When store brands will work just fine

Still The Same - Only Less!

by Rich Finzer

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OK, I need to see a show of hands. How many of you have ever purchased store brands only to be disappointed with the quality or taste? Me, too. Well, how would it be if you could buy store brands every bit as good as the nationally advertised brands and save a bundle (as much as 50+ percent) at the same time? I see most of the same hands are still up. Here goes then.

Table Salt: At discount grocery stores, like Save-A-Lot or Aldi, you can buy a 26-ounce round box of salt for as little as $.39. Or, you could spend twice as much or more for the same size container of salt with that cute little girl and her umbrella on the label. Remember that all table salt (sodium chloride), iodized or not, is the exactly the same no matter who packages it.

Baking Soda: At the discount grocery, a yellow one-pound box of baking soda typically sells for less than $.69. The same size yellow box sporting the muscular bicep on the label retails for around $.89. Just like table salt, all baking soda is the same stuff with the identical chemical composition, sodium bicarbonate. I can't explain why all boxes of baking soda are yellow, but it's probably for the same reason that all window cleaners are blue.

Baking Powder: All double acting baking powders work basically the same way. They contain two types of acid salts, one for room-temperature reaction and another (like calcium aluminum phosphate) for reaction during baking. So you can buy the little red can with Chief Calumet on it, or pick up a can of essentially the same stuff at the discount grocer for about half as much. As an aside, many of the cereal box toys I purchased from Battle Creek, Michigan for two box tops and $.25 were all powered by the CO2 released from baking powder. I must have been 10 or 11 before it dawned on me that baking powder could be used for baking, too!

Aspirin Tablets: Aspirin (salicylic acid) is another specifically defined chemical compound that is the same and works the same regardless of which bottle you shake it from. At the dollar store, a 300 count bottle is a steal at just a buck, as opposed to a 100 count bottle of aspirin sporting those cute little "+" signs, which usually sells for about twice or three times as much. And I doubt that your headache or hangover will care which variety you toss down. A third as many pills for twice as much? If you do the math, that's six times as expensive per pill. Ouch! I don't know about you, but I simply can't "bear" that.

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Butter: You can pick up a one-pound box of butter at most grocers for about $4.29/lb. Or, you could buy the same size box of AA grade butter at the discount grocer for less than three dollars. The funny thing about expensive versus inexpensive butter is that it tastes exactly the same. It should too; it's the exact same stuff.

White Vinegar: Most of us use white vinegar for cleaning the crud out of our coffee makers and other household chores. And most, if not all, white vinegars are made from grain and water. Now you could buy a quart of the stuff made by the pickle guys for about $3.29, or you could buy the same size bottle at the discount grocery for $1.99. I might be wrong, but I'm guessing your coffee maker won't know the difference, but your wallet will.

And there's 2% milk, ordinary flour, five-pounds bags of cane sugar, light bulbs, and heaps of other stuff I honestly can't think of where the "off brands" or store brands are the 100% equivalent of their pricier nationally advertised counterparts.

Will the one-time purchase of any of these items save you enough to buy that villa in Tuscany? Definitely not! But added up over time, buying the same darn thing for heaps less money will save you a pile.

Updated November 2013

Take the Next Step:

  • What other "off brand" or store brand items can you come up with that are 100% equivalent to their pricier national brand counterpart?
  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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