Stop Buying These 5 Foods That Are Eating Up Your Paycheck

When it comes to feeding yourself and your family, it’s all too easy to waste money. You might be doing everything you can to find a grocery store with reasonable prices, and take care to avoid the common grocery shopping pitfalls that add to your bill. You might even be patting yourself on the back for limiting the number of times you dine out in a week.

It’s true that cooking at home will likely save you some money — and more than a few calories. But there are still some ways you’re probably hemorrhaging cash at the supermarket. Not every convenience is worth the price, but sometimes you might not even realize how those extra dollars can add up. Whether your budget resembles a shoestring or you’re just trying to get the most value out of your paychecks, here are a few items you might want to reconsider on your shopping list.

1. Bagged lettuce

bagged lettuce

Pre-packaged lettuce | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Bags of triple-washed romaine hearts that are already chopped into bite-size pieces seem like a huge timesaver for your schedule, and they might be. However, just because they’re one of the hottest selling items at the grocery store doesn’t mean they’re a great deal. These bags can be three times as expensive as the bunch of romaine that you cut yourself — and the fresh stuff you put some effort into is sure to last longer in your refrigerator.

Yes, washing, tearing, and spinning lettuce can be a soul-crushing task when you just want to put dinner on the table. But you can do so in larger batches and save the leftovers in a Ziploc bag for later. (One kitchen tip: Stick a paper towel in the bag to soak up excess moisture and keep it from wilting longer.) It’s your own bagged lettuce for a fraction of the cost, and without being responsible for a huge amount of lettuce waste the industry is responsible for.

2. Pre-made deli items

Italian Sub Sandwich with Salami

Italian sub sandwich |

That $6 Italian sandwich in the deli section looks extremely tempting when you’re grocery shopping at 5 p.m., but a tiny bit of effort can yield you the same results at home for a fraction of the price. You probably already have the condiments you want at home, so all you need is the deli meats and cheeses. To amp up the sandwich, purchase loaves of Italian bread in the bakery section and cut them into the portion you want. If you’re buying multiple types of cold cuts your total cost could be more than $6 initially, but it will yield a week’s worth of sandwiches instead of the one you’re craving. And let’s be real — that sandwich was probably made the day before, and by now is soggy (and alternatively dry) in all the wrong places.

The price per pound for pre-made mashed potatoes, pasta salads, and Jello salads are also extremely high, since manual effort goes into making each one. We get that you don’t want to whip these things up after work, but avoiding them as much as possible (and making your own when you do have spare time) will save you money in the long run.

3. Out-of-season produce

peas and asparagus

Green vegetables |

Peaches, green beans, blueberries, asparagus, and strawberries are all delicious when they’re fresh — and in season. If you live in a climate that has winter, it means your produce has to travel farther to get to your shopping cart, diminishing the nutritional value and also probably the quality. We’ve all bitten into asparagus that has the texture of a twig instead of a vegetable, and it’s not pleasant.

Instead of picking up subpar fruits and veggies from the produce section, consider the frozen food aisles instead. Frozen produce gets a bad rap, but there’s proof those frozen bags of goodness can contain more nutrients than the greens that traveled hundreds of miles to get to you. What’s more, you’ll end up paying less for the frozen varieties than the out-of-season, hard to find produce. Livestrong suggests that as long as you eat the frozen produce within eight months of purchasing it, you won’t lose any nutritional value from the frozen varieties (just avoid the ones that come with pre-made sauces — you can make your own for much less money).

4. Pre-packaged snacks

individual snack packs

Pre-packaged snacks | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Individual sizes of crackers, cookies, and other snacks are extremely convenient, and can even help with portion control with the 100 calorie-packs. However, you’ll pay a price for letting someone else divvy up your pretzels and mini chocolate chip cookies. The next time you’re at the grocery store, check out the unit price of the snack packs compared to the regular-sized box of your snack of choice. (That price is often in the upper left corner of the price tag.) Chances are, the unit price for the snack packs is much, much higher than the price of the regular bags.

You can make your own snack packs, we promise. Purchasing Ziploc bags in bulk and splitting up the snacks for your children or yourself will only take a few minutes, but will end up saving you more money in the long run. According to ABC News, doing so can save a family with two children more than $500 a year.

5. Some organic foods

Fresh organic farmers market fruit and vegetable

Organic fruits and vegetables |

If eating organic is important to you, go for it. But some organic foods really aren’t worth the price hike, since they rarely have a presence of pesticides, and thick skins or peels protect what you actually eat. When you eat the skin, like when it comes to most berries and greens like lettuce, it might be worth it to you to pay the organic price. But with items like kiwi or avocados, the skin you peel away also gets rid of any pesticides or unwanted additives.

Every year, the EWG ranks popular types of produce and makes a “Clean Fifteen” list of produce that is least affected by pesticides and other processes. In other words, buying non-organic forms of these fruits and vegetables won’t be a health issue, but will save you money. Along with kiwi and avocados on that list is pineapples, asparagus, onions, cauliflower, eggplant, and more.

Follow Nikelle on Twitter and Facebook

More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet: