Buying Generic in a Well-To-Do Town

I’ve started buying generic products – food, over the counter medicine, paper goods, etc. – to save money.  We have already noticed the savings after only two weeks.  And much to my surprise, many of the generics are not too bad.

But what surprised me the other day is that in my hometown grocery store – Acme, right around the corner – the generics were largely sold out.  Sure, I could pick from a large supply of name-brand cheese crakers or cereal for an extra two dollars each, but the cost-saving generics were picked-through and nearly gone from the shelves.

I wouldn’t expect this in Doylestown.  Doylestown is known as a nice, upper-middle class town with Victorian homes and a walkable downtown filled with coffee shops, boutiques and a few art galleries.  According to the US Census, five years ago the median home value was $240,000 (that has increased incredibly), and the median household income was $72,965.  By all accounts, this isn’t the kind of town where you’d expect generics to be a hot commodity.

Several years ago there was a best-selling book entitled The Millionare Next Door.  But I wonder if what I saw at the grocery store reflected another reality – that rather than a millionare, next door might live a family that struggles to pay its bills even as it drives the kids to school in an SUV and dresses them in the latest fashions.  Perhaps buying generic saltine crakers and peanut butter doesn’t mean that we’re poor.  But I wonder if some of us in Doylestown are buying generic products to consume at home – personally, privately, behind closed doors – so that we can keep up with the Jones’ with those things easily seen and evaluated by our neighbors and peers – house, car, clothes, etc..

With the savings rate – the percentage of after-tax income Americans set aside in savings accounts, investments or under their mattress – in negative territory for four straight months, it might be time for more of us to buy generic, unload our SUVs, and be honest about our financial situation.

And so a little bit of advice to my friends at Acme – it’s time to increase your stock of generics.

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