15 Secret Grocery Shopping Tips You Need to Know

Updated: Apr. 23, 2024

Whether you're picking up a few things or stocking up for the week, there are plenty of simple ways to save time and money. Just follow our grocery shopping tips!

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Cropped shot of woman carrying shopping basket and shopping groceries in supermarket
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Never Shop on Sunday Afternoons

From shoppers strolling in after church 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.

Instead, plan your bigger, pantry-stocking grocery runs for the off hours. Lower-traffic grocery store hours are typically first thing in the morning, late in the evening, and during the week.

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Unrecognizable woman choosing produce at grocery store
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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. If you hate throwing away food, then shop smarter and curb food waste by having a shopping list in hand.

Before you leave home, take stock of your pantry items and make sure you’ve got things like olive oil, pasta and other staples. Meal planning before your shopping trip will help you know what to grab instead of standing in the freezer section planning five days of meals in your head. Plus, making a list beforehand lets you shop more efficiently since, you know, grocery stores set traps for consumers to purchase more than they need.

Editor’s Tip: If you organize your list by product type, it’s a breeze to pick everything up as you work through the aisles.

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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.

The one exception to this rule is when you want to be creative. We talked with Jeff Mauro on why you should go to the grocery store hungry.

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Man at supermarket
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Shop Alone When You Can

Similar to never shopping while hungry, it’s also a good idea to avoid shopping in a group. When you’re running out with people to grab food for a party, think about how many leftovers you’ll have by the end of the night. Likewise, shopping with kids can turn into a candy-coated, ice cream-drizzled, Cosmic Brownie smorgasbord (you know those stores are strategically shelving sugary sweets at a kid’s eye level). By the time you get home, you may not even remember what was on the original list to begin with.

Shopping alone when possible can help you stay focused on the food you need, spend less money and spend less time in the store—an all-around win.

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Asian man unpacking groceries at kitchen island
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Bring Your Own Bags

Bringing your own reusable totes is good for the environment (who needs another plastic bag anyway?). Some stores even offer discounts for every reusable bag that you bring into the store.

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woman shopping at meat section
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Always Grab Meat and Dairy Items Last

When you plan a longer shopping trip, 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 non-chilled environment for too long.

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Grocery Store Male Customer
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Don’t Buy an Item Just Because It’s on Sale

It’s hard not to pick up an item when it’s labeled with a brightly colored SALE sticker, but 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. Make sure you know about the cheapest grocery store in America.

Editor’s Tip: Looking at different-sized packages? Check the price per ounce to determine the real cost.

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Woman Picks Up Carton of Eggs at Supermarket
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Always Grab Perishable Items from the Back of the Shelf

Stockers use a first-in, first-out organization method (and so should you). 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.

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Thoughtful African-American man chooses juice at store rack
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Consider Skipping Some Ingredients

Say you’ve found the perfect dinner recipe. You’re so excited to cook, but it also requires a pricey ingredient that you’d probably not use again. The best way to save money? Skip it! From simple baking substitutes to red wine vinegar substitutes, there’s sure to be a swap. Just make sure to plan your substitute ahead of time so you’re not in the middle of the store Googling how to make flax eggs or homemade buttermilk.

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Sign Up for Discount Programs and Loyalty Cards

There’s no telling what specials or discounts your 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. Often, store discount cards are available for free or may provide extra savings on gas and prescriptions. If you’re looking to save more, then on your next grocery trip, you can give Salvage Grocery stores a try.

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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. 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.

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Woman checking shopping list by mobile phone, pulling shopping trolley at a supermarket
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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—even firehouse chefs do it. Compare prices at local stores and look for potential discounts on items you know you’ll buy.

If an item you buy frequently goes on sale, stock up. Many common foods can be frozen, including staples like milk. Plus, most foods are often safe to consume past their expiration date. This means you can stock up without worrying about having to throw food out as frequently.

Editor’s 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.)

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Take a Photo of Your Fridge

Before leaving the house, take a photo of the inside of your fridge. That way, if you forget your list or if you’re questioning whether you need to restock something, you can refer back to your photo. The same goes with your pantry. Snap a photo of your shelves for an easy reminder that you don’t, in fact, need a seventh box of pasta or third can of tomato paste.

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Man Weighs Bananas During Self-Checkout at Supermarket
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Know When to Use the Self-Checkout

When you only have a few items (or aren’t in the mood for making small talk), the self-check option is appealing. However, it’s not always the best option. Skip the self-checkout lane if you’ve got a full cart—it’ll take you twice as long to scan and bag all your items. Opt out if you have anything that requires ID, like alcohol or even certain OTC medications. Skip it if you have coupons, too. Many stores require employees to digitally sign off on them. Check out our full list of self-check dos and don’ts.

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Always Help the Bagger

Do your best to place items in the order you wish for them to be bagged—this will definitely help your bagger out. 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 unloading.

Inspired to streamline your kitchen life even more? Check out our staff’s favorite kitchen organization tricks, or learn how to make the most of your counter space.