10 Smart Ways to Spend Less Money at the Grocery Store
You can save a lot of cash without going into a frenzy over coupons (in fact, we suggest you clip less).
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Save Even More Dough
When it comes to grocery shopping, there are tried-and-true rules you probably already know: Shop generic brands (or at least try ’em before you judge ’em). Don’t fork over more cash for prechopped produce. Clip a coupon every now and then (at least).
But sometimes the smallest changes in your grocery routine can save you the biggest bucks. We asked pros and parents for their clever money-saving hacks and best-kept supermarket secrets. Are any missing from your routine?
Learn the Six-Week Rule
Most stores' sales cycle repeats every six weeks, but your stores' might be different. To figure out the rhythm, make a list of 10 items that you buy frequently at one or more stores, suggests Stephanie Nelson of Coupon Mom. Then, make a point of tracking the prices over time. "You’ll be able to recognize the lowest prices per item and when it usually goes on sale," Nelson says. "When it hits that price, you can stock up with several weeks' worth of the item instead of buying it every week at higher prices."
Ask Your Store's Staff When They Start Their Sales
"Most grocery chains start their sale ads during the middle of the week," says Melissa Garcia of Consumer Queen. "The best time to shop is the first day of the sale, in the morning." The store should be well-stocked and ready to help you save. But we can't all shop first thing on a Wednesday, so if a sale item is already out of stock when you get there, don't leave without asking for a rain check.
Let the Circulars Guide Your Meal Planning
To optimize savings, don’t just blindly pick out dinners to make for the week. "I look through my grocery store’s sales paper and create a menu based off what’s on sale," says Latasha Kennedy, a mother of two. "If ground turkey and chicken wings are on sale, then I'll build a menu around those staples." Turkey meatloaf for everyone!
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Don't Clip All the Coupons
Two packs of cookies for only a dollar with a coupon? Sounds great, but if you wouldn’t normally buy those cookies, put down the scissors. "I only save coupons for the products I use on a regular basis," says home cook and blogger Brad Nierenberg. "Otherwise, I've found that coupons entice you to spend more money rather than less."
Use Cash-Back Apps
Believe it or not, some stores actually make it really easy for you to get money back — and ensure that you're getting the lowest price anywhere. Kendal Perez, a savings expert with Coupon Sherpa, shops at Wal-Mart and uses its Savings Catcher tool to receive store credit when an item is better priced elsewhere. "It's the easiest comparison shopping I've ever done: I scan my receipts, and if Wal-Mart finds a lower price from their competitors, I receive a refund," she explains. Right now, she has $47 in credit with the app. Even if your store doesn’t have a cash-back app, other ones like Ibotta and Checkout 51 can help you earn money back.
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Don't Miss Out on Poultry Sales
"The highest-impact items can be chicken or meat, which tend to be on sale about every two to three weeks," says Nelson. Buy more than you can use in the coming week and stash the surplus in the freezer. "Buying boneless chicken breasts or boneless pork loin only when it goes on sale for $1.99 per pound (rather than $5 per pound) and stocking the freezer can save a family of four hundreds of dollars a year on those single items alone," Nelson explains.
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Stick to the Aisles That Have the Stuff You Need
If you know that aisle 12 doesn’t have anything on your list, don’t even bother going down it. "When you avoid seeing a hundred extra products that weren't on your list, you avoid having to say 'no' a hundred times to yourself. This really helps with impulse control," points out Amanda Grossman, the blogger behind Frugal Confessions.
Skip the Bakery’s Treats
"I enjoy baking, so I don't typically buy from grocery store bakeries, which feature markups of 300 percent in some cases," says Perez. If baking from scratch isn’t your thing, you can make out like a bandit with a boxed mix for as little as a dollar, she notes, adding that "these mixes still offer the personal, homemade touch that makes baked goods special."
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These days many national chains offer the option to do your grocery shopping on the internet, and it can save you time and money. Instead of browsing the aisles and falling prey to the kiosks strategically placed around the store, you shop with focus and intention online, finds Monica Simpson, who recently started shopping online at Vons (a grocery chain in Southern California). And because you can do it from home, you can check to see exactly what’s in your fridge so you don’t waste money on stuff you don’t need. "On average, I save $40 with every grocery store purchase," Simpson says.
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Resolve to Organize Your Pantry
Imagine this: There’s an amazing sale on cereal, so you buy two boxes and get two free. A few weeks later, you clean out your pantry and find two more boxes. Now you have six, and two are about to expire. That’s all a waste of money! "People throw away thousands of dollars by not having an organized food pantry and fridge," says Kristin M. MacRae, an organizing and efficiency expert. "Initially, you thought you were saving money on this great deal, but you have just wasted money and thrown it into the garbage along with the food. Keep like items stored together so it is easy to find things."
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