Grocery stores groan about their low profit margins, which average 3 or 4 percent. But they have become very clever at raising those margins, and the items that are marked up are the items they want you to put in your shopping cart.
If you’re all about saving money, here are several things you should never buy at a grocery store:
Meat. This is true of what you’ll see at the deli counter, at the butcher station and at the section that sells packaged lunch meat, bacon and sausage. The markup for meat cut up into pieces for stews or kabobs can reach 300 percent, and meat that is not specially cut can be marked up as much as 60 percent. The truth is there is a large markup for meat no matter where you buy it, but consider a meal wholesaler that does door-to-door deliveries or go to a warehouse store, where you can expect to save about 30 percent. If you must buy meat at the grocery store, pick something out and ask the butcher to cut it for you. He can’t charge you extra for his labor.
Pre-cut produce. Whether you see packaged, sliced “grilling vegetables” or cut up melons or pineapples, keep walking. Pick out the melons, squash, mushrooms and other produce that have not been sliced and diced and buy those instead. A one-pound package of sliced watermelon could cost $2 or more. A 10-pound watermelon costs $5 or $6. What would you do?
Bottled water. Americans spend about $15 billion a year on bottled water, 44 percent of which comes from the same municipal sources that give you your tap water. Buy a 12-pack of bottled water and, as you drink it, save the empty bottles and the caps. At night, before you go to bed, fill a large pitcher with tap water and let it sit out uncovered on your counter overnight. The odor – if there is any – from the chemicals used to make the water drinkable, will evaporate. In the morning, fill your empty plastic bottles with the water from the pitcher, cap them and take them with you. Still don’t like the taste? Buy a filter for your kitchen faucet. How much money will you save? A lot. Let’s say you find a case of water at the grocery store for $5, or about $1.25 per gallon. Water from the tap – and even filtered tap water — costs less than one cent per gallon.
Juice boxes. This is a no-brainer. Buy large bottles of juice and pour it in reusable plastic bottles if your kids want juice in their lunch boxes. Is it slightly less convenient? Yes. Will your kids get over it? Definitely.
Cosmetics and skin care products. Many grocery stores have cleared plenty of shelf space for these items, and their customers will pay dearly for them. Giant retailers such as Kmart, Walmart or Target typically offer the best prices, and chain drugstores often have sales that make them a better option than grocery stores.
Party supplies. It’s tempting to kill two birds with one stone and buy party supplies while you’re shopping for groceries, but resist the temptation and go to your local dollar store to buy greeting cards, candles, balloons, wrapping paper and other party supplies. You’ll spend about half at the dollar store, making it well worth your time to make the extra trip.
Batteries, light bulbs, canned soup, toothpaste and soap. See party supplies (above), and then go to a dollar store and save a lot of money.
Paper plates and cups and plastic utensils. Use the real thing. Even at picnics, bring dishwasher-safe, lightweight plastic plates and cups. Not only is it the environmentally responsible thing to do, but re-using what you already own will save you money.