40 Smart Ways to Save at the Supermarket
We’ve dug up a bumper crop of tools to trim your bill. Tapping technology and shopping around can help. So can sharpening the strategies you use at your usual market, from going on the right day to hitting the right aisles. No matter how you stock your kitchen, these tips can help you load up on the best deals.
We spend too much on groceries
Even when nobody feels like cooking, everybody feels like eating. So it’s no wonder that more than 25 percent of the average family food budget now goes to easy-prep meals and grab-and-go foods, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But it’s not just prepared-food prices that are nibbling at our wallets. Over the past 30 years, grocery prices have risen more than the prices of other items we buy. Americans now spend almost $700 billion a year at the supermarket. Make sure you don't fall for these supermarket tricks.
Choose the right cart
It’s the first thing you do at the store—and the first way to help yourself save. Unless you’re doing a week’s worth of shopping, grab a small grocery cart. In an experiment by a cart manufacturer, shoppers bought 40 percent more stuff when given a cart double the size they usually used.
But don’t grab a basket
It may sound counterintuitive, but carrying a small handheld basket also can lead shoppers to temptation. There’s something about the action of flexing your arm muscles to hold the basket that subconsciously leads you to reach for treats such as candy, according to a behavioral study in the Journal of Marketing Research. Watch out for these things your grocer won't tell you.
Shop on Wednesdays
The single best time to shop is Wednesday evening, according to the shopping news site smartcarting.com. Stores aren’t crowded, and, as a bonus, weekly specials start on Wednesday at nearly half of U.S. supermarkets. Some stores honor the previous week’s sales and coupons and the new week’s.
And not on weekends
Saturday and Sunday mornings and early afternoons are the busiest, according to the annual American Time Use Survey. Stores are also crowded after work on weekdays. The average shopping trip is 47 minutes on weekends, 42 minutes on weekdays. If you want to start grocery shopping online, read these tips first.
Make fewer trips
Each time you hit the store, you spend money. (For the record, $136 each week for the typical household, and $204 for families with kids at home.) Americans make an average of 1.5 trips to the supermarket per week. Cut that down to one trip, and you’ll save time and money—particularly on impulse items, which we admit to grabbing 60 percent of the time.
Go it alone
When we shop with someone else, as much as 65 percent of the things we wind up buying is unplanned, according to research from the Marketing Science Institute.
Except at the clubs
One place where you should shop with others is the big warehouse clubs—BJ’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club. Supermarket expert Phil Lempert suggests bringing a buddy so you can split bulk purchases. For the biggest savings, buy store brands; they’re as much as 75 percent cheaper than name brands. For example, Costco’s Kirkland Signature dishwasher detergent packs cost about 9 cents a load, while Cascade Complete ActionPacs cost 29 cents a load.
But don’t get stuck in a warehouse rut
Not everything is a great deal at the shopping clubs. Sometimes you can do better with a sale at the supermarket. Smart buys there include canned vegetables (20 percent to 40 percent less than club prices), soda (40 percent less), toilet paper (25 percent less), and eggs (50 cents less per dozen).
Surprise! Protein is a bargain
Last year, grocery prices overall went down for the first time in nearly 50 years. Foods that dipped the most in price include beef, pork, poultry, and dairy. Egg prices have fallen by 52 percent in the past two years, with the average price of a dozen down to $1.41. So if you’re looking for relative bargains to plan meals around, these are the big winners. (These are the healthiest foods you can buy at the supermarket.)