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12 Secret Grocery Shopping Tips You Need to Know

The grocery store takes away a big chunk of your paycheck. 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.

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Young woman shopping in the supermarket06photo/Shutterstock

Never Shop on Sunday Afternoons

From shoppers making their way to and from 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: Off hours are typically first thing in the morning, late in the evening and during the week.

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Woman with red basket holding list in supermarket; Shutterstock ID 398707321WAVEBREAKMEDIA/Shutterstock

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’re someone who hates 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 you might not buy weekly. Meal planning before your shopping trip will help you know what to grab (and save yourself from having to figure out what to cook on the fly after work). Plus, making a list beforehand lets you move more efficiently through the store.

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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Grocery shopping woman holding a jarRido/Shutterstock

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 when you’re hungry.

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Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Bring Your Own Bags

Bringing your own reusable totes is good for the environment (who needs another plastic bag anyways?). Some stores even offer discounts for every reusable bag that you bring into the store. Who doesn’t need more ways to save money at the grocery store?

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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 non-chilled environment for too long.

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I MAKE PHOTO 17/Shutterstock

Don’t 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.

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

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Produce aisleAhturner/Shutterstock

Always Grab Perishable Items from the Back of the Shelf

Stockers follow a first-in, first-out organization (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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Reading the label on a jug of milk at the grocery storeSeventyFour/Shutterstock

Sign Up for Discount Programs and Loyalty Cards

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.

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sale, shopping, food, consumerism and people concept - woman with basket buying pomelo at grocery store; Shutterstock ID 558274159; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of HomeSyda Productions/Shutterstock

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.

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Reading label at the grocery storeAleksandar Karanov/Shutterstock

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 be buying.

If an item you buy frequently goes on sale, stock up. Many common foods can be frozen, including staples like milk.

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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Little girl is at the self service checkout of the supermarket with her father.DGLimages/Shutterstock

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 super appealing. However, it’s not always the best option. Skip the self-checkout lane if you’ve got a whole cart full—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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Portrait of smiling young man buying food in supermarket watching cashier scanning prices at cash desk and paying for groceriesShutterstock / SeventyFour

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 them.

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.

Lauren Rearick
Lauren Rearick is a freelance writer/editor based out Pittsburgh, specalizing in arts, entertainment, music, health and wellness as well as lifestyle writing. Her work has appeared in CNN Opinions, The Huffington Post, Reader's Digest, Teen Vogue, Travel + Leisure, the Pittsburgh City Paper, Vinyl Me Please, Hello Giggles and more.

She founded the music blog, The Grey Estates, which was selected as one of the top 100 indie music blogs by Style of Sound. In 2016, she was recognized with a Keystone State Press Award for a personality profile.