Whole Foods is facing fines in New York City for regularly overcharging customers by skewing the price per pound on packaged items -- and this isn't an isolated problem. Earlier this year Target shelled out nearly $4 million to settle a civil lawsuit claiming overcharging, and Ralphs grocery stores paid $1.1 million after a similar complaint. Dollar General, CVS, and Walgreens have also been fined. The good news: You can take a few simple steps to guarantee your grocery bill matches what's in your cart.
RUN A TALLY ON YOUR PHONE
Instead of checking your phone for Facebook updates as you shop, use it to track what you're tossing in the cart. Not only are you likely to rethink an impulse purchase once you see its effect on the bottom line, but you won't be surprised at the register -- and if you are, you may have grounds to protest an overcharge. While a calculator can do the job, an app such as Smart Shopping List A La Carte lets you create shopping lists, factor in coupons and gift cards, and calculate sales tax when appropriate.
USE THE SCALE
Take any item sold by weight, such as fish, cheese, or baked goods, to the nearest scale (most likely in the produce department), even if it's pre-packaged. If the scale shows a very different result than the label, bring the issue to the manager. At Whole Foods coconut shrimp was overpriced by a whopping $14.84. Also, be sure to compare the price per pound for a pre-packaged item versus the same item from a bulk bin. At some stores, the difference can be substantial.
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE REGISTER
Many shoppers space out at checkout, rummaging through their wallets, counting reusable bags, or just chatting up the clerk. Don't. It's here that an overcharge can slip past you as quickly as the clerk can scan your items -- and it's best to catch a problem before you pay (even if it annoys everyone in line behind you). If you see a discrepancy, ask the cashier to take the item off your bill and let you walk the item over to the service department or a manager. If you don't like the answer you get, the upside is that you haven't paid for the item and can leave it behind rather than ask for it to be removed from the tab.
HOLD ON TO YOUR RECEIPT
Sometimes you're in a rush, and comparing prices or using a scale isn't as much of a priority as grabbing dinner and getting the heck out of the store before traffic becomes impossible. That doesn't mean you have to suck it up if you realize you've been overcharged. Check the receipt once you get home and call the store to ask whether you need to bring in the item along with the receipt to request a refund (not a big deal with a bag of nuts, but probably not ideal if you're talking about fresh fish). The store's corporate website also may have the information you need and, better yet, no hold times.
Don't launch into a tirade about what a rip-off the store is if you notice an overcharge at checkout -- chances are the cashier doesn't have the power to refund your money without a supervisor present, and won't be all that motivated to summon one if you're being a pain. Most stores want a happy, loyal customer, so ask to speak to someone who can help you, then calmly and pleasantly explain the problem. Chances are good you'll get cash back or store credit. Also, don't be too quick to rail about the overcharge on social media unless you've truly hit a brick wall in resolving the issue. Like you, store managers know how to use computers and smartphones, and if it's obvious you're the same person who called store employees stupid last night on Twitter, you might not get the help you'd like the next day.