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Frugal living tip #26. June 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Incredibly, this tip marks the halfway point in our weekly Frugal Living Tips here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. 2009, where have you gone?!

Today’s tip is about buying generic or store-brand versus brand-name meds. This has been much on my mind since I did something ungodly to my left ankle last week and have been hobbling around in fair to excruciating pain with a hugely swollen ankle and foot and red, swollen, painful leg halfway up the calf. Yeeowch! There are no obvious breaks, which in my opinion means that conventional medicine is unnecessary. (“Take two X-rays and call me in the morning, at which point I’ll tell you we can’t really do anything, then charge you $1,000.”) But what to do instead?

Obviously, staying in bed with the foot elevated, taking aspirin twice a day for the inflammation, and applying cold compresses would be both sensible and nice. And yes, not being a complete idiot, I’ve been taking aspirin before bedtime and applying one of those flexible gel-packs that you keep in the freezer for just such emergencies and then wrap around the injured area every night before bed.

Fine. But then it’s morning, time to get up, do chores, take our puppy Shiloh for a walk, and then sit down at the computer and do some work for a living. Not only does it strike me as unfair to shove all of this on our friend Ben, but there’s Shiloh and her bonding to consider. Not to mention the little matter of burning off a few calories.

However, to say that all this hurts like a migraine, persistent bellyache, or toothache is no exaggeration. You just can’t stop thinking about it.

All of which is to say that I finally dragged myself over to a local pharmacy to consider my options. Looking at shelves full of hot, cold, hot-pack, cold-pack, cream, lotion, gel, menthol, and mercy knows what other options was enough to send me running for the car. Too many choices! But one thing that was very obvious was that in every case, the store brand was less than half the price of the “name brands.” But the active ingredients and quantities thereof were the same.

So why not buy them? I can think of three reasons: First, what exactly are the endless other ingredients besides the active ones, and what effects do they have? Second, are these meds cheaper because they’re made in China? And third, what do they smell like?

This third point may seem frivolous, but trust me, it’s not. Delighted to see a store brand of cold/hot ointment—which I’d heard worked wonders to relieve pain and swelling—for half the price of any name brand, I snapped it up and returned home in triumph. But its overpowering wintergreen scent left me wondering a few hours later if I could keep working on an outline I was developing, or if I’d have to head for the bathroom and stay there until the nausea the scent had caused subsided.

Ultimately, our friend Ben saved the day by heading back to the pharmacy and finding an unscented store-brand arthritis cream that gives pain relief to strained muscles and joints as well. It would never have occurred to me to even look at the arthritis section, but Ben, a high-school running star, has lots more sports-injury smarts than yours truly.

All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that, if you’re willing to trust them, by all means buy the generic brands rather than shelling out top dollar for the name brands. But make sure you look for unscented.

                 ‘Til next time,



1. Lzyjo - July 1, 2009

Omg, Silence! It’s sounds rather serious! I know you’ll be taking good care of it and OFB will be hoping up to get you everything, right?! Take care, I hope it starts feeling better soon. Not to nag, but be careful of the other one while you’re on the mend.

Thanks for the advice, Lzyjo, and you’re quite right, overcompensating by putting too much weight on the other leg is a recipe for disaster! The ankle has finally started to feel better, and my neighbor, who’s a nurse, checked it out and agreed that it was sprained, not broken (whew). So let’s hope it’s on the mend and will soon be a forgotten memory! Owww.

2. Heather - July 1, 2009

Oh man, I hate it when I hurt my ankles. One thing I know as a hygienist is that aspirin, although a great pain reliever, blood thinner and fever reducer, does not have any anti-inflammatory action. The only pain relievers that do are Ibuprophen or motrin, alieve, etc. NSAID’s are the category most likely to provide you some relief. I will say that it is important to follow the dosing directions as it may cause stomach upset but will help with the swelling if you take it as directed for several days. I hope that you feel better soon. (Sorry to be a know it all, we just deal with swelling and inflammation everyday in our practice.)

Gack!!! Thanks for this, Heather! My aspirin bottle lists aspirin prominently as an NSAID. And yes, having just read about all the FDA flap over Tylenol, Excedrin and the like, and making sure you didn’t exceed the recommended dose unless you really wanted permanent liver damage, you can bet I’m watching the dosage! Thanks for the good advice!!!

3. Curmudgeon - July 1, 2009

Yikes Silence! That sounds awful. Here’s wishing you a super speedy recovery. BTW, we were just at the drugstore recently in search of Band-Aids–Wing Nut is threatening to institute a “Curmudgeon cannot play with her Hori Hori knife unsupervised” rule–when we discovered that store brand bandages (and other first aid items) are HALF the price of the J&J ones.

Yup, it still hurts, Curmudgeon, and thanks for the sympathy. My biggest concern is being able to walk Shiloh so she gets her daily exercise, but trust me, I’ll do it somehow. My foot finally un-swelled enough this morning for me to see a huge lump on one side where a spider, perhaps, took a good bite, which might explain the mysterious and disturbing all-foot and lower leg swelling that accompanied the ankle pain. Fun, fun, fun!!! And thanks for the bandage recommendation. Let’s just say that we’re a bit accident-prone around here, too…

4. Jen - July 1, 2009

Your poor ankle! Hope you’re out giving Shiloh a run right now. How weird if it all turned out to be a spider bite! I’ve had hit or miss luck with store brands, though I know some of the major manufacturers (even organics like Stonyfield Farm) package lots of store brands. I’ve had good luck with first aid ointments and bad luck with pancake mix. Sounds like with the scented stuff, you are definitely taking a chance with them! BTW- congrats on the 100,000 + hits!!

Thanks, Jen!!!

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