The 30 Most Brilliant Grocery Shopping Tips of All Time

updated Apr 30, 2019
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Want to be a smarter grocery shopper? Then you’ve clicked on the right story! In this list, you’ll find the most brilliant secrets to saving money, cutting down on waste, finding the best groceries, and having a more enjoyable time at the grocery store. Because we all have to grocery shop — and it may as well be pleasant (dare we say fun, even?) and not a stressor on our lives or our budgets.

Here are the 30 smartest grocery shopping tips of all time.

1. Be careful with coupons.

THEY’RE A TRAP. (Kind of.) If you’ve scored a coupon for something you always buy, then by all means, use it. But if you are clipping coupons for the sake of clipping coupons and subsequently add 20 things to your list that you wouldn’t have bought otherwise, you’re not saving … you’re spending!

2. Learn the dating system.

Don’t pass up deals because you get tripped up between the “sell-by” and the “use-by” dates. If something is on sale and today is its “sell-by” date, chances are, it’s still totally fine! That’s not a safety date and you can use the product after the sell-by date.

3. If you forget your list, try wandering the aisles.

You know that grocery list that you carefully compiled earlier today … and then immediately left on the kitchen table? According to researchers, the best thing to do if you’ve left your list behind is to wander to aisles. It will eventually spark item recognition. Pretty cool right?

4. Look for the clearance section.

Often when we shop in clothing stores, the first place we head to is the sale rack. So how come we don’t do the same in the grocery store? Chances are, your local supermarket has a clearance section, featuring various markdowns of the week. Start there to see which items you can check off your list and then make your way around the rest of the store for the rest.

5. Do some simple math to decipher the price tag.

If you’re not super brand-loyal or just want to make sure you’re getting the best price, consider doing some math. Instead of just looking at the price tag, divide the price by the units and compare to the other options on the shelf. Buy whatever is cheapest by the unit to get the most bang for your buck.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

6. Prioritize a plant-based menu.

Some of the store’s priciest options are behind the meat and seafood counters, so if you’re looking for a place to save, those are the heavy-hitters. You’ll instantly see a drop in your grocery bill if you pick a few nights a week for veggie-focused meals. It’s a strategy that some of our favorite nutritionist experts highly recommend.

7. Sign up for the loyalty card.

If you don’t have a rewards card for your most-frequented grocery store, there’s a 100 percent chance that you’re missing out on major savings. Do yourself a favor and seek it out. It only takes 30 seconds to sign up and is almost always free.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

8. Shop your fridge/pantry/freezer first.

Before you make your list, take inventory of what you already have in stock. This is as simple as looking through your fridge, pantry, and freezer to see what you have to work with. Make a meal plan and add what you need from there.

(Image credit: Meghan Splawn)

9. Track your spending.

The smartest way to grocery shop is to make a budget and stick to it. Fact: If you treat your grocery budget like a challenge to conquer, the process can actually be kind of fun. Don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what Associate Food Editor, Meghan Splawn, learned after meticulously tracking her family’s spending.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

10. Don’t pay for pre-packaged convenience.

It can be tempting to purchase pre-chopped, pre-sliced, pre-portioned, pre-packed ingredients, because they’re just so darn easy, but that convenience comes with a price. One of our writers did a cost breakdown and found that, in some cases, it can DOUBLE the price. Not worth it!

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11. Shop by yourself.

A surefire way to blow your budget is by bringing a giant crew to shop with you. Save yourself from the gimmies and the various snacking whims by leaving all nonessential parties at home.

(Image credit: Heather McClees)

12. Buy (selectively) in bulk.

Buying in bulk might seem like an amazing deal, but it’s not always the best option if you’re not going to use everything up during its prime. (Looking at you, Costco members!) If you’re certain that nothing will go to waste, bulk it up! Otherwise, consider a smaller package.

(Image credit: Guille Faingold/Stocksy)

13. Download the Ibotta app.

No matter how you feel about coupons, the Ibotta app can save you money. It offers shoppers percentages off and cash back on various purchases for tons of products and brands. All you have to do is scroll through your weekly offers, choose the ones you want, and redeem by taking a photo of your receipt. Hello, easy cash back!

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14. Buy the store brand.

There’s a price we pay when shopping for name-brand items. Literally — and that extra money mostly goes towards the marketing and advertising for those name brands! Store brands are often made by the same name-brand companies, so you’re not sacrificing quality, either. Still unsure? Know that you’d be in good company: According to a study released by NPR, chefs are more likely to buy generic items than the average grocery shopper.

15. Pick the best time of day and week to shop.

Busy supermarkets are annoying, hard to navigate, and could even cause us to overspend (the more time you spend in the store, the more you’re likely to buy). Avoid peak times as much as possible. Hint: Weekday morning are usually your best bet — it’s when stores are least busy and shelves are the most stocked.

(Image credit: Steve Debenport/Getty Images)

16. Chat up the employees.

Especially the folks in the produce department. They’re usually open to special requests, they’ll often let you sample something, and they’ll be able to tell you when new deliveries come in.

17. Ask for help in the meat department.

Speaking of grocery store employees you should befriend, the masters of the meat department should definitely be on your list. They can split up packs of meat, grind up meat, marinate your meat, etc. Plus, we’d never know about this amazing budget beef buy at Costco if it weren’t for the people behind the meat counter!

18. Know what to get at the farmers market.

If your grocery store doesn’t always have the best produce selection (ahem, Trader Joe’s), get your fruits and veggies elsewhere. You’d think they’d be pricier at the farmers market, but we have a few tricks up our sleeve for saving money there.

19. Opt for a basket instead of a cart.

Carts these days are getting bigger and bigger and the temptation to fill them up to the brim is REAL. Resist and start with a basket. You might be surprised at how little you actually needed to get through the week.

20. Listen to upbeat music while you shop.

According to Readers’ Digest, many stores play music with a tempo that’s slower than the average heartbeat, causing to you spend more time in the store and buy 29 percent more! Put in headphones and shop to a bumpin’ playlist.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

21. Put your freezer to work.

Is the bread in the bakery section an absolute steal this week? What about the meat? Stop using your freezer as a place where food goes to be forgotten about and put it to work holding stuff that you’ll actually defrost later.

More on Defrosting

(Image credit: Sorbis / Shutterstock)

22. Try not to shop when you’re hungry.

You’ve probably heard this one before. (We tend to overbuy when we’re hungry!) But sometimes life gets in the way and you have to hit the store on an empty stomach. For those tough times here are 10 Rules for Grocery Shopping When You’re Hungry. You’re gonna like them.

23. Consider grocery delivery services or curbside pickup.

One way to make grocery shopping better (and to curb impulse buys) is to have everything delivered to your home or to your car. You can shop in your pajamas, stick to your list, and check to see if you have an ingredient before you buy it.

24. Or take pictures of your fridge and pantry.

If you are headed to the store, consider snapping some pics of your fridge and pantry before you go. Because even if you have a list, there’s probably going to be some point where you question whether or not you need more ranch dressing. Check your phone and see what you’ve got before you accidentally double up on something.

(Image credit: ljubaphoto/Getty Images)

25. Don’t be so quick to walk by the freezer section.

Many shoppers pass up the freezer section, thinking it’s full of processed and unhealthy foods. While that stuff is certainly in there, that’s also where you can find veggie tots, healthy fruits and veggies, and other good-for-you stuff. And these things last longer than their non-frozen counterparts, which means you run less of a risk of wasting money.

(Image credit: Lauren Masur)

26. Check your receipts after every trip.

There’s nothing worse than coming home from the store and checking your receipt only to find that you were charged for 10 avocados instead of 10 bananas. DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU. Check your receipt before you leave the store and don’t be shy about speaking up at customer service.

(Image credit: Danielle Blundell)

27. Shop for snacks in surprising places.

Believe it or not, stores like T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, and Marshall’s have an amazing selection of candy, chips, crackers, popcorn, plantains, and more. And usually, the prices are way better than grocery store prices.

28. Skip ingredients you won’t use again.

Looking at a recipe that calls for one tablespoon of one random ingredient you’re pretty sure you’ll never use again? Skip it! It’ll help keep your grocery budget in check — and cut down on clutter in your pantry.

(Image credit: Meghan Splawn)

29. Pay with cash.

Associate Food Editor Meghan Splawn talked with Kumiko Love, The Budget Mom, to learn how she paid down her debt by meal planning. A core tenet of TBM’s method? Using a cash envelope system. This way, there’s no overspending!

30. Follow the rules!

Finally, our best grocery shopping tip is to be the kind of grocery shopper that other people want to grocery shop around. These are our 10 Grocery Store Etiquette Commandments. Follow them.

What tips are we missing? Add your tips in the comments below.