Are You Getting What You Pay For?

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Are You Getting What You Pay For?
From shampoo to sliced bread, many brands have been downsizing their products, all while charging you the same price. So, how can you tell if you're really getting what you pay for? Here are a few tips on how to shop smart and avoid getting tricked.

First, check the net weight every time you buy a product and compare it against competing brands. Sometimes two items will appear nearly identical in price and size, but different in weight. The scale never lies.

Product packaging can also be pretty deceptive. Take cereal for example. Some boxes may appear to be the same at first glance, when you turn them side by side you'll see that some are smaller and don't hold as much.

This trick is done with peanut butter, too. Check the bottom of the container. If it looks more hollowed out than usual, you're likely getting less for your money.

Packages aren't the only thing shrinking -- toilet paper has undergone a lot of downsizing over the years. Some companies will advertise a high amount of sheets per roll, even though the overall size of the roll has been reduced considerably. Don't be fooled.

Lastly, be on the lookout for marketing catchphrases. Words like "New and Improved," "Healthier" and "Greener," can sometimes create the illusion of a new item, when, in fact, you're spending the same money on less product.

If all this seems like too much to follow on your own, check out the "Grocery Shrink Ray" on Consumerist.com. This section tracks and lists downsized products, so you'll know if your favorite cookies got smaller, or if you're hallucinating.

Follow these tips the next time you shop, and you'll see that even though the products may be shrinking, your bank account won't.

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Sure, it's tempting to buy those neatly trimmed broccoli florets, but in doing so you're throwing money down the drain.

"Those packaged fruits and veggies that are already diced, chopped or sliced are marked up 40% over their whole-food counterparts," consumer money saving expert Andrea Woroch says.

The same goes for meat and poultry.  Buying ground beef already formed into hamburger patties, or chicken cubes on skewers, can cost as much as 60 percent more than buying the raw ingredients and doing the prep yourself. "Once again, you are paying for the convenience," Woroch says.

She offers a better idea: If you're too busy to start slicing and dicing after a long day of work, carve out some time over the weekend to prepare ingredients for use during the week.

An item's label on the supermarket shelf should list its price per ounce or unit price. Use that apples-to-apples comparison between brands to figure out which gives you the best value for your buck, advises Jeanette Pavini, household savings expert from Coupons.com.

Comparing unit prices will also help you to determine if those bulk buys are really a good deal after all. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Not all organic produce is created equal.

For example, don't waste money on organic fruits and vegetables with tough or inedible peels such as pineapples, papayas, mangos and avocados. "Most of the pesticides can be removed or washed away," Woroch says, citing WebMd research.

If you do opt for organic, make sure you're getting the real thing. Look for the organic seal certified by the USDA, which confirms the food is grown, harvested, and processed according to federal standards.

Labels that boast "natural," "hormone-free" or "antibiotic-free" don't necessarily assure that food meets organic standards.

And when it comes to seafood, the U.S. has no organic fish regulations, so "don't waste your money on false food claims," Woroch says.

Follow retailers and store brands on social media sites for grocery savings.

For example, if you "like" a retailer like Wal-Mart (WMT) or a brand like Ronzoni on Facebook, you can get advance notice of deals and the scoop on upcoming sale events.

Don't take a sale sign at face value, Pavini tells DailyFinance. "If a sale says five for $10, don't feel obligated to buy all five. Check the store policy: Usually you will get the same discount even if you just buy a single quantity."

If you've missed out on a store sale, don't be shy to ask your supermarket to apply the deal to a later shopping trip. "If the item you want is out of stock, have the store give you a rain check so when the items is back in stock they will honor the sale price," Pavini says.

While many fresh fruits and vegetables are available year-round, they're usually less expensive when you buy them in season. So plan your meals according to what produce is freshest. You'll pay less -- and your food will taste better, too.

And last but not least, tap coupon sites like CouponSherpa.com, Coupons.com, RetailMeNot.com and FatWallet.com for printable coupons, coupon promotional codes and online coupons to slash that ever-increasing grocery bill.

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