Yen & You: The truth behind konbini prices

Yen & You is a recurring feature written by Austin Morgan, a JET in Fukui Prefecture. Austin enjoys warm weather, playing guitar, and blogging about personal finance. Check out his blog, Foreigner’s Finances, for more personal finance insight for twenty-somethings.

By Austin Morgan

When I was studying in Kyoto two years ago, our study abroad group received weekly presentations about different parts of Japan and its culture. One of the presentations concentrated on the 40,000 or so Japanese convenience stores (or, konbini). The presenter told us how wildly successful they’ve been and how their business model was going to conquer the rest of the world.

At the time I bought into the hype and I still occasionally stop in to to grab a quick corn dog or some sushi to go. But what the presentation, and most konbini-connoisseurs, don’t tell us is that the konbini kills your wallet with inflated prices, while only providing equal quality to the local supermarket.

Yes, you’re paying for the convenience – I get it – but is the convenience really worth the price?

Take a look at some research I did comparing convenience store items to average grocery store ones.

Bread

Supermarket: 98 yen for six slices
Konbini: 220 yen for six slices
Difference: 124 percent more expensive

Milk

Supermarket: 140 yen for 1000 ml
Konbini: 218 for 1000 ml
Difference: 56 percent more expensive

Chips

Supermarket: 88 yen for 72 g. bag
Konbini: 158 yen for 85 g. bag
Percentage difference: 52 percent more expensive

Snickers candy bar

Supermarket: 98 yen
Konbini: 120 yen
Difference: 22 percent more expensive

Soda

Supermarket: 98 yen for 500 ml
Konbini: 125 yen for 500 ml
Difference: 28 percent more expensive

Juice

Supermarket: 98 yen for 1000ml
Konbini: 105 yen for 500ml
Difference: 114 percent more expensive

You don’t notice the huge increase in prices because most items are under 500 yen and any difference isn’t noticeable on a random day. But when you take a look at the percentages, you see how inflated the prices are and how much this costs you if you’re visiting the konbini once, twice, or five times a week.

Over an entire year we’re talking about tens of thousands of yen in savings. ALTs already have a hard enough time saving money due to an abundance of travel options, cultural experiences, and friendships all wanting a portion of our paycheck. But if you’re stopping in to the konbini before school everyday to grab a snack, you’re costing yourself huge amounts of money.

They are conveniently located and usually right on the way to work, but here’s how you combat the konbini urge.

  • Make a list of the items you buy from the convenience store every week. Just write down everything you bought from a convenience store in the last week. Which of those items could be bought ahead of time at the supermarket? 75 percent? 95 percent? 100 percent?
  • Pick up a week of items the next time you go grocery shopping. For example, I eat a snack every day at school to hold me over until lunch. Instead of stopping at the konbini and buying a small bag of Ritz crackers every day, I buy two packs of four when I go grocery shopping. Not only do I save money, but I save myself five to 10 minutes every morning because I don’t have to stop somewhere on the way to work.

Now, I know what you’re going to say. But Austin, I pick up lunch every day at the konbini, am I just not supposed to eat?

No, of course not I’m not suggesting that.

But all of your favorite konbini pre-packaged meals like sushi or noodle dishes are available at supermarkets, too. If the supermarket isn’t open before school, stop in after school some time, buy a couple and refrigerate them.

I don’t want to save money on things I love if it means I have to cut them out of my life. It’s no fun and you just end up going back to the thing you loved after a couple of months of depriving yourself.

But this frugal hack allows you to get the same food for cheaper, and it saves you valuable sleeping time every morning. During the winter months, we could all use a little extra time under the blankets.

Photo by Jacob Botter. Published under Flickr Creative Commons License CC BY 2.0.

8 thoughts on “Yen & You: The truth behind konbini prices

  1. That’s fine, except for the bit about having “equal quality” or being the same noodle dishes and packaged foods. Anyone who’s eaten a broad range of things from both the major konbinis and from local supermarkets can tell you that there’s an enormous difference in quality: konbini bentos, noodles, and rice balls taste much, much better than their supermarket counterparts. It’s not true in every case of course, but in many.

    Konbinis are still overpriced and everyone knows it, but when you compare them to most supermarkets, it’s just a matter of getting what you paid for.

  2. I have to disagree with Brody. I’ve always found, in my own experiences, that Supermarket bentos are way way better than Konbinis bentos. Plus they have a much better variety of bentos.

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  4. I agree with Brody, I find the rice balls at the Kombini’s much better tasting than the ones at the super market. Though it might be that I shop at Manso.

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  6. I totally agree and try to avoid them if possible. The only problem lies in the fact that there are sometimes some nifty little products that I can only find in a konbini and not in a super.

    I’m a sucker for these, and konbini always have the rapidly changing seasonal stuff that the supers don’t even bother with.

    Totally a sucker for this marketing….

  7. What supermarket are you going to and where do you live? I think that factors a lot here. The supermarket prices you mention are definately higher in my local Tokyo supermarket, where conbini prices are high – but not as drastic as what you mention.

    I can get things that cheap if I go to a 99store or a 100yen store.

    Also – are you comparing the same brands here? And – what time of day are you shopping? Are you comparing supermarket evening discount prices to bulk standard conbini prices? The comparisons just seem a little too drastic, thats all….

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