18 Surprising Food Items That Are a Total Waste of Money at the Grocery Store

Wherever you go grocery shopping, you’ll find some food items that are a great buy and others that are never a good deal. In fact, experts have identified some staples that you should never buy at the grocery store. And that even includes healthy purchases like some organic foods.

Some of the food items that aren’t a good use of your hard-earned paycheck are pretty logical. But others would come as a big surprise even to the most veteran bargain-hunter or coupon-clipper. Below, check out the most surprising food items that are a waste of your money at the grocery store.

1. Baked goods

French bread loaves

French bread | Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images

The bakery at the grocery store always smells delicious. And you’d think that by buying fresh bread, you’re choosing a healthier option than the prepackaged loaves elsewhere in the store. But as GOBankingRates explains, you could be paying $5 or more for artisanal bread (and other fresh baked goods) that still have preservatives, hydrogenated oil, and high-fructose corn syrup.

  • Buy this instead: A bread machine. GOBankingRates reports that baking bread at home can cost as little as 60 cents per loaf. Plus, you can control the ingredients that go into your bread.

Next: These food items cost a lot more than you’d think. 

2. Baking mixes

Homemade Chocolate Chip Muffins

Chocolate Chip Muffins | iStock.com/bhofack2

Most people think that the occasional box of brownie or muffin mix won’t harm them. But GOBankingRates reports that, surprisingly enough, even something as innocuous as a box of pancake mix could have hazardous ingredients such as aluminum phosphate. (Not to mention the hydrogenated oils.) Mixes undeniably make baking easier. But they can also harm your health, and they often don’t save you much money, especially if you opt for the name-brand.

  • Buy this instead: Ingredients to mix up a batch from scratch. Whether you want pancakes, waffles, brownies, cookies, or muffins, you likely won’t need to spend much money to buy the ingredients. Then, you won’t have strange ingredients lurking in your baked goods.

Next: Don’t ever buy these beverages. 

3. Bottled coffee and tea

woman seated at a terrace taking soda coke

Iced tea | naikon/iStock/Getty Images

Whether you like coffee or prefer tea, buying a drink at a coffee shop takes time — and can end up costing a lot. It makes sense to look for an alternative at the grocery store. But don’t buy bottled coffee or tea, GOBankingRates advises. Both cost unnecessary money (and calories). In fact, there’s a much cheaper and healthier option.

  • Buy this instead: Regular coffee or tea. Then, brew your favorite double-strength and store it in your refrigerator for up to a week. Add cream, sugar, or any other flavorings you prefer when you serve it. And while you’re at it, get into the habit of buying your coffee at a warehouse store (like Costco), because the grocery store is one of the most expensive places to stock up.

Next: Skip this beverage, too. 

4. Bottled water

Row of water bottles

Row of water bottles. | Tezzstock/iStock/Getty Images

Another beverage that you should never buy bottled, according to GOBankingRates? Water. Much of the bottled water sold in the United States is just tap water, which means that it’s often a waste of money. And researchers have found potential consequences for your dental health, too. Bottled water may contribute to the deterioration of your teeth because of its low pH.

  • Buy this instead: A reusable water bottle or pitcher. You can choose one with or without a filter, but either way, you’ll stay hydrated while saving a lot of money (and reducing your impact on the environment).

Next: Don’t buy this essential at the grocery store. 

5. Cereal

spilled cereal on a wood floor

Spilled cereal | dwstinson87/iStock/Getty Images

Another food item you should avoid at the grocery store? Cereal. We won’t try to convince you to stop buying this breakfast food altogether, particularly if you eat it every morning. But GOBanking Rates reports that the grocery store isn’t the place to stock up on this beloved essential, because they charge you way too much.

  • Buy this instead: Cereal from a warehouse store like Costco. There, you’ll often find name-brand cereal for cheaper than what the grocery store charges even for generic.

Next: Stop buying these ASAP. 

6. Cocktail mixers

Homemade classic margarita

Homemade classic margarita drink with lime and salt | Wiktory/iStock/Getty Images

Making cocktails at home — especially for a crowd — can be a challenge. But GOBankingRates reports that it’s a waste of your money to buy cocktail mixers at the grocery store to streamline the process. Not only are they unnecessarily expensive, but they’re typically excessively sweet (and packed with a lot more calories than they need to be).

  • Buy this instead: The ingredients you need to make your favorite drink from scratch. Not only will your cocktails taste better, but you’ll likely reduce the amount of sugar in your drink.

Next: Reconsider buying these food items at a regular grocery store. 

7. Dirty Dozen produce

strawberry in the bowl

Strawberries | iStock.com/ValentynVolkov

You’ve probably heard of the “Dirty Dozen” in the produce section: fruits and vegetables that you should always buy organic because they get easily contaminated by harmful pesticides. Strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, and grapes are the worst offenders. But peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and sweet bell peppers also make the list.

  • Buy this instead: GOBankingRates advises avoiding these kinds of produce at the grocery store altogether, since you’ll likely waste your money on pesticide-laden foods. Opt for cleaner choices. And buy organic when you do purchase “Dirty Dozen” produce.

Next: Skip these food items if you want to eat healthily. 

8. Energy bars (and energy drinks)

Chocolate Muesli Bars on wooden background

Granola bars | iStock.com/HandmadePictures

GOBankingRates blames energy bars’ sugar content for making them a bad buy at the grocery store. The look like a healthier alternative to a candy bar. But they often have sky-high amounts of sugar that practically negates any of the potential health benefits. (And while you’re thinking about energy bars, also skip the energy drinks, which have eye-popping amounts of caffeine and sugar, as well as non-FDA-approved ingredients.)

  • Buy this instead: Ingredients for a healthy trail mix. GOBankingRates recommends nuts, dark chocolate chips, and dried fruit.

Next: Make this side yourself instead of buying it frozen. 

9. Frozen french fries

Well cooked Fries

French fries | iStock.com/J_Zuo

French fries also land on the list of food items that are a waste of money at the grocery store — and not because we’re going to tell you to quit eating fries. GOBankingRates reports that this beloved side can cost about $1.50 per pound to prepare from the frozen fries you can buy at the store. And the publication notes that there’s a better way to indulge.

  • Buy this instead: Potatoes to make your fries from scratch — the easy way. Slice them up, coat them in oil, and bake them in the oven.

Next: Skip these food items and make your own. 

10. Frozen vegetable sides

Frozen vegetables

Frozen vegetables | Issaurinko/iStock/ Getty Images

Some vegetables are even more nutritious if you buy them frozen rather than fresh. That makes plenty of veggies in the freezer aisle a good buy. But not frozen vegetable sides, according to GOBankingRates. Vegetable dishes with grains or sauces mixed in can cost up to $4 a pound, the publication reports.

  • Buy this instead: The ingredients for made-from-scratch frozen vegetable sides. GOBankingRates recommends buying your favorite veggies fresh, roasting them with olive oil and salt in a 425-degree oven, and then freezing them once they’ve cooled.

Next: Don’t ever buy this at the grocery store. 

11. Honey


Honey | Almaje/iStock/Getty Images

Honey tastes great, whether you put it in your favorite beverage or use it while baking. But GOBankingRates reports that the honey at the grocery store is probably a waste of your money. Especially when you see it packaged in the iconic plastic bear, honey often gets mixed with high-fructose corn syrup.

  • Buy this instead: Go honey from a local beekeeper or at the farmer’s market. And ask them where the hives are located to ensure that you get the real thing.

Next: This item sounds fancy but will waste your money. 

12. Imported olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil | Dulezidar/iStock/Getty Images

Next on the list of food items you don’t want to waste your money buying at the grocery store? Imported olive oil. According to GOBankingRates, imported olive oil doesn’t merit the steep price tags you’ll see at the store. Oil from Europe is often older and less flavorful than oils produced in California. And olive oil produced in the U.S. also has to follow more rigorous standards. It even comes printed with a freshness date.

  • Buy this instead: Olive oil from the United States instead of Europe.

Next: Don’t waste your money on this item, either. 

13. Marinara sauce

spaghetti served on a black plate

Spaghetti with marinara sauce | gkrphoto/iStock/Getty Images

Premade marinara sauce can make dinner come together impressively quickly. But GOBankingRates reports that you’re wasting your money by routinely paying $5 for a jar of sauce. In fact, you can walk an aisle over and find another item, at half the price, that will make your dinner taste even more flavorful.

  • Buy this instead: A can of crushed tomatoes. GOBankingRates reports that a 28-ounce can will cost you less than $2. And it also makes a simple but delicious sauce on the stovetop. Just add garlic, seasonings, and olive oil.

Next: Don’t ever buy these food items at a grocery store that doesn’t seem to sell a lot of them. 

14. Organic produce

Open refrigerator full of fruits and vegetables

Open refrigerator full of fruits and vegetables | AndrewRafalsky/iStock/Getty Images

Another surprising tip from GOBankingRates? You may be wasting your money buying organic vegetables and fruits if your grocery store doesn’t sell a lot of them. Fruits and vegetables can end up looking withered or pale if they sit on the shelf too long. So you should pay attention to how much organic produce your grocery store sells, and how fresh everything looks in that section.

  • Buy this instead: Organic produce from a store that regularly sells it. If your grocery store’s stock isn’t adequate, try Whole Foods, Aldi, or even a local farmer’s market.

Next: Instead of buying these food items, make them yourself. 

15. Popsicles

popsicles with berries

Homemade popsicles with berries | iStock.com/lenta

Popsicles, especially those laden with your favorite fruit, are a welcome treat both in the summer and year-round. But surprisingly enough, GOBankingRates reports that it’s usually a waste of money to buy them at the grocery store. In fact, you can make a better — and cheaper — version at home.

  • Buy this instead: No-sugar-added frozen fruit (GOBankingRates recommends strawberries). Put your blender to work, and you can have popsicles for about a third of the price.

Next: Skip these food items no matter how convenient they look. 

16. Prepared food

mexican tortilla wrap with chicken breast and vegetables

Mexican tortilla wrap | iStock.com/OlgaMiltsova

When you go running around the grocery store stocking up for the week, it feels tempting to buy something ready-made to eat for dinner that night. But GOBankingRates reports that prepared foods at the grocery store are almost always a waste of money. In fact, they’ll cost you about twice as much as if you bought the ingredients and prepared them yourself. And you’ll also consume a lot more salt and preservatives than you’d get with a homemade meal.

  • Buy this instead: The ingredients for an easy and fast homemade meal.

Next: Don’t waste your money on these. 

17. Salad dressing

Green Salad

Spring salad | peredniankina/iStock/Getty Images

When you check out the salad dressing section at the grocery store, you essentially have no good options, according to GOBankingRates. You can find plenty of cheap options. But they typically come packed with MSG and preservatives. You can also find healthy salad dressing. But they usually cost way more money than they should — and make your salad habit a lot more expensive.

  • Buy this instead: Everything you need to make your own salad dressing. Whip up a batch with fresh ingredients, and you’ll both save money and eat healthier.

Next: Don’t buy these food items at a regular grocery store. 

18. Spices


Spices | Beats3/Getty Images

Finally, GOBankingRates reports that it’s typically a waste of money to buy spices at your local grocery store. Bottles of spices for a specific meal can cost $8, $10, or more each. And many people end up with stale bottles of spices that they can’t use up before the flavor dulls.

  • Buy this instead: Purchase only the amount you need at Whole Foods or another store that sells spices in bulk. That way, you can try new flavors inexpensively. But you don’t have to commit to a whole bottle before you even know if you like it.

Read more: Disposable Grocery Store Products that Are a Total Waste of Money

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!