Money saving

It’s nearly flu and cold season! Let us show you how to minimise the cost of medicines

Posted 22 October 2015

Find out which debt solution is right for you

Get started

Answer a few simple questions

See if you are suitable

Understand your next steps

Winter illness can end up costing you a lot, we’ll show you how to save

It’s almost that time of year again, when the nasty winter cold and flu bugs get really happy and want to hug everyone – giving you a dose of the lurgy in the process. And as big brand over the counter medicines can cost an arm and a leg, which you can ill afford, what can you do to get rid of those nasty cold and flu germs and get well again?      

The common cold and the dreaded flu

It’s safe to say that everyone you know will have a common cold at some point in the year. A blocked nose, sore throat, coughs, sneezes, aches and pains and a temperature are the common symptoms we’ve all had. Some suffer even more when they pick up a case of the proper flu – the kind that knocks you off your feet and into your sick-bed for at least a week. Sadly, if people around you get ill, it’s likely you’ll get ill too – that’s how bugs work. So, if you do catch a dose of the lurgy, what can you do to treat yourself at home while you wait for your immune system to kill off the invaders?

First a note, the NHS advises that your doctor cannot give you anything, including antibiotics for the common cold or flu. That’s because there’s no cure for either of these, you simply need to allow your body to heal itself. So, thankfully, they’ll be no standard £8.20 prescription charge to pay.

What can I do to ease symptoms of colds and flu?

The standard treatments suggested for the symptoms are painkillers, like paracetamol and anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen, for the aches, pains and fever. And, a couple of natural remedies, vitamin C and zinc, that have all been shown to support your immune system and help you recover quicker.  Whatever you take please ensure that you read the advice that comes with them and stick to the recommended doses.  If you are in doubt about medicine always speak to a doctor.

So now we know what the recommended treatments are for the symptoms, what’s the cheapest way to get them?

Generic or branded?

We think most of you realise by now that when you choose a brand over a supermarket generic make, you will almost certainly pay more. But is this cost justified? This is an easy question to answer – not really! Let’s have a look why.

First the ingredients in medicines are the same. There’s no better quality zinc or paracetamol, regardless of how much you pay for it. And the branded medicines are no more effective than the non-branded, they are all the same – manufacturers can’t get a licence to sell them unless they are. What you pay for with the more expensive branded medications is the shape – easy to swallow, the coatings – sugary and the fancy packaging.

And the difference in cost is not to be sniffed at! Let’s have a look at the difference in price for the medicines we’ve mentioned. We’ve chosen to take medicines from the two main chemist retailers in the UK, Boots and Superdrug, as we assume that most people will have access to these two shops, if not in the real world, at least online. So let’s start.


So, Superdrug, a pack of 16, own brand, 500mg Fast Acting paracetamol costs 39p*, which works out at 2.4p* each. In comparison, a pack of 14 Panadol Actifast 500mg paracetamol costs £2.99*, that’s 21.4p* each – almost 10 times as much!     


Superdrug also sell 16 Nurofen branded ibuprofen 200mg tablets for £1.99, making them 12p each. They sell the exact same tablet, 200mg, in the same pack size, under their own brand for just 99p, making each tablet only 6p – that’s half the price!  

Vitamin C and Zinc

Boots have combination zinc and vitamin C tablet – their own make and a branded Seven Seas make. The Seven Seas chewy tablets contain 60mg of vitamin C and 3.75mg of Zinc in a 30 capsule pack for £4.39, making each one 15p. Boots own make, which contains 80mg vitamin C and 10mgs of zinc, cost £3.05 for 60, making them 5p each – a third of the price!

So here you are getting twice as many tablets for less money and each tablet is higher in the active ingredients you need making it a double bonus. The only things that’s missing is the fruity flavour and chew-ability of the tablets, so if you’re happy to swallow your tablet in the normal way, Boots own are a price-war-winner!   

So, as far as branded or generic are concerned, it’s clear to see that generic, own brands are a much cheaper and just as effective option.

Are home remedies any good? 

The short answer is yes they are! In fact, recent reports have suggested that over the counter cough medicines are no better than homemade, and there’s only weak evidence that they have any effect at all. And with cough medicines costing up to £5 for just a small bottle, it’s not cheap either. So why not make your own, from things you probably already have around the house. The NHS suggest the following treatment for a cold:

Cough syrup made from water, lemon and honey – just warm it together in a pan or your microwave and sip – do not give this to babies under the age of one though as there’s a risk of botulism. So, as an example of how cheap this can be, in Tesco you can buy honey for as little as 99p* for 340g and a bag of 6 everyday lemons for 89p* – that’s an effective cough remedy for £1.88*.

So, with a combination of over-the-counter pain relief and a homemade cough remedy you can treat yourself for £2.27*! 

Hopefully this has given you an idea of what you can do at home for a cold. There are lots of other minor ailments you can treat with home remedies and the NHS Home Remedies for Common Ailments page is a good place to start. 


*Prices correct as at 21/10/15

by Shelley Bowers

Back to blog home

Did you find this useful? Share it with others!

To find other sources of free advice visit Money Helper. It’s here to listen and give free, impartial, trusted guidance. Based around you and backed by government.