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The grocery store takes away a big chunk of your paycheck-and determines the fate of your weeknight dinners. Whether you’re picking up just a few things or stocking up for the week, there are plenty of simple ways to save time and money. We share insider tips to help your shopping spree go smoothly.
Never Shop on Sunday Afternoons
From shoppers making their way to and from to church and entertainers getting ready for the big game to procrastinators hitting the store before the weekend is over, Sundays are one of the most crowded times at grocery stores. Doing major shopping at peak hours is a bad idea; it’s never fun to fight the crowds, endure long lines and have to browse picked-over produce bins and sale racks.
When to go instead: basically, anytime. Off hours are typically first thing in the morning, late in the evening and during the week.
Always Shop with a List
It’s easy to think you’ll remember every item you need once you’re browsing the store, but in the hustle and bustle of shopping there’s bound to be something you forget. Before you leave home, take stock of your pantry items and make sure you’ve got things like olive oil, pasta and other staples you might not buy weekly. Sketch out a few dinner ideas so you know what to grab (and save yourself from having to figure out what to cook on the fly after work). Check out these doable ways to start meal planning this weekend.
Plus, making a list beforehand lets you move more efficiently through the store. (Pro tip: If you organize your list by product type, it’s a breeze to pick everything up as you work through the aisles.)
Never Shop Hungry
On top of making it hard to concentrate, being hungry while grocery shopping can potentially cause an increase in your spending. Past research has proved that shopping for food on an empty stomach is a pricey risk. Hungry shoppers have the potential to buy items they don’t need or to fill their cart with unhealthy snacks. Instead, shop after meals or take along a healthy snack to enjoy while you shop.
Always Grab Meat and Dairy Items Last
When you plan a longer shopping trip, you need to consider what items could lose their cool. On lengthy shopping trips, begin in the produce section and end in the dairy or meat aisles, as those products can spoil if left in a nonchilled environment for too long.
Don’t Just Buy an Item Just Because It’s on Sale
It’s hard sometimes not to pick up an item when it’s labeled with a brightly colored SALE sticker, but you always want to look at other items and prices. Just because an item is on sale doesn’t mean it’s the cheapest option. Look around on the shelf and compare prices. Check store-brand products, too, as they can often be the cheapest option.
Pro tip: Check the price per ounce to determine the real cost.
Always Grab Produce and Refrigerator Items from the Back of the Shelf
Stockers follow a first-in, first-out organization. They stock new inventory behind the older inventory. For many items, like packaged foods or frozen foods, expiration dates are far off anyway. But it’s worth reaching to the back for dairy, produce, eggs and other fresh foods to grab the item with the most-distant expiration date.
Don’t Shop for Produce in the Middle of the Day
If you’re looking to buy the freshest fruits and veggies, time your shopping trip to coincide with deliveries. Shipments of produce often arrive at local grocers in the morning as the store opens or later in the evening as the store prepares to close. So if you’re seeking the newest produce or a wider selection in the store, find out when your store’s shipments arrive and choose those times to shop.
When you do buy produce, don’t buy too much. It’s easy to get overenthusiastic at the store. Remember how long fresh produce really lasts, and buy only what you’ll use.
Alway Ask for a Discount
There’s no telling what specials or discounts your local grocery store may offer for customers. It’s possible your store offers extra savings for particular groups, from senior citizens to students. Be sure to inquire about a discount card or a store membership program, as these often provide extra savings and special deals. Oftentimes, store discount cards are available for free or may provide extra savings on gas and prescription medications.
Don’t Go Shopping Without Looking at the Sale Ads
If you don’t have time to clip coupons, glancing at sale ads is a smart, quick way to save money. Compare prices at local stores and look for potential discounts on items you know you’ll be buying.
Pro tip: Many grocery stores offer price matching with competitors, which can save you dollars without forcing you to take multiple trips to different stores. (Don’t forget to bring along the ad if you’re planning to ask for a price match.)
If an item you buy frequently goes on sale, stock up. Many common foods can be frozen, including staples like milk. (Read about surprising foods you can freeze.)
Always Help the Bagger
Don’t let your food be squished and ruined at checkout. Avoid loading all your items onto the checkout belt at once. Instead, place items in the order you wish for them to be bagged. Start with heavier items, like cans and jars; then add rigid boxes and containers; and finish with smaller, softer or breakable items like fresh produce and eggs. This will help protect fragile items on the journey home and save time when it comes to unbagging them.