The grocery store can be a place of mystery for the new cook. There are so many choices that it can get confusing. A great example is a scene from the 1984 movie Moscow on the Hudson with Robin Williams as a Russian musician who defects to the US and goes to the grocery store for coffee. He is confronted with a whole AISLE of coffee. Coming from a country where you stood in line most of the day to get (if you were lucky) a small bag of coffee and you had no choice in brand or amount, he suffered a breakdown. How do you choose when you have so much to choose from.
Many people simplify it by being brand loyal. It's what their moms bought and served when they were growing up, so that's what they do. It's easy, tho not the most cost effective in some cases. As I've said before, I am brand loyal on some items and for me it is cost effective. Shelling out money to buy another brand or generic and then finding out I don't like it and the rest of it sits on the shelf is throwing money away. But if you are looking at saving money and wanting to do so by buying cheaper brands, your best bet is to simply buy one of the item and give it a try. If you like it, then you can switch. If you don't then stick with the brand you like.
Another way to save money is to write up a grocery list, figure out how much you have to spend and then arm yourself with a calculator. So many times in the past I walked in planning on picking up a loaf of bread and $30-$40 later....... What budget :( Stores really count on impluse buying, that's why companies pay big bucks to buy shelf space, the shelves at eye level being premium and they will also get you with the end displays. Many times I will look at what's on sale on the end displays and then go to the section where they normally are and many times find what I'd like cheaper in a different brand. It is a good thing to think before grabbing something off the end display.
The other trick is to look at cost per pound/oz/etc. One thing that drives me insane in stores is the shelf lable. They will give the cost per whatever for one brand by cost per ounce, yet another brand is cost per pound or some other unit. I really, really hate math. This is where the calculator comes in handy (I usually have a couple, one for a running tally of what I am buying and the other is hubby's watch with a calculator for him to help me figure out things). I look at the actual item weight/volume/whatever and do the calculations for both brands. Depending on the item (dried goods of some sort) I'll then compare them to what is in the bulk section (not all stores have a bulk sectino, which is a pity as I don't always need a big bag of something and sometimes a small container is not enough). Shelf labels are also no always accurate, so it always pays to double check. Once you've done it a few times, you start to get a sense of what the things actually cost.
Buying in bulk is another way to save money in the long run, but that is another post :D