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Students Comparison Shop for Generics and Save Big!

comparison shopDoes your child ever groan when you buy generic brands at the grocery store? That’s what happened recently on one of my shopping trips. I was trying to comparison shop when I reached for the generic brand peanut butter.

“Dad, do we have to get that?” whined my 12-year-old daughter. “We always get Jif.”

“You don’t even eat a lot of peanut butter,” I replied. “Besides, your sister is the peanut butter connoisseur of the house. Let’s test it out and see what she thinks.”

Much to her chagrin, her five-year old sister loved it! Oh, did I mention our food budget also liked it?  There’s a $1.80 difference between comparable jars of Publix peanut butter and Jif and a $2.50 difference between the Publix brand and Skippy or Peter Pan.

This led me to do some field research on food prices, using my high school personal finance class as data collectors. I gave them a list of about 20 items and asked them to comparison shop the difference between name brands and generics at their local grocery store. They were then to calculate the difference they would save by buying the generic brand.

The result was a real eye opener for them.

Comparison Shop Data: Name Brands vs. Generics

On average, students saved around 15% ($15-20) on the items I had listed for them, while mostly shopping at Publix, Kroger and Wal-Mart. We had a couple students save around $30. At first they didn’t think that sounded like much, but then we started doing some calculations.

I asked them to figure out how much they could save over a ten year period if they were able to reduce their grocery bill by $25 a week buying generics. After a few short seconds doing some basic calculations on their TI-89s, their eyes got real big. “$13,000!” To a high school student, that amount of money is like winning the lottery.

“So, if people know they can save big money by purchasing generics,” I prodded, “why don’t they?”

As if rehearsed, the entire class shouted back at me in unison “TASTE!” As I laughed, they spent the next 30 seconds – as only a high school class can – talking over one another in a frenzied story-telling session, detailing all the generic foods their parents buy that they don’t like to eat.

Taste is probably the #1 reason people don’t purchase generics. That goes for our family as well on some items. However, the quality of generic products seems to have improved greatly since I was a teenager. A quick survey of our kitchen yielded the following food items (besides peanut butter) whose taste does not deter us from purchasing the generic brand:

nuts, syrup, honey, Crispy Rice cereal, cream cheese, string cheese sticks and other sliced cheeses, frozen vegetables, canned green beans, spaghetti, canned mushrooms, pizza sauce, lemon juice, stick butter, yogurt, milk, salsa, canned fruit, pepper (and other spices), vinegars, sugar and flour, rice, cooking oil, baby carrots, French toast sticks, bread crumbs, apple sauce and garlic bread.

However, taste alone is not the only reason people don’t purchase generics. There is also:

Brand Loyalty. The decision to purchase an item is based on what the buyer (or their parents) have always done. Can’t deviate from tradition.

No Comparable Option. My boys like the Low-Sugar Quaker Instant Oatmeal combo pack of peach and strawberry. (They actually mix one peach and one strawberry packet together for breakfast.) That is a pretty specific item that has no option in a generic at our grocery store.

Packaging. This impacts our buying decisions more than we realize. Brand name items are packaged to catch our attention, with color and well thought out graphics. Generic packages look real plain. Subconsciously we associate cheap and boring packaging to mean cheap and boring food product.

Ego. Some people will not stoop to buy what they think is an inferior product because it makes them look bad. “Imagine the horror and shame if the dinner guests found out I served a generic brand. I’d never hear the end of it.”

If you want to save money on the grocery bill, purchasing generics must become a mindset. Comparison shop prices in your store to see how much you could save. Your budget will love it and your taste buds might not revolt like you think.

Simply saving $25 a week over 10 years will foot the bill for a year’s tuition at University of Georgia. Sorry teenager of mine.

Questions: Have you ever chosen to comparison shop generics vs. name brands? What are some other reasons people don’t buy generics? What is the one food item you could never substitute with a generic?

Next Post: Every Job Teaches a Lesson

Prior Post: Can We Ever Step Off the Gas With Our Finances?

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  1. If you want to keep your grocery bill low don’t ever, ever, EVER buy this peanut butter because you’ll be instantly addicted. 🙂


  2. John S @ Frugal Rules says

    I think you hit the nail on the head with brand loyalty and ego. I see it in my parents all the time and it just does not make sense to me. We buy generics all the time and you can save a nice chunk of money over time. There are a few things that we buy the name brand of because of the quality, but overall we largely buy generic.

    • I think it’s a natural human tendency to get locked into things you have always done (brand loyalty) and not think outside the box. And let’s face it…companies have done a great job of branding their product and marketing it to us in ways that make us believe we will be missing out if we don’t purchase it.

  3. I buy generics all of the time. People don’t buy them because the think they are cheaper quality and don’t taste as good, but the blanket this comment on all generics. There are some that don’t taste as good. Many are actually produced npby the brand name companies as private label.

  4. Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce says

    There seems to be some brands that have actual intrinsic value besides advertising labels. Other than these, however, I’m right with you!

  5. We’ve found that the Kroger brand us about as good as any name brand with a few exceptions. My husband still prefers Jif. Kraft singles are much better than the store brand and have much more calcium, and I prefer Silk or Blue Diamond almond milk over store brand. That being said, I almost never buy those brand items unless they are on sale or I have a coupon. Great that you taught your class about grocery savings. They might not do much with it now, but someday, it will come back to them.

    • I was actually a bit surprised at how much they enjoyed the project. Sometimes kids whine about having to do this kind of work, but it seemed to really resonate with them. Hopefully, like you said, it will be something they carry with them into the future.

  6. Holly Johnson says

    My kids don’t know the difference yet =) I know that those days will end eventually but I am enjoying it while it lasts!

  7. My girls haven’t hit their teen years, but they are already becoming more brand conscious. Yikes! 🙂 That was a great exercise for your students. $13k sounds like a great deal of money to me too. Overall many store-brands have really come along ways from when I was kid and improved to the point where the only real difference is price. There is a mix of store-brand/name-brand items in my cart but where I splurge is on buying organic when possible.

    • My cart is really a mixture of store brand/name-brand as well. I was surprised though when I started looking around the kitchen to see how much store brand products we actually had. I’ve never tried the organic food route…sounds like it’s pricier than name-brand? How does its taste compare?

      • I mostly buy organic with fruits and vegetables, which are always higher priced. Some stores carry a limited stock and they look old. 🙂 Whole Foods carries a ton of organic fruit and it’s very fresh, but you do pay a premium for no pesticides. I think the taste is better, but that’s my opinion. There are lists online that list the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” fruits and vegetables, so if you’re on a limited or tight budget, you know which ones you might either want to buy organic or avoid, if possible. My personal opinion, of course.


  1. […] caught my attention with the words “personal finance high school class” as he asked his Students to Comparison Shop for Generics and Save Big as a classroom assignment. A great lesson to teach the young and […]

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