11 Grocery Shopping Behaviors That Cost You Money

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

After going through a fairly intense couponing phase years ago, I eventually lost steam and swore off such time-consuming techniques. These days, I’m much more interested in simple, spreadsheet- and binder-free methods for saving money on groceries, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in this post.

Related: 10 Ways To Make Grocery Shopping Less Terrible

Here, we’ll explore small changes you can make to the way you shop to avoid overspending. By correcting these behaviors, you can save money every time you shop, regardless of which store or chain you prefer!

As always, if you have a great money-saving tip that isn’t included here, feel free to share it with us in a comment at the end of this post!

Related: This One Simple Trick Will Save You A Fortune On Groceries

11 Costly Grocery Shopping Mistakes To Avoid

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

1. Never Looking Down

A lot of people just grab whatever option happens to be at eye-level, but that might mean you’re missing out on less expensive options on the lower shelves! Many stores purposely place less expensive items below eye-level, so take a few extra seconds to check those lower shelves.

Related: 11 Practical Ways To Save Money When Times Are Tough

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

2. Making Several Small Trips

Frequent trips to the store to buy just a few items can actually cost more in the long run, and not just because you’re using more gasoline to get there. Shopping with an abstract goal in mind (like “get food for the next few days,” for instance) often results in unplanned spending, so making fewer, more goal-oriented trips to the store can help you stick to your budget.

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

3. Always Buying The Biggest Size

It’s important to know that the largest size isn’t always going to be cheaper! It all depends on the “unit price,” so it’s important to look for it on price tags and compare them closely.

Once in a while, you’ll notice that the smaller item is actually cheaper than the bulk option! Some stores do this on items like cereal and french fries anticipating that shoppers will reach for the larger size by default.

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

4. Only Looking In One Place

You can find certain items in multiple locations throughout the store, and the prices may vary between locations. For instance, you can often find cheese in up to four different sections, such as a section for specialty cheeses, alongside the salad toppings, shredded or block cheeses at the deli, and cheese sticks by the lunch meats.

If you’re willing to check a few different places, you can save quite a bit of money!

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

5. Always Choosing Convenience

Stores like to display certain items together to make things convenient, but they aren’t always the most cost effective options. For instance, there’s often a small selection of nuts and candies located in or near the ice cream aisle, but you can find a much larger selection in the baking aisle (along with a more favorable range of prices!)

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

6. Never Checking The Salad Bar

If you need a specialty food item that you don’t normally use, check the salad bar. You can often find items like olives, artichoke hearts, bacon bits, and other ingredients there, and you can save money by only getting as much as you need.

If your store doesn’t have an extensive salad bar, check near the produce or deli department for their “made fresh daily” offerings.

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

7. Shopping Early In The Day

If you shop first thing in the morning, you may be missing out on markdowns that may appear later in the day. Check the end caps of the aisles for special prices, along with the meat department and bakery.

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

8. Failing To Check Receipts

Incorrect charges happen all the time, so it’s always a good idea to check your receipt! Common errors include multiple scans, sale prices not being reflected, and coupons not being applied.

Take the time to double-check that everything looks right on your receipt before you leave the store parking lot.

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

9. Forgetting Your Reusable Bags

Don’t forget your reusable shopping bags, because most stores now either charge a few cents for each bag you use, or they offer a small discount for bringing your own. That money can add up over time, so it’s worth the extra little bit of effort!

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

10. Shopping For Recipes

When you shop for a specific recipe, chances are pretty low that those ingredients will happen to be on sale. A better way to save it to check the store website or circular to find out what’s on sale, then plan your meals around the best deals available.

It’s a little bit of extra work to shop this way, but it can save you a significant amount of money!

Grocery Shopping Mistakes

11. Never Looking At Store Apps

A lot of grocery store chains have an app you can download with additional ways to save money, like digital coupons you can load right onto your customer loyalty card. It only takes a second, and it’s so much easier than trying to keep track of paper coupons.

Certain stores also offer personalized offers based on your buying habits, so it’s definitely worth your time to check out your favorite store’s app!

What’s your best tip for saving money at the grocery store?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

MORE IDEAS FROM

Bright Ideas

  • Buying larger quantities at a cheaper per-unit price only saves money if you use up the entire quantity. If you paid $6 for something, but discarded half (too old, went bad, etc.) you threw $3 in the trash. Spend $4 or even $5 on the quantity you actually used – you save $1-$2.

  • Unit pricing, for the most part, is a (bad) joke. You try to check pricing with like items, only to discover that one unit price is by the ounce, while the next is by the pound, serving, or package. The stores are setting you up for failure unless you use a calculator as you shop. Another trick they use in the grocery department of many stores is to intentionally rearrange the product locations. This forces you into hunting for the product you want, but then spotting other items that you were not actually looking for along the way, and buying them as well. This is what is called “a method to their madness”.

  • The salad bar idea used to work for getting small amounts. The problem is when Covid hit most salad bars shut down and opted to not re-open.

    • P&D is fine for packaged foods, not so fine for produce, meats, and the like as they are just going to grab whatever hits their hand first while doing your shopping for you, without regard for fat content, size, general freshness, etc. And something else you need to be careful about regarding the packaged foods is substitutions. Unless you specifically instruct them to not deviate from the products you are wanting, they have orders from corporate to just substitute the closest available product to fill the order, regardless of what you have ordered.

  • Regarding the prices being different in different store departments, you need to be very careful about that at Wal Mart. They are one of the worst offenders. Also, their smaller stores lack the variety of products of the larger ones due to the lack of space, so they will end up many times with only the smaller packages of a given product which costs more, or the more expensive brands.

  • If you have an Aldi’s nearby, shop there if you can, you save a lot of money. I buy nearly everything at Aldi’s except for the yogurt that we love, by Dannon. They even have the already mashed potatoes, although they may be cheaper at Market 32.

  • I am saving tons by doing my shopping inline for store pickup. When I pick my order outside the store there is no chance for impulse buying.

    • You’re so right! Since the pandemic became a nasty reality for us, I started using Walmart online shopping, however, I needed the delivery. (I’m 65 and disabled) It has become a real God-send in my life and I will probably never get out and shop again! Last winter when we had snow up to our wa-zoo’s, it was SO much easier bringing groceries inside, off of my front porch rather than trying to carry things in while freezing, slipping, and possibly falling. But my point, in response to your comment, is that I do not have the opportunity to impulse shop either! I keep a running list on my fridge, grab it when I’m “goin’ to the store” and basically buy what’s on my list. It has saved me a lot, all the way around!

  • Our local store (I live in the mountains of the Southern Drakensberg in South Africa) offers the boxes the products on their shelves came in as an alternative to plastic shopping bags. I think this is a brilliant and encourage more stores to do this. Then that cardboard box is used for paper waste and gets recycled altogether

  • Dont’ take little kids with you if you can avoid it! They whine and beg for stuff you didn’t plan on and, in a tired, stressed moment you might cave. They also need more supervision and interaction which means less mental ability to concentrate on price comparing and ingredient reading. Older kids….they’re the ones to take. Great opportunity to teach them good consumerism skills and they can help carry everything!

  • Eat before you shop I know it sounds weird but even if you are a little bit hungry you are going to pack that cart with things you don’t really need.

  • Never, ever shop hungry. You will buy everything in sight that looks good. I make and can my spaghetti sauce. When the ingredients go on sale I stock up until I have everything I need to make it. Also, when produce is in season it is cheaper and much better quality then when it is in the off season. So, I start canning and freezing everything possible.

    • I usually use Avery labels. You can buy them in a lot of different sizes, and they are really easy to print with. The packaging for the label explains how to get on their website use their templates – they are darling! You can check out some options here: https://amzn.to/2uNgQZk :-)

  • You definitely will pay more for stuff that’s already pre-cut. Also the reason the lower priced items are on the bottom – is that certain name brand companies actually pay the stores money to have their products displayed in a certain spot. My mom learned about this when she worked for AC Nielsen marketing. Yup, mom was one of those people who scanned products and did studies .

  • Convience costs, whenever possible, grate your own cheese, carrots, and so on. Buy lunch meat in the meat section, for example a half ham, or a precooked turkey breast and ask the deli to slice it, it is generally half the price of the deli lunch meat. When you take it home, you have to seperate it into usable amounts, and freeze the bulk of it, but so much cheaper. Having a home deep freeze is the best way to save on groceries, buy it when it is cheap and freeze it for when you need it, I bought turkey right after thanksgiving last fall, and have a whole turkey and 2 turkey breasts in the freezer, all bought at less than a dollar a pound. You can even freeze flour, nuts and seeds so you have them when you need them. Grow anything you can, herbs are easy, and preserve the harvest.

    • Get yourself a vacuum sealer if you really want to save and preserve food without having it self destruct from freezer burn. And do NOT buy bags in the store for them. Buy them in bulk on line (amazon) and they will cost far less. I buy them 1000 at a time. Also, I can sometimes reuse the bags if what I seal up is already in a package that fits inside the sealer bag (cold cuts and the like). And don’t forget to date what you seal up.

  • I like to shop online to see if it’s cheaper than going to the store. I do buy non food items from jet.com and you get cash back through Ibotta.

  • Great tips! Mine are meal planning and planning meals based on what I already have and what’s on sale! I only go to the store once a week and only buy what’s on my list. I have my budget for the week in my mind and add everything up mentally as I go.

  • One thing I’m sure we’ve all noticed is that stores tend to stock up on and feature different seasonal items. If it is something you use regardless of the time of year, stock up when they change their display and discount these things at the end of the promotion. This works for non-food items, too. I always get my next year’s holiday wrapping paper at the day-after-Christmas sales.

    • And I forgot to add:
      It also goes for fresh food; shop seasonal! When corn is in season and less expensive, buy corn! It can be cut off the cob, blanched and frozen for a bite of summer during long dreary winters. Herbs, veggies- go for it! Just don’t let your ideas be bigger than your freezer or canning abilities! ;-)

  • i use Vitacost online for some staples.. The prices are good, and they have 20% off food purchase about twice per month. I use Ebates to get money back. Vitacost has free shipping for $49 or more. If you don’t like something you bought, they will refund you, no questions asked, in my experience.

  • Make a list, go to the items, and look straight ahead when heading to the next item on your list rather than scanning the shelves.

    BTW, love the purse. Do you remember where you got it?

  • This may only work for people in larger cities, but I shop Peapod, a grocery delivery service and only shop the specials. I save money because I don’t “impulse buy” and can have a week to change my mind or add items (and I have deliveries scheduled for times when I get $5 off). Plus they bring it to you and place it where you like (great for heavy items like cat litter or bottled water or soda). I’ve been using them for 11 years and have rarely had a bad experience, plus I can shop from home so I can check my pantry and fridge!

  • Rather than getting it at the deli counter, check out the prepackaged cold cuts, cheese etc., usually at a lower price. Same with meat in the prepackaged section vs. from the butcher. Like rib steaks? Get the butcher to cut a rib roast into steaks for you. Even a couple of dollars a week can add up over the year.
    Do you fish at the “fresh” fish section? If the price tag shows “Previously frozen” buy it in the frozen fish section and thaw it at home at significant savings. Check out frozen veggies – easy, fast, nutritious and I cook ’em anyway.
    I make carrot juice at home so I buy 20 lbs. of carrots at a time. I ask for and get a discount because I buy in bulk – works with other stuff too. If you don’t ask…

    • I know it is different for everyone, but I go to the deli meats (and have them slice) because they taste so much better! I don’t like putting a piece of processed, formed piece of meat on my sandwich. I get beautiful, sliced roast beef, ham, and turkey that way, and the flavor is so rich!

  • My # 1 way to save is to pick the right store. There are two stores in our town that have outrageously high prices. There’s another that has good prices and even another that has fabulously low prices. I shop at the fourth store as much as possible. It is a more simple store, but the prices can’t be beat. Usually when I get my receipt there I think: Is that all? because the prices are so very reasonable. The consumer pays – at least indirectly – for the bells and whistles in fancier stores that feature huge gourmet and deli sections and elaborate salad bars, etc. Unless you must have a certain fancier feature, why pay higher prices on everything so others to have the bells and whistles?

  • Plan the coming week’s menu based on sales and write the menu down. I don’t buy everything in one store so I plan my shopping based on shortest drive routes.
    Consider having a bonus if you make double or triple meal and freeze it. Meatless meals once or twice a week helps to cut down on costs as well as boosts your health.

  • In addition to couponing, I use Ibotta, an app that pays you cash back for many purchases in-store and on-line. Use code stedtaf to sign up. Easy to use and pays to your PayPal account or with gift cards.

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