From clipping coupons to using cash-back apps to knowing which foods to avoid, savvy shoppers employ many tactics to reduce grocery bills. With an ever-growing array of tempting foods to impulsively add to your shopping cart, learning tips and tricks to streamline your shopping experience is essential to maintaining a healthy budget. These 50 practices will help keep the cost of groceries in check.
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Most grocery stores have weekly circulars that advertise the items currently on sale. Reduce the cost of each shopping trip by using the ads to plan menus and build a shopping list around low-cost items.
Some supermarket websites offer deals and coupons that don't appear in the weekly circulars. Visiting the website takes only a few minutes and can result in deeper discounts from places you already shop.
When advertised sale items are out of stock or unavailable, store managers can authorize discounts on comparable products, so it pays to get to know them. Friendly store managers can also help steer shoppers to the best deals.
Each week, go through supermarket ads with a fine-tooth comb in search of items you use regularly and load up on those staples while they're on sale. In addition to shelf-stable foods and household goods, stock up on discounted produce and meats that can be canned or frozen for later.
Chains stores frequently carry their own versions of popular packaged foods, including cookies, cereal, dairy, and more. In many cases, store-brand products contain the same ingredients and offer the same quality for as little as a third of the price. Consumers who opt for store brands save an estimated $44 billion a year, according to a study by the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research.
Stores rarely make it easy to compare prices from product to product, listing the cost per pound for one item and the price per ounce on another. Using a calculator -- most phones have one -- can make it easier to figure out which product is the best value.
Shopping without a list can be chaotic and may result in a lot of impulse purchases. Sticking to a detailed list saves time spent cruising the aisles and money at the register.
Grocery stores often strategically place the highest priced items at eye level. Take a look up or down to spot better deals on similar products.
Steer clear of aisles packed with tempting foods that aren't on the shopping list, to ensure they don't end up in the cart. Avoid the bakery and deli counter, too, if necessary.
If the cart looks empty, it's easy to assume you're forgetting something, or might not have enough food for the week. To keep from buying extra items that weren't on the shopping list, use a basket or smaller cart to focus attention on just the essentials.
On an empty stomach, everything in the store seems appetizing, especially high-priced prepared foods and snacks. Eating just before going shopping can help you make smart and economical choices without being distracted by hunger pangs.
While it's nice to get the entire family involved in meal preparation, shopping trips can be tedious with one or more kids begging for expensive and unhealthy items. If they do come along, stick to a rule of only one extra item per shopping trip to set realistic expectations and not overspend.
In many stores it's now mandatory to bring your own bags, or else incur a fee per plastic or paper bag. Other stores offer a discount of a few cents for shoppers who bring bags. This money-saving habit is also good for the environment.
Many stores offer inexpensive bulk goods, from dried beans and grains to shampoo. Bringing your own container eliminates any fees associated with store-provided containers, especially for liquid items like hair products and laundry detergent.
Large chains such as Giant Food and Safeway have apps that can help shoppers find discounts and sale items on the go without having to rely on a printed version of the weekly circular.
A lower price is just one of the many benefits of buying dried beans instead of pre-cooked canned beans. Dried beans last longer on the shelf than canned beans while taking up less space. They yield a better texture when cooked and come free of additives like salt and chemical preservatives.
Does your state require deposits on plastic and glass bottles? Instead of tossing them into the recycle bin, collect them in a reusable shopping bag and return them for a refund on the next trip to the store.
There are no federal laws governing the sale of expired food (except baby formula), but no store wants to sell food past its recommended date. Shoppers can get discounts even on shelf-stable goods like pasta, dried soup mixes, and canned sauces with looming expiration dates. These are often fine to use weeks or even months after the date on the package has passed.
An annual membership to a warehouse club such as Costco, Sam's Club, or BJ's costs $55 or less but offers wholesale pricing on many staples. If used regularly for household items like paper products, grains, and cooking oil, membership can bring big savings.
Related: 10 Things to Splurge on at Costco and Sam's Club
Many credit cards have rewards programs that award extra points or cash back for grocery purchases. Use one every time you're at the supermarket to make the most of the dollars spent.
You can become an AARP member at any age for $16 a year. Along with many other benefits and savings opportunities, the organization offers coupons and discounts on grocery items.
Related: Age Pays: 43 Senior Discounts (Some Starting at Age 50!)
Foods with less processing, such as whole fruits and vegetables, offer a lot of nutrition per serving and cost less than their chopped and packaged counterparts. Even when using organic produce, a whole-food diet can be less costly than relying on processed foods.
The prices of ready-to-eat salads and sandwiches, and even frozen pizzas, reflect the labor that went into their preparation. The same dish made from the same quality ingredients costs less to prepare yourself.
After checking out, be sure to review the receipt for any mistakes, such as an incorrect price or being charged twice for the same item, that may have added extra dollars to the grocery bill.
Although grocery stores carry household products like shampoo, lotion, and over-the-counter medicine, those items are often less expensive elsewhere. When shopping at the supermarket, stick to food for the best prices.
Buying pre-cut veggies, pre-washed greens, or ears of corn that already have the husks removed may save a few minutes in the kitchen, but that convenience will cost you. Slice and dice produce yourself instead of reaching for ready-to-go packages.
Many stores have free loyalty programs that offer members extra savings. When out of town or shopping at a unfamiliar chain, ask the cashier to swipe a store card to apply any available discounts. Many checkers are happy to comply with such requests.
Every trip to the grocery store is an opportunity to purchase unneeded items. Instead, focus on using what's on hand and getting the most out of every item. This saves gas, too.
Checking for the expiration date that's furthest away will help reduce waste, especially when buying in bulk. Don't be afraid to reach to the back of the shelf to find products with a later date.
Sometimes a packet of cheese or a bag of lettuce is past its prime, even though it is within the expiration date. Don't hesitate to take it back to the store and exchange it for a product in good condition or get a refund.
Most stores still have scales in the produce section that allow customers to weigh fruits and vegetables. Checking the weight before checking out can take the guesswork out of the cost and help keep you on budget.
The deli counter usually offers the lowest prices on cold cuts because the store buys the meat in bulk, passing on the savings to customers. Prepackaged cold cuts come with the added price of the packaging, plus the labor that goes into the packaging.
Buying whole birds and large cuts of meat can yield the same amount and quality of meat for less money. Learning how to do some light butchering and cook with whole poultry can save money and add confidence in the kitchen.
Related: 10 Cheap and Easy Chicken Recipes
Large and colorful displays are designed to attract buyers to something they might not otherwise buy. Sometimes the items are on sale, but typically the displays market brand-name products best avoided when trying to save.
Shoppers can save by reserving pricier virgin oils for dipping, dressings, or recipes that call for them -- where flavor matters. For sautéing, frying, and baking, use less expensive blended oils.
Take advantage of rebate offers, which typically require mailing in a proof of purchase to receive money back. Companies offer attractive discounts to encourage people to buy and count on most not following through on the rebate. Those who do reap the benefit.
Out-of-season produce has to travel from far away, and the shipping costs get passed on to the consumer. Many fruits and vegetables have a short season during which they are inexpensive and readily available. While the supply is plentiful, stores lower prices to move their inventory of perishable products.
Herb plants such as basil rarely cost more than twice their one-use, prepackaged counterparts. This renewable source of herbs pays for itself in no time, especially when considering that fresh herbs are some of the most expensive items pound for pound.