The Best Deal at the Grocery Store Is Hidden in Plain Sight

Your store uses loss leaders to boost traffic, and you can use them to shrink your grocery bill!

The front page of grocery store flyers is stocked with super deals—shredded cheese that’s 3/$5, a whole watermelon for $1.99, pasta that’s 10/$10. It’s not too good to be true! They’re teaser products—officially named loss leaders—sold at a loss to the store to get shoppers in the door. It’s a marketing strategy for grocery stores, but can also be part of a money-saving strategy for savvy shoppers.

Here’s how to use loss leaders to save money at the supermarket!

Identify the true bargains

Look for the best loss leaders on the front and back pages of a store flyer. Milk and eggs are popular loss leaders because they’re perishable and people buy them regularly. (Here’s why milk is usually at the back of the store.) There are also seasonal loss leaders—like hot dog buns near the Fourth of July or turkeys around Thanksgiving.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if an item is a genuine “loss leader.” But with some planning and research, you can have a good idea how deeply discounted the item is compared to the regular price.

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Have a plan

One good strategy is to keep notes on your most frequently purchased items. You can’t keep a running history of the entire grocery store, but if you keep a notebook (or, even better, a notes app on your phone) and track the usual prices of a dozen or so of your family’s essentials, you’ll know when there’s an exceptional bargain. Look for coupons for those items so you can maximize a great sale when it does come along!

Speaking of thinking ahead, get in the habit of planning your week’s meals around what’s on the front page of the flyer. Make a list based on your meal plan and stick to it. If that’s just too tough, allow yourself one impulse buy. I even like to put “impulse buy” on my shopping list, so I can check it off later.

Know when to say no

Beware of flashy “sale” areas once you’re in the store. Stores will sometimes mix in small discounts with the big ones, hoping the shopper will assume if one bargain is huge, they all are!

When there IS an exceptional sale on a nonperishable item you consistently use, stock up. If there’s a limit on how many you can buy, make your shopping trip a family outing and go through the checkout separately. But when you see a major sale on a loss leader you don’t need? Three words: Pass. It. Up.

For anyone who loves a good bargain, here are 11 more ways to pare back your grocery bill.

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Cathryn Jakicic
Cathy Jakicic has written about everything from business and bacteria to beads and baking in her career —but she greatly prefers the last two. She is a baker and a crafter and loves to try new recipes for both.