When To Buy Name Brand Products and When You’re Just Buying the Name

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The following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, SK. SK writes about the reasons we get into debt, changing the patterns that get us into debt, and examines small business ownership and real estate investing at her blog, American Debt Project.
Somewhere along the way, I became an expert shopper. I know way too much about sales, price points, aspirational marketing, and what different brands signify. I can’t help analyzing details in every situation, and shopping was a fun way to put my analytical mind to use. Sure, I went overboard with it for a while, but that’s all behind me now. These days, I can simply enjoy finding the best products for the lowest prices, knowing when to bother to comparison shop and understanding that just because it’s on sale, doesn’t mean you have to buy it. 

Here are a few of my best tips to help you decide when you should buy a brand name product and when to skip the fancy packaging that’s housing a product identical to the generic brand.


Sorry, Safeway. But your store brand condiments taste either awful or like nothing at all. When it comes to ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, the biggest names can’t be beat. Give me a bottle of Heinz ketchup and Hellmann’s any day! And, with an item that you don’t need to buy every week, the cost savings would have been negligible.


I don’t know that much about tools, but I know enough not to buy Harbor Freight. This ultra-cheap brand is like the Big Lots of tool companies. Yeah, you can buy a skillsaw for like 1/5th the price of a Makita. But there’s a reason for that. The reason being that it will break down after about the fifth time you use it. Save your money by either renting tools, buying used or buying a durable brand from Sears or your local hardware store.

Over the Counter Drugs

Do you buy Aleve or the private label naproxen sodium tablets that are conveniently located right next to the Aleve tablets? The cost of the name brand medication can sometimes be twice as much. As my pharmacist cousin says, there is no chemical difference between the generic and name-brand medications (and the FDA requires the generic medication to be identical or near-identical to the name brand counterpart), and you are generally paying for the R&D and marketing costs of the brand name when you buy the Tylenol, Advil or other well-known brand.

Diamonds and Fine Jewelry 

If every man and woman simply scrubbed the effect of Cartier and Tiffany advertising from their minds, we’d all be a lot richer (except for the owners and employees of Cartier and Tiffany). Despite my shopping expertise, I knew very little about diamonds and fine jewelry until recently. Now that I am in the happy period of engagement and looking at settings for my diamond, I am floored by the retail markup on diamond jewelry in any store that is brand name, from the high-end Cartier and Tiffany to the lower-end Kay, Zales and Helzberg stores. 

If you go to an independent jeweler, a diamond district, or even better, a jeweler you know or have been referred to, you can find the same pieces for a fraction of the price, and often created with more attention to detail and artwork. You have to know their language from the 4 C’s and the importance of certification, but it will be well worth it in the end to get more for your money and a unique piece that can’t be picked up from just any mall store.  There are also certain online resources (like Pricescope) that will give you a wealth of information to keep you from wasting thousands of dollars.

How about you all? When do you insist on buying name brand and when do you insist on buying the generic stuff?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1411312


    1. I'm with you on just about all fo these. Store brand ketchup is the absolute pits. You're right in that all medicines have to be compounded and formulated to standards, so the label on the bottle means nothing. In fact, my wife refuses to buy any Tylenol brand product simply because they always seem to have some recall going on and the brand has become untrustworthy, so we'll actually buy the drugstore version not even for the thought of price (even though it does work out to be cheaper anyways).

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