If It’s Expensive It Must Be Better

If It's Expensive, It Must Be Better

Check out any frugal living website and you’ll see that buying generic is the end-all way to go to save money. But is it? What if it’s awful and it gets tossed? How much have you saved buying that product? This doesn’t mean that buying more expensive products is the answer either. A name-brand product is not necessarily better. It might be but it might not.

According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, you can save about 30% per week on the average shopping trip buying generic or store brand products. That’s a significant savings and why wouldn’t everyone do this simple thing to save money?

Sometimes we justify buying more expensive products by telling ourselves that we get what we pay for. With enough thought on it, I’m sure we can convince ourselves of almost anything that will justify our actions. I read an article recently (without the foresight to bookmark it for reference) that stated that buying over the counter medications on sale reduces the effectiveness of the drug. Somehow, paying less translates in our head to lower quality even on identical items. I don’t agree. I feel fortunate when I find something I need on sale when I need it.

Probably the most dangerous position to our budget is telling ourselves that price equals quality to justify a purchase we can’t afford. Then, after spending more than we should have, we adopt a smug attitude and pat ourselves on the back for our shopping savvy. What a trap that thinking is!

If price does equal quality, then when something is in short supply, and the price is higher, it should be of higher quality. How could it? It’s the same item that is suffering some hiccup in supply and demand has increased the price. Yesterday, when the price was lower, it wasn’t a different product. Today, it’s the same product with a different price.

There are some products that you can be assured are as good as national brands because they are regulated. The Food and Drug Administration regulates things like medications, baby formula, and sunscreen. It is assured that these products are identical to the more expensive items next to them on the shelves. No one needs to question the quality and effectiveness of these products because it’s been done for us. Sometimes government intervention is a good thing.

So, what’s the answer about generics? Try them. Try them from different stores. Not all generics are equal. I learned decades ago not to buy the bargain canned tuna. It may be much better now, but it was so bad then (can you say inedible?) that I never bought it again. It’s not worth the savings for me to try it. I’m going to be stubborn on this.

There are some things that I just prefer the national brand. It’s not that the generic is so awful, like the canned tuna. It’s just that I prefer the taste of some products to the generic brands. Peanut butter is one of those products and, surprisingly, oatmeal and oat O’s cereal. Neither of those generic products taste as good to me as the national brand. If I was feeding a family, my attitude might be different and the savings would outweigh my personal tastes.

Where I find little difference is most canned items. Things like canned fruit, tomatoes, beans, and vegetables are close enough to their more expensive counterparts that I buy them almost exclusively. (OK, I have to admit that I rarely buy canned vegetables. I prefer frozen but there are some in my pantry.) I look for the low-salt or low-sugar varieties, and if the generic meets that qualification, it makes its way into the cart.

So, you might ask if there’s a point to all of this? Well, yes. In our pursuit to live well and still save money, generic products can help us along. They can also stop us short. Frugality is a lifestyle and, sometimes, it takes a bit of effort to find the frugal way that works for us. If it doesn’t work, we don’t do it and where are we then? Back to square one? Back to overspending?

Do you buy generics? Be sure to leave a comment.

Show Me the Whey

I’ve been making yogurt for about a year. I like the texture of Greek-style yogurt, so I drain the whey from the mixture. The problem is what to do with the whey. I did try replacing the liquid in a bread machine recipe with the whey. It was OK but not great. The bread was a bit dense.

Somewhere online, I found that whey could be substituted for buttermilk, so I tried this route by making buttermilk biscuits. They were tender and flavorful, so I think this was a success.

Buttermilk Biscuits

  • Servings: 10 biscuits
  • Print

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 cup whey

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F.
Combine dry ingredients in the bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor.
Cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. If using a food processor, pulse until reaching the proper consistency.
Add whey and mix until moistened.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and gently pat the dough until it is approximately 1/2” thick. Fold dough over several times and pat out again until it is 1” thick.
Using a round cutter, cut out biscuits and place on a cookie sheet. For soft-sided biscuits, place the rounds close together.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until light, golden brown.

A Resource Free for the Asking

Vintage Photo of The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress was established in 1800 and is the oldest cultural institution in the United States. It is also the largest library in the world, containing more than 160 million items. This massive collection requires 838 miles of shelf space. Things aren’t static at the Library. Approximately 12,000 items are added daily.

Our local library can’t boast such a huge collection. It’s really very small, but they do provide computers and WiFi for no charge to any library patron.

I have a computer and an internet connection at home. I use them both daily. However, I live beyond any cable company reach so my choices for internet connection are limited and expensive. It’s one of the sacrifices that we make to live in our beautiful forest.

Texas Forest

When I want to do some research, which might require a couple of hours online to do, I head out to my local library. I can chew through my limited monthly allotment of data quickly when I spend that kind of time online. And, forget about watching videos. I’d be over the limit before I could get started.

It’s one of the resources available that requires no additional fees and it’s an important part of stretching our retirement resources. We’re not alone. In a report published in January of this year, done by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, there were 271,146 public access computers in libraries across the US, and those computers were engaged for 340.5 million sessions.

The survey also found that 62% of the responding libraries provided the only free computers and internet access in the community. While I’m thankful for the internet service we have, it is expensive and likely beyond the budget of many in our area. I’ll admit that I envy those who have unlimited, fast internet access and I hope that I will have that in the near future.

For now, it’s a blend of our service at home and that of the library. It works and it saves money. In other words, it’s a frugal choice.

Frugal? That’s Funny

When did being careful with money become the fodder for jokes? How did frugality become defined as cheap? Aren’t we doing ourselves a disservice?

Too many people view being frugal as being a cheapskate. Television programs that showcase people who take the idea to the extreme reinforce that notion. The difference between frugal and cheap couldn’t be more clear. To be cheap is to focus solely on the cost of something. To be frugal is to focus on the value of what is being purchased. Sometimes the least expensive option also provides value, but not always.

I was speaking to a friend about an event that was held in another state and why I decided not to attend. When I added up the costs-the fees, hotel, meals, and airfare-I didn’t see enough value to be derived from attendance. She listened to my reasoning and determined that the reason I didn’t attend was that I couldn’t afford it. That wasn’t true, but she didn’t understand the difference between not having the money and not seeing it as a valuable expenditure.

Determining value is at the heart of frugality. Of course, we do things that save money but that’s only on the surface. I save money by making my own laundry detergent. I’ve also eliminated lingering fragrance on my clothes and I’ve reduced the amount of trash I generate by reducing the packaging that I toss out. For anyone who has to pay by the number of bags of trash they put out each week (luckily, that’s not us), this is a double whammy of savings. There is more value to homemade laundry soap than just saving on the cost of washing and that’s at the heart of frugality.

Returning to my original premise, why is actively saving money not a revered practice?caution

“Economy is the art of making the most of life.”
–George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)–

You would think that those of us who are retired, or close to retirement, would heartily embrace frugality. Alas, it is not always the case.

Baby Boomers are ill-prepared for retirement. According to TD Ameritrade, in their 2012 study Boomers and Retirement, 74% of Boomers are $500k short in their retirement savings accounts. Those who think Social Security will make the difference may be surprised to learn that the average benefit check is slightly more than $1200 per month. No one is going to live large on that. Couple that lack of savings with consumer debt and the picture is even more grim.

Can we blame it all on poor planning? A study done by National Center for Policy Analysis found that 59% of Boomers are providing financial support to their adult children, including providing living expenses, covering medical bills and paying off loans. The stars that lined up to create an economy that made this so prevalent are still being debated, but it is certainly a drain on resources in a time when Boomers need all that they can get.offspring

Many Boomers had parents and grandparents who lived through the depression. There seems to be some idea that we don’t have to employ the lessons in economy that those folks learned. Maybe that explains some of the dismal economic circumstances surrounding our generation. Thrift is a way of life and shouldn’t be reserved only for hard times. It makes those hard times easier to live through and we’ll all be better off.

Perhaps we should be quietly thrifty. Use frugal ways to get out of debt, supplement savings, acquire the money for luxury purchases, become a stay-at-home parent, or retire well. When those who would ridicule frugality notice, let them laugh. Bet they won’t, though. They’ll be asking how you did it.