Would You Pay $30 a Pound for Cheerios?

Some “convenience” items come with a shocking markup. Even a minimal amount of prep work can help you get the most from your shopping dollars.

It’s no secret that we pay for “convenience” at the supermarket. But have you ever done the math?

I ran the numbers on some of those “value-added” items while researching a magazine article. My favorite grocery gouge was the “toddler pack” of Cheerios, a 1-ounce plastic container that sold for $1.89.

That’s more than $30 per pound! Elsewhere in the store you could buy the O-shaped cereal for as little as $1.95 per pound.

Anytime somebody sells cereal by the cup or puts a pre-measured amount of detergent into a “pod,” expect markups that range from shocking to ridiculous. That’s a shame, because even a small amount of prep work could keep you from falling back on, say, precooked rice in a microwavable cup.

Yes, that’s a real product – and it worked out to almost five times as much as the bags of uncooked swamp seed on the shelf below. If you want to have ready-to-eat rice on hand at all times, cook up a batch and freeze it in you-sized portions. Problem solved.

(This also works for dried beans. Cook and freeze some of them and you’ll always have the underpinnings of the frugalist’s favorite meal.)

Pod people?

A blogger who posts at Bargain Babe commented recently about dishwasher detergent pods. In “How Much of a Ripoff Are Detergent Pods?,” she notes that the pods cost up to three times as much as powder or liquid products.

“Stick to regular liquid or powder dishwasher detergent,” she concluded.

Another potential pod issue is that small children can mistake them for candy. Injuries and deaths from ingested detergent pods have gone up rapidly in the past two years, according to The Wall Street Journal.

If you do decide to go with pods, keep them where kids can’t reach. Don’t let kids handle them, either; one child suffered serious eye injuries when he squeezed a laundry pod and it burst in his face.

Incidentally: When using liquid or powder, you don’t have to fill both dishwasher cups. You might not even have to fill one of the cups all the way, according to The New York Times. Today’s appliances are more efficient and the detergents are more concentrated.

The same holds true for washing machines. While heavily soiled clothes might need the full recommended amount, try using half as much detergent as the manufacturer suggests. You might be able to get by with one-third to one-fourth of the recommended amount. (I do.)

Breakfasts that cost a bundle

A few more “value-added” (read: subtracted) products:

Coffee pods. Single-serve coffees can run 50 cents to $1.50 or more apiece. Consumers who’d otherwise spend several dollars per cup at a coffee shop might think that’s a pretty good deal. According to MSN Money, however, this translates to anywhere from $22 to $124 per pound of java. The moral of the story: Buy a regular coffee maker and a decent Thermos, then carry your savings off to work each day.

Cereal cups. Those kiddie Cheerios are a worst-case scenario but other gouges abound. One cereal cup I saw cost $16 per pound, vs. $5.33 per pound when bought by the box. Why not pour boxed cereal into lidded bowls for a week’s worth of grab-and-go breakfasts?

Instant oatmeal. A cup of fancy instant oatmeal retails for about a dollar. Merissa Alink of the Little House Living blog packages quick-cooking organic oats plus powdered milk, dried fruit and a bit of sugar for a total cost of 18 cents per serving. (Just FYI: Quick-cooking oatmeal bought in the health food/bulk buy section of the supermarket can cost as little as 99 cents per pound.)

Can’t you make your own PBJs?

Pre-washed potatoes. Wrapped in plastic and ready to microwave – and almost twice the cost of a naked spud. Here’s a clue: Buy the cheaper potato, wash it and cook it.

Gelatin cups. Half a cup costs about 76 cents. Made from a box, it’s 20 cents. Surely you can boil up some water.

Frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A 2-ounce sandwich for about a dollar – really? Try this instead: Some weekend afternoon, take 20 minutes to turn a loaf of bread into PBJs, then freeze them. (Tip: Put peanut butter on both slices of bread to keep the jelly from soaking through before lunchtime.)

Look, I know you’re busy. Most of us are. But “groceries” is the budget category with the most wiggle room. As the costs for rent and utilities keep inching up, one way to offset the price increases is to cut back at the supermarket.

Remember: If someone is selling “convenience,” you’re probably going to pay through the nose. Sometimes it might be worth it. Most of the time it isn’t.

Readers, when are you willing to pay for convenience? Share below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • Jean Gruenenfelder

    Never! I worked as an RN before the advent of slow cookers and convenience food. For any number of a thousand reasons, RNs never were able to leave at the end of their shift – always working late. So I learned how to make my own fast foods. On shopping day, I took the hamburger and made it into patties the size each family member liked. I made meatballs and meatloaf and froze it all. I got large roasts, cooked it for dinner that night and made a low fat gravy. After dinner the meat and gravy was packaged into dinner sized helping for future meals and frozen. The same can be done with pork roasts on your day off. This takes some planning, but after you do it for a month or two, it becomes easy. Like ham = get a half ham, roast it on your day off, start beans as well. Have ham for dinner, cut chunks after dinner and add to beans,cook awhile longer and you have another meal. Slice some meat for frying – another fast meal. take the bone and meat left on it place in water with whatever vegies you like and you have another fast meal. You can also make soup with a beef roast the same way. Like shrimp – buy it on sale, and it is always cheaper with the shell on. Buy several pounds and remove all the shells and cook on the same day. Use what you need and freeze the rest in a freezer bag in meal size packages with all the air removed. The secret to success on freezing is to remove all the air which stops freezer burn. Never put meat in it’s original container from the store – too much air inside. I wrap food first in syran or equivalent wrap forcing all the air out and then put it into freezer bags. There is freezer paper which is cheaper, but it is hard to work with and get an air tight seal, So I allow my self this slight convenience. I usually shop for 2 weeks at a time and do a quick stop off for milk and fresh vegies, but I have been able to shop for 3 -4 weeks if I know that the coming weeks are going to be exceptionally busy. Just make out a shopping list and figure out pounds of meat needed for number of meals ie 4 meals of hamburger at 2 lbs each = 8 lbs total. Then figure what you need to go with those meals, ie buns for hamburgers, baked beans or ingredients for beans if making own, and a vegie. You want to eat this early in week 1 so the buns don’t go bad. It sounds complicated but after a month or 2 it’s easy and saves time as well as many dollars. Buy you meat on sale, as well as your fish. It is worth an extra stop off if the store is running a good sale = especially at todays prices !

  • ModernMode

    I buy my whole milk in the small drink boxes. I’m not a regular user of milk so the much longer shelf-life saves me money in the long run.

    • Watermistress

      Have you considered buying organic milk? It has a longer shelf life and it has a sweeter taste. It make drinking milk more tollerable to me, as I am not a big fan of the taste. Besides the cost has to be less than buying the single serve milk cartons. Freezing it, as suggested by Robin Stanton above might be a good alternative too.

  • Savings

    Best place to save on these items is salvage and outlet grocery stores. If you have one in your state, go there. Pods for dishwasher and washer are 50 to 70% off store prices, some even lower then Costco, and you do not have to buy 200 pods. I was once in outlet store and it looked kinda gross and sketchy but after visiting different location, in better area, I discovered treasures. Also lots of organic stuff on sale. As far as coffee pods go, I think they are good deal, if you do coupons or sales at Costco you can get them for 35 or 40 cents a piece.

  • Robin Stanton

    @Modern Mode milk freezes well. Why not buy the gallon and freeze in smaller containers? If you have freezer space.

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