Although I do most of my grocery shopping at my local supermarket by getting sale items with coupons, there are some items that are usually a bargain elsewhere.
I will preface my list of the top five things not to buy at your supermarket by clarifying that there is nothing morally wrong with buying these items during your routine grocery trip if you simply do not have the time to shop elsewhere. You can find perfectly good products in these categories at your supermarket -- they will just be more expensive than other shopping alternatives.
This list also assumes that we are comparing the typical regular prices of both stores -- we are not comparing a clearance price at the supermarket to the regular price at other stores.
If you are trying to save as much money as possible and pay the lowest price for everything you need, then memorize this list!
The Top Five Things Not to Buy at Your Supermarket
1. Pet Food
Although supermarkets have extensive pet food aisles, they do not have the space to carry as many large sizes as pet stores, wholesale clubs or discount stores. If you compare the cost of your pet food on a per-unit basis (pound for pound or ounce to ounce), you may find (as I did) that the 40-pound bag of dog food at the pet store is one-third less expensive than the 20-pound bag of the same brand of dog food at the supermarket. Local pet stores may also have coupons available in sale flyers or on their Web sites, as well as frequent buyer clubs that will reward you with points toward free products.
Studies show that we should replace our spices after one year for maximum freshness and taste. Generally speaking, the $5 gourmet spice you buy for one recipe is still 95 percent full at the end of a year. However, you can buy high quality spices in bulk at many natural food stores, which allows you to buy smaller quantities.
For example, I recently bought about two tablespoons of dried rosemary from our natural foods store, and I paid 17 cents. It was much more aromatic and flavorful than the ancient jar of dried rosemary that has been in my spice cabinet for too long to report!
If you like to bake, buying yeast in bulk at the natural foods store is far less expensive than buying individual yeast packets at the supermarket. You can also buy common spices at discount stores like Wal-Mart for 50 cents a jar, or at drugstores or dollar stores. I buy cinnamon, oregano, pepper, chili powder, basil and other spices I use frequently at Wal-Mart.
3. Birthday and Party Décor
Although it is convenient to grab what you need quickly at the supermarket, party supplies like cake decorating sprinkles, food coloring, birthday candles, birthday cards, gift wrapping supplies, paper goods, and decorations are expensive at the supermarket and a bargain at the dollar store. Stock up on these supplies in one annual trip to the dollar store and shop from your home inventory when you celebrate the next family birthday.
4. Cleaning Supplies
Unless you use a coupon on a rock-bottom sale price at the supermarket, you will most likely pay less for brand name cleaning supplies at your local discount store. I compared the price of my kitchen cleaning spray and found the regular prices for the item were $3.19 at my grocery store and $1.78 at Wal-Mart. My laundry detergent was $8.49 at my grocery store and $6.97 at Wal-Mart. Discount stores, unlike most wholesale clubs, will also accept grocery coupons, and they are easy to find for cleaning supplies.
5. Paper Products
At everyday prices you will pay less for common paper products like bath tissue, paper towels, paper napkins, and dinnerware when you buy in bulk at a wholesale club or smaller sizes at a discount store. You will pay for convenience if you buy full-priced paper products at the supermarket. If you have the storage space, you can stock up on these products periodically so that you do not have to go out of your way to buy them very often.
Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABCNEWS.com. You can find more of her tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her Web site at www.couponmom.com.