Fast Food: When Buying to Get More for Your Money Backfires

As someone who likes to get the best value for my dollar I often get sucked into the trap of buying more of an item to get a better price per unit. While this does work in a lot of circumstance it isn’t always the best decision contrary to popular belief!

More Isn’t Always Better

Have you ever seen the movie Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock? Basically he tried to eat McDonalds for every meal for a month straight and whenever an employee asked him to super size he had to do it. Naturally his health started to fall apart rather quickly. See where I am going with this?

Super sizing your meal was never very expensive but it was almost always totally unnecessary. You got upgraded to an insane large portion of french fries and a mammoth soda all for a very low price. My guess is it was perceived as such a value that people much like myself couldn’t pass it up. Unfortunately, they probably should have.

While you’d be getting more food for a lower price per unit you also would have been consuming a LOT more calories. Unless you exercised a lot to burn off those extra calories chances are you gained some weight if you ate super sized meals regularly. That extra weight? It’ll cost you much more than the perceived value of super sizing in the long run simply due to the health issues it will cause. I’m not talking a couple dollars either. You’re probably talking thousands… easy.

Spending More Only Saves Money If You Would Have Bought It Anyway

Do you know why the cashiers always asked you if you wanted to super size your meal? My guess is because if they didn’t ask you’d be less likely to do it. However, when asked, people probably thought it was a good deal and thought “Why not? It’s only a dollar.”

While it is only a dollar, unless you had planned to spend it before you walked in the store you likely aren’t saving money. Unless you’re still hungry after your meal and go back to buy more you’re actually spending one more dollar than you thought you would! While this decreases the price per item it is still a larger overall expenditure.

You can bet that it didn’t cost the restaurants more than what they were charging you for this upgrade. They wouldn’t push the deal if it wasn’t highly profitable for them. Soda is pretty cheap for restaurants and potatoes aren’t that expensive either. It isn’t like they gave you an extra sandwich!

But Super Sizing Doesn’t Exist Anymore! Why Are You Telling Us This?!

Contrary to popular belief it still does exist, they just don’t call it a super size anymore. Now you can upgrade your meal to a larger size. Instead of asking you if you want to super size most chains now as you which size would you like. The thing is I don’t even remember what is normal anymore. I once asked for a medium and was shocked by how large the fries and drink were so now I always ask for the smallest size. It differs from fast food joint to fast food joint but it is always enough food for me.

Whenever you go to a fast food restaurant what size meal do you get? In what other cases does buying more to get more for your money backfire?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. I generally get the smallest size. I’ve even been known to get the kid size. With working out, I really don’t like greasey food so it is a once in a while occurance anyways.

  2. Nobody needs to eat that much anyways. I usually get a kids meal or something. I’m not a big fast food fan though- unless it is Subway!!!

    • Well there are some people who need to eat that much but I think Michael Phelps will take the cake. I saw what he eats in one day once and it blew my mind.

  3. If we ever eat out at fast food I always go with the LARGE size. My wife gets the small one though. I hate fast food though. It’s absolutely awful how much fat and calories are in those things.

  4. I didn’t realize that McDonalds was using the trick with increased sizing too, nor did I realize that they stopped calling it supersized. Then again I don’t go much at all anymore. I remember Wendys started doing that where the normal size became small. People were just so used to saying medium that they would unknowingly pay an upgrade. When I was younger I’d always go for the supersize, but I’m not really sure why. It’s not like I was huge and needed that much food. It just felt like too good a deal to pass up. These days I just avoid fast food as much as I can.

    • All of the fast food places keep changing multiple things. While they probably aren’t as big as the old super size it still feels like they get bigger all the time or they changes the names of their sizes.

  5. I get the smallest meal everytime! And I ask for a cup for water. You don’t need those soda calories anyways. Sometimes, I try to order kids meals at restaurants to save cash because let’s be honest, I cannot eat a full entree myself unless I’ve just run a 10k or something equalling extraneous and exhausting on your body.

    • I now always try to get a diet soda or mix a little regular in with the diet. Kids meals can be a great option if you’re allowed to get them.

  6. I will always get the smallest size. I really hate how the cashiers always try to say “and a large coke?” after you order something. Or they ask you, do you want to add cheesecake or dessert for only $_____? No thanks! I also hate when they keep adding more and more things to your order and you have to keep saying no haha.

    • They’re just doing their job and I can understand that. If only they knew the reasoning behind it. In sit down restaurants they are just trying to increase their tips but I think the fast food employees are clueless…

  7. I am another one who get the small size of everything and when told that for 20 cents I can get bigger – refuse. This is not saving it is madness – eating rubbish is bad enough; eating loads of it…

    • Yup! I’ve been working on it and totally agree. Now I only get the larger sizes if I’m sharing with someone but even that might be overkill.

  8. Edward Antrobus says:

    I think it’s really only McDonalds where the fries are such a humungous size. Burger King’s fries are much smaller. On the rare occasions we go to McD’s, we usually order one large meal for one and one sandwich and drink for the other and just split the fries.

    • Wendy’s fries can get pretty big. I don’t go to fast food a ton but I’d say we go maybe once or twice a month max. There are also months where we won’t go at all.

  9. I would love to see the success rate or conversion rate comparing 2 cashier questions…
    1. Would you like to supersize that?
    2. Would you like to supersize that for just a dollar?

    I better the latter gets WAY better results.

    • I agree. The key being “for just” or maybe “for only”. I bet McDonalds did a lot of research to pick what phrase their cashiers were supposed to say but at the same time I know cashiers don’t always stick to the script.

  10. I have to say we really don’t eat fast food. However I have noticed that even in coffee shops sizes have changed. At a coffee chain where I work that many colleagues shop at, they have redone their sizes and a large coffee or latte now is 32 oz. That is almost a litre which I think is crazy. Now you have to be really careful what you order because the new large is the old extra large.

    • Exactly my point Miss T! Just because they change the name of something doesn’t mean things aren’t getting bigger all of the time! Glad you don’t frequent fast food. I don’t go a lot but when I do I often forget what size is what at each place.

  11. The only time we upgrade our sizes is if we’re trying to feed our entire family (us, two kids) using one or two meals. We rarely eat at fast food anyway, but when we do, we find if we “supersize” (to use that obsolete term) we can do it for under $6 for 4 people.

    • That is definitely a great way to take advantage of the larger sizes! If you’re eating for just one person though it is generally overkill.

  12. Since I am a fitness instructor, I shouldn’t probably even being saying this, but when I get that craving for fast food, I do upgrade my fries or get a double quarter pounder. I exercise at a high-intensity (cardio and weight lifting) 4-5x times a week, so I’m burning thousands of calories. I don’t eat fast food all the time cause its gross all the time. Hey, I’m human, sometimes I just need salt and grease.

    • Hey, if you work out as much as you do I think you’re entitled to some junk food now and then. I eat it and rarely exercise other than walking my dog a mile a day.

  13. I always upgrade my meals but to be honest, I only ever eat fast food maybe 2-3 times a year when I’m usually abroad. We can all blame David Wallerstein, a McDonald’s executive for the invention of “Supersize” and making us all gain weight!

  14. Unless it’s something I can take home and stretch into another meal, like rice and beans from my favorite taqueria, I ask for the smallest size possible, and sometimes even split meals with friends.

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