How to shop smart on a pension

Many of us have favourite brands, but that loyalty may be costing you – especially when you consider that the following 15 items are almost as good – often the same – in terms of quality as branded versions.

So why be loyal to a brand when you can save big bucks by buying these generic options?

1. Water
While Australia’s tap water is some of the best (if not the best) in the world, some people insist on buying bottled water. If you’re not prepared to save the planet from plastic, you may as well save money on your purchase – and generic bottled water is often as good as any of the big brands.

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2. Medicine
Of course, some medicines are only available in branded form, but for common medications, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin, and even many prescription drugs, you can save by choosing generic. If it’s a prescription drug, usually your doctor or pharmacist will ask if you are comfortable with the generic product, and it’s a good idea to say yes. And you don’t need to be concerned if the generic product will be less effective. Australia has very strict laws about generic medicine.

3. Milk
Generic milk comes from the same source as branded milk, so …

4. Sunscreen
If sunscreen has a rating from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), then you can believe it.

5. Spices and seasonings
Dried spices and seasonings are pretty much the same, no matter the branding on the packaging. You can either buy generic branded spices, or head to a whole foods retailer or wholesaler to buy unbranded herbs, spices and seasonings. That’s where the chefs get them!

6. Frozen fruits and vegetables
If you’re using frozen vegies as a filler, for baking or for stews and pies, go generic. The same goes for frozen fruit – often they’re snap frozen in a fresher state than items you’ll buy in the fresh produce aisle.

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7. Canned vegies and beans
Some canned baked beans will taste a bit bland, as can generic tinned tomatoes. But, by and large, generic canned goods are every bit as good as branded tins.

8. Plastic wrap and aluminium foil
Now, this one I don’t completely agree with. Generic plastic wrap can often be thin and not too ‘sticky’. Some generic tin foil is also very flimsy and buying the better version can be more cost effective. But if you rarely use it, generic versions will suffice and will save you money in the long run.

9. Baking and cooking supplies
Many chefs will settle for cheaper generic cooking supplies, such as baking mixes, baking soda, powdered sugar, brown sugar and baking paper. If it’s good enough for them, chances are, it’s good enough for you, too. I challenge anyone to tell the difference between generic flour and branded flour once it’s baked into a cake.

10. Snack foods
Many generic snack foods aren’t far removed in flavour and quality from their branded counterparts. Spreads and dips, dried fruit, pickles, olives, nuts and some sweet and dried biscuits are way cheaper in store-branded form, so do yourself a favour and save.

11. Cleaning products
While you may have a favourite brand of cleaner, many generic versions will do the job just as well. And if the generic packaging is the same or very similar to the branded product, it’s often been produced by the same manufacturer.

12. Personal-care products
Hair products, cleansers and moisturisers can cost a fortune, but there are good quality generic versions out there at a fraction of the cost. And there are plenty of ‘supermarket’ line cosmetics and skincare products that represent significant savings on products bought at the beauty counters.

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13. Petrol
A US study revealed that there’s very little difference in fuel quality from ‘cheap’ petrol stations compared to branded outlets. Just make sure you get the right octane level for your vehicle.

RACV vehicle engineering manager Michael Case says while many cars must run on high-performance fuels, some merely ‘benefit’ from the more expensive options.

“If a manufacturer specifies using 95 or 98 then car owners must use premium petrol or risk engine damage,” he says.

“The key to knowing what to use is the owner’s manual – it might ‘suggest’ using 95 because it may improve performance but also state that it is also safe to use 91. Then it’s up to you.”

14. Cereal
It’s worth trying out generic versions of your favourite cereals. Chances are you’ll find one you like for much less than you’ll pay for your branded box. Try Aldi’s range – the packaging should be your guide to which product they are imitating. It may even pay to mix your old brand with the cheaper version for a smooth transition.

15. Soft drinks and mixers
While recipes for branded soft drinks vary (see Coke versus Pepsi), other soft drinks and mixers such as mineral water, soda water, flavoured mineral water and flavoured drinks can taste just as good as big brands, only the generic ones are much cheaper.

16. Rice

When I was growing up there was brown rice and white rice, but now you could easily find six or seven varieties in even the humblest supermarket. Whatever you prefer, you will be able to find the generic version, and once again, once it’s cooked, can you really taste the difference?

Do you know of any high-quality generic products that are equal to or better than branded versions? Why not share your tips with our members?


  1. Leon, i already do try to get best value for my dollars, –ALWAYS HAVE.
    BUT still what needs to improve , -( and the government defiantly refuse to do it) is the fortnightly amount of the pension.
    with $1,242.70 ( all supplements included) a fortnight– but take out $520 a fortnight for rent,
    All other cost`s have to come out of the balance. –ie- car insurance, petrol, car maintenance/repairs,
    medical expenses, pet food and treatment, clothes, shoes, power, gas, water ,groceries
    And prices of everything are constantly increasing .-
    And unlike a lot of others ( it seems) i don`t have super or any other money to fall back on.
    The increases we DO get when we get them ( i`m including all other pensioners that are in the same situation) -might be $19 or $32 , way too little and way too late.

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