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On Southern Savers the goal is to save at least 40% on your grocery bill. There are some overpriced items though that will thwart that plan as soon as they hit your shopping cart. They are hiding on grocery store shelves disguised by convenience and instant gratification, but these high markups can be avoided by a little math and planning ahead.
Note: It is by no means wrong to buy these things. I have bought these items and items like them before. We all have moments when we need something right then. I just want to present some alternative options to buying marked-up products and show just how much more you are paying.
Here are the Top 10 items every coupon shopper should avoid.
#1 Hard Boiled Eggs
Eggs are cheap. The humble egg is probably the most versatile ingredient in your refrigerator. You can make cakes, omelettes, mayonnaise, meringue, and ice cream– or you can just boil them. Boiled eggs are cheap and filling, but boiling water and peeling the egg shells can be a little bit frustrating. Somebody at Almark Foods recognized this frustration and the profit that could be made from it. Remarkably, people seem to be willing to buy two eggs for $1.29. That’s an incredibly high $7.74 per dozen!
The solution? Boil some eggs ahead of time. You can even keep them with the shells on in an egg carton, or pre-peeled in a plastic bag. If you have trouble getting the shell off without peeling off most of the egg, just boil the eggs in water with a few shakes of baking soda.
#2 Spice Blends
Alton Brown in his cookbook, “I’m Just Here For the Food”, on spice blends:
“I recently just bought a jar of spice mix. The jar in question bore a bright, shiny, full-color photo of a smiling celebrity chef. The back label… listed six ingredients, the first of which was salt. I bought one jar of the chef’s mix as well as new containers of each of the spices listed in the ingredient roster. Once home, it took me about half an hour to replicate the mix. Using a pharmacy scale, I then calculated the amounts of each spice I used and the approximate cost. Now I know why the chef is smiling.”
He goes on to report the result of his calculations: a 500% markup!
Buying a jar of spice blend is the least obvious way to waste of money on this list. It just doesn’t seem to be too expensive at first glance. Also, people tend to think that spice blends, especially those branded with celebrity chefs, are expertly portioned and require skill and experience that they don’t have. This just isn’t true.
Making your own spice blend isn’t difficult at all. We’ve posted about spice blends before, but some things bear repeating. The first (and therefore most abundant) ingredient on almost all of the spice blends that I inspected was salt. Salt is incredibly cheap. Adding salt to a commercial spice blend is kind of like “watering down” a drink, and as we have mentioned before, having salt in a spice blend makes it difficult to season food properly. Salt and spices should be added to food separately because they have two different culinary functions.
The best way around buying spice blends is to invest in stocking up on spices for your cabinet. That way you can save money, control the salt and ingredients that go into your food, and experiment with your own spice blends.
#3 Pre-Sliced and Pre-Diced Produce
If you buy this, you are paying quite a price for the convenience of not having to dirty your cutting board. The “tomato trinity” mix, which is a mix of diced onions, tomatoes, and green peppers, is $2.99 for one 8 oz package! That’s $6/lb for tomatoes, onions, and green peppers. I understand paying extra for convenience, but $6/lb for those ingredients is incredibly high.
I also saw a 6 oz package of sliced mangos for $3.99. That’s over $10/lb… for mangos! I don’t think that the convenience of not having to slice mangos is worth that kind of a markup, but it’s hard to know what you are truly paying without doing the math.
#4 Slices of Cake
The word temptation is perennially associated with dessert, and it comes to my mind when I think of seeing the slices of cake in the bakery of the grocery store. It’s only a couple of dollars, and just one slice isn’t going to hurt me. But math just had to ruin it for me.
One 3 oz slice of cake is $2.50. That’s $12.50/lb for cake! So please avoid the temptation of putting this in your shopping cart the next time you’re passing by the bakery section. If you must have cake, just buy the whole cake for what comes out to be about 4 times cheaper. If you don’t have a big family and you aren’t planning a party any time soon (or if you just don’t want to share), just take a slice for dessert tonight and freeze the rest. Even if your waist line doesn’t thank you, your wallet will.
#5 Pre-Seasoned Meat and Fish
There are a few reasons to avoid buying pre-seasoned meat in the grocery store. The most important reason is the mark-up. The worst offender that I saw was this package of ribs. It was a normal-sized rack of ribs weighing in at just over two pounds for $17.99. That’s $7.70 per pound. That may not seem like too much for ribs, but I saw the same cut of meat in the store’s meat department for $3.99 per pound.
In the Publix Ad recently, Tilapia was on sale. You could get plain Tilapia for $5.99/lb or cajun Tilapia for $6.99/lb. Personally, I’d rather shake on my own cajun seasoning and save $1/lb.
Season your own meat, and save money. Sometimes pre-prepared meat does go on sale with a coupon from time to time. When that happens, you can do the math to see which is cheaper. In general though, it is cheaper (and often healthier) to season it yourself.
#6 Whipped butter
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You can make whipped butter at home. The easy way is to cut up a stick of butter into chunks, put the chunks into a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and whip it (whip it good!) until the butter is at the desired consistency.
The more difficult but still relatively easy way is to cut a stick of butter into chunks, let it come to room temperature to soften, and use a bowl and whisk to whip to desired consistency.
You can also add herbs, chopped garlic, lemon juice and/or zest, or any other flavors to your homemade whipped butter. Store in a Tupperware or used store bought whipped butter container.
If you buy butter already whipped, you’re paying nearly double. At my Publix, store brand whipped butter was $2.39 for an 8 oz tub. That’s the same amount of butter as two sticks. I can get 4 sticks of butter on sale for $2.50.
The package is big, but by definition whipped butter contains more air per unit of volume than a stick of butter.
Avoid buying these pre-made kabobs that appear in grocery stores in the summer time. You’re paying by the pound, which includes the weight of the skewer (which, I admit, is negligible but still worth noting) and the vegetables. You are also paying for the labor of making the kabobs. Buying the ingredients separately, cutting them, and skewering them yourself saves a considerable amount of money. Kids love to help make kabobs!
I think that it’s also (while there is some debate about this) better to skewer each ingredient on its own skewer. I think that putting everything on one skewer means that you will have to overcook one thing to avoid undercooking another thing. Although, some people don’t mind charred veggies, so it’s your call.
#8 Cold Soft Drinks At The Checkout Line
This probably isn’t an observation that you haven’t made yourself. Grocery stores keep their single-serving bottles of soda in refrigerators by the checkout area for immediate consumption. The price is much higher per ounce than the room temperature bottles on the soda aisle.
The solution? Plan ahead. Refrigerate the cheaper bottles yourself.
#9 Packaged Herbs and Herb Paste
I admit that I’ve bought these pouches of fresh herbs before, but knowing how easy it is to grow your own herbs makes it difficult to pay $1.99 for a handful. I know, sometimes you have a recipe that you want to try, but you have no other way to access fresh tarragon. At least by buying the fresh herbs you are getting a better deal than the herb paste.
The pastes are a worse waste of money than the fresh herb pouches.
You can make your own pastes with herbs, spices, and oil in a food processor. You can grow your own herbs, find friends who grow herbs (they will have extra for you if their plants are mature), or go find herbs out in public places. Seriously, there is tons of parsley, oregano, and rosemary growing in a park near my house. You can find rosemary bushes in a lot of public places.
#10 Frozen Wings
Frozen chicken wings are usually marked up pretty high. They come pre-seasoned, sometimes precooked, and often leave something to be desired in quality. I saw a 1.75 lb bag of seasoned wings for $8.99 in the frozen section of Publix. In my experience, these precooked wings taste a little bit funny, and usually have the texture of baked chicken instead of the crispy texture of restaurant-quality wings.
Buying raw wings on sale and cooking them yourself is the way to go. You can control the ingredients that go into your seasoning/sauce, you can make a superior product, and you can save money. Wait until they go on sale and stock up! Because of their size, you can cook them right out of the freezer without defrosting.
Like other pre-seasoned meats, with a sale and coupon you may be able to get them for less than the price of raw. This is rare, so if you love precooked chicken wings, stock up when that happens. Chicken wings go on sale for $1.99/lb or less, which is hard to beat.
Remember, it is not wrong to buy these items. I know that as a busy mom sometimes it makes my day to buy my mangos pre-sliced, but you are paying more. In general, convenience has a steep price tag, so plan ahead when you can and try to forget about this post when you can’t.
What are some overpriced items you have seen in the store?