Have you ever thought about how much time you spend at the grocery store over your lifetime? Unlike a lot of other places, the grocery store is one locale that’s pretty unavoidable. You may be able to dodge the gym or church or even the doctor for many moons, but unless you’re a self-sustaining farmer, living on a desert island, or getting all of your meals catered, before long you’re going to need to spend some time buying your food. Personally, I would say I spend at least two hours a week in grocery stores–probably even more between all those little “oh crap, I forgot XYZ” trips. That’s over 8 hours a month and over 100 hours a year. It’s a not insignificant amount of time.
For anything I spend that much time doing, I like to take a deeper look and see if there’s any way I can improve upon the experience. It’s not like grocery shopping is a job where I need professional development to eventually achieve my dream of promotion to Grocery Queen, but wouldn’t it be nice if there were ways to get more out of the time (and money) we spend grocery shopping?
Having given it some thought, I can tell you that there are. Here are 12 ways to spend less and get more out of your grocery store. I hope they’ll help you become a little more informed, get better quality products, and grocery shop smarter, not harder. (Can you grocery shop hard? I’m not sure. But let’s keep it easy, okay?)
12 Ways to Get More From Your Grocery Store
1. Check clearance bread and produce displays.
Not every grocery store has these, and sometimes they can be hidden away in unfrequented corners, but I can’t tell you how many amazing deals I’ve found on breads, baked goods, fruit, and vegetables by checking clearance sections. Even if a bread is nearing its freshness date, it can always be frozen, and so can many fruits and veggies.
2. Compare deli vs. pre-packaged meats and cheeses.
It’s certainly quicker and easier to grab that Hormel tub-o’-ham from the cold case rather than waiting for someone at the deli counter to slice you some lunch meat, but you might be surprised to find that shopping sales on deli meats and cheeses can yield a better quality, fresher product for the same or lower price.
3. Talk to the butcher.
The person behind the counter in the meat and seafood department can typically tell you which meats or seafood have been previously frozen, which are from local sources, and when they put out clearance meats (if you want to time your shopping to coincide with lower prices). All you have to do is ask. These employees can also perform helpful services like removing skin from fish or filleting it for no charge.
4. Talk to the bakery employees, too.
Like the butcher, they are available to answer questions about product freshness and provide time-saving services for customers, like running a loaf of bread through a slicer. Cause who wants to waste a cutting board and clean up all those crumbs at home?
5. Answer that question, “Did you find everything you needed?” honestly.
Yeah, it can be kind of annoying to get asked this every time you go through a grocery line (like, “Do you think I’d be checking out right now if I didn’t?”), but if there’s an item you consistently want that your store doesn’t sell, letting the manager know could result in the store carrying the item. That way you don’t have to drive out of your way or go on Amazon every time you want your Himalayan pink sea salt or miniature French octopus tentacles.
6. If you find a product with a defect, ask for a discount.
Often, items from the Island of Misfit Foods will find their way to the clearance section, but not always. If you find a product that’s damaged in some way that’s cosmetic and doesn’t endanger the safety of the food, ask the cashier if you can have it for a lower price. Note: use responsibly. Don’t bang a can of corn against your cart while loudly coughing, then tell the cashier you “found it that way.” 😉
7. Coupon wisely.
We all know someone who prides themselves on the 28 key lime pie yogurts they recently got for 9 cents, or the 4 dozen free toothbrushes they’re saving for the Cavity Apocalypse. The couponing craze, in my opinion, should be viewed with some skepticism, but there are ways to use coupons to save on the things you actually need and want. My suggestions (besides “use coupons for things you actually need”): go online and research your local store’s coupon policy. You may discover helpful information, like when they offer double coupons or accept competitor coupons. On many store websites, you can also sign up for digital coupons.
8. Shop price per ounce.
Price tags at most stores have an itty bitty section that list price per ounce. For me, this is always a helpful indicator when packaging is deceiving, or when deciding between two similar products. Since just about everything can be boiled down to price per ounce, this is your gold standard for choosing the best deals. It can also help you decide whether it’s best to buy an item in bulk or pre-packaged.
9. Buy seasonal.
Not only is seasonal food best for the environment, it’s typically best for your wallet. Familiarize yourself with which produce is in season in your area and try to shop accordingly. (This fantastic website provides a tool to find out what’s currently in season in your state.) You will likely find that prices reflect the abundance of the seasons.
10. Resist grocery store psychology.
What do 10 for $10 sales, free samples, products on store endcaps have in common? They’re all marketing tactics stores use to get customers to purchase more, especially things they didn’t intend to. A grocery store’s ultimate goal is not to give you great deals; it’s to get more of your money. Be savvy and consider this as you’re adding that tenth item, sampling tasty yogurt pretzels that aren’t on your list, or grabbing something that seems like a great deal from an endcap. (P.S. Thanks, autocorrect, for repeatedly changing the word “endcap” to “endocarp.” What the hell is an endocarp?)
11. Be nice to employees.
You never know when the friendly chat you struck up with the cashier may open the door to them accepting that $10 off coupon that technically expired last week. And isn’t it always the best policy to be kind to others?
12. Check your receipt.
You’re racing out the doors of the grocery store at 5:00 PM with three kids in tow, and your natural impulse when you finally get your receipt is to shove it into the bottomless bowels of your purse, never to be seen again. BUT! If you want to be a true grocery store insider, going over your receipt after a shopping trip is a useful practice. There have been many times I have noticed an item I was double-charged for, charged the wrong price, or simply didn’t realize was so expensive and have made a mental note of. Checking your receipt before you leave the parking lot (and popping back into the store for a refund) can mean the difference of several dollars back in your pocket.
So go forth, shopping superstars, and get more from your grocery store!