No one can save you from a shockingly high grocery bill. Supermarkets know the right strategies to make you spend your hard-earned cash. So we gathered the most expensive mistakes you can make at the grocery store. Avoid one time-saving thing to save big money at checkout.
1. Not making a list
- Without a list of necessary groceries, you’re far more likely to grab whatever appeals to you.
Benjamin Franklin wasn’t talking about groceries when he said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” However, it still applies to your food budget. You’ll likely shrink your bank account and grow your waistline without a preplanned grocery list.
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2. Trying the samples
- At least 25% of shoppers who sample an item will purchase it, whether they need it or not.
Stores know free samples work. (We’re looking at you, Costco.) Research supports the theory of reciprocity. In other words, as behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains, “If somebody does something for you, you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.”
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3. Bringing the kids along
- Shopping with kids causes parents to spend up to 40% more, reports Real Simple.
Many people can’t leave their children at home. But if you can manage it, you’ll save money by going solo. Supermarkets target kids by using colorful displays and placing kid-friendly items lower to the ground, where kids will grab them. Plus, shopping with kids is distracting; parents tend to compare prices less.
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4. Using a full-size grocery cart
- One study found that twice-as-big shopping carts encourage shoppers to buy 40% more.
In 1938, the world met the grocery cart: two tiers of wire baskets on wheels. Now, carts are nearly three times the size, with big-box stores even offering flatbed versions for bulk items. Sometimes it’s difficult to fit your groceries in a small basket, but if you can stick with a handbasket or mini-cart, you’ll be richer for it.
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5. Shopping on an empty stomach
- New research finds you shouldn’t visit ANY kind of store on an empty stomach.
You’ve likely heard you should avoid grocery shopping while hungry (you’ll indulge cravings). And a University of Minnesota study proves “being hungry amps up your desire to acquire things,” whether those things are food, home goods, or clothing. So, before you shop, eat a satiating snack.
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6. Sticking to your recipes
- Swap an ingredient or two from your recipes to save money.
Your pasta sauce may call for fresh tomatoes and ground beef, but canned tomatoes and ground turkey may be on sale. Don’t be afraid to change a few ingredients. Other substantial swaps: cabbage for lettuce and frozen berries and veggies for fresh ones.
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7. Not buying staples in bulk
- You can keep many staples, like pasta, rice, and spices, for years before they go bad.
Everything from honey (a two-year shelf life) to dried beans (at least a one-year shelf life) is worth purchasing in large quantities. The best way to save? Wait for sales and then stock up big-time. Other good bulk buys include lentils, farro, quinoa, sugar, flour, nuts, and oats.
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8. Shopping at eye-level
- Name-brand foods are almost always placed at eye level, encouraging you to grab pricier items and move on.
The next time you face the cereal section or canned goods display, take a knee and consider the more affordable brands near the ground.
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9. Timing your shopping all wrong
- Shopping on certain days of the week could equate to double coupons and special markdowns.
Timing is everything when it comes to groceries. Shop during overcrowded, peak hours and you’ll feel rushed and grab what works (without much thought). Ignore the sales cycle and you’ll pay more for basics (grocery deals usually run in six-week cycles). Shop whenever you need dinner, and you’ll tend to spend more for less.
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10. Buying prepared foods
- Purchasing prepared foods will break your budget faster than you can say “pasta salad.”
Grabbing the deli’s premade chicken kabobs or bacon-wrapped beef is appealing when you face a time-crunch. But you’ll pay a lot more than preparing the food yourself. Another money killer? Prepackaged foods, like washed lettuce, pre-cut fruit, and pre-bagged produce.
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11. Only shopping at one grocery store
- You can easily save money by visiting different grocery stores for certain things.
It’s hard to shop elsewhere if you love Trader Joe’s or have shopped the same Aldi for years. But you owe it to your wallet to shop around. Make a list of your groceries, track the costs at a few different grocery chains, and find the lowest prices. Many shoppers are shocked by their findings.
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12. Not paying attention at checkout
- You could miss out on a sale or pay too much for a store or employee error.
It’s easy to get distracted by magazines or a chatty cashier. Don’t let distractions keep you from tracking your groceries on the monitor. Speak up if you see something amiss on the screen — or pay the price.
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13. Avoiding store brands
- You save an average of 25% by buying generic groceries — and you won’t sacrifice taste.
Name-brand labels may look nicer, but you’re only paying for aesthetics. Consumer Reports found consumers were highly satisfied with store brands at grocery stores. Who had the best generic brands? Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Publix, Costco, Raley’s, Whole Foods, and Harris Teeter.
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14. Buying organic
- If you’re on a tight budget, pick and choose your organic produce to save money.
Have you heard of the “Dirty Dozen“? These 12 foods, including strawberries, spinach, apples, and tomatoes, should be purchased organic. But, other than the most pesticide-filled produce, groceries don’t necessarily need to be organic.
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15. Buying household goods at the grocery store
- Most supermarkets overcharge for the conveniences shoppers tend to grab in order to avoid multiple stops.
Grocery stores should truly only be used for groceries. You’re better off buying most other household goods elsewhere. Need pet food or batteries? Go to a big-box store instead. Tools or kitchen supplies? Try a hardware or home goods store. Shampoo? Target may be best.