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15 Grocery Shopping Mistakes That Are Wasting Your Money

To combat overspending at the grocery store, check out these mistakes you're likely making that are putting a real damper on your food budget.

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Mistake: Going in unprepared

The layout of every single supermarket, no matter the chain, is laid out with a very specific goal: To tempt shoppers. “When you walk into a supermarket, your goal is to spend as little money as possible,” says Natasha Rachel Smith, consumer affairs expert at TopCashback.com. “Yet the supermarket wants you to spend as much money as it can wring from your wallet.” These apps will revolutionize the way you grocery shop.

Preparing the shopping list before going to buy the groceries. conejota/Shutterstock

Mistake: Forgetting to make a list

Your grocery list is still paramount when it comes to saving money. “Those who go in with a list spend less money overall than those who go in with no plan,” says Jamie Logie, a nutritionist, health and wellness coach, and personal trainer. “Also, keep a list of things you already have at home. This trips people up because you end up buying more of something you already have.” Tip: The more time you spend in a store, the more money you’ll spend. These are the best grocery stores for food samples.

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Mistake: Getting tempted by the inner aisles

Instead of doing an aisle-by-aisle stroll, shop the outer perimeter, instead. “Not only is the outer perimeter where the produce and other fresh foods are located, but it’s where you’ll spend less,” Logie says. Tip: As you walk, do your best to avoid the inside aisles stocked with junk food and other products you don’t need.

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Mistake: Using a cart instead of a basket

Carts have gotten 40 percent bigger of the last several decades, notes Consumer Reports. “The bigger the cart, the less full it feels and the more compelled you are to fill it with things you likely don’t need,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert. “Get in the habit of using a hand basket or one of the smaller shopping carts if those are offered at your grocery store.” Tip: The heavier and more full the basket gets, the more aware you will become of the contents and help you realize there are things you don’t need. Check out the 11 things that drive grocery employees crazy.

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Mistake: Falling for 10 for $10

Watch out for “10 for $10” or any variations of this offer. “This is a classic marketing strategy meant to clear out inventory,” Logie says. “For example, a can of tuna may normally cost 79 cents but if it’s a five for $5 sale you’re not saving any money. If it is a real deal but you don’t need all ten just buy the amount you need.” Tip: This goes for produce too: You don’t need to buy a whole bunch of bananas, just break off the number you need as you’re paying by the pound.

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Mistake: Shopping the fresh seafood counter

Those fish fillets and shrimp piled atop gleaming piles of ice may look enticing but you’ll be tricked into paying more for fresh seafood. “Seafood has to come into supermarkets frozen so what you see fresh is not any different than the frozen stuff,” Logie says. Tip: Keep in mind that frozen seafood might even be better quality than fresh due to the fact that fishermen are now vacuum sealing and fast-freezing fish immediately after they’re caught.

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Mistake: Shopping in bulk

It’s easy to think that you’re getting a better deal when you buy in bulk, but that’s not necessarily so. “Instead, analyze the cost per unit and see if it is worth buying the larger option,” says Smith. Tip: One example is that avocados will be cheaper individually than in a grouped bag. Here are shopping secrets from America’s top grocery stores.

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Mistake: Forgetting to do late-in-the-day shopping runs

By shopping at the end of the day you’ll find major discounts on perishable, prepared meals because supermarkets can’t sell them the next day. “Since they are made fresh, the store will discount the item to entice shoppers,” Smith says. Tip: These items include sushi, sandwiches, salads, and bakery items.

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Mistake: Skipping the frozen produce

Gone are the days when frozen produce was subpar. In fact, if a recipe calls for a produce item that’s not on sale, you should head right over to the frozen foods aisle. “Produce is flash frozen at peak ripeness, meaning flavor and nutrients remain intact,” Woroch says. Tip: Frozen goods store longer than fresh so stock up on frozen fruits and veggies as soon as they go on sale. Check out why grocers spray mist in the produce aisle.

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Mistake: Shopping too often

The fewer your times you go to the grocery store, the fewer chances you have of being tempted to buy food items you don’t need. “Buying on impulse can totally bust your budget so consider reducing the number of times you go to the grocery store to slash those impulse purchases,” Woroch says. Tip: Even if you spend only $10 on impulse buys during twice-weekly trips, going down to once a week will save at least $40 a month.

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Mistake: Getting lured into end cap ‘deals’

End caps are the shelving spaces at the end of each aisle, where supermarkets place “sale” items that aren’t always that cheap. “Supermarket chains are counting on our preference to avoid heading down an aisle, so shoppers will just grab an end-cap item that seems reasonably priced instead of actually comparing it with other brands in the aisle,” Woroch says. Tip: Make sure you comparison shop in the appropriate aisle where you may likely find lower priced alternatives. Here are 29 more things your grocer doesn’t want you to know.

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Mistake: Forgetting to check your receipt for errors.

How closely are you monitoring the register when the cashier is quickly scanning your food items and ringing you up to make sure there are no pricing mistakes? “From punching in the wrong produce code to missing out on a currently promoted sale, it’s possible you’re overpaying if you aren’t reviewing your bill,” Woroch says. Tip: It takes time to review a receipt but do it—even if you’re owed 50 cents.

African man shopping in beverage section at supermarket. Black man doing shopping at market while buying cold drink. Handsome guy holding shopping basket reading nutritional values of product.Rido/Shutterstock

Mistake: Skipping generics or store brands

Just because a box of crackers isn’t from your favorite name brand doesn’t mean it’s not worth buying. “Many supermarkets have store brands/generic brands that are often significantly less expensive and can be as good or even better than brand name products,” says Claudia Sidoti, head chef for HelloFresh. Tip: Brand name products can cost anywhere from 30 cents to $5 more than generic or store brand items. Here are some tricks frugal shoppers use to spend less on groceries. 

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Mistake: Underappreciating the supermarket salad bar

If you’re just looking to use a certain vegetable as an ingredient in one recipe, head right over to the salad bar. “Grabbing that extra-large bag of spinach or each individual vegetable you are hoping to eat throughout the week leads to money down the drain because chances are you might not eat it all before it spoils, which unfortunately means you are throwing away money, says Maggie Michalczyk, a registered dietitian in Chicago. Tip: Head to the salad bar to get just the portion of that vegetable that you think you will eat. You’ll notice quite quickly how much you are really eating and can seriously cut back on food waste.

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Mistake: Being uninformed about product placement strategies

From product placement to sense strategies, grocery stores are strategically designed to make you want more. “Expressions like ‘Eye level is buy level’ means products positioned right in front of you are likely to sell better,” Smith says. “That’s why you should make it a point to shop the lower and higher levels of the shelves to find the best deals.” Tip: Don’t let the quantity on the shelf fool you. The “number of facings” or how many items of a product are visible are planned as well. Stores want to maximize their sales and profits and provide the top-selling brands and products with more space. Check out 50 more supermarket tricks everyone still falls for.