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The Real Thing Vs. The Knockoff

Updated on August 24, 2012

Have you ever been standing there in a grocery store or pharmacy and you’re staring at 2 products that look similar, claiming to have similar effectiveness or taste, and yet one costs $2-3 more (at times even more) than the other? This, people, is what I call the ultimate scam. If you’re one of those people with money to burn and are able to throw caution to the wind and buy whatever you want with no worry about the total once you get up to the counter, then this article isn’t written for you. This is a column for those of us who are watching our budgets almost down to the dollar in nearly everything we do, especially with the cost of everything seeming to skyrocket.

The thing you have to be able to decipher when it comes to the things you know you have to get off the shelf but have a fraternal twin product right next to it that’s offering you the same relief for what’s ailing you, only at a discount, is whether or not you’re paying for just a name brand or are you actually getting a better quality product when you cough over the extra cash. In this day and age when it seems a lot of us would probably just rather grab the least expensive of the two and hit the road. But maybe that’s not always a good thing. I remember as a kid when my mom bought the generic brand of Fruit Loops and it ended up being wasted because we seriously couldn’t eat it, it was just too gross and distasteful. Nothing like the real thing at all. Over the years I’ve tried to eat generic cereals time and again and although I haven’t always found them to be the cardboard tasting bits that turned soggy almost instantly after having the milk hit them in the bowl, I don’t usually go for the huge bulks of the generic brands that most supermarkets have. If the name brand of a cereal is out of my budget, I don’t reach for the knock off, I just don’t bother. Not all foods are like that, of course, but I also don’t try any and everything just because it’s cheap. There are times that I’ve ended up wasting money on food that was cheaper, but ended up being inedible.

A key thing to remember here is, ingredients matter. Don’t be afraid to read turn two boxes over and read what the companies that make them have put into them. Too many people still don’t take the time to just flip the products over that they’re picking up from the shelves to see what they have in them unless it’s for religious, health, or ethical issues. The rest of society seems to assume that whatever is in their food and their products is perfectly okay as long as it’s being sold on the shelves in stores. I personally believe that everyone should at least take a glance at all the things they’re putting into their bodies at one point or another, but checking to see if the cheaper brands have the same things as the name brands to look after the money lining their wallets is at least one good reason for them to check the ingredients.

I’ve noticed in my quest to find the better deal for my bucks that sometimes a missing ingredient or two don’t make all that much difference in the end, at least when it comes to medicine. Take for instance the Dollar General Maximum Strength Menstrual Relief tabs compared to the more expensive Midol Complete. I was skeptical about trying it because I’ve very sensitive to certain medicines, especially from my experience from trying to use Pamprin, in which case it ended up making my menstrual cramps worse and I vowed never to take them again. After reading the DG store brand and then the Midol Complete’s active ingredients and non active ingredients, they were nearly identical. Not only was the DG brand $2 less, but I’d get 16 more pills in the generic brand than I would with the Midol Complete and that sold me on it. In the end, they’re virtually the same. I got the same relief (and caffeine boost) with the knockoff than I did with the regular Midol that I usually bought.

When it comes to soaps I try to avoid using any animal products (ex. Glycerin) and I try to stay away from dyes as well which makes things difficult at times and that’s when choosing between a name brand and generic actually does boil down to not only price, but especially the ingredients. With Dove White bar soaps, there’s no glycerin, but its knockoff does (both at Wal-Mart and Dollar General); but Dove White is also nearly $3 more than the knockoff. It’s not really a perfect system to work from since I’m no scientist and I don’t always know if all the terms they use for the ingredients aren’t made of animals, but that’s what they give you the phone numbers on the back for. Most times, if you’re anything like me and want to make sure you aren’t using certain things in the products you buy, that’s when I call the company and ask the representatives myself. Usually they are friendly and willing to oblige, and you’d be surprised at what you’re eating in some of the pizza sauces and other mundane things you throw into your grocery carts that you normally don’t give a second thought. As far as anymore food goes, I see no difference in the taste of French’s French Fried Onions and the Great Value (Wal-Mart) brand of Fried Onion crisp pieces, and the GV brand is nearly $2 less for the same amount.

I don’t use apple cider vinegar, but it’s in a lot of the mayonnaise brands, cheap and name brand, so depending on the store sometimes I have to buy the more expensive brands, while other times I can go cheaper. As for tomato sauce, I’ve found that cheaper brands from bargain stores (not necessarily generic) sometimes taste better than the more expensive name brands. The brand of tomato sauce that I find in Dollar General, I’ve found tastes way better than Hunt’s. However, ice cream, is one of the few things I tend to splurge on because sometimes the more expensive brands are just better--absolutely delectable. Haagen Daaz costs more for a reason, it’s one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Bluebell, also pretty expensive, is also one of my absolute favorite ice creams. But I also enjoy different/certain brands of the Great Value ice cream and they actually taste better than their counterparts that cost nearly the same amount most of the time.

When it comes to clothes, you’re stepping into a whole other arena when you’re talking quality. For some, it’s all about the designers, or the hip logos so people drool over you with envy or so you can impress them. I’m not a celebrity and I’m not walking any red carpets and people aren’t watching my every wardrobe choice so I don’t personally buy into that hype. Jeans that cost over $500 (even $50) or sunglasses that cost twice as much just seem totally unnecessary to me. A lot of people I grew up around would spend their last dollar trying to keep up with the Joneses in this respect and were virtually living in poverty just so they’d have the latest in fashion. I’ve never agreed with this. The sunglasses that impress people are no longer $40 dollars, but they’re the in their hundreds, sometimes thousands, with labels by Dolce&Gabbana and Chanel. And that doesn’t apply to me in the least. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the appeal of these things, sometimes they’re just prettier, but I prefer classic and comfortable to trendy--and also I enjoy them when they’re not draining my bank account dry. When it comes to fashion, I say if you can’t spring for the real thing, don’t bother, because you’ll only come across as a wannabe anyway.

When it all boils down to it, whether it’s food, clothes, accessories, or medicine, it’s up to you and the limits on your budget to figure out what’s best for you. But you should also have your priorities straight. I wouldn’t be one to skimp on my health or nutrition just so I could buy a name brand handbag or a luxury car.

All you have to do is remember this simple ideology: Be resourceful, not ridiculous. No matter how much money you have, everyone should have a budget, and everyone should watch what they spend.


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