MONEY groceries

Eggs Aren’t The Only Thing That Just Got More Expensive

French fries and Egg McMuffins, we're looking at you.

More than half of American consumers say they are concerned about the bird flu outbreak, according to an NPD Group survey. And yes, there’s ample reason to fret: The virus has killed nearly 40 million birds, including 32 million hens, or about 10% of the nation’s egg producers. Understandably, egg prices have spiked as a consequence. The incredible edible egg isn’t the only everyday purchase that is getting more expensive for consumers lately. The price tags on these items are also going up.

  • Eggs

    Eggs produced from cage-free hens on sale in a supermarket in New York on Saturday, January 3, 2015. The recent outbreak of Avian Flu which impacted 10% of the egg-laying chickens has cut into the supply of eggs.
    Richard B. Levine—Newscom

    The bird flu outbreak has been wreaking havoc in the Midwest, with some 40 million turkeys and chicken exposed to the virus. Roughly 25 million chickens have been lost just in Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producer. One result is that wholesale and retail egg prices have soared. The wholesale price of “breaker” eggs purchased in bulk by fast food chains and baking manufacturers has nearly tripled in the past month, while the price of a dozen large eggs rose 58% in one month’s time in the Midwest.

    If the problem persists, it’s expected it won’t be long for baking companies and fast food outlets like McDonald’s to raise prices on products with eggs as primary ingredients. In other words, your Egg McMuffin could be getting a price hike soon.

  • Rental Cars

    Airport car rental offices at the Long Beach California Airport
    Daniel Dillon—Alamy

    It’s usually hard to tell when and by how much rental car companies increase prices because there are so many factors involved: Rates are determined by demand, location, how far in advance a traveler books, and so on. But recently Hertz, which also owns brands Dollar and Thrifty, publicly announced that as of mid-June it was raising rates $5 per day and $20 per week on rentals at airport locations, with $3 and $10 hikes, respectively, at off-airport rental lots.

    A quick 5% spike in Hertz’s stock price indicates that investors liked the move. That could be one reason why Hertz jacked up prices openly rather than stealthily. It also seems like Hertz is trying to push rates northward across the board in the industry, in the same way that all airlines tend to match the fare increases of any competitor. “Rent-a-car companies are normally very discreet about raising prices,” Mike Millman, who covers travel companies for Millman Research, told the New York Post. “What’s so unusual about this is Hertz is publicly declaring it wants to lead the industry up.”

  • Deep-Fried Foods

    French Fries coming out of fryer
    Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

    A prolonged dry spell in Canada’s prairies has meant big trouble for the crops used to make of one of the region’s prime products, canola oil. As Bloomberg News reported, the vegetable oil is necessary for McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, and Frito-Lay to make so many of the deep-fried treats we crave while knowing they’re probably terrible for our health. Prices have jumped 18% since September, and it’s expected the increase will trickle onward to price hikes for potato chips, French fries, KFC chicken, and other deep-fried delicacies.

  • Turkey

    Shady Brook Farms brand Turkeys for sale in a supermarket refrigerator in New York
    Richard Levine—Alamy

    While the bird flu outbreak has primarily affected chickens, it has impacted turkey populations as well—and turkey prices. Wholesale prices are up 4.5% compared with a year ago, corresponding to 10% price increases for turkey breast meat at supermarket deli counters.

    The real fear is that the avian flu virus causes a ripple effect in America’s turkey population, potentially translating to shortages and price spikes for Thanksgiving, when the demand for turkey naturally reaches a yearlong high. For now at least, suppliers are maintaining that there will be more than plenty of turkeys available come Thanksgiving. Regardless, we’re predicting that there will be reports causing panic among turkey lovers in the months to come, as they seem to appear every autumn.

  • Gas

    Gas station attendant pumping gas in Andover, Mass., May 8, 2015.
    Elise Amendola—AP

    Just in time for the summer travel season, gas prices are rising. As of Friday, the national average for a gallon of regular was $2.74, representing a rise of roughly 25¢ over the last month. Gas prices have remained particularly pricey on the West Coast, with drivers in Los Angeles seeing $4 per gallon at the pump. With California prices that have stayed stubbornly high compared to the rest of the country, some consumer advocates have accused the oil companies of gouging drivers.

    At the same time, it must be noted that gas is significantly less expensive compared with the same time last year, when the national average was $3.65. Cheap gas is one of the big reasons huge crowds—and epic traffic—are expected on the roads over Memorial Day weekend.

MONEY Weird But Useful

The 6 Most Valuable Grocery Items You Can Buy

Paul Burns/Getty Images

138 ways to use these everyday items

When it comes to utility, not all grocery items are created equal.

If value can be defined by versatility then, some grocery items offer a lot more bang for your buck than others.

Sure, everybody knows about the incredible and legendary versatility of duct tape. Heck, duct tape can even fix your personal finances.

Savvy grocery shoppers often take advantage of highly versatile products in the supermarket too. Specifically, here are the six most valuable products in your typical supermarket — along with a partial list of their many uses.

Just keep in mind that I haven’t personally verified all of these tips — so, please, use them at your own risk.

Vinegar

When it comes to grocery store products, vinegar is liquid gold. People have been using it for ages — and not just for cooking and preserving foods. Vinegar’s versatility is virtually unmatched; there are literally hundreds of potential applications. Aside from its primary applications, here is just a small sample of all the other things vinegar can be used for:

1. Disinfect wood cutting boards
2. Soothe a sore throat; use 1 tsp of vinegar per glass of water, then gargle
3. Fight dandruff; after shampooing, rinse hair with vinegar and 2 cups of warm water
4. Remove warts; apply daily a 50/50 solution of cider vinegar and glycerin until they’re gone
5. Cure an upset stomach; drink 2 tsp apple cider vinegar in one cup of water
6. Polish chrome
7. Keep boiled eggs from cracking; add 2 tbsp to water before boiling
8. Clean deposits from fish tanks
9. Remove urine stains from carpet
10. Keep fleas off dogs; add a little vinegar to the dog’s drinking water
11. Keep car windows from frosting up; use a solution of 3 oz. vinegar to 1 oz. water
12. Clean dentures; soak overnight in vinegar and then brush
13. Get rid of lint in clothes; add 0.5 cup vinegar to rinse cycle
14. Remove grease from suede
15. Kill grass on sidewalks and driveways
16. Make wool blankets softer; add 2 cups distilled vinegar to rinse cycle
17. Remove skunk odor from a dog; rub fur with full strength vinegar and rinse
18. Freshen wilted vegetables; soak them in 1 tbsp vinegar and a cup of water
19. Dissolve mineral deposits in drip coffee makers
20. Deodorize drains; pour a cup down the drain once a week, let sit for 30 minutes, then rinse
21. Use as a replacement for a lemon; 0.25 tsp vinegar substitutes for 1 tsp of lemon juice
22. Make rice fluffier; add 1 tsp of vinegar to water when it boils
23. Prevent grease build-up in ovens; wipe oven with cleaning rag soaked in distilled vinegar and water
24. Kill germs; mix a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water in a spray bottle.
25. Unclog shower heads; place in a pot with 50-50 solution of vinegar and water, bring it to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes
26. Shine patent leather
27. Make propane lantern wicks burn longer/brighter; soak them in vinegar for 3 hours, let dry
28. Act as an an air freshener
29. Soften paint brushes; soak in hot vinegar then rinse with soapy water
30. Remove bumper stickers and decals; simply cover them with vinegar-soaked cloth for several minutes
31. Prolong the life of fresh-cut flowers; use 2 tbsp of vinegar and 3 tbsp of sugar per quart of warm water

All of these vinegar applications — and scores more — can be found here.

Baking Soda

Aside from its primary use as a baking agent, baking soda is another grocery item with an almost countless number of applications. For example, baking soda can be used to:

1. Deodorize your refrigerator; put an open box in the fridge
2. Remove odors from shoes
3. Keep drains clean and free-flowing; use 4 tbspns of soda and flush with hot water
4. Keep your underarms smelling fresh
5. Soften your skin
6. Relieve diaper rash
7. Relieve sunburn; apply a paste of soda and water
8. Extinguish small grease and electrical fires
9. Polish silverware
10. Clean your refrigerator. (Or your neighbors, for that matter.)
11. Remove cat box odors; cover the bottom of the box with soda, then top with kitty litter
12. Clean and remove stale odors from thermos bottles and coolers
13. Make dried beans more digestible by soaking them in a solution of baking soda and water
14. Make wild game taste less, well, “gamey”
15. Remove oil and grease stains from laundry; add baking soda to the wash water
16. Remove stains from marble, Formica or plastic surfaces; apply a paste of soda and water
17. Remove grease from garage floors
18. Clean vegetables and fruit; sprinkle some in water, then soak and rinse
19. Wash garbage cans
20. Clean and remove odors from your dishwasher; just run it with soda instead of soap
21. Inhibit smoldering butts in ashtrays
22. Clean shower curtains
23. Keep teeth or dentures clean. (Preferably, yours.)
24. Relieve indigestion and heartburn; drink 0.5 tsp of soda in 4 oz of water
25. Use as a mouthwash and/or relieve canker sore pain; gargle with 0.5 tsp of soda in 4 oz of water
26. Remove baked-on food from pots and pans; soak in soda and water for 15 minutes
27. Relieve bee sting pain
28. Make homemade Play Dough; combine 1.25 cups water, 2 cups soda, 1 cup cornstarch
29. Remove feathers more easily when scalding a chicken; just add to the water
30. As a windshield water repellent
31. Clean canvas handbags
32. Shine chrome and stainless steel

For even more baking soda applications, check out this site.

WD-40

You can’t get a gallon of milk at your local Home Depot, but you can often find WD-40 in a grocery store! WD-40 was originally developed as a water repellent and corrosion preventer, but today the manufacturer claims the product has over 2000 uses. But, Len, if there are 2000 uses why didn’t you rank it number one? Well, the answer is two-fold: 1) because most of those 2000 uses are just variations of the same basic applications; 2) this is my list and I’ll do as I want. (So there.)

Here are 20 of the more arcane ones which have actually been verified:

1. Removes road tar and grime from cars
2. Loosens stuck zippers
3. Untangles jewelry chains
4. Keeps pigeons off the balcony. (Apparently, they hate the smell.)
5. Lubricates prosthetic limbs
6. Protects silver from tarnishing
7. Keeps ceramic and terra-cotta garden pots from oxidizing
8. Keeps scissors working smoothly
9. Lubricates squeaky home and vehicle door hinges
10. Lubricates gear shifts and deck levers on riding mowers
11. Eliminates squeaks from kids’ swings
12. Makes home windows easier to open. (And it’s safer than a hammer!)
13. Helps stubborn umbrellas to open and close
14. Restores and cleans vehicle roof racks
15. Lubricates and stops squeaks in electric fans
16. Lubricates wheel sprockets on tricycles, wagons, and bicycles
17. Removes residual duct tape adhesive
18. Cleans bugs off of grills and bumpers
19. Displaces the moisture and allows a car to start when sprayed on the distributor cap
20. Removes black scuff marks from floors

Coca-Cola

Wisebread highlighted a whole bunch of clever uses for Coke or Pepsi. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

1. Remove grease and blood stains from clothing and fabric
2. Clean oil stains from a garage floor
3. Remove rust. (My mom said she used to do this as a kid do get corrosion off her bike — I guess she didn’t have any WD-40!)
4. Loosen a rusty bolt. (Another WD-40 trick. Am I the only one here beginning to think Coke is a main ingredient in that stuff?)
5. Tenderize and add extra flavor to a pot roast. (Okay. Let’s see WD-40 do this!)
6. Kill slugs and snails
7. Help a lawn become lush and green
8. Prevent an asthma attack
9. Defrost a frozen windshield. (I prefer using hot coffee — black — but that’s just me.)
10. Clean burnt pans
11. Neutralize a jellyfish sting
12. Clean car battery terminals.(I’ve done this before. It works!)
13. Entertain the kids by creating an exploding fountain. (With the help of a pack of Mentos.)
14. Make your hair curly
15. Age documents and photos
16. Clean tile grout
17. Make better compost. (The the acidity and sugar feeds microorganisms.)
18. Remove gum from hair
19. Remove stains from vitreous china
20. Clear up swimming pool water
21. Deodorize laundry
22. Remove dye from hair by pouring Diet Coke over it
23. Remove marker stains from carpet

Fabric Softener Sheets

Most people use fabric sheets to make clothes soft and remove static cling. But did you know that these versatile sheets can also:

1. Repel mice and ants
2. Act as a mosquito, bee and yellow jacket repellent; tie one through a belt loop
3. Prevent dust from settling on computer monitors
4. Dissolve soap scum from shower doors
5. Eliminate wastebasket odors; just place them in the bottom
6. Prevent dust from settling on Venetian blinds; wipe them down and no more dust
7. Deodorize stinky shoes
8. Keep stored tents and sleeping bags smelling fresh
9. Prevent musty suitcases
10. Collect cat hair. (No word on whether it works on dog hair too.)
11. Act as a car or room air freshener
12. Prevent thread from tangling; run a threaded needle through a sheet before sewing
13. Collect sawdust resulting from drilling or sandpapering
14. Eliminate odors from dirty laundry; place a sheet at the bottom of a hamper
15. Remove splattered bugs from cars; scrub with a wet sheet
16. Clean baked-on food from pans; put a sheet in pan, fill with water and let sit overnight. Sponge clean.

Paper Towels

Those of you who have seen my great paper towel test know that some paper towels are better than others when it comes to sopping up spills — but paper towels can also:

1. Act as a quick-and-dirty lumbar pillow. (You’ll need to use the whole roll, of course.)
2. Remove silk from fresh corn; just run a damp paper towel across the ear
3. Act as a coffee filter. (I’ve done this before in a pinch and it works well.)
4. Keep lettuce fresh longer; wrap around lettuce head to soak up excess moisture. (I’ve done this for years.)
5. Prevent frozen bread from getting soggy as it thaws; simply place a paper towel in the bagbefore freezing
6. Provide temporary sunburn relief; lay a damp towel across affected skin
7. Clean your can opener; close the opener over a paper towel edge and turn the crank
8. Keep cast iron pots rust-free; placed in clean pots, they’ll absorb moisture
9. Remove crayon from chalk boards; place a paper towel over wax, then press a warm iron over towel
10. Remove candle wax from carpet and upholstery(Use the same method as above.)
11. Sprout seeds; place a few seeds between damp towels, then keep damp for two weeks
12. Act as a cheap place mat
13. Strain fat from broth; place a paper towel in colander and pour the broth through it
14. Protect Christmas tree ornaments during storage
15. Prevent bacon splatter in a microwave oven
16. Remove residual grease from sewing machines; run the first few stitches through the towel

Well, that’s it. Remember, these are only partial lists for each of these products.

If you have any favorite special applications for any of these items, don’t be shy! Share them with the rest of us!

More From Len Penzo dot COM:

Len Penzo blogs at lenpenzo.com, “the off-beat personal finance blog for responsible people”.

MONEY groceries

How the Bird Flu Outbreak Is Affecting Your Grocery Bill

Eggs for sale in a Des Moines, Iowa HyVee grocery store
Charlie Neibergall—AP Eggs for sale in a Des Moines, Iowa HyVee grocery store

The bird flu outbreak in the Midwest has increased egg prices at the supermarket.

On Tuesday, agriculture officials confirmed that the bird flu outbreak that has spread throughout the Midwest for months had reached Nebraska, making it the 16th state affected. “There is no food safety risk for consumers,” the Iowa Poultry Association has stated. “Chickens, turkeys and other poultry infected with bird flu will be destroyed and will not enter the food supply.”

Still, Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad declared a state of emergency on May 1 due to the avian influenza outbreak. The virus may pose no risk to humans, but it is already having an impact on prices at the grocery store. In some cases, shortages have made it difficult for shoppers to buy eggs.

For now at least, the biggest impact of the virus is on egg prices, because so many egg-producing hens have died or had to be killed. In Iowa, the country’s leading egg producer, more than 26 million hens have been lost since the virus appeared several months ago.

“A consensus of economists who work in the area is that for every million birds we lose, we’ll see about a 1.6 percent price increase,” Dr. Dermot Hayes, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University, explained to an Iowa TV station last week. “We’re looking at between a 20-30 percent increase in retail prices.”

MORE: Everything You Want to Know About the Bird Flu Outbreak

According to the Associated Press, the price of a carton of eggs at supermarkets has increased 17% over the last month, hitting an average of $1.39. Bulk prices paid for eggs by cake mix and mayonnaise manufacturers, meanwhile, have spiked 63% over the past two-and-a-half weeks. Turkey prices are up as well, with breast meat at delis rising 10% since mid-April. So far, chicken prices appear to be unaffected.

Still, egg prices remain far below their record highs in the Midwest. Last fall, according to the AP—egg prices soared in the Midwest, breaking records day after day and eventually hitting a high of $2.18 per dozen.

Meanwhile, a disruption in the egg supply has resulted in egg shortages in the Minneapolis area that have been described as “temporary.” Walmart and Target stores in the Twin Cities say that they have experienced no issues with getting eggs, but local supermarket chains such as Cub Foods and Kowalski’s have reported shortages.

Since the flu is thought to be spread by migratory birds, many are concerned about what will happen in the fall, when birds fly south for the winter.

MONEY groceries

This Is America’s Favorite Supermarket

Robin Gallo (center) of North Palm Beach attended the opening on the new Trader Joe's store in Palm Beach Gardens store Friday, September 19, 2014. ''I got here at 6am and was the first in line, '' she said. ''I am using half a vacation day for this.
Bruce R. Bennett—The Palm Beach Post/Zuma Press, Inc./Alamy The opening on the new Trader Joe's store in Palm Beach Gardens store in Florida on Friday, September 19, 2014.

Yet again, Trader Joe's has been named as the best supermarket in the land by grocery shoppers, in a survey that factors in cleanliness, service, speed of checkout, and overall value.

Trader Joe’s may be known for its small stores, but it would be understandable if the grocery chain was getting a big head. For the third year in a row, TJ’s has been named by consumers as their overall favorite supermarket in a survey conducted by Market Force Information.

Survey participants are asked to rate grocery chains on attributes like Courteous Service and One-Stop Shopping, and Market Force compiles the data into what it calls a Composite Loyalty Index, meant to gauge overall consumer satisfaction and the likelihood of recommending the retailer to others. Trader Joe’s may not be the go-to spot for one-stop shopping, but for the past few years, it has ranked at or near the top of shopper ratings for attributes such as Courteous Service, Inviting Atmosphere, Low Prices, Cleanliness, and Fast Checkouts. That’s given the grocery chain the top ranking three years and running.

Publix’s high scores for courteous employees, speedy checkouts, and cleanliness helped the Florida-based supermarket chain nab the #2 slot in the Market Force study. The third-highest grocery chain, meanwhile, is Aldi, the exceptionally low-price, no-frills, generic-brand sibling of Trader Joe’s. WinCo Foods, another emerging low-price chain, and Costco received the highest ratings for value alongside Aldi.

This past spring, Consumer Reports’ study on the nation’s best supermarkets also placed Trader Joe’s and Publix in the top three, though it named Wegmans as the overall best grocery chain. (Wegmans wasn’t featured in the Market Force survey.)

One other notable nugget from both surveys is that Walmart is singled out for two reasons: It is the biggest and most visited of all grocery stores, and it receives the lowest ratings from shoppers.

 

MONEY Food & Drink

Whole Foods to Open Cheaper Stores for Millennials

Whole Foods says it will open a new, lower-priced brand of stores aimed at attracting millennials.

MONEY groceries

America’s Most Popular Supermarket Is Also Its Least Loved

Walmart, Miami, Florida
Joe Raedle—Getty Images Walmart, Miami, Florida

Walmart has both the highest sales and lowest consumer ratings among grocery shoppers. And this makes sense how?

More Americans buy their groceries at Walmart than anywhere else. It currently captures about 25% of the grocery market in the U.S., up from around 7% in 2002.

In other words, in a relatively short period of time, Walmart has transformed from an all-purpose retailer that happened to sell groceries into the country’s most popular destination for grocery shopping by far.

And yet, America’s “favorite” supermarket—at least in terms of where we spend the most money—also appears to offer the worst grocery shopping experience. The May 2015 issue of Consumer Reports features ratings and reviews of the nation’s leading grocery stores, and Walmart was at the absolute bottom of the heap.

The news shouldn’t come as a surprise. CR noted that Walmart has been among the lowest-rated grocers over the past decade; it was dead last in consumer ratings last year among a total of 55 supermarket brands. “This year,” the CR article stated, “the nation’s largest grocer—the primary shopping destination for 10 percent of those surveyed—earned low marks in every category other than price.”

That last word basically explains all you need to know about why people keep shopping for groceries at Walmart even though the quality and customer service are far superior at Wegmans, Publix, and Whole Foods—all of which are among the highest-rated supermarkets in the study. For a large portion of shoppers, price simply trumps all when it comes to groceries.

A Motley Fool post hit the nail on the head by pointing out that most shoppers “either take one approach to buying their groceries or another. Either they’re willing to pay a premium for high quality at a Publix or Whole Foods Market, or they’re looking for value and would prefer to shop at a Walmart.”

A sizable percentage of shoppers will cope with Walmart’s empty shelves, low-ranking produce variety and freshness, and overall dissatisfaction so long as the tradeoff is a cheaper grocery bill.

Still, it’s worth noting that the CR study that puts Walmart dead last among supermarkets is not the result of a random poll. Instead, it’s based on input from CR subscribers, who presumably pay more attention to what they buy than the average shopper. They’re probably more value-driven and wealthier too. (We’ve reached out to CR to verify this information and are waiting to hear back.) As mentioned above, only 10% of CR subscribers say they do most of their grocery shopping at Walmart, whereas 25% of overall grocery sales take place at the store. So the study is not necessarily representative of American consumer behavior, and it could very well be that regular Walmart grocery shoppers are happier with their experience—or simply care less—than the participants in the CR survey.

Another explanation for why Walmart grocery sales are so high while shopper satisfaction is in the basement just comes down to the fact that no matter where you live, there’s probably a Walmart nearby. As a National Retail Federation study noted, “With the exception of Walmart, no grocery chain is truly a national presence, though Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and Aldi seem to be pointed in that direction.”

MONEY groceries

Here’s How Much You’d Save by Dumping K-Cups for Traditional Brewed Coffee

150305_EM_KCup_1
Shutterstock / Rob Hainer

The inventor of K-Cups says he regrets coming up with the idea and doesn't even own a K-Cup machine.

This week, the Atlantic ran a story in which John Sylvan, inventor of the K-Cup—the single-serve coffee pods that are increasingly taking over home and office counter space—dropped a bombshell. “I don’t have one. They’re kind of expensive to use,” Sylvan said of the K-Cup system he created. “Plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”

This isn’t exactly like Henry Ford saying that he prefers bicycles to cars, or Steve Jobs praising the cost-effectiveness of a rotary phone over an iPhone, but it’s sorta in the same ballpark.

Sylvan acknowledged that he feels “bad sometimes” about creating the K-Cup, which he likened to “a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.” Also, the proliferation of coffee pods—which are mostly unrecyclable, and which take up more and more space in landfills thanks to America’s ever-growing love affair with coffee—have raised serious environmental concerns as they’ve increased in popularity. Quartz declared them “the most wasteful form of coffee” on the planet.

For now, though, let’s focus strictly on the household economics of single-pod coffee brewers. To what degree are they “kind of expensive” compared with regular coffee makers?

First, there’s the cost of the machine. Recently, marketing professor Eric Anderson at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management noted that in 2002, the average coffee maker cost $35. Today it’s still easy to find a basic coffee maker for that price, or even $20 or $25. By 2013, however, the average coffee maker purchase price hit around $90, partly due to the spread of pricey single-pod brewers from Keurig (the K in K-Cups), Nespresso, and others. At Bed Bath and Beyond, the least expensive Keurig coffee maker is $100, which seems fairly typical.

But that’s only a small factor in how much more K-Cups cost compared with brewing traditional drip coffee. The Atlantic story estimates that the tiny amount of coffee used in each K-Cup winds up costing the equivalent of $40 per pound. That’s easily three times the price of a pound of ground or whole bean Starbucks coffee.

How much more money, then, does a household spend by using K-Cups? The answer depends on several factors, including how much coffee you drink and what kind, and how carefully you shop for deals on coffee makers and the coffee itself. Over the years, various penny-pinching individuals have done the math on the subject, and the breakdown usually shows that K-Cups cost two or three times more per cup compared with traditionally brewed coffee.

One fairly typical analysis, comparing Caribou brand K-Cups versus ground coffee, showed that the per-cup cost was 66¢ versus 28¢, respectively. If you make three cups a day, 365 days a year, that adds up to around $723 spent on K-Cups, versus $307 for regular coffee brewers. So you’d easily save $400 a year by going the old-fashioned route—which, again, Sylvan points out accurately, ain’t exactly hard to handle.

For an idea of how much your household specifically would save—or, on the flip side, how much you’re paying for the convenience of K-Cups—check out the coffee maker calculator one economist created a couple years back. Enter a few data points into the Excel calculator, including how many cups of coffee you brew per week, the cost of coffee machines you’re considering, how much you typically spend on coffee, and even how much of the coffee pot you usually wind up pouring down the drain, and it’ll spit out the per-cup price breakdowns. We entered several different scenarios, and K-Cups were at least twice as expensive in all cases.

If the majority of your coffee does come brewed via K-Cup, at least you can take solace in the fact that you’re not hitting Starbucks or another coffee shop several times a day. Compared to that, your K-Cup habit will seem downright cheap.

MONEY Saving

Why Candy Companies Hate the Way You’re Shopping

Candy at newsstand
Patti McConville—Alamy

When shoppers are picking up groceries curbside or staring at their smartphones in the checkout line, they're not going to impulsively buy chocolate bars.

No one heads to the supermarket or drugstore with a shopping list that reads:

• Overpriced bottle of Coke
• Trashy celebrity magazine
• Bag of candy I’m not supposed to eat

At least, we hope no one has ever created such a shopping list.

Regardless, those items are snatched up and purchased by many shoppers, typically because they’re tempted while waiting in the checkout area. As customers stand in line, surrounded by the goodies stocked in the vicinity of the cash registers, sometimes their rumbling stomachs and base curiosities get the better of them. The result: They drop a few bucks to satisfy a chocolate craving or read about the latest contrived Kardashian scandal, and the store wins some quick and easy profits.

But what if there were no opportunity for the store to tempt you into making such ill-advised impulse buys? Well, in fact, it’s getting harder for stores to nudge customers into making checkout impulse grabs, and tech is a big reason why.

While the advent of smartphones doesn’t eliminate the possibility of checkout impulse purchases, research indicates that our iPhones and Androids serve as “mobile blinders” that shield us from mindlessly eyeing the candy shelves and other checkout area temptations. In other words, because we’re checking email or Twitter or Instagram or playing some silly game on our phones, the odds are lower that we’ll buy, or even see, gum, chocolate, and the latest issue of Cosmo.

What’s more, online shopping, as well as the increasingly popular option of ordering groceries or other goods online and then picking up purchases curbside, all but negates any chance for the shopper to make an impulse buy. Another potential impulse purchase killer is self-checkout: Because shoppers are occupied with scanning their orders, they’re not thinking about how wonderful that chocolate bar in front of them would taste.

For obvious reasons, companies whose business relies on such impulse purchases aren’t happy about any of this, and at least one large candy company is doing something about it. Recently, the blog Retail Wire took note of some comments on the topic—and what’s known by insiders as “dwell time”—made by Chris Witham, a senior manager of front-end experience for Hershey, at an industry event.

“Anytime there is a pause in the shopping trip and shoppers take a look at some of the merchandising that is available, that is dwell time,” explained Witham. Obviously, retailers and companies like Hershey want shoppers to encounter some “dwell time” in order to maximize the odds that they will add an impulse purchase to their carts. Still, they don’t want shoppers to get annoyed by being forced to wait around forever. “As they get to pay points, how much is a good amount of dwell time [going] to encourage impulse purchase, but not have a detrimental effect on the shopping trip as a whole?”

Among the strategies Hershey is actively working on to counter the effects of technology and boost opportunities for impulse buys are adding on-demand chocolate dispensers to self-checkout areas, as well as candy and snack kiosks and vending to curbside pickup areas and perhaps near the pumps at gas stations. What’s clear is that candy companies aren’t simply going to give up on pushing impulse sales, no matter how technology changes the game.

“Impulse, in an indulgent business, is really important … But shopping is changing, and impulse is under threat,” said Frank Jimenez, Hershey’s senior director of retail evolution, according to The (UK) Guardian. “What happens if and when the checkout goes away?”

And what happens if the majority of shoppers turn into those described by the Wall Street Journal last fall:

They are time-pressed and deal savvy, visiting stores only when they run out of items like cereal or toilet paper and after doing extensive research on purchases online and with friends. They buy what they came for—and then leave.

There’s little to no chance a store can ensnare this kind of shopper in an impulse buy. It’s a good thing for stores, and for companies such as Hershey, that other research indicates that 9 out of 10 consumers buy things that aren’t on their shopping lists, and that millennials are most likely to make impulse buys not because they spotted a good deal or promotion but simply to pamper themselves.

Among the takeaways for shoppers who don’t want to be suckered into impulse purchases: 1) Shop with a list. 2) Stick to the list. 3) Keep your head down at the checkout area to avoid temptation. 4) Take advantage of online shopping and/or curbside pick-up services when they make sense.

MONEY groceries

National High-Price Bacon Nightmare Is Over

150127_EM_Bacon
Ray Lego—Getty Images

Bacon lovers, rejoice. The heartbreaking, seemingly endless rise of pork prices appears to have subsided.

After hitting record highs over the summer, bacon prices have come down to earth—and even cheaper prices are on the way.

The retail price of bacon hit an all-time high during the summer of 2014, but has since retreated, dropping 5.7% by early December, according to Bloomberg News. What’s more, all signs indicated at the time that prices for pork, ham, and bacon would keep on decreasing. “Hogs and pork are almost surely going to be cheaper, particularly compared to beef, next year,” Doane Advisory Services economist Dan Vaught said.

Sure enough, pork prices are plunging in early 2015. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that farmers have rebounded from a virus that decimated pig herds in 2013 and early 2014, and that the nation is riding high on the hog in terms of a record number of pigs approaching slaughter weight. Forecasts call for an all-time high of 23.9 billion pounds of pork to be produced in the U.S. in 2015.

“It’s amazing. We’ve gone from ‘We’re going to run out of pork!’ to ‘What are we going to do with all of this meat?’” John Nalivka, president of the Oregon-based agriculture-advisory firm Sterling Marketing Inc., told the Journal.

Well, one thing they’re clearly going to do is cut prices. Hogs are currently trading at four-year lows on the futures market. Supermarkets are paying less for pork wholesale, and they have begun passing along the savings in the form of cheaper ham, pork loins, and yes, bacon. Last summer, the average retail price for a pound of bacon was over $6 per pound. By December 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a pound of bacon was averaging $5.53 in U.S. grocery stores, and $5.10 in the Midwest.

The funny thing about bacon is that people love it so much that demand stays incredibly high even when prices rise, and the masses are prone to panic with the slightest hint of bacon being in short supply. And when bacon prices become cheaper, that’s a justification for some bacon lovers to take their bacon consumption to the next level. Businesses that profit on bacon-aholics will surely be more than happy to help. Look for more bacon to be incorporated into restaurant menus and on sale at supermarkets in the months ahead.

MONEY consumer psychology

Panic Shopping! How a Blizzard Turns Us into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

A long line of shoppers wait beside mostly-empty shelves in the bread aisle of a grocery store, as people stocked up on items ahead of an approaching snowstorm, in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 12 February 2014.
Michael Reynolds—epa/Corbis A long line of shoppers wait beside mostly-empty shelves in the bread aisle of a grocery store, as people stocked up on items ahead of an approaching snowstorm, in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 12 February 2014.

Weather forecasts aren't nearly as reliable as the reaction by shoppers when a bad storm has been predicted. And by reaction we mean overreaction.

Almost exactly a year ago, supermarkets cashed in as shoppers rushed in and ransacked store shelves in anticipation of snowy weather and the polar vortex’s subzero temperatures hitting a broad swath of the country. This week, it’s largely the same story in the Northeast, what with a historic blizzard said to be threatening New England and much of the Mid-Atlantic region.

Over the weekend, the panic hoarding began, with shoppers emptying grocery store shelves and grabbing every last loaf of bread, carton of eggs, and bottle of milk in sight. On Sunday, shoppers at one New Jersey supermarket reported it being nearly impossible to find a parking spot outside the store, while inside the scene was one of empty coolers where milk used to be, employees fighting through crowds to restock shelves, and endless lines snaking away from cash registers. Likewise, shoppers have been sharing photos of the crazy mob scenes over the weekend inside grocery stores in Boston, New York City, and elsewhere with #Snowmaggedon2015, #Blizzardof2015, or whatever your preferred nickname is for the storm.

By now, this kind of pre-storm mad rush at the supermarket is to be expected. Heck, it’s far more reliable than the actual weather forecasts ever are. And to some extent, this behavior is reasonable. We’re relentlessly instructed to take precautions, prepare for the worst, go the route of better safe than sorry, and … you get the gist. You don’t want to be stuck in a blizzard without a shovel or enough food to last for a few days, after all.

Yet, as with so many other things involving human beings, there’s a tendency to go completely overboard. What starts out as a prudent and sensible shopping excursion can quickly devolve into a frenzied, agitated exercise in hoarding at an overcrowded supermarket or hardware store, as the ugly, primal side of humanity rises to the surface.

During the polar vortex of early 2014, for instance, some supermarket customers reported that meat and bread were swiped from their shopping carts while their backs were turned. Ever since Superstorm Sandy left gas stations without gas and led to some instances of price gouging where gas was available, drivers have been known to flock to the pumps to fill up when a big storm is in the forecast. Far more often than not, of course, it’s wholly unnecessary to wait in line for 30 minutes or longer just to top off your gas tank.

What is it, then, that pushes us over the edge? Why do shoppers head out to the store in preparation of some snow and perhaps a couple days without power, and then they (OK—we) wind up hoarding all manner of goods as if preparing for the apocalypse?

Part of the explanation is mob mentality. When we see others streaming into stores and snatching up perishable goods by the cartload, we feel pressure to do the same. Perhaps, we think, these crazed shoppers all around us know something we don’t? It’s easy to see how this mentality snowballs—excuse the pun—when an epic blizzard is expected. This kind of thinking also pushes consumers into the realm of irrationality on days like Black Friday, when the bustle of crowds and competition causes people to overreact and buy things they wouldn’t have had there not been dozens of shoppers fighting to get their hands on some supposedly hot, must-have holiday purchase.

Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, an author and frequent TIME and MONEY contributor, explained via email that no matter if it’s Black Friday or the day before a blizzard or hurricane is about to hit, when crowds descend on stores we essentially revert to cavemen. “Clearly we’re responding to emotions and crowds, and our brains are a few steps behind,” said Yarrow. What else could explain the act of rampaging through the supermarket and “greedily grabbing the last can of Spam”?

“It starts with a normal impulse to stock up on things that might not be available for a few days,” Yarrow said. “Panic hits when the stores are jammed with other shoppers and the shelves look a little bare. It’s not so much a thought as it is an impulse that hits, and it’s associated with the caveman parts of our brain that take over when we perceive we might be in physical danger. We are prewired to fight for food when we sense that resources are scarce.”

Afterwards, we’re likely to look back on our behavior with puzzlement, and perhaps embarrassment. “Shoppers are going to find that canned food in the back of their pantries someday and wonder what they were thinking,” said Yarrow. “The fact is, they really weren’t thinking. Primal brain took over.”

Try to keep this in mind when, inevitably, the next “historic” storm is on the horizon and your supermarket seems to have been invaded by hoarding barbarian masses. By then, however, it’ll probably be too late. You’ll be in the store, not thinking, and instead following the primal impulse to race to get the last loaf of bread before it’s gone.

Speaking of which, anyone have any good recipes that involve Spam? Somehow, I have a bunch in the pantry, though I don’t remember even buying them.

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