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.
Eat what’s in season
Fresh produce grown locally is usually the best value at supermarkets and farmers’ markets. For instance, strawberries are usually about 30 cents cheaper per pound in June than in May. In March, look for broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce, and pineapple. In April, snap up these same foods, as well as asparagus, rhubarb, and peas. Year-round bargains include bananas, celery, and potatoes.
Buy water at the hardware store
Sometimes bargains pop up in unexpected places. Look for good prices on bottled water at home-improvement stores, says Mike Catania of promotioncode.org. He found a case of 16.9-ounce bottles of Niagara water at the Home Depot for $2.97, while a nearby grocery charged $2.99 for a case of 8-ounce bottles. That’s half the water for the same money.
Look high and low on the shelves
Stores put the most popular—and often the most costly—items at eye level. In fact, manufacturers often pay a fee for optimal placement. To find the bargains, look up and down to the higher and lower shelves. Retail consulting company McCue advises managers to put store brands and bulk items—generally the biggest bargains—on the bottom shelves.
Chop your own onions
No wonder people complain about the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables: Over the past 30 years, the inflation-adjusted price of produce has risen 40 percent, according to the USDA. But that spike occurred mostly because we’re buying for convenience—bagged salads instead of heads of lettuce, for example—not because individual items cost that much more. Save by buying whole produce and prepping it yourself. For example, ShopSmart magazine found that prechopped onions averaged $4.65 a pound versus 99 cents a pound for whole onions. Just-prepped produce is fresher too.
Get the most for your organics dollar
According to Consumer Reports, certified organics (which the grower guarantees were grown in better-quality soil and without potentially harmful pesticides) cost nearly 50 percent more than their conventional counterparts. But the potential health benefits vary. Spend the extra money on foods whose skin you eat, such as apples, peaches, strawberries, grapes, peppers, celery, and potatoes. (Try these other simple ways to save big at the supermarket.)
Watch out for water weight
“So many stores have misters for produce,” says Lempert. Shake the moisture out of lettuce, herbs, and the like before bagging, he suggests. Otherwise, you’ll wind up paying for water weight.
Compare apples to apples
When you’re buying bags of apples or potatoes, don’t just buy the first bag you grab. Make sure to pick a heavy one. In a price comparison, a Consumer Reports reporter found that “3-pound” bags of apples ranged in weight from 3.06 to 3.36 pounds—that’s 10 percent more apples for the same price.
Cut the crap
We spend nearly 25 percent of our grocery dollars on processed foods and sweets, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Soda is the most purchased item, racking up $12 billion in sales a year, per figures from datecheckpro.com. So if you’re buying certain treats just out of habit, try sticking to only a few favorites and see whether you can save some easy money. (These secrets will help you shop healthier at the grocery store.)
Hit the sales every week
Buying staples when they’re on sale is Grocery Shopping 101. You’ll usually find the best deals front and center in the sales circulars, and you can browse those before you leave home. There’s a handy website called sundaysaver.com that posts dozens of circulars from stores around the country. Money expert Clark Howard says you can save 30 percent or more on your weekly bill if you shop the sales consistently.
Make a shopping list
Yes, you need one, because people who shop with a list spend far less time in the store and also make fewer impulse buys. If you’re not good at remembering a paper list, keep one on your phone. You can use one of many free apps (simple ones include Buy Me a Pie, Grocery IQ, and Out of Milk; all work on Android and iOS) or just keep your list in your phone’s built‑in Notes app.