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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

Beware the Thief at the Grocery Store

I have been paying attention to prices in the grocery store lately, especially when on the news there are multiple stories about the price of meat going up or how the weather is affecting the crop plantings of feed for the meat animals.

I am not directly affected by the recent increase in meat prices because I have a freezer at home and tend to buy in bulk when I find a good deal and freeze the excess.

I don't have a lot of storage space to buy too many other foods in bulk so I am subject to the roller coaster of pricing that you see in the stores. I noticed the other day that I seem to be buying a lot more cereal lately which is odd because my husband is the only one who regularly eats cereal. Then I noticed that mayonnaise was on the grocery list more often. We haven't increased our family size and haven't changed our eating habits so I decided to investigate some of the items in the grocery store to see what is happening.

What I found was some pretty sneaking packaging, meant to either hide the fact there is less product in the apparent same size package (for the same price) or to make the package look bigger and therefore a better value.

Here are a couple of examples.

Cereal: My husband eats cereal as a food group. He'll eat it for dinner, snacks and occasionally for breakfast. I bought several boxes that were taller than others on the shelf and looked like a good deal. However, I discovered they were much thinner than the average box of cereal and had I looked at the net weight, I would have seen that some are down to 12 ounces! Taller box, fewer ounces of product and the same price equals more expensive cereal and we go through more boxes.

Mayonnaise and peanut butter: Both of these products have been downsized in recent years but the price hasn't seemed to go down. The jars of these seem to be the same size as before and they are full so where is the decrease coming from? Check the bottom of the jars. Companies are hiding the fact there is less in the jar by indenting the bottom. The larger the indentation-the less product in the jar. Again, looking on the label for the number of ounces in the container is the indicator of increased prices.

Check for the number of servings: I saw a couple of jars of instant coffee, one jar appeared larger and substantially cheaper than the other. In fact, both jars had the same amount of coffee in them. When I read the label, the more expensive (and the name brand by the way) jar had 50 servings while the less expensive had only 30. If you priced them out by the ounce, the less expensive coffee was cheaper, but if you priced by the serving, the name brand was the far better deal.

Some products scream XX% more in this package making it seem like you are getting something for free. Read the fine print. Some of the claims are laughably obvious. A 50 ounce bottle of laundry detergent boasts 25% more. And the fine print says , "than 40 ounce detergents". Yes that is correct and I bet it costs more too. Two different 12 ounce packages of cold medicine boasted "50% more (than our 8 ounce package) and 20% more (than our 10 ounce package). It is just another way to get you to spend more because you think you are getting a good deal.

So the moral of the story is you really have to be on your toes in the grocery (and others) store. Check out the actual net weight on the container to see if you are getting less but paying more. But you cannot rely on just the price per ounce- you also need to check the number of servings. And don't buy more than you can easily store AND use before it goes bad. Americans throw away between $600 and $1,000 dollars per year in food because we buy too much and it spoils, we cook too much and it spoils and because we fall victim to the appearance of a good deal while we are trying to watch out bottom line. You worked hard for your money, don't let advertisers steal it from you.

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