The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Make at the Grocery Store, According to Financial Experts

updated May 24, 2019
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Here at Kitchn, we’ve picked the brains of nutritionists, parents of large families, our readers, and even my own mother, but we hadn’t spoken to financial experts recently. Until the other day. (Hey, when it comes to saving money, why not take all the help you can get?)

We figured we should ask people whose job is literally to help others manage their money for food shopping advice. So we asked four of the best brains in the biz. Here are the biggest money mistakes we all make when grocery shopping, according to these pros.

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1. Leaving the house without a plan.

“Hitting up the store without a plan is a surefire way to bust your grocery budget. I’ve worked with a ton of people who consistently overspend when shopping for food because they fail to create a budget-friendly plan for the meals they plan to make that week (and don’t make a shopping list based off of that). Don’t forget to include household odds and ends that you might need (toilet paper!) so that you can get a good idea of what you’ll be spending and whether or not [other things] fall within your budget before you hit the aisles.” Nicole Lapin, financial expert and author of the New York Times bestselling Rich Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan to Getting Your Financial Life Together

“Stop impulse buying. We have all been there. We go to the grocery store without a list and end up throwing random items in our carts. Make a list and stick to it. Try shopping at stores that offer online pickup and avoid the temptation of random purchases altogether.” — Kumiko Love, Certified Financial Planner and founder of The Budget Mom

“Failure to properly meal plan also can lead to overspending at the grocery store — or to food waste. Taking some time to plan out what you’re going to eat during the week is helpful, not only for days when work and life gets stressful. It helps to check your fridge and cabinets for which ingredients you already own instead of playing a guessing game at the grocery store.” — Erin Lowry, personal finance expert and author of Broke Millennial

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2. Making unnecessary bulk purchases.

“Not asking yourself if you’ll actually eat what you buy in the buy-two-get-one-free sale is a huge mistake. Those sales can be attractive, but most people who take advantage of them buy more than they need and end up throwing the rest out when it goes bad. That can be a huge waste of money.” — Bola Sokunbi, founder of Clever Girl Finance

“While buying in bulk can potentially be a quick way to save some money (if you need that much of one item), it’s more often a psychological buying trap! Are you really saving money buying bigger? Heck no. Studies have shown that, more often than not, the unit price is the same when buying big and buying smaller quantities. It’s not just a 3-pound tub of peanut butter that goes bad — bulk goods, lotions, and detergents can go bad too.” — Lapin

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3. Catering to too many needs.

“Trying too hard to individualize grocery purchases for the people in your family is another mistake I see people make all the time. If there are dietary restrictions in play, I get it. But if you’re buying four different kinds of bread each time you go to the grocery store just because people in your household are being too picky, you’re likely wasting food and going over budget.” — Lapin

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4. Shopping while hungry.

“Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach is a key culprit in going over your grocery budget. Everything looks enticing! — Sokunbi

“It’s common advice, but seriously, don’t grocery shop hungry! You’re for sure going to overspend or end up making purchases based on what you’re craving at the moment.” — Lowry

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5. Forgoing your store app.

“These days, pretty much every store has an app. All it takes is a couple of minutes to log in before you shop (or even while you shop) to see if there are any discount coupons you can use at checkout. This simple step can save you a good amount of money.” — Sokunbi

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6. Only buying fresh produce.

“Even though it may seem nice to come home with a huge haul of fresh produce, it can be costly. If you are looking at tightening your food budget, think about buying more frozen produce.” — Love

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7. Falling for grocery tricks.

“Look up and down when you’re in the aisles. Grocery stores have a way of tricking you into spending more. A lot of stores put their most expensive brands at eye level because they know customers are less likely to bend down or reach up. Look for generic brands or store brands, which can save you a lot of money on items you buy all the time.” — Love

Got a few more mistakes to point out? Leave them in the comments below!