How to Save Big at the Grocery Store

Tips to avoid impulse purchases

You know you’ve been there — rolling up to the cashier at the grocery store with a loaded-up cart, watching the items pass through the scanner, only to be shocked at the painfully high number on the screen before you swipe your card. You take a second glance at the grocery bags in front of you. How could they amount to so much? And then, you look again and see the Double Stuff Oreos, big block of aged Gouda and the bag of rawhide you grabbed for Fido — all on impulse.

It happens, but we’ve got tips to help make sure it happens to you a lot less. They include sticking to a physical list, forgoing brand loyalty and opting for frozen over fresh. Here’s what we want you to do.

Make a list.

It might be one of the oldest tricks in the book, but there’s a reason it’s oft-repeated. If you stick to a list, you’ll curb impulse purchases and save a considerable amount come checkout time. And while you’re making your list, have a snack — shopping hungry can make you pick up purchases you wouldn’t have otherwise. Finally, to cut down even more on impulse shopping, opt for self-checkout, according to a study from IHL Consulting Group. (It lessens the amount of time you’re standing in line staring at candy, gum and other quick-buy items.)

Stick with one store…
You can save by staying loyal to one store. Why? Because you’ll get to know the layout — shopping the perimeter and just a few aisles can help you stick to your budget. (The more aisles you go down, the more unplanned purchases could end up in your cart, according to a study from the Marketing Science Institute.)

…but not one brand.
On the flip side, when it comes to brands, loyalty can cost you. Sale cycles mean that if you’re happy switching between brands for certain goods, you can almost always get grocery list items on sale. (Exhibit A: When it comes to yogurt, Chobani, Oikos, Fage, or another house brand will likely be on sale, and you can pick up whichever is cheapest that week.)

Understand sale cycles, and rethink “perishable.”
And speaking of sale cycles… at grocery stores, every five or six weeks, items tend to cycle on sale. That means you probably only really ever need to pay full price for true perishables. And if you’re buying fresh fruit and veggies, you can save by going frozen. For example, a 12-ounce bag of fresh microwave-in-bag string beans costs 50 cents more (on sale) than a 12-ounce bag of frozen microwave-in-bag string beans. If your weekly meal prep doesn’t go as planned, you can use the frozen bag the next week (or month). The average American household throws out $640 worth of food each year, according to the American Chemistry Council.

With Hayden Field

Jean Chatzky

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