Cool Ideas

Top Items Not to Buy at Supermarket

by Stephanie Nelson

I prefer shopping for my groceries at a traditional supermarket because I can get the great bargains with store promotions, coupons and even the occasional rebate thrown in. You can't beat getting some items absolutely free when you know how to use supermarket promotions together!

However, I was recently asked if there were items that you should not buy at the supermarket because they usually cost less at a non-traditional grocery store. I haven't been asked that question before, so I had fun giving it some thought and doing a little research. Some of the price comparisons surprised me, and have changed my mind about where I will buy some items in the future.

To clarify, when I compared prices for these items, I assumed that the items would be selling at their full price to make a valid comparison. However, there may be times when a sale price plus a double coupon on these items would make them less expensive to buy at the supermarket. Here's my list.

Items Not to Buy at the Supermarket (if you are looking for lowest prices):

Spices. Expert cooks have told me that spices should be discarded after one year because they lose their flavor after a year. That would be a good way to organize my spice cabinet-I think I'd have to throw out 90% of the items in it. How many of us have purchased a full $5 bottle of a spice for a recipe, and five years later we still have 95% of that bottle left in our cabinet? Perhaps a better way to buy gourmet spices is to see if your natural foods market sells spices in bulk. I was able to buy two tablespoons of high-quality dried rosemary for 17 cents at my natural foods market, which was much fresher and flavorful than the decade-old bottle in my cabinet! Everyday spices that you may use more often such as cinnamon, oregano, pepper, and chili powder sell for 50 cents to $1.00 per bottle at discount stores and drugstores. At the very least, check the ethnic section of your supermarket instead of the baking aisle for spice bargains.

Cleaning supplies: My full price comparison of the name-brand cleaning supplies I use were 20% to 40% less expensive at my discount store than the grocery store. It's bad enough that we have to clean; we shouldn't have to pay a premium for the cleaning products! For an even less expensive cleaning alternative, use vinegar and water to clean just about everything.

Paper products: Wholesale clubs and discount stores frequently have lower unit costs on paper towels, bath tissue, paper products, dinnerware and more. Although supermarkets carry their own store brand that is a lower-cost alternative, the name brands are generally more expensive at the supermarket. Stock up on your paper products at a discount or wholesale store and "shop" from your own inventory to make fewer trips to different stores. However, be sure to use a calculator to compare unit costs as larger packages can be deceiving. For example, a recent price comparison in my grocery store of diaper costs found that the large package of diapers actually had a higher unit-cost than the smaller package of diapers.

Birthday and party supplies: Although it's easy to grab what you need at the supermarket as you are rushing to get ready for your party, you will pay a big premium for that convenience. Go to the dollar store for inexpensive birthday décor, candles, cake décor, paper products, gift bags, wrapping supplies and even bargain greeting cards. Organize yourself to buy supplies in advance in one big trip and you'll appreciate having everything on hand when you need it. Take advantage of clearance sales after holidays to really save and stock up for next year.

Pet food: Compare the prices of your pet food on a per-unit basis to see if you can find lower prices at your discount store or pet superstore. Pet stores frequently carry more varieties and larger-sized bags than the supermarket can. For example, I found that the 37.5 pound bag of our dog's food cost 33% less on a per-pound basis than the 20 pound bag of the same brand at our supermarket (which is the largest size they carry). You can check the advertising circulars for your pet store to buy the large bag when it's on sale to really save.

Stephanie Nelson has shared her savings tips on ABC News' Good Morning America, Good Housekeeping Magazine and hundreds of local radio and TV stations. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at www.couponmom.com.

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