What Toothbrush Heads Taught Me About Frugality

frugality, frugal tips, toothbrush shopping
I was faced with a dilemma in the personal hygiene aisle at the nearby Walmart. I was doing my usual Saturday morning grocery shopping and included on the list of things we needed were replacement heads for our electric toothbrushes. I could either buy the Great Value Walmart store brand for $17, or the manufacturer’s heads for $27. Both were a pack of two, and the heads looked identical except for the coloring.

My initial instinct was to save money and go for the store brand. The products looked identical, and even though the manufacturer’s packaging claimed to “remove 2x plaque than store brand heads,” I knew there wasn’t much if any difference in the products as I had purchased and used both types previously.

I have no problem with trying generic or store brand products. If they taste good, or are of good quality, I’ll continue buying them. They’re always worth a try. My wife, on the other hand, isn’t such a fan of generic or store brand products. In fact, she gives me a hard time when she encounters a store brand item in our home.

“Why did you buy the cheap stuff?”


“Why didn’t you buy the REAL stuff?”

are common reactions. Then she quotes the current judge from the television series The People’s Court, “The cheap comes out expensive.”

I was then transported through space and time to my childhood to a memory of grocery shopping with my mom. She had put a box of Red Wagon store brand potato chips into our cart. The thought of sharing store brand potato chips with my friends after school terrified me. My teenaged mind was sure my friends would think we were poor, and would make fun of me. I begged my mom to save me the embarrassment and buy brand name chips. She declined, and I made fun of the chips for the rest of the time we were shopping.

Note: For some reason, this experience has stuck with me into middle age, and have apologized to my mother several times for this behavior.

With a shake of my head I snapped back to reality. I put the package of brand name toothbrush heads into the cart. I wasn’t going to have my wife make fun of me, or my kids be embarrassed by my frugality.

When I got home, I opened the package and installed the new toothbrush heads. Nobody even saw the packaging. I shook my head and wondered why I spent the extra $10 on two toothbrush heads. I had let emotion and image guide my purchasing decisions. In buying the brand name product I had $10 less in my pocket and all I had to show for it was brand name packaging that went directly into the trash.

I wish I had my $10 back.

My wife can give me a hard time all she wants about buying cheaper products. I’ll simply tell her the less I spend on toothbrush heads, the more money we have to do other fun things. I doubt she’ll disagree with that logic.

How about you, Clever Friends, have you ever paid more simply because of the image of buying brand name items?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • I’m generally willing to try store brand or generic products and as long as the quality is reasonable, I’ll stick with them. There are some food brand items that I just can’t resist, as long as the price difference isn’t too great. But if there’s a big price difference, that generally snaps me out of it.

  • My husband has always been a store brand/cheapest available option guy, and when it comes to things like groceries and toothbrushes, I find that the generics are usually fine.

    Where paying for image and brand is important is things that are less disposable or consumable. Shoes are a good example. My husband will try to get me to buy hiking boots from K-Mart or Walmart. Why? They aren’t comfortable, they don’t hold up very well, and they look cheap.

    To quote the Sam Vimes Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness (which needs to be adjusted for today’s prices):
    ” A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

  • You made the right choice!

    Store brand electric toothbrush replacements are terrible! I wound up throwing away an entire package of six, which cost a small fortune, because I forgot about them and they sat in the cabinet for over a year. I used one and hated it and always meant to take the others back but completely forgot. It rattled and was very loud, had really hard, stiff bristles and actually hurt my mouth. Mine were from Target, but I’m guessing they are all probably made at the same place.

  • @Gary – I’m in the same boat as you……I’ve tried plenty of generic/store brands items of poor quality that sent me back to the brand name. I’ve also tried many that are just as good…and some that are even better! It’s all about value, and quality for the price. thanks for reading, Gary!

  • @Emily – Great example, Emily. Just like the quote from the People’s Court – “The cheap comes out expensive.” As consumers we have to analyze quality vs price not only in the short term, but long term as well. Thanks for sharing!

  • @Tracie- Hmmmm, I’ve used the Walmart store brand, and I thought they worked find. It seems to me that a direct comparison of trying them side by side could make a good blog post!

  • As a child, I had the same attitude you did, but as I’ve gotten older, I realize the is often very little difference. Of course, store brands have also improved – the Costco and Trader Joe store brands are almost identical to name brand products.

  • Many many “store brands” are manufactured by the “name brand” companies. S products, different packaging. Potato chips as an example. Costco brand vodka is manufactured in same plant as Grey Goose. Many “cheap” beer brands roll down the same assembly line as “top” brands

  • @Shaun – not sure you interpreted my opinion correctly……when it was all said and done, I wish I had purchased the store brand. I’ll be buying store brand heads from now on!

  • @MFORTGARRY – I found that out when i worked in a cheese processing plant in college. One minute we’re packaging name brand…then a whistle sounds, pretty soon a store band packaging starts coming down the conveyor belt. Same cheese….different packaging!

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