According to a recent Gallup study*, one in ten Americans spends more than $300 a month on food. And the average American family will spend about $151 per week. If one thing is for certain, we need food to survive. With relatively flat wages, increasing housing costs in most major cities and unprecedented student loan debt, we're all looking to save money where we can. Finding less expensive alternatives to everyday purchases can be one of the easiest ways to save.

The biggest difference between brand name and generic items is marketing budgets, not ingredients.

Have you ever caught yourself scanning the generic items at the grocery store wondering just how different the quality is? And what exactly does it mean when something is generic?

Generic products essentially are not manufactured by well-known companies, but commonly have the same chemical composition as well-known brands. I won't say that all items are created equal because in some cases they aren't, but in most cases the ingredients are identical. You can find generic options for most of your favorite everyday items unless the product is new to the market or has a legally protected trade secret that would make it difficult for other companies to replicate. But this is rare thanks to patent expiration dates.

Safe to Buy Generic

There are quite a few commonly accepted items that are safe to buy generic:

  1. Bottled water
    Water is water. Brand-name water has to be one of the biggest gimmicks in history. While the labels of generic options might not be as attractive, I repeat, water is water. Not to mention bottled water is bad for the environment because of the large amount of plastic that goes un-recycled. So if you must buy bottled water for individual consumption, consider buying larger jugs. If you want a cheaper, more eco-friendly option, consider purchasing a faucet filter or water filter pitcher that you can keep in your fridge…or just drink tap water.

  2. Baking Supplies and Spices
    Did you know that the FDA has strict requirements for the ingredients, production, and storage of baking supplies and spices by which all manufacturers must comply? This means that no matter who makes your spices, they're all held to the same standard. This means that they are all pretty much the exact same thing. As a matter of fact, most chefs in major kitchens use generic options when available because it keeps costs down without affecting quality.

  3. Medication
    If you have ever price matched prescription medications you know that generic drugs are significantly less expensive options that get the job done. Over-the-counter generic options are also just as effective as brand name OTC medications. Don't believe me? A 2013 study by the University of Chicago found that doctors and pharmacists almost always purchased the generic version when buying for themselves. Much like the manufacturers of baking supplies and spices, the FDA also holds medication manufacturers to high standards. The active ingredients are typically the same, but the inactive (keyword being inactive), may differ.

  4. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
    These items are often packaged in the same facility and sourced from the same vendors. Stock up on these liberally and save without experiencing a marked difference in quality and flavor. Certain blends or specialty options may not be available in generic options, but you can surely cover your basics for less.

  5. Baby Formula
    Understandably most people want what's best for their child and assume that brand name formula options offer a higher quality product. That is a common misconception. Thanks to the Infant Formula Act of 1980 all manufacturers are held to the same standards, which means the ingredients in Enfamil are essentially the same as the store brand.

The biggest difference between brand name and generic items is marketing budgets, not ingredients. Buying generics can be hit or miss but avoiding them all together could be a costly mistake. What items have you found that are comparable in quality to their brand name counterparts?