10 Money Wasters at the Grocery Store

A couple of weeks ago we considered a number of cheap and nutritious foods that are great purchases for those of us who are pinching pennies.

There are numerous money wasters lurking at the grocery store. Here are 10 of these and their budget-friendly alternatives.

In contrast to these foods, there are a number of grocery items—including many with relatively low prices—that are wastes of money. Let’s consider these and their budget-friendly alternatives.

Wastes of money at the grocery store

Name brand products

Generic products often contain the same ingredients as name brand items, yet the name brand items cost 25-30% more (source). I know that name brand items can sometimes be of better quality than their generic equivalents, but there’s often no discernible difference (or only a small difference) between the two. If we select only a few name brand items (those we feel are truly superior in quality) but purchase generic versions of everything else, we can save hundreds of dollars each year.

Individually packaged snacks

Individually packaged snacks (such as cookies, chips, or crackers that come in small bags) can cost twice as much per ounce as the exact same snacks do when sold in regular packages. For example, in one store near my house, name brand cheese cracker sandwiches sold in an 8 ounce box cost $0.31 per ounce, while those sold in a box that contains 12 “snack packs” cost $0.52 per ounce. We can shave several dollars off each grocery bill by purchasing snacks in regular packages and placing these in our own reusable snack containers.

Precut fruits and veggies

Packages of precut fruits and veggies (such as lettuce, cauliflower, watermelon, and pineapple) cost about $0.50 more per ounce than their intact counterparts. Yes, it takes a little more effort to wash and chop these fruits and vegetables for ourselves, but the cost savings is significant.

Sweets from the bakery

Sweets prepared in grocery store bakeries cost a lot more than those made at home. In one store near me, a vanilla cake with buttercream frosting costs $8.49. I can prepare a similar cake in my home from scratch for about $3.80. If I were in a hurry and needed something more convenient, I could use a boxed cake mix and a tub of icing (which would also yield a cake that costs around $4.00, depending on the brands used). If we’ll just roll up our sleeves and do a little work, we can save quite a bit of money (and spare our bodies unnecessary preservatives and things like hydrogenated oils) by preparing homemade cookies and cakes.

Bottled water

Bottled water costs approximately 300 times the cost of tap water (source). You read that right: 300 times. Not only does the expense of bottled water gouge your wallet, but the plastic bottles left behind don’t biodegrade, so they’re harmful to the environment. Purchasing water filters to use in our homes—even high-quality filters—is a much more economical and eco-friendly option.

Microwave popcorn

The popcorn kernels in packages of microwave popcorn cost roughly $0.25 more per ounce than loose popcorn kernels. Given microwave popcorn also contains a number of unhealthy ingredients (hydrogenated oils, dyes, artificial flavors, etc.), we have every reason to choose the more affordable loose kernels. We can prepare these easily in an air popper or in the microwave (simply place a couple tablespoons of kernels in a paper lunch sack, fold over the top, and microwave for 2-3 minutes or until the popping stops).

Vinaigrette salad dressings

Bottles of vinaigrette dressings cost about twice as much as their homemade equivalents ($0.36 versus $0.18 per ounce). Simple vinaigrettes are easy to make; simply combine your preferred varieties of vinegar and oil, then add in whatever additional flavors you would like (sun-dried tomatoes, Dijon mustard, black pepper, garlic, etc.).

Nonstick cooking sprays

Generic nonstick cooking sprays—oils contained in aerosol cans—cost approximately $0.33 per ounce. Generic oils, on the other hand, cost as little as $0.04 per ounce. As you can see, it is much more affordable for us to purchase oils and apply these to pans and dishes using spray bottles (stainless steel or glass) or sprayers designed for spraying cooking oils.

Snack foods located at the register

Though they are quite tempting, the candy bars, chips, and other goodies near the registers are overpriced. For example, a regular Snickers® bar at the register costs $0.53 per ounce, while snack bars in a bag cost $0.23 per ounce. If we want snacks of this type, it’s best to get them back in the candy or snack aisles.

Single-serve coffee pods

The coffee in single-serve pods costs significantly more than coffee purchased by the pound. The former typically costs about $0.66 per cup, while the latter costs about $0.28 per cup (source). This means that single-serve pods cost more than twice as much as regular coffee. If you drink three cups of coffee each day, you’ll save $400 each year by purchasing regular coffee instead of single-serve coffee pods!

Final thoughts

I’m sure these money wasters are just the tip of the iceberg. What additional items have you found to be money wasters? Please share your insights with us!

Shared at the following:

The Art of Home-Making, Tuesday Talk, Coffee and Conversation, and Tuesdays with a Twist.













  1. Yes I agree. Many of the food products mentioned are what I call convenience food. It’s always better to make your own bag of snacks, cut fruit or veggies, etc. I also find that if a supermarket has its own brand, their versions are just as good as brand names for less.

  2. I definitely prefer to portion out my own foods, too. I also like being able to control the portion size for extra savings!

    • Shannon says:

      Great point about the portion size, Jamie! Not only does it cost less to purchase a large package and portion it out yourself, but you can actually choose how much constitutes a “portion.”

  3. There are whole areas of the grocery store that I never walk through… I never buy from those areas. 🙂

  4. I used to spend so much money on single serving bags of chips for my kids before I realized it’s just as easy (and cheaper) to buy a big bag and separate the chips into individual plastic bags!

    • Shannon says:

      It’s amazing how we don’t always pick up on these things right away, isn’t it, Stefanie? I’m glad you discovered the cheaper approach!

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