By Noah Henry • May 01, 2014
Just because you go to the grocery store a lot doesn’t mean you’re a professional grocery shopper. There are subtle tricks and tips everyone should know if they want to get the most bang for their buck. Grocery stores employ many tactics to get you to spend more, and you should be mindful of them; as they say, know your enemy. And the very best way to fight your enemy is to remember these ways to save at the grocery store.
1. Buy Sales in Bulk. The art of discerning when to buy in bulk is perhaps the greatest thing you can do to save the most money when shopping for groceries. It’s a math equation; the more you buy when the item is on sale, the more you will save. You should also be cognitive of the expiration date. If there is a product that is on sale with a lengthy expiration date, you should buy that product in bulk (if you need it often). This rule especially applies to nonperishables, i.e. toilet paper, paper towels, soap, toothpaste, etc.
2. Cook in Advance. When you cook your food in one big operation, in bulk, it’ll save you the costs of cooking new foods down the line. Preparing ahead of time for your meals for a week will also save you valuable time. Once you prepare your smorgasbord of meals, you can easily store them away in the freezer for later eating. Cooking in volume is a nice way to prep for a week’s worth of meals, as well as making efficient use of your groceries before they expire.
3. Go to the Store Less Often. Take your grocery shopping out in one big shot. The more you visit the grocery store the more tempted you will be to make impulse purchases. Impulse purchases, as we all know, are the bane of frugal shopping. Limit your shopping trips to once a week. If you do this, you will make the best use of the products you buy and save money on transportation costs. This practice will lead you to make more conscious spending decisions and allow you to buy in bulk carefully.
4. Stick to Food. These days, grocery stores have aisles for everything. Whether it’s paper goods, cosmetics, or cleaning supplies, certain products are more expensive in grocery stores than they are in big-box retailers like Walmart and Target. Think strictly food when you shop for food, and large retailer when you shop for household supplies.
5. Warm Up to Store Brands. Store brands—or generic products—almost invariably cost less and are of equal quality to brand-name foods. Often, store brands are made with the same ingredients; the only difference between a bag of Cocoa Puffs by Ralph’s and a box of Cocoa Puffs by General Mills is that General Mills made you want to go “Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs.” The store brand may not have spent millions advertising, but they taste just as good.
6. Keep an Eye on the Clerk. Scanning errors account for nearly $2.5 billion every year. It may seem ludicrous to consciously watch every transaction, but you have probably been a victim of faulty scanning many times in your life. Sometimes sale prices don’t make it to the register, and you should be mindful of the price you expect to pay. This, and the fact that checkers sometimes make mistakes, is something you should always keep in mind when you stand at the counter.
7. Patronize Larger Stores. Not to put down the little guy, but bigger grocery stores can always afford to offer better deals than smaller businesses. They can also offer discounts through loyalty programs and rewards cards, which many independent stores are incapable of doing. However, shoppers should be wary because bigger chains employ complex techniques to bring the money out of your pocket. For instance, milk, a popularly bought item, is placed in the back of the store so that you can pass other products in hopes that they’ll lure you into an impulse buy. Another example, the more lucrative an item is for the store, the more likely it’ll be placed at eye-level on the shelf. The lower or higher a product is placed on the shelf, the better the deal usually is.
8. Eat Before You Shop. As a psychological tip, it’s always better to eat before you go shopping; your growling stomach might force you to buy something your wallet can’t cash. It’s the same principle as drinking water before you eat—the more satisfied you are already, the less likely you will gorge yourself.
9. Plan for Battle. A list goes a long way. And sticking to that list is the key to success. This will not only enable you to buy everything you need in one trip, it will also help you avoid impulse buying.
Noah Henry Noah Henry is an amateur movie critic, foodie, bowler, and beer reviewer. But he's no amateur when it comes to saving money, so listen up!