There’s no doubt that prices at the grocery store have consistently gone up over the past few years. I always do my best to keep costs down by searching for sales and using coupons, but I often get the feeling that I’m still paying too much. It turns out I was right—there are several grocery store items that are marked up by huge margins! Here are eight items you may be paying too much for, and what you can do about it:
You may not be surprised to learn that produce has one of the highest markups of all goods sold in grocery stores, but you may be surprised to learn just how high it is. Due to the fact that roughly 20 percent of produce is thrown away because of spoiling, the markup on produce generally runs between 50 and 75 percent! Instead of shelling out big bucks for produce every time you go grocery shopping, be sure to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season and locally grown, if possible. It’s also a good idea to stock up on items when they are in season and freeze them. I love making strawberry smoothies year-round, but strawberries are extremely pricey in the winter, if you can find them at all. Instead, I stock up on strawberries during the early summer months when I can often find them for as low as $1.25 per pound and freeze them to use year-round. Another option for saving on produce is to considering contributing to a local co-op such as Bountiful Baskets.
2. Bottled water
Bottled water is far and away the item with the highest markup at grocery stores. In fact, the average markup for bottled water is a whopping 4,000 percent! According to Business Insider, Americans spent 11.8 billion dollars on 9.7 billion gallons of bottled water in 2012, which equates to roughly $1.22 per gallon. However, when you figure in that most bottled water is sold in single 16.9-ounce bottles, the price jumps to $7.50 per gallon! That’s double what you’re paying for gas! Next time you start reaching for that bottle of water while waiting in the checkout line, think about how much it’s really costing you. Instead, opt to keep a reusable bottle with you that you can easily refill from a water fountain or sink.
Cereal is a staple in most households. In fact, the average American eats 160 bowls of cereal each year! However, our love for cereal comes at a cost—a markup of around 40 percent. According to a story from The American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes had the highest markup of all cereals at 43.5 percent. If you’re wondering what the best deal in the cereal aisle is, that would be Ralston’s Cookie Crisp with a relatively low 18 percent markup. Fortunately, cereal is one of those items that goes on sale often and coupons are common, so this is a key item for stockpiling when deals come along!
4. Pre-cut produce
The markup on produce is already at the top of this list, and when you add in the convenience factor of pre-cut fruits and veggies, the markup skyrockets 40 percent higher! Let’s just look at the numbers. Currently, broccoli is priced at 99 cents a pound at Safeway, and a one-pound bag of pre-cut florets is priced at 2.49. Whole carrots are currently 69 cents a pound, yet a bag of baby carrot sticks is $2.00. That means you’re paying close to three times more for the convenience of having them already cut. As handy as these items are, they can really put a ding in your budget. Instead, try to schedule an extra ten minutes into your morning routine to cut up these goodies to keep on hand for the week.
5. AA batteries
Batteries are one of those items that most people only buy once they’re out. This desperation is not lost on retailers, who tend to keep the prices high because they know that you’re probably going to buy them no matter what. In fact, the average markup for batteries is 70 percent! Instead of falling into this trap, stock up on batteries when deals come available. CVS often has their brand of batteries on sale buy-one-get-one-free, which is a great time to stock up. However, if you find yourself needing batteries and there aren’t any great deals to be had, you’re better off purchasing in bulk at a warehouse club, which typically drops the price by approximately 36 cents per battery.
6. Bakery items
Baked goods from the store’s bakery are convenient but will cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, the markup on most bakery items is around 100 percent! Most of these items such as cakes, pies and muffins, can be made at home from a boxed mix or from scratch for less than $5. Last week I actually purchased a 12-pack of pre-made cupcakes for $6.99 at my local Tom Thumb. I was in a rush and not in the mood to cook, but after realizing that the boxed mixes were only 99 cents and frosting was $1.25, I was kicking myself for spending $7 when I could have only spent $2.25! Many items in the bakery such as sheet cakes and pies are priced as high as $20 but can easily be made for only a few dollars. I love the store bakery for those times when convenience is needed, but generally speaking, you’re better off baking those items yourself. And don’t forget that in addition to saving money, baking those items yourself means that you’ll get the satisfaction of bragging to folks that you made that scrumptious dessert they can’t stop eating!
7. Name-brand spices
I always hate when I run out of spices because I know before I even go to the grocery store that I’m going to have to spend more than I want to! Although price depends on how conventional or exotic a spice is, most jars of brand-name spices are marked up 97 percent. A jar of McCormick bay leaves is priced right around $3.99 at most grocery stores, yet you could purchase that same amount of bay leaves for less than 75 cents from a bulk bin at Whole Foods or a natural grocery store! Even if you can’t make it to a natural foods store, opt for the store brand instead of the name brand. They’ll often save you as much as 30 percent, and many are actually produced by the same companies as the brand names. In fact, McCormick is the largest producer of private-label spices and seasonings in North America.
8. Name-brand over-the-counter medicines
Many people purchase well-known brands because it instills confidence in them, and that is especially true when it comes to medicines. However, you may be less inclined to purchase those big brands when you find out how much more you’re paying for them. According to NBC News, brand-name medicines are marked up anywhere from 200 to 3000 percent! One example of the price difference between brand names and generics is ibuprofen. The name brand, Advil, is priced at $9.99 for a box of 100 (200 mg) tablets at Walgreens. Compare that to the Walgreens store brand for $6.99 and the CVS brand for $7.49—both of which offer the same 100 tablets and the same strength as the name brand. So by purchasing the big brands, are you really getting anything besides a lighter wallet? Not according to the FDA, which firmly believes that generic products offer the same benefits as their brand-name counterparts.