Making a list and sticking to it when you’re at the grocery store is an easy way to stay within your budget. But there are some things that you shouldn’t put on that list to start with, even if you get big discounts with a grocery store loyalty card.
Click through to find out how to save hundreds on groceries.
1. Baked Goods
Buying fresh-baked goods while grocery shopping not only smells enticing, it probably sounds more wholesome than its prepackaged counterparts. In truth, you could be paying $5 per loaf or more for artisanal bread or other baked goods filled with preservatives, hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup. Buy a bread machine instead, and toss in wholesome ingredients for bread that costs about 60 cents per loaf. Or toss some cocoa, sugar, flour and baking powder in your cart instead of a boxed mix, and whip up a batch of brownies at home.
Click through to discover more insider hacks you can use at the grocery store.
2. Baking Mix
With ingredients that basically include flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, ready-made pancake mix isn’t a bargain. You’re also paying up to 27 cents per ounce for hydrogenated oil and hazardous ingredients such as aluminum phosphate. Make your own by sifting together 6 cups of flour, 3 tablespoons of baking powder and a tablespoon of salt. Then work in 3/4 cup of shortening, and store the mix in a glass or ceramic canister.
3. Bottled Coffee & Tea
Pre-bottled coffee or tea saves a little time over waiting in line at the coffee shop, but it costs you in unnecessary money and calories. A Starbuck’s Bottled Frappuccino contains 8 teaspoons of sugar and an AriZona Iced Tea has 6 teaspoons of sugar — more than you’d add if you made it yourself. Brew coffee or tea double strength, and store it in your fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. Add cream, sugar and any other flavorings when serving.
4. Bottled Water
Bottled water is a $391 billion per year industry — and one of the biggest scams going. A full 47 percent of bottled water sold in the U.S. is sourced from tap water, according to Consumer Reports, and a recent study shows that bottled water may contribute to the demineralization and deterioration of teeth because of its low pH.
Name-brand breakfast cereals come with a retail markup of up to 30 percent, and you could be paying even more per ounce for generic brands, according to a 2017 survey by Cornell University Head to warehouse stores such as Costco to get name-brand cereal cheaper than anything you can buy at the supermarket.
6. Shredded Cheese
The convenience of pre-shredded cheese just isn’t worth it. Additives such as potato starch (prevents sticking), natamycin (an antibiotic to prevent mold) and cellulose (a stabilizer made from wood pulp) keeps cheese from performing the same as freshly shredded in recipes. Grate your own and you’ll end up with two times more volume by weight than buying shreds.
7. Name-Brand Coffee
Pass by the coffee when buying groceries at the supermarket — it’s one of the most expensive places to get your morning grind. Head to a big-box office supply or warehouse store, and buy whole Arabica beans — they give that gourmet coffee-house taste and are the main bean in most name-brand coffee blends. Grind them at home for freshness, and use in your French press, reusable K-cup or regular brewer. And if you have extra grounds you don’t want to use, you can always find thrifty ways to use them.
8. Cocktail Mixers
With six to 13 teaspoons of sugar in every serving, cocktail mixers add unnecessary calories to your waistline and expense to your grocery bill. Make your own at home using fruit and the sweetener of your choice. Homemade margarita mix from freshly squeezed orange and lime juice requires only 1/3 cup sugar for 8 servings — about 2 teaspoons each.
9. “Dirty Dozen” Produce
Eating plenty of fruits and veggies is sure to keep you healthy, right? Not if they’re loaded with pesticides. The Environmental Working Group lists strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples and peaches as the five most chemically contaminated produce items you can buy. Opt for cleaner choices such as avocados, pineapples and cabbage instead.
Resist the urge to throw that pack of baby diapers in your cart at the grocery store; you could pay about 30 cents a diaper for the convenience. To win at the diaper game, stop by Target, where you can swaddle your little sweetie for as little as 14 cents per nappie. But don’t expect to find the best values on everything at the big box retailer, though; check out these grocery store deals that beat both Target and Walmart.
11. Endcap Items
Just because something is on an endcap doesn’t make it a good buy. Although you might find items on sale there, know that some manufacturers pay money to the retailer to have a second display of their products. Venture down the aisle where the product is normally stocked, and compare prices before choosing endcap items.
12. Energy Bars
If you think energy bars are a healthier alternative to a candy bar, think again. A Cliff Bar has twice the amount of sugar and the same amount of fat as a Snickers bar, as well as 2.5 times the calories and more than three times as many carbs. Buy almonds, nuts, dark chocolate chips and chopped dried fruit to make your own healthier snack mix.
13. Energy Drinks
If you want an energy boost, stick to a cup of coffee. An energy drink delivers about the same amount of caffeine as four cups of coffee, along with nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar and some non-FDA-approved ingredients. Linked to cardiac deaths and potentially dangerous changes in heartbeat and blood pressure that coffee doesn’t cause, the drinks are definitely something to leave behind.
14. Eye-Level Items
Items at eye level are nearly always more expensive than those on the bottom shelf, according to Consumer Reports. Manufacturers pay retailers a fee for product placement at eye level.
15. Non-Food Items
It might be tempting to pick up a quart of oil for the car in the automotive aisle or a pack of light bulbs for that burnt-out light in the hall. Some supermarkets even let you shop for everything from a diamond ring to home furnishings. Stick to the food aisles in the supermarket. You’ll find non-food items cheaper at a dollar store, pharmacy or big box department store.
16. Ready-to-Eat Food
Besides frozen items in your grocer’s freezer, supermarkets offer presliced fruit, premade salads, sandwiches and sides. Expect to shell out twice as much as you would as if you bought the ingredients and prepped the food at home yourself, according to a 2016 Consumer Reports survey. The foods often have more salt and preservatives than homemade too.
17. Salad Dressing
You can top your healthy salad with a cheap salad dressing that might only cost a couple bucks, but it’s also full of things you don’t necessarily want in your body, such as MSG and preservatives. Healthier options can cost up $13 or more per 8-ounce bottle. Making your own dressing is easy and cheap — and healthier — when you use fresh ingredients such as herbs, sour cream, garlic and vinegar.
18. Frozen Fruit Pops
Frozen fruit popsicles can satisfy your taste for dessert for around $1 per bar and only 60 calories, but homemade versions are typically cheaper. Buy a bag of no-sugar-added frozen strawberries from Walmart, rev up your blender and make them yourself for less than one-third of the price.
19. Frozen Veggie Dishes
Frozen vegetables can be an easy way to add healthy ingredients to your meal while making sure nothing goes to waste in the fridge, but they cost around $4 per pound. It’s easy and cheap to make your own gourmet veggie dishes with no worries about additives or preservatives. Coat chopped veggies in olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pop them in a 425-degree oven. Freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet until set before storing them in a freezer container.
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20. Frozen French Fries
Heating up fries from the supermarket to go with your meal takes about 30 minutes and costs about $1.50 per pound. If you don’t mind waiting an extra 10 to 15 minutes, you can make your own by slicing a potato lengthwise into french fry shapes, coating with oil and popping into a 425 degree oven.
21. Lunch Snack Packs
Kids love lunch snack packs, but don’t fool yourself — at $2 for a 3.2-ounce molded plastic dish containing a handful of crackers, cheese food slices and processed meat, it’s a rip-off. Let your child pick out a reusable sectioned plastic container at the dollar store, and prep a healthier version together for much less per serving.
22. Imported Olive Oil
Imported olive oil is one of the items that don’t deserve the big price tag at your grocery store. Oil from Europe is likely older — and less tasty — than oils produced in California, as EU producers have incentives to store it longer. Domestic oils also have more rigorous standards overall and often come with freshness dates, making them the better buy. They’re also one of the best deals at Whole Foods.
The golden liquid in those cute plastic bears on grocery store shelves isn’t necessarily what you think it is. Honey mixed with high-fructose corn syrup is common, meaning you might be paying higher prices for cheaper ingredients. Buy your honey by the gallon from a local beekeeper or farmer’s market. Ask where the hives are located. If they have no idea, it’s probably fake.
24. Organic Produce
A steep price tag isn’t the only difference you’ll notice when buying organic produce in your local supermarket. The fruits and veggies might look withered, pale or even semi-withered unless your grocer does a lot of organic business. Shop at stores that sell organic produce regularly, such as Whole Foods or Aldi, and you’ll spend money on food that looks better and lasts longer. Better yet, head out to your local farmer’s market.
25. Pet Food
Buying pet food at the grocery store just isn’t a good idea. Most supermarket options list corn — a cheap and unhealthy filler — as the first ingredient, with cheap by-products such as meat meal and bone meal made from bones, hoofs, beaks and organs. Head to Costco or Tractor Supply for pet food made with premium ingredients for about the same cost. And to save some extra money, make your pet its next toy instead of buying it.
26. Toiletries and Cosmetics
It might be convenient to pick up a bottle of foundation or shampoo while you’re at the grocery store, but you could do better. Grocery store cosmetics are generally lower-end products formulated with controversial ingredients such as sulfates, parabens and aluminum compound. Save your money and order quality products online or buy them at a department store.
27. Gourmet Ice Cream
You might pay 31 cents an ounce or more for gourmet ice cream such as Ben & Jerry’s in your local grocery store. Make your own delish treat with some basic Breyers Natural Vanilla for 10 cents an ounce, and chop up cookies, candy bars and other sweets from the dollar store to make your own special mix.
28. Marinara Sauce
A container of marinara sauce runs about $5 on average, but a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes is less than $2. Make a quick pan sauce for dipping focaccia bread or topping pasta by adding garlic, Italian seasoning, olive oil, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of cayenne to taste.
Picking up spices to season a special dinner will cost as much as $8.50 at the closest grocery store. Head to Whole Foods or other stores where spices are sold in bulk if you just need a pinch or two, and buy just the amount you need for a whole lot less.
30. Check-Out Temptations
You’ve made it through the store with just the products on your list: Don’t blow it while you’re waiting in line for the checkout. Magazines that cost $3 or $4 per copy often have the same articles online or can be read at the library for free. It’s also where candy and other treats get placed to tempt you to buy when you’re fatigued.