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Grocery Store Overcharges Kill Your Budget And Your Wallet! At Least A Billion Dollars A Year! Fight Back!

Updated on December 9, 2010

Grocery Stores Overcharge By 1 Billion Dollars A Year!

Grocery stores are notorious for overcharging customers. New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs, in 2010, reports that grocery stores throughout the country are overcharging consumers at least 1 Billion Dollars every year! The report states further that these overcharges by grocery stores may actually total up to 2.5 Billion Dollars yearly. Shocking? Not really! It happens thousands of times a day, mostly to me, I am sure!

Last week, I shopped at two different grocery stores. Both overcharged me on one or more items. My total bill combining both store receipts added up to less than $100.00. Yet, I was overcharged by $12.00. That is more than 10% of my food budget for the week. Can you afford to spend ten percent of your total food bill every week on overcharges? I can't! I spend time cutting coupons, making a shopping list based on store sales and then I get overcharged because of price scanning errors? The overcharges negate my coupons and I end up with no savings or spending additional money in gas going back to the store to retrieve the money that has just been stolen from me. The battle is never over and I am getting tired. I try to watch as every item is scanned, but I always manage to miss a few things. Since I shop by myself, I am usually still putting groceries on the belt when the items begin to ring up. That is when the pricing mistakes usually happen.

Almost every state has a Consumer Affairs Division and because this issue is so common, the website for each state almost always has a division devoted to grocery stores and overcharges. They also have an on-line complaint form that you can and should submit to report the guilty stores.

In 2010, the Caifornia Consumer Affairs Division indicted Ralph's, a chain store owned by Kroger, on criminal overcharging in its Los Angeles stores. After receiving numerous consumer complaints, the department conducted its own investigation and came to the conclusion that Ralph's was indeed engaged in criminal acitivity. These were not considered to be simple mistakes. The Department concluded that this was basically a conspiracy designed to overcharge customers. Since these charges have not gone to trial yet, this case is unresolved. If found to be guilty, Ralph's will most likely pay a multi-million dollar fine.

You can and should report overcharges to your state government. It can help to solve the problem because the complaints are taken seriously. The complaints are investigated. Consumers have to fight back and this is one way of doing just that.

Last Week And This Week, It Can Happen Every Time!

Last week, I was overcharged $12.00 by two stores. I caught the first price scanning error while I was in the store. When I saw the 90 cent head of celery ring up at $9.00, it got my immediate attention and was corrected before I left the store. However, the very next item on that receipt was not noticed until I got home. The store had yellow onions on sale for 2 pounds for $1.00. I bought 3 pounds of onions and should have spent $1.50. After I put my groceries away, I reviewed my receipt. The store computer had not been changed to reflect the sale price. The onions rang up at $3.00, with the receipt reflecting yellow onions at $1.00 per pound instead of the sale price. The sale had been going on for two days already. How many people were overcharged for that item without ever realizing it? No way of knowing!

The second store receipt was not as obvious. There were several small mistakes that added up to more than $3.00. Those were also discovered when I got home.

Here is the kicker and why I am tired. This week, I returned to the produce store where the celery and onions had been the previous week's culprits. I had my receipt and the store reimbursed me the amount of the overcharge. I did my shopping and used $5.50 in coupons. My receipt added up to $55.63 and I was thrilled that my coupons kept my bill to under $60.00. When I got home, I took out my receipt. My excitement quickly faded! Butter is very expensive these days and I always buy it when it is on sale. I bought two pounds of butter, on sale for $2.99 per pound. The receipt did not reflect the sales price, again. Both pounds of butter rang up at $4.99 per pound. I was overcharged a full $4.00. Next week, I will be returning with my receipt in hand to get my refund.

When this pattern of overcharging continues, most people consider changing where they shop. I have and can't. Henry's Farmer's Market consistently allows me to buy beautiful, locally grown produce (fresh fruits and vegetables) for less than half the price of any of the large grocery store chains. As long as I know what the prices are supposed to be and I continue to check my receipts, I can save a lot of money. When the large chain stores are charging $1.69 a head for lettuce, I can get mine for 88 cents a head. Literally every fruit and vegetable reflects the same savings at Henry's, so I just have to remain diligent and watchful.

I haven't returned yet to the second store. Later this week, I will. I will bring my receipt and the store ad with me, since that sale is now over. I will do my shopping based on this week's sales prices and will again save some money and probably be overcharged on at least one or two items.

How To Fight Grocery Store Overcharges!

Ever since computerized price scanners were introduced, controversy has persisted. While computers have streamlined the checkout process, the headaches continue. Grocery stores carry thousands of items and the task of scanning ever-changing prices into the main computer is daunting, for sure. Mistakes are made every single day. The main purpose of this writing is to let consumers know that there are some ways to fight the battle against overcharges at grocery stores.

First, know what you should be charged versus what you are charged. Keep track of prices! Try to find the mistakes while you are still in the store. Most chain stores have a policy that, if at the time of purchase, the price rings up higher than it is supposed to, you will get the item for free. If you find the mistake afterwards, you will only be given the amount you have been overcharged.

Find out what, if any additional protections are offered by your state. For example, the state of Massachusetts mandates that the customer be rewarded with not only recovering the difference, but must be given a bonus of 10 X the amount of the overcharge up to $5.00 for each item.

Alana Lipkin, from Massachusetts, has been called "Your Grocer's Worst Nightmare". She is a professional shopper who has been banned from several grocery stores because she has an eye for catching and capitalizing on grocery store pricing errors. People Magazine profiled her escapades. She is a professional shopper that walked out of one store with over $1200.00 of free items on just one trip! This store had a policy that if the scanner rang up the wrong price, the customer would get the item for free! I don't necessarily advise that you get banned from your favorite grocery store, but keep track of what you are being charged and demand your money, even if it is only a few cents.

Second on the ways to fighting grocery store overcharges is to not only get your money back, but if you notice a continued pattern of abuse and error, file a complaint with your state's Consumer Affairs Division. They will pay attention and will follow-up with you, so keep your receipts.

Third, and this may be the most difficult thing to do. As a patient advocate, I tell people to never go to the hospital alone. When you are sick, you need someone you trust to be there with you, advocating on your behalf, someone to protect you. Now I am suggesting that you take someone with you to the grocery store. Not as an advocate, but as someone who can put the items up on the belt while you are checking the prices as they are scanned into the register. If you have kids over 8, take one of them with you to the grocery store. My experience with that was not always successful. I would try to stick to a list and my kids would always sneak extra goodies into the cart, so while they allowed me the freedom of being able to check the accuracy of the prices, I also ended up paying more money for the week than I had originally intended. If you have a spouse, take him or her, although again, men can be worse than the kids! That big chunk of pepperoni, the extra soda and the chips and salsa in a jar add up! But at least you will be able to check the price accuracy.

If you have to shop alone like I do, be assertive. Tell the cashier to wait until all of your items are on the belt. This is the hard part. The people behind you in line may not be happy, because this will most likely delay them. The cashier may even protest. If you feel so inclined, tell these people that you are tired of being overcharged. But insist! Especially if your store has a policy of giving you the item for free. Imagine walking out of the store with a $10.00 roast costing nothing. This has happened to me on more than just one occasion. The feeling of victory and power is almost intoxicating! The last time I did this, the woman behind me watched me being overcharged by $9.00 for a head of celery. She had voiced her objection to waiting longer, but when she saw me find the overcharge, she apologized to me and insisted on doing the same thing. She even thanked me when she left the store. This method saved her over $5.00 on her order. She hunted me down in the parking lot as I was loading my groceries into the trunk to let me know that she will be employing this tactic from now on. It works!

Fourth and perhaps most important, examine your receipt when you get home. Do this every single time! Don't go back to the store right away if you don't feel like spending extra money on gas. Put the receipt in your wallet and bring it with you on your next visit to the grocery store. Ask for your refund at that time. Your store will not refuse. They know they make mistakes.

Finally, be careful when you buy pre-packaged items, such as frozen shrimp, chicken tenders, etc. They are sold by the pound and it is very common to find out that the packages, even though sold in one pound packages, are incorrectly weighed. They often weigh less than a pound. This is an area that your state Consumer Affairs Department will definitely show interest. Your state's Commission of Weights and Measures considers these offenses to be criminal. This is the exact reason that Ralph's is being prosecuted right now in California.

In The Final Analysis, Overcharging Is An Epidemic!

Put simply, overcharges add to your cost. If the New York City report is correct, and I believe it is, one billion dollars(minimum) of profits for nothing is being pumped into the pockets of grocery stores nationwide. Your attempt to curb this may not be significant to the figures. My attempt alone, is insignificant, but if my savings are multiplied by millions of people doing the same things, we can put a dent in that very large figure. Everyone has a budget. In order to stick to that budget and keep our money in our own wallets, we just have to keep doing the things that work. It is hoped that these suggestions help you in your savings endeavors.


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  • Jillian Barclay profile image

    Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA

    Hi, Newbie hawk!

    This is going to sound like it is hard to do and the first few times it is, but I make a list and if items are on sale, I write the price next to the item before I go to the store. If the item I need is not on sale, I write the shelf price as I put it in my basket. If I am shopping alone, I make the cashier allow me to put all of my items on the conveyor belt prior to his or her beginning the tally.

    It really doesn't take that much time and after being overcharged consistently, I got tired of losing my money. This method works, especially after you have done it for awhile. Recently, I was shopping for chicken breasts on sale at $0.99 a pound. Even though the store did not have the sale price on the packs of chicken breasts, I figured the register would automatically deduct the right amount of money. It did not! I had purchased 5 packs that were about 5 or 6 pounds each (I freeze them) and they rang up at $2.99 a pound. I waited until the cashier was finished, and then I told her about the error. She was going to subtract the difference when I pointed out the store policy of giving the item for free(usually the policy is posted near the store entrance)if there was an overcharge.

    The manager was called, and he was not happy, but I left that store with free chicken. I felt a twinge of guilt, but I would have felt worse if I had come away spending 3 X what I should have!

    The sale was the only reason I went to that particular store that day.

    We are all so busy, but the extra effort has saved me several hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. It all adds up!

    Try it and let me know how you do!

  • profile image

    Newbie hawk 5 years ago

    Wow! We've had one or two instances where we were buying a shirt on sale for my boyfriend or myself and we noticed it didn't ring up as the sales price - when we say to the cashier "I thought that was one sale..." they would just look at the computer (as if that's verification enough) and say "well, it's 12.99..." ..we always just assumed a lazy shopper abandoned the shirt on the clearance rack. Maybe not! I will definitely be watching my receipts like a hawk now!

    I do have a question, though.. how do you remember/keep track of all the prices while you're shopping? Such as the $1 overcharge on mayonnaise, or when it's just a subtle 50 cents on a regular grocery item. A lot of stuff I remember from always buying the same thing (milk or eggs) but like you said, prices often fluctuate!

  • Jillian Barclay profile image

    Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA

    You must take your receipt back with you the next time you go and tell them you want the money back! It is yours and you work hard for it!

    Last week, I missed an overcharge ($2.29)and got my money back this week, but I also got an item for free, because as they added up my latest order, they charged me $3.69 for an item that was on sale for $2.99. Because I caught it while still in the store, their policy is to give it for free.

    I never yell at the cashier and am always friendly. Most times, it is their computer register that actually makes the mistake.

    I am never embarrassed or timid about asking for my money back. Hope that you can do the same. We are all watching our pennies. Food prices rise every week, it seems, so $5.00 lost is a lot in the scheme of things. If that were to happen every week, that lost money would pay for that steak none of us can afford anymore...

  • profile image

    DeeRenee 5 years ago

    I recently went to Kroger and felt like I was overcharged for my food. I then got home and added everything up with the coupons and instant savings. The stores total was $40.05 my total (after three times and my husband once) 35.02. Every time we got 35.02. What am I suppose to do now?

  • Jillian Barclay profile image

    Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA

    Dear Tightwad in Ca,

    Thank you for the compliment! Funny thing, I am in California- I just came home from Albertson's and as I went through my receipt, I realized the cashier overcharged me a dollar on a jar of mayonnaise! I am getting ready to send them an email. Even for a dollar! And some may think that it is a waste of time, but it is MY dollar, and they add up.

    I am so glad that you filed a complaint! So many people won't put forth the effort---and that is precisely the reason that we get taken for a BILLION a year in overcharges! Let me know what happens with Food4Less- I shop there, also, and while I have only had a problem once with them, I will keep my eyes open!

  • profile image

    Tightwad in Ca. 5 years ago

    Dear Jillian, I think i'm in love with you. Too bad you are already married with children. You're just the kind of woman I've been looking for my whole life. Keep up the good work.

    Do you have a consumer website where you follow up with other consumer tips. If not, you've missed your calling.

    How can we get MA law here in CA.?

    Ps Inspired by your article, I just filed a consumer complaint about weekly shopping overcharges. Documented mine with photos and receipts etc. To Ca. consumer affairs weekly produce overcharges at "Food4Less."


  • Jillian Barclay profile image

    Jillian Barclay 6 years ago from California, USA

    Dear LI NY Consumer,

    I am pretty sure that you get your money back, at least I hope so!

    Your frustration is made clear by your comment alone, but after checking, NY stores are some of the worst offenders in the country! Grocery stores in NYC were fined $400 thousand dollars last year, and it is estimated that up to 70% of the grocery stores in your area, Long Island, are consistently guilty. Whether it is intentional or accidental makes no difference!

    File a complaint online at:

  • profile image

    LI ny consumer 6 years ago

    Walmart and bj's in Riverhead is the worst! I am constantly over charged and have errors every other time I shop. The employees are low life losers and don't know/care what they are doing

  • Jillian Barclay profile image

    Jillian Barclay 6 years ago from California, USA

    Dear Been Ripped Off Many Times,

    Thank you for commenting and providing evidence that the same thing happens to others. I hope you get your money back, even if it is $0.50. Better it should stay in your pocket, than be given away!

  • profile image

    Been Ripped OffManyTimes 6 years ago

    you are correct. i am consistently overcharged at the grocery store