Don’t Waste Money Buying Brand Names for These Products

Don’t Waste Money Buying Brand Names for These Products
Photo: Brett Hondow, Shutterstock

Shopping for stuff can be fun, but capitalism’s allowance for a proliferation of brands also makes it quite stressful. Our stores and online platforms are stuffed with brands — no matter what it is you want to buy, there are literally hundreds of brands out there to choose from. Some you’ve heard of, some seem obviously sketchy, and some are mysteries, but in most product categories there’s what you would consider a “premium” brand. These are well-known products from an established company that presumably offers top-notch quality when compared to other offerings. But premium brands tend to establish themselves through marketing more than actual performance. Generic or “store brands” started off as the sad, cheaper alternatives, but have actually glowed up quite a bit in recent years. Those store brands are big money, and grocery chains are investing heavily in them.

Of course, just because a “generic” brand might be as good as a premium brand on a basic ingredients level doesn’t necessarily mean buying premium is always a waste of time and while many over-the-counter or even prescription medications are essentially the same as the premium brands, they do often use lower-quality fillers and binders that can have an effect on your experience with them — and that experience is sometimes worth money. There are, however, some products that are literally the same no matter how much money you spend on them or how fancy the branding is. For these products, paying extra for a premium brand is a waste of time. Here are the products you should never bother paying a premium for.

HDMI cables

These days, HDMI cables are as essential to modern life as coffee and oxygen. Everything from your streaming entertainment to your home computer to your video game system probably requires an HDMI cable to deliver stuff to your eyeballs, and there are plenty of companies that are more than happy to flat-out lie to you about their “premium” HDMI cables. Gold-plated? Must be better — it’s gold, after all.

The fact is, HDMI cables are all pretty much the same, and you won’t improve your digital experience buying a fancy set. Go with those Amazon Basics and spend that extra money on something that really matters, like a bottle of Goldschläger. Must be good — it’s got gold in it, after all.

Petrol

Petrol is petrol, regardless of where you buy it. There are different grades of gasoline, yes (although that also doesn’t matter much, as you should pretty much always buy regular instead of premium), but the brand of petrol is pretty irrelevant. It’s literally the same combustible compound no matter who is selling it to you, or what kind of marketing they slap on top of it. That means you’re always better off comparison shopping for the lowest price per gallon or valuing convenience over branding.

Milk

Like petrol, milk is … milk. There are different varieties (whole, skim, etc.) that you might have a preference for, but when choosing a carton of milk, it simply doesn’t matter what the brand is. Milk is generally produced at large regional dairies, and then packaged into different brands and shipped to stores. In other words, almost all the milk in your grocery store comes from the same sources, and is essentially the same. Go ahead and buy the cheapest milk you can find. The extra cost of the premium brands has more to do with their packaging and advertising costs than anything else.

Baking supplies

You might think that when making a cake or a batch of cookies for your loved ones, the brand of your mix or baking powder matters. You don’t want to serve someone cut-rate baked goods, right? Well, no — but the brand of your ingredients doesn’t make a difference there. Most of your baking basics will be exactly the same no matter how much you spend on them or what the brand is. In fact, professional chefs tend to purchase generic baking mix, baking powder, and sugar for their creations because they know that there’s simply zero variation between the brands. If you serve a bad cupcake, it’s because of your baking, not your generic ingredients.

Spices

Take a moment to contemplate salt. Fundamental to civilisation, salt is simply sodium chloride. It’s abundant and necessary to our health. There are different kinds of salt, but salt is so basic there’s simply zero difference between brands. It’s all just sodium chloride. Whether you’re buying table salt or sea salt, just get the cheapest brand you can find. The same goes for almost every spice in your rack: If you can find a generic version, or a competing brand that sells for a lower price, go for it. You won’t notice any difference because there isn’t any difference.

Bleach

Bleach has become one of those products that is so closely associated with specific brands we tend to think of them interchangeably, but bleaches are chemical compounds (usually involving sodium or calcium hypochlorite) and, as such, are all essentially the same. Whether you’re whitening your clothes or trying to clean your bathroom tile, it literally doesn’t matter how much you paid for the bleach you’re using.

The one aspect of your bleach purchasing decision that might make a difference is the packaging. Name brands like Chlorox put a little extra effort into their bottles, designing them to reduce splashing or spillage, which might justify some extra money. But the stuff inside the bottle? It doesn’t matter. Buy a premium bottle once, if you must, and refill it with the cheaper stuff when you run out.

Water

Ah, branded water: The greatest scam ever perpetrated on mankind. Water is such a basic substance it literally falls from the skies on a regular basis, and yet somehow corporations have convinced us that some water is better, somehow, and thus worth our money. If you’re talking about water with something added to it, like a flavoring or vitamins, then maybe you are justified in paying more for that brand (though not really). If you’re just buying water, however, it doesn’t matter what kind you buy. It’s water.

To be fair, mineral water is a real thing, and there are some minor benefits to drinking it as it can deliver, you know, minerals that your body uses. That doesn’t mean mineral water is necessary, but you’re not crazy if you choose to drink it. In that case, brand does matter a little, as different mineral waters have different formulations. Yes, the quality of tap water varies, and bottled water has its place in our lives — but unless you’re seeking mineral water, once you’re in the store, just buy the cheapest water you can find.

Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a classic product that seems like you get what you pay for. That’s because most folks aren’t aware that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates sunscreens like a drug. That means that all sunscreens meet the same standards — and they basically use all the same ingredients. While the type of sunscreen you use (in terms of SPF and other characteristics, like water resistance) matters, the brand you buy doesn’t. In fact, most store-brand sunscreens perform as well as their name-brand counterparts.

You’re allowed to have your brand preferences, of course. It’s your money, so you do you, but with these specific products there’s simply no advantage to spending more.

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