If you're looking to save money on groceries, you've probably tried all the usual tactics. And while it's wise to avoid shopping on an empty stomach and making spur-of-the-moment purchases, there are other opportunities to save. Click through for insider hacks to save money on groceries.
Review Your Receipt for Errors
Most people don't monitor the register when the cashier scans their purchases. However, not paying attention could cost you money, said Andrea Woroch, a consumer and money-saving expert.
"From punching in the wrong produce code to missing out on a currently promoted sale, it's possible you're overpaying if you aren't reviewing your bill. Recently, I was overcharged for a package of bacon by $6," she said.
According to Woroch, this grocery store blunder happens a lot, so pay attention while checking out and always review your receipt.
Become a Mystery Shopper
If you're sick of shelling out a bundle at the supermarket, consider becoming a mystery shopper. Grocery stores use these undercover individuals to assess how they're doing, said Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force Information, a mystery shopping company.
"Many people think it's fun to go 'undercover,' and most like the fact that they're helping to make the stores better places for the community to visit," she said.
As a secret shopper, you'll get reimbursed for the items you purchase. You can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) to search assignments and learn how to apply for them.
Let Someone Else Do Your Grocery Shopping
When it comes to grocery shopping, many of us are our own worst enemies. Whether you're drawn to expensive out-of-season produce or freshly baked cookies from the bakery section, it's easy to spend more than you intended at the store. Fortunately, services exist that let you skip the supermarket all together.
"A grocery shop service (such as Kroger's ClickList) or even hiring someone to do your grocery shopping for you can save you money by removing the temptation to impulse buy," said Mira Dessy, owner of the website, The Ingredient Guru.
Don’t Get Hung Up on Expiration Dates
Just because that can of kidney beans is a week past its best-buy date doesn't mean you should toss it out and head back to the grocery store. Said Woroch, consumers are throwing away more than they should, thereby wasting precious dollars.
"Reports say the date printed on a product's container is not the expiration date, and those items can be safely consumed for a period after," she said. Plus, you can feel good about the fact that you aren't wasting food.
Don’t Be Afraid to Improvise
Intrepid cooks don't run out to the store just because they're missing a few ingredients. Rather than head to the supermarket to get the missing item, you should look for ways to substitute, said Karen Hoxmeier, founder of My Bargain Buddy.
"Google is a great resource. There are endless articles on ingredient substitutions for everything from poultry seasoning to buttermilk," she said.
You can also make some ingredients from scratch rather than buying them in the store. For example, if you need a little bit of buttermilk but not the whole jug, mix a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice with a cup of milk for a DIY solution.
Choose Rotisserie for Rush Meals
Let's be real: Most of us don't have time to whip up gourmet meals from scratch every day. Additionally, all that home cooking can really bust your budget.
Baking a whole chicken can easily do both, but Woroch offers a solution. The best way to prep a chicken-based meal is to use a rotisserie chicken, as they're already cooked and inexpensive, she said. You might even find them for under $5 at Costco.
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Pick a Smaller Cart
If you want to save on groceries, Hoxmeier advises using the smallest cart at the store. When you choose a big cart, you might feel like you need to fill all the available space with unneeded items, she said. By opting for a smaller grocery cart, you can limit impulse purchases and keep your budget in the black.
Look at the Cost Per Unit
Larger sizes don't always translate to better prices. In fact, Hoxmeier said that bulk items often cost more than regular-sized products. If you want to make sure you aren't overpaying, do a little comparison shopping.
"Pay close attention to the cost per unit in small print on the price tag," she said. "This will tell you exactly how much you are paying." Compare per-ounce prices to find out the true savings on a bulk or sale item.
Search for Ingredients in Multiple Places
Grocery stores sometimes stock the same item in multiple locations.
"Often times, an ingredient can be found in multiple places in the grocery store, and one version might be cheaper than another," said Suzanne Hayen, founder of Let's Be Chefs.
For example, sesame seeds can generally be found in the spice aisle and also in the Asian section. However, the sesame seeds in the Asian section are often less expensive, said Hayen.
Compare End Cap Deals
Located at the end of each aisle, end caps are shelving units on which supermarkets place their "sale" items. Ranging from pasta to cookies, these products might seem like deals, but they aren't always, said Woroch.
"They're counting on our preference to avoid heading down an aisle, so shoppers will just grab an end-cap item that seems reasonably priced instead of actually comparing it with other brands in the product aisle," she said.
Before you load up your cart, do some comparison shopping in the appropriate aisle. You might just find a lower-priced alternative.
Stock Up on Cheap Meal Ingredients
Instead of hitting the store because there's nothing to eat, ask yourself what you can make with the ingredients you have. Typically, your pantry can provide inexpensive yet delicious meals, said Hoxmeier.
"By having the ingredients on hand for things like lentil soup, chili or other inexpensive dishes, you'll always have a tasty meal but you won't have to break the bank to do it," she said.
So, when you shop, wait for these items to go on sale and then stock up. You can also reuse leftovers to make a combination of casseroles that are both tasty and cheap.
Ask for a Rain Check
Next time the grocery store is out of a sale item you need, don't be annoyed. Instead, consumer and savings expert Lisa Lee Freeman recommends asking for a rain check to get the item at a discount at a later date. Stores will often honor this request, leading to serious savings.
"A rain check entitles you to the sale price when the item is back in stock. Most rain checks do come with time limits, so read the fine print," she said.
You should also have the grocery store make note of the quantity you intend to buy on the rain check.
Check the Clearance Racks
Even grocery stores have clearance racks. Freeman says you can find some major steals here, including items for half off the original price.
"Stores are always clearing out inventory to make room for new products," she said.
Fruit, vegetables, bread and even meat can be found for discounted rates in the clearance section. In some cases, these products expire sooner, so be conscious of use-by dates to avoid waste. Additionally, shoppers can find deals on non-food items, like personal care products.
Don’t Go Coupon Crazy
Grocery coupons can help you save on food purchases — but don't go overboard, said Freeman. "The problem is that while many of us make a list and try to stick to it, we also tend to indulge in 'off-list purchases' triggered by coupons and other promotions," she said.
A study by NPD showed that 80 percent of unplanned supermarket purchases are due to promotions, said Freeman. One trick she suggests is to make a game out of limiting impulse spending.
"For example, you can set aside a 'mad money budget' of, say, $5 a week for those sale items you just can't resist," she said.
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Reduce Shopping Trips
If you frequently make grocery runs mid-week, you are likely spending more than you should on impulse purchases, said Woroch.
"For example, if you spend an average of $10 on impulse every time you grocery shop and you cut back your trips from two times per week to just once per week, you will automatically save $40 a month," she said.
Sign Up for the Reward Programs
It's crucial to know when to shop and what to buy. However, to be truly savvy with savings, you'll want to take advantage of loyalty and reward programs.
For instance, Hoxmeier recommends the Walmart Savings Catcher program, which rewards you the price difference on a product should you find it cheaper at a competitor. And the Vons' Just For U program offers digital coupons and a club card to help you save.
Additionally, many grocery stores are getting into the online ordering business and will give you a discount on your first order. Here are a few options to consider:
- Safeway: $5 off $49 and free delivery
- Vons: $5 off $49 and free delivery
- Walmart: $10 off $50
Shop With Cash and Bank Savings
What you keep in your wallet can either limit your spending or set you up to blow your budget. Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network, recommends paying with cash, as studies show it encourages people to spend 15 percent to 20 percent less than they would with cards.
He also advises banking the amount you save on a grocery purchase. You can find this value by checking your receipt or grocery loyalty card record.
"Take the amount of those savings each time you visit the store and actually save them," he said. "You'll likely find it motivating to continue all the things you are doing to save."