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Sometimes Saving Money Isn’t Worth It – Items I Refuse To Buy Generic

December 15, 2010 · 85 comments

in Personal Finance

My daughter baked cookies the other day, and while her cookies are usually fabulous, these ones had a little ‘taste’ I was not familiar with.  Of course, I didn’t say a word to her as she is a very good baker/cook.  So I thought about it, “what could be different”?

I reviewed the ingredients in my mind, and a light went off.  I had run out of vanilla, and I bought Kroger Brand Imitation Vanilla Flavor a couple weeks ago.  It was a great deal – just $1.99 for a rather large bottle.  (As opposed to $8.00 for a smaller bottle.)  Could the vanilla have caused the new funky flavor?

Well, today my daughter baked cookie batch number two, except this time, with the new and improved ‘real’ vanilla I purchased earlier in the day.  I took a bite, and my old cookies were back!

The impact of the cruddy vanilla caused me to think about all the items that I refuse to buy generic for.  My list (which now includes vanilla) is as follows:

  1. Dryer sheets.  I bought a generic brand dryer sheet once, and my youngest son ended up with a huge rash.  I rewashed all the clothes, and the rash was gone a few days later.
  2. Laundry Soap.  Some of the cheaper brands are just plain bad for your washing machine.  Same is true for dishwasher detergent.
  3. Meat. Although it isn’t slapped with a ‘generic’ label, I only buy highest-quality meats.  I have bought some pretty scary pork tenderloin and chicken with a ‘value’ label.  Never again.
  4. Salad dressings.  I am very particular about my dressings, and I can’t stand any flavor variance.
  5. Pop.  I don’t buy much soda, but when I do, I go with the old standbys of Coke or Sprite.  Meijer brand pop brings back memories of being broke in college and eating frozen pizza and drinking generic pop.  Not to mention pop is almost always on sale and not super-expensive in the first place.
  6. Shredded cheese.  I will buy store-brand block cheese, but the generic shredded cheese doesn’t seem to taste or melt correctly to me.
  7. Chocolate chips.  This was a purchase that was definitely not worth the savings to me.  The chips were cheaper, but I would have been better off leaving them out altogether.
  8. Tissue.  We were out of town and stopped at Aldi for their version of Kleenex, and they were super thin and scratchy.  No more ‘Clarissa’s’ for us.  (That is their store brand tissue.)

Believe me, I am all for saving money, but even I have my limits!  Are there items you refuse to buy generic?

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos December 15, 2010 at 6:20 am

With Meats and Soda no doubt, generic brands are anybody’s guess. We’ve experimented with items purchased at Aldi, where just about every product in the store is generic, and have gradually crossed items off our list after disappointing results. In addition to your list, consider:
– bulk coffee
– tuna
– tea
– peanut butter
– Ice Cream


Just Heather December 15, 2010 at 7:33 pm

It’s always interesting to see people’s lists. I’m big on high quality meats, and I’m particular about condiments. But, the hubby actually prefers generic soda & ice cream. And, we’re not picky about peanut butter, but the only generic we’ve ever bought is Kroger. That’s Kroger, *not* Kroger Value. Every Kroger Value item I’ve ever bought is just plain crap.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 7:47 pm

You are so right about Kroger Value. I see Kroger Value meat and I run away as fast as possible.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Oh my gosh, you mentioning Aldi reminds me of my worst tissue-buying experience ever. I need to add that to the list immediately!


Deidre Lin December 15, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Oh boy…Aldi! I remember them too. wow!


Kris December 15, 2010 at 8:46 pm

I just added Aldi tissue to my list!


Andrew @ 101 Centavos December 16, 2010 at 6:53 pm

In mild defense of Aldi: although there are many items that just don’t pass the quality test (tissue certainly being one), there is much that is just as good a value as store brands at Kroger’s, Giant, Albertsons or any other big chain, and more economical to boot. Bagels, wheat bread, canned goods, flour, sugar, raisins, pretzels, nuts… the list is long.


Kris December 16, 2010 at 9:08 pm

I know people that LOVE Aldi. Unfortunately for Aldi, the only time I ever went there was to buy tissue, and it was probably their worst product.


alex February 14, 2011 at 6:44 am

Coffee is definately on my list. I’m not a big drinker of coffee, but when I do have it, I am very fussy about it…

Tee on the other hand… No actually, that has to be expensive too. 🙂


Money Reasons December 15, 2010 at 6:46 am

Actually, I’m mostly avoid generic except in a few cases.

The cases are tissue and trash bags. And even then with the trash bags we only use them for light loads of trash (they rip easy or use to).


Kris December 15, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I have to differ with you here MR. Generic ‘Kleenex’ is the worst! (At least to me.)


DoNotWait December 15, 2010 at 8:20 am

We don’t really drink pop, but I agree with you about the meat, the laundry soap, the salad dressings and the shredded cheese. I also add cookies, peanut butter and basically all dairy products (cheese, yogurt, ice cream…) except for butter. I don’t see the difference in butter, although we almost always buy the same one.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 7:49 pm

I only use Fleishmann’s margarine (in the stick) for my baking. It seems to work the best for me. I don’t really buy cookies as I love to bake.

I wonder if butter is the same in general?


DoNotWait December 16, 2010 at 7:59 am

Well, I only bought 2-3 butter brand names in my life! But they all tasted the same to me, maybe cause we don’t use it that much. Only to bake and sometimes to grill meat and vegetables. And yes, baked cookies taste much better!


Kris December 16, 2010 at 9:51 am

I did find I prefer salted butter/margarine over unsalted, but that is about the only difference I have noticed in taste. But there can be a huge difference in how things turn out during baking.


DoNotWait December 16, 2010 at 10:08 am

I prefer salted butter too because we just do not salt anything else (except in some bakings… it seems baking is always different)! You’re right, it does taste different (and better if I am concerned!).


The Grouch December 15, 2010 at 8:24 am

Hard to disagree with you. Sometimes the drop off in quality with generics just isn’t worth saving the pennies, nickels and dimes.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Biz – it totally isn’t worth it to me. Even when broke, I had a hard time buying generic. I would much rather use a coupon to get the prices the same.


Nicole December 15, 2010 at 8:46 am

DH just made a bunch of vanilla from vodka and vanilla beans. It’s even better than the specialty madagascar and tahitian we usually get!

I can’t do dryer sheets at all. Or soda (though we’ve gotten some Knudson fruit sparklers).

There’s a lot of stuff we don’t do generic in food… if there’s a particular brand I like we go with that brand because often there isn’t a generic substitute. If the generic is just as good, we’ll get that. If DH quits his job then we will have to re-evaluate our frufru eating habits, but it’s worth the extra, say, thousand or two each year to us (that estimate is including our fancy cheese habits).


Kris December 15, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Nicole, I never even tried to make vanilla before. You need to post that recipe.

What do you use in place of dryer sheets? I use vinegar as fabric softener and I have tried using tennis balls in the dryer. But I still end up with some static.

I agree, I would rather pay the extra to eat things of higher quality.


Nicole December 15, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I just live with static? I dunno, we don’t get a ton of static, just the occasional sock or diaper insert stuck to boxers or my pajama bottoms.

DH got the vanilla recipe online and the vanilla in bulk from ebay. Our pantry still smells nice.


Lola December 15, 2010 at 10:04 am

I’m with you on a lot of the items, although I’ve never had any issue with any kind of dryer sheets. I used to buy the 50 # buckets of store-brand laundry detergent from Sam’s back when I had kids at home, and it did pretty well in my washer. I have come to love liquid laundry detergent, however, and only use that these days.

You are quite right about the vanilla, however – never, ever buy generic and/or imitation extracts!

About the only thing I would add is that I really prefer cutting up carrot sticks rather than buying the so-called baby carrots. The baby carrots are just too dry and machined for my taste.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Lola – Don’t you love cutting up your own carrots? I don’t buy the baby carrots anymore myself. It is scary how they seem to get a little slimy so quickly.

I am incredibly sensitive to scents, so I have to buy ‘free’ everything, laundry soap, sheets, just about everything.


Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog December 15, 2010 at 10:12 am

I totally agree with this. There are some things that just do not taste the same. I almost never drink soda, but when I do, i’ll only drink coke – the imitations (even pepsi) I cant stand. As for the vanilla and the laundry soap you can make those at home (and the salad dressing). As for the cheese, would you hand grade your store bought cheese and use that?


Kris December 15, 2010 at 7:54 pm

I so much prefer Coke over Pepsi too!

I do like to hand grate my cheese, but sometimes I am super-short on time and so I buy Sargento for those occasions.


Roshawn @ Watson Inc December 15, 2010 at 10:18 am

I am completely with you on items 3-5. I cannot stand generic pop/soda. It never tastes quite “right.” Being that I eat a salad on most days of the week, I only buy particular salad dressings. If I deviate, it’s usually something very exotic but not generic. I think it was hard enough to develop the habit of eating salads in the first place. The last thing I need is to try save a buck at the risk of ruining it.

Generic meats…. no!!!!!


Kris December 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm

That is great you eat salad most days. I wish I did. I love having some spinach leaves and mandarin oranges with a little raspberry vinegarette.


MoneyCone December 15, 2010 at 11:03 am

Swiffer! The knock-offs are really bad – learnt it the hard way.

Same here on soda – nothing tastes like the ‘real thing’!


Kris December 15, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I didn’t even know there was generic Swiffers! I haven’t had much luck with Swiffers though. We have a ton of hard wood, and we usually vacuum.

What happened with your cruddy swiffers?


Moneycone December 18, 2010 at 7:18 am

The generic brand simply spreads dust around! Was real cheap though!


Squirrelers December 15, 2010 at 6:14 pm

For me, certain dairy is on the list of brand only. I have tried generic yogurt, and even sour cream, and have found that they did not taste as good and also had an aftertaste. While some brands may be overrated, sometimes you really do have to go with the brands you like.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I have always been afraid to try generic dairy for the very reasons you mentioned. However, I couldn’t really list it since I hadn’t really experienced it though.

I hate after-tastes. You think everything is ok, then it hits you…


Deidre Lin December 15, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Great post! I found myself agreeing with all of your points. Vanilla especially! I cannot stand having cruddy vanilla…it does make a difference.

Maybe I’m too finicky but when I sometimes do try the generics, I end up trashing them and going back to what I love.

One particular time I remember quite vividly because I actually took the meat back to the store and demanded that the meat manager give me my money back because it was so awful! Finally, after a few minutes of arguing my point to no avail; I asked him point blank whether he would allow his mother to buy the sub-quality meat. He blinked a couple of times in response and then looked ashamed & gave me my money back with no further questions.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Great question Deidre! When in doubt, I always toss the meat. I should take it back, but it seems I am always running out to get pizza instead!


Deidre Lin December 15, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Yes, that is exactly what I would do now-a-days if I wasn’t on my diet (I’ve lost 30+ lbs in 60 days so no way I’m gonna mess that up LOL!) 😉 When this happened it was years ago and the budget just didn’t call for anything else but taking it back.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Wow, 30 pounds in 60 days, that is amazing! You are better off to just have a smoothie for dinner than to jump off the great diet!


Linda December 15, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Dryer sheets — I don’t use them. I don’t use any fabric softener at all and I don’t have a problem with static cling. Maybe that’s because I hang my clothes to dry? (Except for sheets and towels; those get dried in the dryer without fabric softener and they don’t get static either…hmmmm…)

Laundry soap — I have an HE machine so I use the store brand, non-scented HE detergent. I’ve used store brand laundry soap for years and have never noticed any cleaning issues. But I’m not washing laundry from children or adult activities that are very messy, either.

Meat — I’ve never heard of generic meat. Really?! Maybe I’m not understanding what “generic” means here. I buy meat from major chain grocery store at times, but I’m just as likely to buy cuts from small local markets, too. It depends on what I plan to use the meat for and what the price is. I usually buy sale cuts and then freeze them in small packages for meal prep. But most of my animal protein purchases are things like chicken thighs, pork chops, lamb shanks, and beef stew meat. I’m lucky to still have some high quality meat in the freezer from friends who raised their own animals: duck, rabbit, and pork. Oh, plus the venison my dad gifted me. 🙂

Salad dressings — I so vastly prefer my own vinaigrettes that I haven’t bought salad dressing in years. I am caught out when guests are over and want bottled salad dressing ’cause I have nothing to offer them.

Pop — I only buy that for guests since I don’t drink it. I buy name brands, though.

Shredded cheese — I don’t use much, so I just hand grate what I need from a hunk. I consider it a treat to use pre-shredded cheese mainly because I don’t plan ahead enough to have it for recipes. 😉

I can’t say I buy a lot of “generic” stuff since I don’t buy a lot of prepared and packaged stuff. I’m sort of a “whole food” nut who likes to prep food from scratch most of the time and eat things made strictly from ingredients I can understand in other circumstances. I do buy store brands of pantry essentials like dried and canned beans, frozen veggies (like peas, corn, etc.), tomato paste, and even chicken broth (if I can find it low sodium/low fat). But I’ll pay premium price for jarred pasta sauce, fancy olives, tea, and coffee. I stock up on whole grain pasta when it’s on sale, and buy certain things like oatmeal and brown rice in bulk.

One thing I’ll *never* buy in “cheap” brands is hard liquor. My body is pretty sensitive to vodka in particular, so I won’t even order a well drink at a bar if it’s made with vodka.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Line-dried sheets sound so nice. Although if I did it now, they would be frozen, stiff sheets covered in snow!

It is great that you prepare so much from scratch. I could never buy generic spaghetti sauce. I also wonder if they put in more preservatives or something to keep the prices lower.

I have a hard time with alcohol too. There are very few types of alcohol I can drink anymore. I don’t even think about trying wine.


Kaycee December 15, 2010 at 10:05 pm

I don’t think it was a “generic” issue. You bought fake/imitation vanilla as opposed to real vanilla. That has NOTHING to do with the brand you bought.


Kris December 15, 2010 at 10:18 pm

It was a combination because it was Kroger Imitation vanilla. Not sure if the brand name imitation vanilla would have been better.


First Gen American December 16, 2010 at 6:51 am

I’m a big foodie and although I’ve tried just about every brand of generic item, I almost always prefer the name brand. Plus, if you wait til the sales name brands are usually the same price or cheaper than generics.

I’ll add one to the list. Generic pasta. I bought some store brand ziti once and it stuck together like crazy, even with oil in the pot.

My whole family also has tons of allergies, so I’m very specific about my bath soap and laundry products.

I’d much rather skimp on clothes and other “STuFF” vs food that we eat 3x/day.

By the way, Sometimes your ads in the lefthand sidebar overlap ontop of your articles instead of staying on the left. Something’s changed in the last week or so.


Kris December 16, 2010 at 10:02 am

Hey Sandy, thanks for the heads up on my left hand column, I will have to look at that. What browser do you use?

I have often wondered if generic pasta was worth it or not. It seemed too risky to try, especially considering pasta isn’t that expensive, especially if you catch it on sale.


Mike- Saving Money Today December 20, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I agree with you about the meat…I only get Perdue chicken breast. My wife came home with store brand because it was an amazing price, but we literally threw half of it away because it was all fat.

For soda, I’m a Coke guy…and no one is taking my Hellman’s mayo away from me!


Kris December 20, 2010 at 10:14 pm

I would take the Hellman’s away from you and replace it with Miracle Whip in a second.

I am with you regarding the Coke. I prefer it way more than Pepsi. I don’t like Diet either.

Fatty chicken – blech.


Angela January 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm

The shredded cheese is kind of funny because I worked at Crystal Farms for two years where we packaged the cheese and the crystal farms brand and generic ones were the exact same cheese we would just stop the machines and change labels. And the shredded and chunk cheese came off the same truck and was the exact same cheese some just put through the shredders, and if chunks would break etc they got thrown into barrels that went over and got shredded. I’m sure most cheese factories are this way.


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