Before thinking about grocery store rip-offs, let’s stop whining about the cost of groceries.
Americans spend less on groceries than ever before.
In 1960 American households spent almost 18% of their total income on food. American households today spend less than 10% of their income on food (even though we eat out more than ever before).
Americans spend less on groceries than any other nation.
Americans currently spend a smaller percentage of household income on groceries than any other nation. According to the world economic forum, Americans spend 6.4% of household income on groceries whereas people in many nations spend more than 40% of household income on food eaten at home.
When it comes to food prices, Americans today have less to complain about than any other people in history. Every time you leave a grocery store, you are literally getting the deal of the century.
Grocery budgets are easy to modify.
With these facts in mind, it seems obscene to think about “grocery store rip-offs.” It makes more sense to think about how our food industry is negatively impacting our health and our world.
Nevertheless, grocery costs are within your control. Unlike home insurance, your kid’s braces, or the vig you owe your bookie, your grocery costs can be lowered simply by your desire to do so.
In the short term, the money you save avoiding grocery store rip-offs might enable you to shop with an eye to social responsibility, improve the quality of your diet, pay off a credit card, or plan for something special. In the long term, many years of lower grocery bills could seriously improve your financial well-being.
Top 15 grocery store rip-offs
#7) Frozen potato products
Do not by frozen french fries, home fries, or hash-browns. Buy a big, cheap sack of potatoes instead. Processed potato products are more expensive, full of objectionable ingredients (palm oil, trans fats, excessive salt, etc.), and require wasteful refrigeration.
Making a big tray of baked fries or grating some potatoes for hash browns is not that big a deal. The result is better tasting, healthier, and cheaper.
- I like to spiralize potatoes and bake them on a rack with a bit of olive oil spray and seasoning.
- Never store potatoes in a plastic bag; the trapped moisture will ruin them.
- Make a big batch of potato salad that you can use all week.
#6) Bottled water
Bottled water is a waste of money with an incredible environmental impact. Think of all the packaging involved; even if you are recycling, the recycling process has a carbon footprint. Think about all of the fossil fuels used moving the product around.
If you are destroying the Earth so that you can drink water from Fiji’s pristine rain forests, please take a moment to slap yourself as hard as you can.
If you have a legitimate concern about the quality of the water from your well, pipes, or municipality, get the water tested.
If the taste or healthfulness of your water is below your standards, invest in a high-quality water purification system. A whole-house system will pass all of the water through carbon filters and bacteria-killing UV rays and can cost a grand or more with installation. If you are replacing your bottled water, this expense is completely unnecessary. (Your toilets do not need filtered water.)
An under sink, faucet-mounted, pitcher-style, or counter-top water filter will save you money in the long run. The initial investment and the occasional replacement of the filter (many filters are rated to process several thousand gallons) are well worth it.
Beef is (comparatively) expensive. It also has the highest environmental impact of any major food source. When you eat meat you are also consuming all of the food that the animal ate. It should be expensive. It should be more expensive.
I love a big steak, but this should be a rare (literally, in my opinion) treat. Start reducing your beef consumption by eating more poultry, fish, and vegetarian options. Learn to cook fish well; your heart will thank you.
Start trying out substitutes for beef wherever you can. Switch the beef out of your tacos, burritos, meatloaf, lasagna, stuffed peppers, etc. These types of meals are very tasty with a substitution.
#4) Quick rice
Minute rice, ten-minute rice, parboiled rice, and frozen rice are all unnecessary. Is it really that demanding to boil rice? Think of all that wasted packaging. Buy a big, cheap sack of rice and stop being in such a damned hurry.
1 serving Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice = .50
1 serving bagged rice = .06
#3) Pre-seasoned entrees
More and more grocery stores are selling pre-portioned, pre-seasoned entrees like salmon steaks or pork chops. You are paying the store to make small portions, repackage, sprinkle on some paprika or whatever, and slap on a sticker with instructions. Don’t do it. Believe in yourself; you can sprinkle your own paprika, and you can Google instructions.
Have a well-stocked spice rack and a collection of vinegar, oils, glazes, etc. It will pay off.
#2) Paying full price for shelf-stable items
Not everyone has the space to store a surplus of shelf-stable items, but if you have a bit of space, you should have a “stash.” You do not need to be an extreme coupon-er to benefit from a stocked pantry. If you know that you use a canned item that is on sale, why not buy five? This will basically mean that you are always getting your canned and dried goods at a serious discount.
It is also amazing how many times the “stash” can bail you out when you have no idea what to make for dinner.
TIP: Check the unit price on the shelf ticket. Larger sizes are usually a better deal but not always.
Marketers have convinced us that hummus is a mystical, exotic concoction that can only be produced by Middle Eastern ascetics living in an undisclosed desert oasis. It is simply chick peas, olive oil, and sesame seed paste. These ingredients are cheap, and hummus is fun to make.
Imagine this situation: Your bookie’s goons visit you more often than your mother. The bank has repossessed your ’83 Cimarron. You are selling your blood plasma and volunteering for medical experiments. You bought your son a do-it-yourself braces kit. And all because you were too lazy to make your own hummus?! Get some chick peas, tahini, olive oil, and seasonings and take your life back.
TIP: An immersion blender makes making hummus quick and easy. Just dump the ingredients in a big vessel and put the blender to it. Your hummus is finished.
Related post: Money-saving Grocery List
8 dishonorable mentions
Prepared side dishes
Come on people, we put humans on the moon and cured polio; we can make our own macaroni salad and coleslaw.
I can understand if you do not want to make your own carbonated beverages at home (although it can be done), but there is no reason to buy bottled teas. Make a big pitcher of iced tea, add some lemon or whatever, and save big.
Microwave popcorn is not only a rip-off, it also tastes weird. Start popping your corn on the stove top and you will never go back.
It is common for the same plant to produce brand name and store brand cereals. The formulations may differ slightly, but you are really paying for the marketing.
Whether you are talking about magazines, beauty products, greeting cards, diapers, or tea kettles, if you are buying it in a grocery store you are probably paying too much.
Some organic foods
In some cases, there is a huge difference in how organic produce is grown. Other times, not so much. Click the link below to learn about which fruits and vegetables are worth the organic difference.
Related link: Organic Foods: What You Need to Know
Candy and snacks
We like to buy small portions of candies and snacks because we worry about self-control, but there is no doubt that these small impulse buys are grocery store rip-offs.
Prepared fruits and veggies
It is tempting to toss a vegetable platter or fruit salad into your cart, but try not to. You are paying a hefty premium just to avoid some washing and chopping. Pick the individual fruits or veggies that look best to you and you will have a superior result.
The costs of laziness and thoughtlessness.
The amount of money you spend on food is easily adjusted. For all of the grocery store rip-offs on this list, you are trading money for convenience (or supposed convenience). You can reduce your costs without feeling deprived. In fact, in many cases you will be eating healthier and tastier food.
By eliminating these rip-offs and buying the best deals habitually, you can really help your budget. Check out my Money-saving Grocery List, because the amount you spend on groceries is part of you budget that you can adjust easily.
Related post: Reasons to Shop at Aldi
How did I do with my list? How have you cut your grocery costs? What are the biggest grocery store rip-offs in your view? Please leave a comment.