Money-saving Grocery Store Hacks That Could Save You Hundreds

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Victoria_Borodinova/Pixabay

Grocery shopping is one of those necessities every adult has to do. While it may not be the most enjoyable part of your day, we all run out of food eventually. Grocery stores are filled with sales, coupons, flashy displays and other trappings to get you to spend more money than intended. From the right aisles to head down to the importance of never shopping hungry, we’ve rounded up a list of grocery shopping hacks to help you save money.

Shop Less Frequently

If you’re constantly running to the grocery store for a few things, you may be spending a lot more money than you want to. Going to the grocery store too often leads to overspending — not only through impulse buying but also because you aren’t planning your meals out.

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Let’s say you get off work at 5 p.m. and have nothing planned for dinner. Instead of going home with a meal already planned, you have to get to the grocery store, hungry and in a hurry, where you’re far more likely to pick up things you don’t need.

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Check Unit Prices

When it comes to buying in bulk, more isn’t always better. It’s tempting to just assume that a huge pack of paper towels is cheaper than a smaller pack. But you always need to check the unit price, rather than the total price.

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Photo Courtesy: gingerbreadca/Pixabay

The unit price on an item is located in smaller print right next to the retail price on the tag. Let’s say you get 10 items for $10. The unit price is $1. If you see the same item in a six-pack for $5, this is a better deal because your unit price is less than $1 — around $0.83.

Shop the Perimeter of the Store

The aisles in the center of the store are typically reserved for processed foods, packaged goods and canned items. This is where you’re going to spend the most money. The perimeter of the store is where the fresh produce, meat counter, deli and refrigerated items are located.

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By shopping the perimeter of the store you’ll be sticking to mostly fresh items that are healthier and less expensive. Processed foods are not only worse for you health-wise, but you’re more likely to spend more money on them. Save some greens and buy more greens on the edge of the grocery store.

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Make a Shopping List

When you go to the grocery store without a plan, you’re way more likely to overspend. When you don’t have any idea what you’re looking for, you can easily buy much more than you need and spend money on impulse buys. Always go shopping with a list.

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You’ll quickly realize you threw an extra piece of candy in the cart or added a jar of pasta sauce you didn’t need because you didn’t have a shopping list. Make a shopping list to keep yourself on track. You can write one out on paper or keep one in your phone.

Shop Above Eye Level

The items sitting at eye level on the shelves are meant to grab your attention. They’re also meant to grab the attention of the little kid you may have along with you. Companies spend millions of dollars on marketing to place those items directly in your line of sight while you’re shopping.

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Avoid temptation and look above the items located at eye level. Foods located on lower or higher shelves are often items that are better priced. You’ll see promotional- or higher-priced items directly in front of you for a quick sale. Buyer beware — look all around on the shelves.

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Properly Store Your Food

If you always find yourself with food that’s expired or that has gone bad, you may not be storing your food properly. Fresh food that isn’t stored safely can expire much faster. It’s one of the worst feelings when you think you have a bunch of groceries in your fridge but, when you take them out, they’ve gone rotten.

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Instead of wasting spoiled food, properly store your food in the refrigerator, freezer or an airtight container to keep it fresher longer. To keep fruits and vegetables fresh, store them in your refrigerator’s crisper drawers.

Get Groceries Delivered

There are many local and national grocery stores that have services to shop for and hand-deliver your groceries for you. Not only will your groceries get delivered to your doorstep, but one of the best parts is that you don’t have to shop for them. Check with your grocery store to see if it has an app for ordering groceries.

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There are also several third-party grocery-delivery services out there that can deliver from your local store if it doesn’t have an in-house service. Buying online forces you to plan ahead and make a shopping list. You’ll also save money on impulse buys.

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Get a Rain Check

Grocery stores often run promotions and sales. Too often, however, the quantities are limited to move the items quickly. If you don’t see any fine print about the sale ending while supplies last, you may still be able to get the discount on sold-out items.

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Ask your store for a rain check for the items on sale. When the items come back in stock, you can use your vouchers to take advantage of the previous sale price. If a sale doesn’t have any language prohibiting this, a store manager will often honor the sale with a rain check.

Never Shop Hungry

Never go to the grocery store when you’re hungry. This is one of the cardinal rules of grocery shopping. When you’re hungry, everything looks good, so you’re way more likely to spend money on food you don’t need.

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A hungry shopper will aimlessly add groceries to their cart, spending more money than they intended to because they’re famished. If you haven’t eaten, munch on a snack before you start shopping so you don’t overspend. Being hangry while shopping is a terrible idea.

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Check Your Pantry

Mindless shopping is all too easy to do. Often, people visit the grocery store and can’t remember if they have a certain spice already or if they have enough sugar for a recipe. Instead of checking the pantry beforehand, they may just buy the item and find there are already three unopened containers of the same spice they just bought.

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When it comes to spices, seasonings and baking ingredients, this can be easy to do. Pantry items are sometimes things we don’t use every day, so we forget what we have in stock. Check your pantry before you shop so you don’t overbuy.

Go for Meatless Mondays

Meatless Mondays are a nice way to save some money. One of the most expensive items during every shopping trip is meat. Meat is also the most expensive part of a meal or recipe. If you’re trying to save a little money on groceries, skip the meat at least once per week.

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To make it easy to remember, go with Meatless Mondays to save some money. You can make a vegetable pasta dish, serve breakfast for dinner or enjoy a nice salad with tons of veggies. Soup and chili are also great meatless options that you can eat for multiple meals.

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Taco Tuesday

If you want to stick with meals that are easy to remember, Taco Tuesday is another great option. Taco Tuesday means there’s always one night a week when you don’t have to plan a dinner. Every Tuesday, you know you’ll be having some kind of taco. Not only are tacos inexpensive, but they can save you money spent at the grocery store and time spent planning menus.

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Each week, you’ll automatically know what ingredients you need to buy for Taco Tuesday. You’ll have meal planning on autopilot, which makes it easier to enjoy your dinner. With enough practice, you’ll be able to whip up your favorite recipe fast.

Don’t Buy Pre-cut Produce

Although it may seem like a tempting time saver, buying pre-cut produce can cost you a lot of money in the long run. Save some cash on your grocery bill by buying fruits and vegetables whole and cutting them up at home.

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Pre-cut produce is sold with a huge mark-up. You’re mostly just paying for the convenience factor. You can save a little money each week by planning out your produce ahead of time and chopping it up yourself at home all in one go. For easy meal prep, you can also keep chopped veggies in containers in your fridge for easy access.

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Compare Different Stores

While it may be more convenient to shop at the same store each week, shopping around may save you money. Start by comparing prices on some of the items you buy each week. Say you always buy the same gallon of milk on a weekly basis. Look at that item online and at different stores to see what it costs.

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While you’re price checking, you may also find that your favorite store is willing to price match. Some stores may also up-charge items on their apps or online delivery services. Check the prices before you order just in case.

Shop Seasonally

Seasonal produce is almost always less expensive than fruits or vegetables that are out of season. If you’re buying something that isn’t in season in the part of the country where you live, you’ll have to pay a premium.

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To save some money, buy produce that’s in season. Produce that’s grown locally will be much more affordable. Leave the exotic seasonal items for a different time of year if possible. You can also try shopping at farmers’ markets to get the freshest in-season produce grown right in your community.

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Stock Up on Organic Meat

If you’re buying organic meat, watch out for sales or for what’s in season. Let’s say it’s crab season. If possible, buy in bulk when it’s affordable and in stock. If you don’t use all of the crabs you bought, you can freeze the meat in vacuum-sealed bags. When you need it, you can pull it out of the freezer.

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Organic meat is also more expensive. If you find a sale or see meat that’s overstocked, buy in bulk to take advantage of the price. Figure out various meals or freeze whatever you don’t cook that week so it stays fresh.

Learn the Organic Store Brands

Organic food is more expensive than generic and non-organic food — sometimes by twice as much. To save money on the organics you love, learn what your store’s organic brand is and buy it.

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Almost every major store chain has its own food brand. On that same note, each store likely has its own organic food line. Whole Foods, for example, has the 365 Organic brand. Buying the grocery store’s generic organic brand can save you a lot of money. You’ll get the benefits of organic ingredients without the expensive label.

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Bring Your Own Bags

In many cities and countries, a plastic bag charge or tax has been put in place. In order to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment, many stores in bigger cities in the United States charge you extra if you want to bring your food home in the shop’s disposable bags.

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The same may go for paper bags, depending on where you live. To save money, bring your own bags to the checkout line. Not only will you save a few cents each time, but you’ll also be doing Mother Nature a good deed. Bringing your own bags to the grocery store is a good move all around, and over time, the savings can add up.

Set a Budget

Setting a budget can save you a lot of money at the grocery store. If you go to the store without a target budget, you’re far more likely to overspend. If you can set a budget, you’ll be able to keep your eyes on the prize while shopping.

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To help set your budget, plan out your meals for that grocery trip in advance. Next, write out the ingredients and make your shopping list. Estimate what everything on your list will cost, and go to the store with a plan. If you figured $100 for groceries for the week, stick to right around that amount. Keep a running tally in your head as you shop.

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Join Rewards Programs

Almost all retailers and grocery stores have rewards loyalty programs. Some stores may also offer apps that provide promotions and sales to loyalty program members. As a member, you may receive free food or exclusive coupons.

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Loyalty program members may also receive discounts on items that they buy regularly. Stores may offer special sales to loyalty program members only. Typically, you’ll just need to show or scan your card at checkout to receive your discount. Often, you can also scan your app, give your phone number or show an ID to verify your information for the rewards program.

Skip the Bottled Water

Bottled water is a problem for several reasons. Not only are plastic bottles terrible for the environment, but they also cost a lot of money. You’ll save a lot on groceries each week if you skip the bottled water on your next trip to the store.

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If clean water is an issue in your area, you can buy larger jugs of water or use a water-filtration system. You can use a small pitcher filtering system or hook one up directly to your kitchen sink. Either way, you’ll save money by filtering your own water.

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Buy a Whole Chicken

Smaller portions of chicken packaged up separately cost more than a chicken you buy whole. This is because you’re paying a premium for someone else to separate the different cuts on the bird. To save some money, buy a whole chicken. You can purchase it fresh, frozen or already cooked in the rotisserie oven.

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When you buy a whole chicken, you can use it for several different meals. Whether you’re making soups, salads or the many different chicken entrees out there, you can save a lot of money on meals for the week using an entire chicken. This helps with meal prep, too.

Buy Bulk Coffee

Buying coffee at an expensive coffeehouse costs you a lot of money. Instead of paying $5 a day for a coffee somewhere else, buy coffee at the grocery store and make it at home. You can usually grind the beans for free at the store, too.

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By brewing your own coffee at home, you’ll save on your weekly expenses. A bag of coffee may only cost you $15 a week. Buying cups of coffee at a coffeehouse for $5 a day can cost you up to $35 a week. Those are some big savings over time.

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Go Down an Unused Aisle

If you’re going into the grocery store to buy a couple of things, go down an aisle that you don’t typically shop in. Let’s say you don’t have a baby or a pet. Go down the baby care or pet supplies aisle on your next trip. By going down aisles of products you don't need, you'll be less likely to make impulse buys.

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When you just want to grab something quickly but you need to get to the back of the store, steer clear of temptation and head down an aisle you know you won’t buy something from. Diapers and dog toys aren’t usually impulse buys if you don’t have a baby or pet.

Check Ads Before You Go

Before you hit the grocery store aisles, check the sale ads for your local stores. Stores typically advertise sales and upcoming promotions or give coupons in their sale flyers. By checking these ads before you go, you could save some money each week.

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Let’s say you always buy bananas but you don’t care about where they come from. By checking your local sale ads, you can see which store is running a sale on bananas that week. If you didn’t check the ad, you’d probably just head to your regular store and grab the same bananas you did last week out of habit.

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Download the Store’s App

Many grocery stores now offer internal apps. On these apps, you can see sale ads, current promotions and coupons or even order groceries for pick-up or delivery. By checking out a store’s app before you go shopping, you’ll also be able to see what’s on sale.

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Some stores put manufacturers’ coupons or internal rewards program discounts on their apps. If the app has the capabilities, you can also use it to create a shopping list and the app will tell you where the items are located in the store. You can find other store locations as well if you’re shopping in a different part of town.

Do the Math

A lot of the overspending that occurs at the grocery store is attributed to people just not doing the math properly. Imagine you’re looking at a coupon or a sale. Do the math to see if the unit price is actually less expensive or if the savings are worth it. Sometimes stores assume you’ll only notice the "sale" sign and make the snap decision to buy the item without really thinking.

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Although a sale or coupon may look appealing at first glance, by doing some quick math, you may notice that the item you’re buying isn’t actually cheaper at all. Math can also help you determine if buying in bulk makes more sense or not.

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Ask Your Butcher Questions

When it comes to meat and seafood, getting to know your butcher can be a good investment. If you find a butcher you like, you may discover they hook you up with tips on what cuts of meat to purchase. They might also tell you about recipe ideas or sales.

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Regardless of whether or not you’re on a first-name basis with your butcher, you can always ask them questions and have them go a step further if you need assistance. If you’re getting certain less-expensive cuts of meat, for example, you can have the butcher run them through a meat tenderizer for free.

Don’t Fall for the Sale

Have you ever fallen for a sale at the grocery store and bought something you didn’t need? Don’t fall into the sale trap. If you’re already going to the grocery store on a limited budget, you should stick to your plan.

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If funds are limited and you have a set meal plan and shopping list in mind, stay strong and ignore the sales. While a sale may save you money on something you need, if you weren’t going to purchase that item anyway, it’s actually costing you more to buy it at all. Look away when you need to and stay within your budget.

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Pay Attention While Checking Out

One of the most important things you can do when you’re at the grocery store is pay attention to the checkout line. Harmless mistakes can cost you money. If you aren’t paying attention, you may miss an item that gets scanned twice or something that accidentally got added to your cart.

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You should also watch the register to make sure that your coupons are applied correctly and the sales and promotions are honored. Do some quick math before you get up there, and don’t be afraid to verify numbers or look closely at the receipt before you walk away.