What can you do when your grocery bill explodes? You could try extreme couponing, but that takes dedication. Cooking from scratch saves money. But who wants to spend that much time in the kitchen?
Using a simple tool that's easy and can save big bucks every time you push a grocery cart through the store? That sounds like a good option. We're talking about replacing some nationally advertised brands with generic or store brands.
In the 1970s, stores started offering their own brands as a low-cost alternative. By the 90s, grocers were developing products that were as good as—or even better than—name brand products.
Recent Consumer Reports tests show many shoppers prefer the taste of store brands. Plus, the savings can be significant; many times as much as 25 percent. Here are ways to save money with store brands:
Start with paper goods and plastics. There's only so much you can like about a paper towel brand. Disposable products are the easiest ones to introduce to your family.
Compare labels. You're already considering changing brands, making now the perfect time to compare labels. Calorie counts and nutrition can vary significantly between manufacturers. Even if you stick with your old brand, you'll know more about what you're eating.
Contact your favorite brand manufacturer. They may sell the same product under a store label or package a similar product. Call them and ask if they produce other brands. Typically you can find their customer service line on the package or go their website to send them an email.
Set up a taste test. Not all store brands taste the same. Have your family do a blind taste test to decide which brand they like best. You may want to include your current brand to see how it compares.
Add your own flavoring. The difference you taste between brands is often the seasoning they use. Don't be afraid to test some of your own seasoning mixes added to the store-brand product. You'll find plenty of suggestions at online recipe sites.
Be willing to explore a new taste. We tend to like what's familiar, resisting change—but that ties us to the past and prevents personal growth. Break the mold by giving your family the opportunity to try something new.
Don't give up too soon. Since taste is a matter of familiarity, it's possible that you won't like any store brand at first, but give it a couple of tries; your taste buds could learn to appreciate it.
Explore store “premium” brands. Some store brands offer premium choices. They're priced higher than the normal store brand, but typically cheaper than the nationally advertised brand.
Recognize name-brand tricks. Often, ingredients like sugar and salt are added to make products taste better. Some research suggests those additions might not be good for your health. Switching to a store brand might be a healthier choice.
Plan to periodically revisit your choices. New store-brand products are being introduced daily, giving your family ample opportunity to adjust your grocery list and save money.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. The site features thousands of articles on how to save your valuable time and money, including an article on store brands.