You must stay vigilant and avoid laziness to score the best deals every time you hit the grocery store. Regardless of where you shop, the fundamental principles of saving money on groceries remain the same.
While some supermarkets are known for their bargain prices and others for their high-end offerings, they all employ similar tactics to drive sales. As such, paying attention to the details and taking proactive steps to defend your grocery budget against the ever-evolving tricks of 21st-century supermarkets is crucial. Here are the top tips to help you stay one step ahead.
Take a Few Minutes to Clip Coupons
Do you realize that over $3 billion in manufacturers' coupons were printed last year? That's leaving 2.7 billion dollars on the table when you could have used some of that for yourself! Would it surprise you to learn that only $300 million were redeemed by supermarket shoppers?
Yes, it takes some time to search, clip, and organize coupons, but it's well worth the savings, up to $1.98 per item when doubled. 90% of all coupons available are in the weekly inserts in your local newspaper, meaning you should search at least on Sundays for the best sources. There are also digital and online coupons to search (or use a money-saving app) but don't be fooled here.
Check Out Private Label Products (Store Brands)
Buying private label or store brands saves you money over national brands at regular pricing. Store brands, on average, are 25% less costly and are growing in the store aisles to the point that, on average, they represent about 25% of the store inventory. The reason is simple. The stores make enormous profits from their brands. But don't think that they are inferior.
According to Consumer Reports, 67% of the people surveyed about store brands' taste and quality said they felt it was equal to or as good as the national brands. Why not try a few and judge for yourself while you cut your food bill?
Be Sure To Bring Your Loyalty/Discount Card
You know about them, you see them, they're in all the ads, and yet do you always use your loyalty card? If not, you're leaving money on the table simply through laziness. If you have a card, use it for discounts, special digital pricing, BOGOs, senior discounts, rebates, and more. Some supermarkets will give away free turkeys at Thanksgiving and other holiday food items or gasoline discounts with accumulated purchases “on your card.” Even if you're running in for a few things (which I strongly discourage), you must use them to get the rewards.
Take a Look at Buying in Bulk
This one is so simple. Bagged produce like apples, potatoes, oranges, and lemons are cheaper per pound than loose items. Meanwhile, bulk bins of nuts, granola, dried fruit, cereal, and candy are often cheaper per pound than bagged and boxed items. On a recent trip to the market, I purchased a five lb. bag of Russet potatoes for $1.49 (29.2 cents a pound) versus the loose potatoes at $1.29/lb. That's a savings of about 78%. And if you need a small amount of an ingredient for a recipe, also look at the salad bar or olive bar to see if your item is cheaper that way.
Watch The Unit Pricing
While buying in bulk can save, always check the unit pricing shelf tags on the items you believe to be sure you are getting the best price. More extensive packages don't always mean the best savings; sometimes, the small packages are unit-priced lower because of a sale price. Make sure you compare the same units, so there is oz. Compared to oz. and lbs. to lbs. as shelf pricing can sometimes be inconsistent.
Beware of The End Caps and Signs
Most of us think the end caps (the end of the aisles) always feature great buy or sale items. That is not always true. These locations often feature items being promoted by the manufacturers. That is space they pay for and use to attract you to a new item, new packaging, or timely seasonal item. It is often an impulse buy and takes advantage of the consumer. Know the store layout and check the “home area” for the items in those categories to compare unit pricing and package sizes.
Signs that say “special” or “sale” may not be the best-offered prices. Sale prices run in 4-6 week cycles, and a lower than regular price this week may be quieter next week—for example, Coca-Cola products like a 2-ltr. The bottle can be regularly $1.99 per bottle. The sale prices maybe 3 for $5.00 this week and 5 for $5.00 next week. Waiting that extra week can save you 67 cents a bottle on last week's sale price. This happens all over the store, so tracking the cycles is a way to save.
Avoid Checkout Temptations
The last stop for all of us is the checkout line. It's also the previous battlefront the stores used to grab your attention and money on items not on your shopping list! You did have a list when you arrived, didn't you? Magazines, candy, gum, chips, single-serving drinks…just another few dollars of high-profit (and often high-sugar) items you don't need. I saw a 2 oz. The bag of chips for $1.49 at the register was the same brand as the chips I purchased in the central aisle for $1.99 a bag for 8 oz. That's a difference of 50 cents per ounce!
This isn't brain surgery, so there's no reason for you to ignore these strategies to save at the supermarket. Regardless of your income and store preference, it should be second nature. Wouldn't you rather spend your hard-earned dollars on something more meaningful?
What are your favorite strategies for saving on groceries?