8 Overpriced Grocery Items to Skip

by POPSUGAR Smart Living on 5 December 2011 27 comments
Photo: fazen

Although it is convenient to grab everything at the grocery store, sometimes it's best to only buy certain items and shop for the rest at other locations such as specialty stores or the dollar store. One of the best ways to save money at the grocery store is to keep away from the items that are marked up. I talked to consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch, who shared eight items you shouldn't put in your grocery cart.

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Cubed or Presliced Meat

"Meat markup is up to 60% and much more for precut or precubed meats. Since meat has a refrigerated shelf life of just five days and must then be thrown out, most meat departments in grocery stores aim for a minimum 30% markup, and often much higher, to make up for losses.

Steaks, for instance, are marked up 40% to 50%; some cheaper cuts, such as round and chuck meat, are marked up as much as 60%. Lesser cuts of meat, those typically cut into pieces for stir-fries or stews are marked up as much as 300%, should never be bought at full price because they're always discounted at some point (look for markdowns on meats that near their sell-by date or hit up bulk stores like Costco for savings of up to 30% off larger slabs of meat. You can refrigerate that which you don't use for later)."

Name-Brand Spices

"Name-brand spices are marked up close to 97%. Smart shoppers can buy spices at a natural food store to save you up to 97% on the basic spices people buy regularly. For instance, a $3.52 jar of bay leaves at the grocery store will cost you only 12 cents for the same amount at a natural foods store. Drugstores and discount stores also sell spices cheaper than at a grocery store. You may have to bring your own bottles to fill but the savings make up for this."

Bakery Goods

"Bakery items are marked up nearly 100% as you’re paying for convenience. For instance, $20 supermarket cake can be made from scratch or out of a box at home for just $5 (or less by purchasing sale items and using coupons for the boxed goods).

Bread can also be baked inexpensively at home. Since most people won't bake bread at home, look for buy-one-get-one-free deals and freeze one loaf or buy when bread is marked down. Savvy shoppers will ask store managers when bread gets marked down — usually nearing the expiration date or end of the day."

Brand Name Cereal

"Establishing product differentiation and aggressive brand promotion are key aspects of cereal markups. Production costs and retailer share make up about 36% and 20% of the retail price of cereal, the rest (44%) is average manufacturer gross margin.

One of the most basic cereals, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, had the highest average retail markup of 43.5%. At the low end was an average 18.2% markup. Buying generic is a smart means of saving money, nearly 50%. Compare ingredients of name brand with generic — if the ingredients are the same, you won't taste much of a difference. In fact, most store labels (generic) are actually produced by the big-name brands. They just happen to use different packaging — packaging that didn't cost a lot in marketing dollars to attract customers. However, this difference in packaging results in prices that are as much as 50% cheaper!

Compare the nutritional information and ingredient order of a favorite brand and a store label. Chances are, they will be identical and if so, you will be satisfied with it while saving a ton of money. Note: most stores offer a money-back guarantee on their own brands, so keep the receipt just in case."

Batteries

"[Batteries] are marked up as much as 60%. Stay away from batteries at the grocery store and instead throw them in your online cart next time you're browsing Target or Walmart's website. Better yet, hop on over to a warehouse store like Sam's Club or Costco where you can find double the quantity of batteries for the same cost as your local supermarket. Since batteries have no expiration date, buying in large quantities is A-OK!"

Presliced Produce

"Produce that has been presliced, prechopped, or diced for the consumer will cost on average 35% more than the whole vegetable or fruit. Shoppers are paying for convenience but a task that takes no more than five minutes, isn't worth paying more for.

Opt to shop for produce at a local farmers market and buy only what's "in season" to enjoy the lowest prices. Better yet, pop by a street vendor for the least expensive fruit and veggies."

Detergent

"Though warehouse stores offer unbeatable prices on bulk laundry detergent and other household cleaning supplies for that matter, you could skip the special visit to the store altogether by purchasing online at stores like Walmart and Target. With various free shipping deals and online coupons ($5 off $50 at Target from CouponSherpa.com), you could stock up on bulk detergent and avoid lugging to and from your car. And, since laundry is one of those never-ending chores, the bulk stuff won't get wasted."

Personal Care Products

"From body lotion to shampoo and toothpaste, unless it's on sale, skip it. The best deals are offered at various drug stores like CVS (with coupons), Walmart, and even cheapest at dollar stores (makeup applicators, cotton swabs, shampoo, etc)."

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Guest's picture

If you compare the prices of a store brand cereal with the name brand (on a sale) then the name brand is much, much cheaper. Using a coupon will save you even more.

Guest's picture

Completely agree. Plus, I can definitely taste the difference!

Guest's picture

I recently started going to a farmer's market close to my house. I found that I could get triple the amount of fruits and vegetables for the same price as a few items at my local grocery store. This was very eye opening for me, and I vowed to no longer get my produce from the supermarket. Also, I love GoodValue products. This is the generic brand that is sold at Walmart, Target and other large chains. The food taste's great, just like any brand name version of my favorite Trail Mix or fruit snacks would. In this economy, it's smart to look for these products that taste the exact same as the ones in the fancy packaging, and will certainly be MUCH easier on your wallet.

Guest's picture
Guest

Spices from a specialty store will tend to be fresher. Big companies also tend to go the legal limit on contaminants such as insect parts.
I've found that dollar store cleaning products do the job as well or better than brand names - who cares if bowl cleaner smells good when it will be down the tubes in 60 seconds?

Guest's picture

Evan cheaper than cereal is oatmeal or toast. Whole wheat toast with peanut butter has more protein than cereal, is quick, and is pretty inexpensive. We buy whole wheat bread at Sam's Club for a good price, but you could also get high quality wheat bread at a day-old bread store. Just put any extra loaves in the freezer if you won't be using it right away. We keep a loaf in the refrigerator to keep it fresh.

Andrea Karim's picture

I buy all of my spices at our local Indian store. Their selection is RIDICULOUS, taking up three or four times the space that my Safeway's spice aisle does. And the prices are incredibly cheap. I'll never go back to standard grocery store spices.

Guest's picture
Megan

I agree with most of the items on this list, and thinks they're all great things to be aware of, especially things like pre-sliced vegetables, meats, etc. (Cheese goes in this category, too: you pay a lot more when it's sliced for you.) The only pre-sliced thing I deliberately pay more for at the grocery store is lunch meat. I buy the pre-packaged, store-brand offerings in the cooler in front of the deli counter. My husband is the only one in our family who eats lunch meat, and if we buy more than that it spoils before we can use it. We save money in the long run by not wasting food.

I will say that Brand Name items, while most costly, do sometimes legitimately taste better. Everyone should make their own decisions about what they're willing to pay a little extra for. I have, at one point or another, bought the generic versions of every food my family eats. Where the generic is the same or better, we buy generic. Where the brand name is better, we use coupons and buy on sale. We eat brand name Crispix, for example, but we eat generic mac 'n' cheese.

I would also add this cautionary note about bulk laundry detergent: make sure you have somewhere to save it. Sure you'll use it, but if you can't store it, is it really worth the lower price?

Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance's picture

I hate buying detergent these days because it is so expensive. I just bought a big chunk of turkey pastrami and am slicing it for sandwiches. It was a really good bargain!

Guest's picture

That is a great tip on the spices, I had no idea.

Regarding batteries, I shop at CVS for those. However, I buy them in bulk when they are on sale, and always have some coupons.

What I have found in general is that if you pay attention to prices, you can get just about anything at a reasonable price if you wait until they go on sale and then stock up.

Guest's picture
Wouter

Spices; always buy unground when possbile - Fennel seeds, coriander/cilantro seeds, cumin, mustard, pepper - it all keeps much longer when you grind it yourself. How? Buy a cheap coffee grinder or use a pesstle and mortar.

Batteries: no shelf-life? Think again...

And instead of buying old cheap pre-cut meat I prefer to buy fresh, uncut ...

Guest's picture
Guest

spices at Dollar General are .50 cents and have never let me down. They even carry spices that I can't find in name brands, such as "soul food seasoning." which my wife loves on chicken and fish. why pay $3.50 when you can spend .50 cents?

Guest's picture
Isak

Some nice tips there. Batteries however do have an expiration date. Storing them in a water proof container in the freezer can help them last longer because a cooler temperature lowers the rate of self-discharge. Alkaline batteries may not suffer much from self-discharge but they do have a best before date, even printed on them in most cases.

Guest's picture
JoeBlend

The truth is that batteries actually do expire, albeit often a couple of years in the future. Check your packaging, and the batteries themselves to be sure they're in date. If you're not careful, you'll have to throw out half of that 500-pack of AAAA batteries you bought!

Guest's picture
Jonathan

Batteries certainly do have an expiration date, pay attention or deal with the leaky mess when they've sat around too long. This is mostly true for the "cheap" brands, but don't assume that duracell will last forever.

Guest's picture
Guest

Seriously? even if it was cheaper to bake your own bread, how much can the savings be over paying $1 for a loaf at the grocery store

Guest's picture
Guest

By the time you are done buying supplies. Electricity to cook it, and water to wash the utensils and what not. It does cost you more then $1 for a loaf of bread. Cheaper to jsut get it from the store

Guest's picture
Isis

That depends on the bread. If you're attempting to make Wonder bread, then yes, the stuff at the store is cheap. However, if you're getting the $3.50--$4 whole grain kind, you start to see the savings from making it yourself.

Besides which, even the expensive 'healthy' breads still contain all sorts of difficult-to-pronounce additives, and in your own recipes you can control what goes into it. Plus fresh-baked bread is beyond delicious and puts the store loaves to shame, if only due to storage and transport time.

Guest's picture
Guest

For spices go to the hispanic section of supermarkets. Better yet go to small ethnic grocery stores.

Guest's picture
Eli

The better way to go with batteries is rechargeable. A bit more expensive upfront, but then you never have to buy any again (well, at least for a long time, or unless you get more devices that need batteries).
You save money and do less harm to the environment (batteries shouldn't be thrown away with your normal trash)

Guest's picture
Solinas

Consumer Reports did a study of batteries a couple of years ago, in terms of cost and performance. The battery that did the best was Kirkland (costco). Beat out Eveready and Duracell.

Guest's picture
Guest

Um, pretty sure batteries have expiration dates.

Guest's picture
Charlie Hayes

Name-brand spices are marked up close to 97%. For instance, a $3.52 jar of bay leaves at the grocery store will cost you only 12 cents

That's a markup of 2833% not 97%.

Bakery items are marked up nearly 100%... For instance, $20 supermarket cake can be made from scratch or out of a box at home for just $5

That's a markup of 300% not 100%.

Since batteries have no expiration date, buying in large quantities is A-OK!

Batteries lose capacity over time even when not in use. They even have an expiration date on them.

buy only what's "in season"

Go all winter without onions?

Guest's picture
Guest

Markup meaning price based on cost to produce the item. If the spice is priced @ $3.52 and was marked up 97% that means it costs the store $1.79 (what with the shipping, the storing, the bottle, the label, the spice itself, the labor, etc).

Markup does not mean comparative to other store prices.
Please keep in mind before you reply, you aren't clever just because you have some grammar and have numbers in your comment.

Guest's picture
lovemyalliums

Onions are a great storage crop. They keep fantastically well in the right conditions. As do many winter squashes, potatoes, parsnips, garlic, and even apples.

Guest's picture
Jen

There's a farm near us where you can get a walmart bag full of vegetables for like $3. They really only sell tomatoes, corn, squash, and I think they had some peppers and a couple other things. In the spring when they open again I'm planning on going there and buying a bunch and canning them. I'd grow stuff myself, but my dog would destroy it, and I'm not very good with growing things. I like farmers markets too for the same reason.

Guest's picture
GuestPurchase Wisely

Definitely bake your own bread. Even including the amortized cost of a breadmaker (I'm on my second in 10 years) and the electricity to run it, I bake a loaf of 100% whole wheat bread each week for less than $2 per two pound loaf, and it has no artificial additives. I use high quality ingredients (including flax seed meal, molasses and olive oil) and since I get them at Trader Joe's or in the bulk section of Smart Co. I don't have to use coupons to get excellent prices. Much better than anything bought in the grocery store!

Guest's picture

Instead of buying veggies and other spices, why not grow the basics in your backyard or on a pot. It will definitely save you money and will give you a choice if you want it organic or not.