11 Things You Should Never Buy at a Gas Station (and Why)

AI-generated image of a person buying things at a gas station

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AI-generated image of a person buying things at a gas station
Cheapism / DALL-E 3

Run for the Hills

Gas stations are everywhere and often operate 24/7. While their convenience can act as a last-minute refuge for everything from a quick meal and coffee refill to emergency car essentials, there are some items you should avoid buying there unless absolutely necessary. Things like electronics, certain food items (ahem, sushi), and medicine are often overpriced and of questionable quality, while basic essentials like water and snacks can typically be found at better prices elsewhere. 

Unless you're in urgent need of a specific item, or find yourself somewhere without supermarkets or convenience stores, here are 11 items to skip at the gas station.

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1. Electronics

Ever been tempted by those cute, colorful earbuds at the register? We have, too, and while we hate to be the bearer of bad news, such deals are indeed "too good to be true." Items like headphones, chargers, and aux cords sold at gas stations tend to be overpriced and of inferior quality. When it comes to electronics, you're better off investing in something that won't fall apart after two uses. 

And while we're at it, beware of the white van speaker scam where scammers try to sell you knockoff speakers, TVs, and other electronics from a van in the parking lot of gas stations and elsewhere.

Fresh sushi boxes

2. Perishable Food

When it comes to food, freshness is key — and buying pre-packaged meals like sushi, wraps, and sandwiches can be akin to playing a game of roulette with your stomach. Believe me, you do not want to get food poisoning from a gas station hot dog. You never know how long they've been sitting under a heat lamp, and they'll probably end up tasting gross or stale (at best). 

(There are, however, a few gas station convenience stores out there with food that's worth the detour.)

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3. Sunglasses

Gas stations will often boast a collection of shades that look quite cute and trendy. But don't be fooled by appearances — these sunglasses tend to be more about style than substance. The main issue lies in their protective capabilities — or lack thereof. Proper sunglasses should offer adequate protection against harmful UV rays to safeguard your eyes from the sun's damaging rays, especially while driving. 

Related: Designer Sunglasses You Can Buy at Costco at a Discount

Winning Lottery Scratch Game Ticket

4. Lottery Tickets

We get the allure of lottery tickets and how they scratch the itch (pun intended) of winning big. But the reality is that spending money on lottery tickets is like throwing your hard-earned cash into a wishing well — except the well is a cash register — and the only wish coming true is the gas station's profit margin. 

In fact, your chances of winning the lotto are one in 300 million, and you actually have a much higher chance of getting struck by lighting. Let that sink in. 

Related: Why You Should Never Play the Lottery

Morocco Inwi prepaid starter phone SIM card.

5. Pre-Paid Cell Phones

Pre-paid mobile phones sold at gas stations often carry a hefty price tag that do not match their actual worth. The service plans they come bundled with may offer only limited coverage and data at inflated prices, or they'll lack features such as GPS and internet access that you can get from established carriers. 

When it comes to cellphones, it's best to take some time to research and compare options from reputable companies to find a plan that offers the best value, customer service, and bang for your buck. 

Related: Power Up: 8 Tips and Tricks To Maximize Your Cellphone’s Battery Life

Set gift vouchers with ribbons and presents boxes
Anastasiia Voronina/istockphoto

6. Gift Cards

Gift cards sold at gas stations are typically marked up, or have hidden fees that chip away at the card's value. Plus, the selection is often limited and can lack the variety you'd find in specialized stores or online. Picking up a gift card from the gas station also kind of screams, "I totally forgot to buy you something for your birthday so here's a last minute gift I found at the Shell." 

Related: Absolute Last-Minute Christmas Gifts You Can Get on Amazon

At the fruit and vegetable store
Valerii Apetroaiei/istockphoto

7. Fresh Produce, Meat, and Dairy

When it comes to groceries like fresh produce, dairy products, and meat, you should definitely avoid scooping them up at the gas station. Their selection of fruits and vegetables can be very limited and far from fresh, while perishable goods can expire or lose their nutritional value after sitting on a shelf for long periods of time. Plus, gas station groceries are often priced much higher than what you'd find in a grocery store or local market. 

Related: I Stopped in My Local Amazon Go Store — Here's How It Compared to 7-Eleven

A young woman pharmacist arranges medicines on the shelves of the pharmacy
Vilin Visuals/istockphoto

8. Medicine and Supplements

If you've ever bought painkillers at a gas station, you've likely noticed how even tiny packs of aspirin are priced exorbitantly high. This is a classic case of convenience markup, where you're paying a premium just for the ease of access. When it comes to medicine and supplements, pharmacies or grocery stores are the way to go — offering a wider selection of brands, types, and price points to choose from. 

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Juice cans and bottles in fridge at supermarket

9. Water Bottles or Beverages

When you grab a bottle of water or soda at a gas station, the quality is generally consistent, but the price is a different story. These beverages are often subject to a hefty markup — making them more expensive than what you'd find at larger retailers like Walmart and Target. Also, why pay an arm and a leg for something you can get for cheap — or even for free — from the tap at home?

Related: Forget Hydro Flask: Here's Why Nalgene Still Makes the Best Water Bottles

French Pastry

10. Packaged Baked Goods

In the world of gas station snacks, freshness often takes a backseat. That sad plastic-wrapped muffin? It's probably been sitting there for days — or even weeks — resulting in a loss of flavor and texture. Unlike bakeries or cafes where baked goods are made fresh and replenished daily, gas stations typically stock up on these items in bulk, which means they're far from fresh out the oven and will likely be hard or stale. 

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11. Skincare and Makeup Products

The range of skincare and makeup products available in gas stations is typically very limited and might not suit all skin types. Some of these products can even cause adverse reactions like rashes or breakouts. Moreover, these products tend to be overpriced and may lack the quality and effectiveness of those you'd find in a pharmacy or at a specialty beauty store.

Related: 21 Things You Didn’t Know About Convenience Stores