Meal Planing & Cheap Recipes

A Foodie’s Guide to Buying Generic Groceries

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Are you trying to cut down your grocery budget?  One of the easiest ways to do this is to switch from brand name foods to generic or store brand.  It doesn’t require meal planning, and it is a change you can make as soon as your next grocery trip. 

Buying generic can save you as much as $20 a grocery trip, and even more if you shop the sales and carefully meal plan.  The problem is, not all off-brand foods are comparable to the brand-names.  If you are a foodie like me and my husband, it really makes a difference to have food that you actually like to eat.

Believe it or not, I grew up eating only brand name food and snacks.  So it was a big transition for me when my husband and I cut our expenses down and started buying generic grocery products.  I want to be genuine with you about my experience, and share the truth about which things you can get away with buying generic, what things are “close enough” to be worth the savings, and which items you really should cough up for the brand name version. 

Exactly the same as the brand names…

There are many generic brand foods that taste exactly the same as the brand-names.  In some cases, they are even made in the same place and the only difference is the marketing.  There is no difference in taste or quality, so save your money and ALWAYS buy these items off-brand to save some serious cash without noticing a difference.  Notice that most of the things on this list are staples that are the building blocks of cooking at home.  This is the key to being a happy foodie on a budget—buy generic and make it at home!

  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Half and half
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Boxed Pasta
  • Spices
  • Eggs
  • Shredded cheese
  • Sugar
  • Flour
  • Yeast
  • Rice
  • Baby Formula

Close enough…

There are a lot of off-brand items that taste slightly different than the brand names, but they are close enough that the savings are absolutely worth the switch.

  • Yogurt
  • Cream Cheese
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly
  • Pasta sauce
    • Think of generic pasta sauce as a base.  Add your own spices and roasted garlic to make pasta night delicious.
  • Chips
  • Hand soap
  • Meat
    • The biggest difference I have found is in sausage and bacon.  I tend to buy brand name if I am serving this on its own, and generic if I am putting it in a recipe.  For beef cuts, fish, chicken, and pork, I buy whatever looks good and is on sale.
  • Sliced bread
    • For a real treat, buy a loaf from the bakery instead of the bread aisle.
  • Frozen Pizza
    • As a foodie, this is hard to admit, but on busy nights we get frozen pizza instead of making it ourselves. Generic frozen pizza is surprisingly good compared to the brand names—in fact, we actually prefer Food Lion pizza to Digiorno!
  • Some cereals
  • Coffee

Not even close.  

No matter how many off-brand versions of the following foods and grocery items I try, it just isn’t the same as the brand names.  Instead of wasting money on the generic versions I don’t want to eat or use, I splurge on the brand names for these.

  • Cookies and processed snacks
    • If you are craving Goldfish, just buy Goldfish.
  • Spice Blends – Pumpkin Pie Spice, etc.
    • We make our own marinades and rubs at home, but I have never been able to recreate McCormick Pumpkin Pie spice or any of Emeril’s blends.
  • Sriracha
  • Toiletries
    • Shampoo and conditioner
    • Cosmetics
    • Deodorant

Making the switch from brand-name groceries to generic will pay off in spades!  Some foods taste exactly the same, some are close enough to be worth the savings and some are not worth purchasing.  As you get into the habit of choosing generic, you will find out for yourself what things you really like and if there are particular items that you really prefer the brand name.  

What brand names can you not live without? Do you prefer the generic version of certain foods?  Let me know in the comments.

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