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13 Supermarket Buys That Are a Huge Waste of Money

Supermarkets are a huge convenience and they offer great savings—unless you're putting these items in your cart!

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Group of used women nylon tights pantyhose beige colour on isolated white background.Kajonsak Tui/Shutterstock


Why is it that you remember you need a new pair of pantyhose when you’re at the grocery store and not at Target? “Hosiery is almost always going to be cheapest at a pharmacy or big box store, particularly when it’s one of the sale items through a loss-leader,” says Emily Guy Birken, author of End Financial Stress Now: Immediate Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Financial Outlook. And you’re unlikely to find your brand. “I’d say only buy hosiery at the grocery store when you’re already late for a wedding and got a run in the stockings you’re wearing.”

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Dried dog food backgroundRapeepat Pornsipak/Shutterstock

Pet supplies

Walking down the pet supply aisle is fun—so many fun toys and treats to spoil Fido! While pet food and treats are relatively inexpensive, you and your pet may pay the price later. “Most of the pet foods available at the grocery store list corn as the first ingredient, which isn’t ideal for your pet’s digestion, and also include cheap meat by-products to fill out the rest of the ingredients,” says Birken. Healthier pet food, natural kitty litter, pet treats, and toys are cheaper at large retail stores, Tractor Supply or even Chewy.com. If you’re considering getting a dog, this is how much it costs to own one.

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Group of colorful cell foams for swimming poolsJorge Maricato/Shutterstock

Seasonal items

All those delightful seasonal products placed near the cash register are there to separate you from your hard-earned cash. “Seasonal items are generally not a good buy at grocery stores,” says Birken. “For one, the supermarket is not the place to go for good-quality patio furniture or pool toys. These items might look nice in the store, but they’ll probably be pretty battered before the season is over,” she warns. Before you start shopping though, find out the best time to buy everything throughout the year.

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burger assort on counter in bakers shop, close upIakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Precut/Prepared foods

It’s hard not to pass up the convenience of those cute take-and-go fruit cups or perfectly formed burgers for the grill. But try to resist: “According to an analysis by Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart Magazine, you pay as much as 370 percent more for these convenience foods,” says Birken. These are the 27 foods you should never eat again.

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texture of dried oregano close-up, spice or seasoning as backgroundDmitr1ch/Shutterstock

Everyday spices

Most supermarkets have an extensive spice selection, but that’s not the place to stock up on the ones you use regularly such as cinnamon, garlic salt, oregano, and onion powder. You’ll shake on more savings if you head to a discount grocery store like Aldi where you can pick them up for $1.19 each. At that price, you could get at least three or four bottles of spices for one bottle at the supermarket. Speaking of Aldi’s, this is why their groceries are so cheap.

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Scattered salted popcorn, texture background. Paket/Shutterstock

Microwave popcorn

A six-pack of microwave popcorn at the supermarket will run around $4. A 30-ounce bag of popcorn kernels is around $3. Sure, that doesn’t seem like a huge waste of money, but a six-pack box only has 15 servings (if it all pops!) but a 30-ounce bag of popcorn kernels, makes at least 30 servings. That’s a lot more popcorn for your next Netflix binge; plus, it’s the healthier since you control the toppings and how it’s made.

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close-up stacks of baby diapersoiv/Shutterstock


If you’re an Amazon Prime member, sign up for Amazon Family and get 20 percent off diapers and free shipping. No more hauling diapers home and you can earmark the money for Junior’s college fund (or a night out for you!). Another tip: Supermarkets are using these 50 tricks to make you spend more.

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A close view of small square cheese crackers.Tiger Images/Shutterstock

Snack packs

We’re all about portion control, but those handy snack packs really pad your grocery budget. “Unfortunately, you’re paying a huge premium for the convenience and cuteness factor,” says Birken. For example, a 12.4-oz box of Cheez-It crackers is around $3 at but a 12-pack of Cheez-It crackers of nearly the same weight is $4.50. “Invest in reusable baggies or a pre-molded lunch box, and package your own snacks for a much healthier body and wallet,” suggests Birken. Here are 10 more surprisingly easy ways to save big at the supermarket.

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BATHGATE, SCOTLAND, UK - OCTOBER 11, 2017. A display rack of gift cards for different retailers.Tana888/Shutterstock

Gift cards

Gift giving is super easy and convenient when you can toss a gift card on the conveyor belt with your milk and eggs—but those cards are much cheaper with a Sam’s Club membership, especially when you buy them in a bundle. For example, two $25 P.F. Chang’s gift cards are $45.98. That’s a savings of $4.02. Costco members have similar deals like an App Store and iTunes $25 gift card for $23.99.

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bubble water backgroundFreeBirdPhotos/Shutterstock

Bubble bath

After fighting the crowds and unloading the groceries, you may feel your trip to the supermarket has earned you a long soak in the tub. That’s fine, but don’t buy your bubble bath (or other personal products) there. A bottle of Calgon Bubble Bath is around $6 at the supermarket but only around $3 for the same size bottle at Walmart. Or shop online Birken says. “You can save on your toiletries by setting up a subscription for the ones you use most through something like Amazon’s Subscribe and Save, which can cut as much as 15 percent off the regular price.” Try these 15 Amazon hacks to save even more money.

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Samara, Russia - December 15, 2017: Different plastic canisters with motor oil and car chemistry ready to sale at the Lenta storeFotograFFF/Shutterstock

Automotive goods

“Just because you can pick up antifreeze or other automotive supplies at the grocery store doesn’t mean you should,” says Birken. Besides paying too much, you could compromise quality with a brand you don’t recognize or get the wrong formula for your car. “Go to an auto parts store for these items. You’ll get a better selection and a better price,” says Birken.

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Colorful paper plate displayskeen/Shutterstock

Party supplies

“If you’re already picking up food for the party, it may feel natural to just grab paper plates, cups, plastic ware, and a tablecloth at the supermarket while you’re there. But you’ll spend much less on the same items at the dollar store,” says Birken. Find out the 11 things you should always buy at the dollar store.

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Various dried fruits backgroundPeangdao/Shutterstock

Specialty baking ingredients

If you don’t use speciality ingredients very often, the full-size products can expire in the pantry. Buy things like self-rising cake flour, dried fruit, herbs, and nuts at a store that sells bulk food in bins. You can buy just what you need for the recipe and not waste food or money. Next, don’t miss these 20 supermarket secrets from America’s top grocery stores.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.