For most of us, going to the grocery store is unavoidable. And if you're not careful, leaving too much money in stores' hands will be unavoidable, too.
Scanners ring up wrong prices, stores overcharge, and you can end up paying more for less in subtle ways as well.
Just this week, we told you the Los Angeles City Attorney's office filed criminal charges against the California grocery chain Ralph's, alleging the retailer has been overcharging for prepackaged and weighed goods. Undercover inspectors found overcharges, incorrectly-priced food packages or packages that weighed lighter than they should, according to the allegations.
Stores also pump up the weight in packaged food, by adding ice or water solutions. The nonprofit National Conference on Weights and Measures says consumers may be paying up to $23 a pound for ice in seafood in certain circumstances, according to a 17-state investigation conducted earlier this year. An ice glaze is added during the packaging process to help preserve the quality. It's legal, but some unscrupulous packagers can profit by pumping up the amount of the solution.
LiveCheap.com, a website dedicated to helping people, well, live cheap, came up with the top five ways grocery stores can get you to pay more than you should:
Paying more for water
Packaged chicken will often have a small note on the label saying it contains a solution, water or broth. Does that make the chicken taste better, as the store might explain, or get you to pay the price of chicken for water?
Not so good meat and veggies
When you get big packages of meat or vegetables, there's a good chance you'll find the food in the middle of the package is not nearly as good as what you see on the outside. That's how they get rid of meat and produce that wouldn't sell if it was just out there by itself.
A mind game
Supermarkets are designed to get you to spend as much as they can get you to spend. It makes sense. That's why they spread staples throughout the store. The bread aisle, milk case, meat case and produce usually are placed as far away as possible from each in order to drag you by specially-priced items they want you to buy on impulse.
The package is shrinking
Not only are package sizes shrinking while you pay the same or more -- the 48-ounce half-gallon of ice cream for example -- but unit measurements that are supposed to help us shop better are getting all mixed up. Some are measured by pints, others quarts and others ounces. How can you comparison shop if you can't compare? Exactly.
There are a few things to keep in mind to get the most out of a trip to the market. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection suggests shopping the rim of the store first for produce, milk and other essential items. Then hit the middle of the store for the heavily marketed, processed foods. Always compare unit prices, and remember a bigger bag doesn't always mean a better price.
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