to save on gas. There are two gas stations in my neighborhood that are five blocks apart. One charges as much as 40 cents per gallon more than the other.
* Figure out what TV shows you actually watch, whether you can get them on Netflix/Hulu/iTunes and calculate the cost of purchasing them all separately and dropping your cable to basic (or getting rid of it altogether). Most people pay $60 to $120 per month for cable service, and most TV shows are $40 per current season (or so). You can probably pay for a couple dozen season passes for shows (which, if they're weekly, might be 40 episodes per month) for less than your current cable bill.

More probably, but that's all that comes to mind at the moment.
posted by cnc at 1:17 PM on November 29, 2012

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