What Will You (and Won’t You) Buy Generic?

Foil It’s a common money-saving mantra: “Try generic,” the experts say. “You might like it.” If you avert your gaze from the more-expensive eye-level shelves at the grocery store, you’ll notice these products hanging out meekly above and below—store brand, not nearly as pretty, but definitely cheaper. At the drugstore, I find them sitting right next to the name-brand products they’re competing against. “Pick me!” they seem to say. “I’ve got the exact same active ingredients!”

I try to buy generic when I can, but I’ve found that for some items, the product just isn’t the same. For instance, I used to buy generic paper towels until I found myself pushing water around my kitchen counter with the store brand—they just didn’t seem to absorb any liquid. (Who knew?) And when it comes to the anti-aging, crazy-SPF lotion that I use on my face, I buy name brand. But many of my household cleaners, vitamins, and over-the-counter pain medications are generic. As is my aluminum foil.

Where do you draw the line? When must you absolutely have the name-brand product, and when doesn’t it matter to you?