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7 Things to Never Buy at the Grocery Store

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It’s no secret that grocery stores make money by marking up the items they sell—but the amount of mark-up varies a ton from product to product. “Items that are highly perishable, and so might get thrown away before they’re bought, tend to get a higher mark-up,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert.

Coupons are one way to combat high prices, if you're careful (check out the free app Coupon Sherpa for an easy way to digitally clip and organize coupons). But for some items, a coupon probably won’t cut it. Woroch recommends shoppers skip these items entirely at the grocery store.

1. NAME-BRAND CEREAL 

“The price of cereal has been rising for years,” says Woroch, and if you stick to your name-brand cereal you’ll feel the pinch in your wallet even more. That’s because all of the advertising and marketing costs that go into convincing consumers that one brand tastes better than another get passed along to shoppers.

If you compare the ingredient list of generic and name-brand versions of the same cereal, you’ll probably find the same ingredients—in the exact same order. Make the switch to the cheaper box, and you can save 50 percent or more, according to Woroch. “And most stores offer a money-back guarantee on their own brands, so if you do taste a difference you can get a refund,” she says.

2. SPICES 

Mark-up on grocery-store spices is nearly 100 percent, and they rarely go on sale, says Woroch. Instead of getting gouged on cinnamon and cloves, buy them at the drugstore or natural foods store, where they tend to be cheaper. A jar of bay leaves, for instance, might cost north of $3.50 at the grocery store but less than 50 cents for the same amount from the bulk bin at a natural foods store. “If you don’t mind putting them in your own container, you can save big!”

3. PREPACKAGED PRODUCE 

You probably already know that all of those packages of cubed squash, diced mushrooms, and sliced watermelon cost more than buying the whole produce. But did you know that the mark-up is typically 40 percent or more? "For a task that takes less than five minutes, you’re paying a big difference,” says Woroch.

4. PREPPED MEATS 

Like prepackaged produce, the convenience of buying pre-formed hamburger patties or assembled steak kebabs is going to cost you—anywhere from 60 to 300 percent(!) more than buying the meat in its whole form. But there’s a (cheaper) middle ground between buying a giant hunk of meat and the pricey prepped version: Ask your butcher to grind or cube a cut for you, to make your work at home faster.

5. BATTERIES  

These are a classic impulse buy, which is why they often line the check-out lanes at supermarkets, where you’re less likely to take the time and comparison shop. But you can save 50 percent or more by buying them at a big-box store, like Target or Walmart, or stocking up at a warehouse store, like Costco. Batteries don’t have a shelf life, so buying in bulk shouldn’t give you pause.

6. SMALL SNACKS 

Single-serve portions of chips and pretzels typically run 30 percent more per ounce than a big bag of the same product, according to Woroch. If you like the grab-and-go convenience of the smaller sizes, she suggests buying the bigger bag and then doling it into small bags as soon as you’re home, so your pantry is stocked with DIY snack-size containers.

7. PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS  

Drugstores typically offer better deals—and more frequent sales—than grocery stores, when it comes to personal care products, says Woroch. That means tossing deodorant or shampoo into your grocery cart could cost you an unnecessary 30 percent more. 

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Before Bitcoin: The Rise and Fall of Flooz E-Currency
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In the late 1990s, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Spencer Waxman was in Morocco on holiday when he heard an Arabic slang term for money—flooz—that stuck with him. In the dot-com boom taking place back in the United States, URLs with obscure etymology were popular. When Waxman and partner Robert Levitan decided to co-found a novel way of disrupting the online commerce industry, calling it Flooz.com was almost a foregone conclusion.

What Levitan and Waxman envisioned was a virtual gift certificate that would drive business to participating online retailers, give consumers some sense of security over their private information, and make shopping for stubbornly gift-resistant recipients easy. Rather than merely offering cyber currency, this was a service with purpose.

Unfortunately, it was also one that was doomed to fail.

A screen capture of Flooz.com
Flooz.com

Non-cash currency has been with us since the Chinese used cowry shells to sort out debt for goods and services more than 3000 years ago. In the 1960s, credit cards became an alluring alternative to saving and carrying paper bills. When online retailing exploded in the 1990s, it was only natural that startups would begin to explore virtual payment methods.

At the time, digital transactions were perceived by many consumers to be a near-guarantee of identity theft. Handing a card to a vendor in a closed-loop retail environment was one thing, but the thought of hackers seizing their information once it was entered into the borderless environment of the internet kept many away from online shopping.

As it turns out, that paranoia would turn out to be justified in our current climate of constant data breaches. It was also good for businesses hoping to turn their apprehension over credit card security into a monetized solution. Flooz.com debuted in 1999, just one year after another currency-based URL, Beanz.com, had garnered press. Beanz were a kind of earned points system, with approved transactions gifting customers with redeemable gift vouchers. Flooz took a different approach: Customers would sign up to Flooz.com and purchase gift certificates for specific retailers, which they could then use themselves or pass along to a gift recipient via email.

For businesses, it was a way of driving traffic to sites; for consumers, it was a way to keep credit card transactions limited to one vendor; for Flooz.com, being the intermediary meant taking a 15 to 20 percent cut of completed transactions on the selected retail sites, which ranged from Godiva Chocolates to Barnes & Noble and Tower Records.

To help Flooz.com cut through online marketing noise, Levitan enlisted actress Whoopi Goldberg to be their spokesperson. In exchange for company shares and Flooz.com money, Goldberg led an $8 million ad campaign for radio, television, and print that extolled the benefits of using Flooz.com.

Whether it was Goldberg’s pitch or the concept itself, Flooz.com met with a receptive audience. The company debuted in the fall of 1999, and had opened 125,000 accounts by January 2000. That year, roughly $25 million in Flooz.com money was purchased and used. (In a nod to the impenetrable vocabulary of the internet at the time, the media loved to point out that Beanz could be used to purchase Flooz.)

Bolstered by the attention and early success, Flooz.com was eventually able to raise $35 million in venture capital. Consumers could meet their gifting obligations by emailing a code to their gift recipient without having to waste time shopping. For a time, it appeared Flooz.com would become a leading method of payment for online transactions.

Actress and Flooz.com spokesperson Whoopi Goldberg is photographed during a public appearance
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But it didn’t take long for the seams in the Flooz.com model to show. While gifting vouchers to family and friends was convenient for the gifter, the giftee was stuck with a very limited number of vendors that took Flooz.com as payment. If Amazon, for example, had a deal on a DVD or book that Barnes & Noble didn’t, Flooz users were out of luck. Shopping for a bargain wasn’t possible.

The second and most crippling detail was one Flooz.com was forced to make in order to strike deals with vendors. The company guaranteed its transactions, meaning that it would make good on orders even if Flooz dollars had been purchased via fraudulent means. By the summer of 2001, that commitment became a tipping point. Agents from the FBI informed Levitan that they suspected a ring of Russian hackers had purchased $300,000 worth of Flooz in order to launder funds from stolen credit cards.

This created a paralyzing cash flow problem: As their credit card processor withheld funds until Flooz.com could secure the transaction, people were still busy redeeming Flooz dollars they had already spent. Retailers then looked for Flooz.com to reimburse them. Suddenly, customers trying to pay with Flooz were greeted with error messages that the site was down.

Those issues, coupled with the fact that corporate clients had already started to move away from gifting employees with Flooz dollars, forced Flooz.com to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August 2001. Court papers cited almost $14 million in liability. (Beanz.com was also a casualty of the dot-com bust, when participating retailers processing the points steadily went out of business.)

Levitan rebounded, founding the Pando file sharing network and selling it to Microsoft in 2011 for $11 million. Meanwhile, Flooz.com remains a barely-remembered footnote in e-currency, though it would be hard to chart the rise of digital funds like Bitcoin without it. Like with so many other good ideas, timing is everything.

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These Are the Top 25 U.S. Cities With the Lowest Cost of Living
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Coastal cities like New York and San Francisco bustle with excitement, but residents pay plenty of hard-earned cash to enjoy perks like Central Park and world-class museums—and to pay their sky-high rents. If you’d rather have a full bank account than a hipster ZIP code, consider setting down roots in America’s most affordable region: the Midwest.

Niche, a data analysis company, has ranked the 25 cities with the lowest cost of living across the United States—and the top 10 are all located in America’s heartland. Their selections were based on factors including access to affordable housing, food and fuel costs, and median tax rates, all of which were gleaned from U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Indiana was the most-represented state in the list’s top 10 section, with Fort Wayne, Evansville, and South Bend nabbing the first three spots. The remaining cities were mid-sized metropolitan areas in Kansas, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois, all of which offer urban conveniences at a fraction of the cost of their coastal counterparts. After that, other cities in the mix included municipalities in Texas, Michigan, Alabama, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

Check out Niche's top 25 list below, and visit their website to view their methodology.

1. Fort Wayne, Indiana
2. Evansville, Indiana
3. South Bend, Indiana
4. Topeka, Kansas
5. Toledo, Ohio
6. Wichita, Kansas
7. Akron, Ohio
8. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
9. Davenport, Iowa
10. Springfield, Illinois
11. Rochester, Minnesota
12. Dayton, Ohio
13. Springfield, Missouri
14. Wichita Falls, Texas
15. Kansas City, Kansas
16. Odessa, Texas
17. Cleveland, Ohio
18. Indianapolis, Indiana
19. Abilene, Texas
20. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
21. Montgomery, Alabama
22. Lansing, Michigan
23. Des Moines, Iowa
24. Brownsville, Texas
25. Warren, Michigan

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