10 Secrets to Saving at the Supermarket
I’m not a big fan of using coupons at the supermarket because of the time it takes to find them, clip them and organize them. I employ several other strategies to save on groceries instead. But after talking to supermarket savings expert Teri Gault, I realized that I was missing a lot of opportunities to cut costs even more.
SEE ALSO: 5 Ways Supermarkets Trick Shoppers
Gault is the founder and CEO of TheGroceryGame.com, which helps consumers get the best deals on groceries by combining sales with coupons. She says that buying only what you need for a week’s worth of meals is the worst thing for your budget. Instead, Gault advocates what she calls investing – stocking up on nonperishable items or foods that can be frozen when they’re deeply discounted – and planning meals around what’s on sale and what you already have. This strategy alone can help cut your grocery bill in half, she says.
By following these ten tips, you can take advantage of sales and special discounts – with or without coupons – so you can save money at the supermarket and have more money in your budget for other things.
Know how to use the sale circular. You can find supermarkets’ weekly ads, or circulars, on their Web sites or as you enter the stores. These will help you pinpoint some of the best deals. Typically, loss leaders – products sold at or below cost to entice shoppers – are featured on the first page of a store’s circular. You should stock up on any of these deeply discounted items that can be frozen and plan your week’s meals around the perishable ones. Be aware that not everything listed in the circular is actually on sale, Gault says. Some are simply items the store is promoting in hopes of getting customers to buy them at full price. You’ll know because there won’t be a sale price listed on the shelf sticker.
Download store apps. Most supermarkets have free mobile apps that offer shoppers exclusive discounts. You’ll likely need to be a member of the store’s loyalty program so you can add the deals you want to your account and have the discount applied at checkout. However, Gault says that most of the discounts offered via apps are for regular-sized packages, and the better deal can actually be the value pack...which brings us to the next point:
Learn how to recognize the best sales. Just because an item is on sale doesn’t mean it’s the best deal. Anything that has a limit on it likely is a loss leader and a good deal, she says. However, a buy-one-get-the-second-50%-off promotion is really only 25% off each item, and a good sale is a discount of at least 50%, Gault says. And before you pick up produce from the big display marked “sale” as you enter the store, look around that department or check the circular because Gault says you’ll likely find fruits and vegetables that have even better markdowns.
Take advantage of holiday sales. Some items are at their lowest prices of the year around certain holidays. Use these opportunities to stock up. For example, condiments, salad dressing, ground beef, hot dogs, chicken, chips, soda, beer and paper goods are deeply discounted around Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day, Gault says. Around Thanksgiving, you can find sales on canned goods, stuffing, turkey, frozen pies and baking items such as flour, yeast, sugar and chocolate chips. Purchase low-calorie frozen meals and diet items, cold remedies, frozen appetizers, teas and soups around New Year’s Eve and into January. And you’ll find the cheapest prices of the year on steaks on Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day, Gault says.
Don’t assume organics are more expensive. When organic items -- especially produce -- go on sale, you often can get them cheaper than conventional ones, Gault says.
Check package sizes. Rather than raise prices on their products, some manufacturers have shrunk package sizes. So before you grab the item with the cheaper price, Gault says compare the size with other brands’ packages to see if you’re really getting a deal. She also says that many shoppers mistakenly assume that the biggest package is the best deal. Many times, though, the medium-size package has the better price per unit -- except when the small packages go on sale, Gault says.
Don’t limit your search to one department. Gault says there typically are four places in a supermarket to find bread: the bakery, the bread aisle, the frozen section and the refrigerated section. You can find juice in the produce department, the refrigerated juice case and the frozen aisle. Cheese is available at the deli, in the cheese aisle and with gourmet items. So if you can’t find these items on sale in one section, check another. For example, a type of cheese I wanted was recently $9.99 per pound at the deli counter, so I instead bought the pre-packaged version on sale: two 7-ounce packages for $5 (slightly less than a pound but half the price of the deli cheese).
Be wary of clearance items. Items on clearance usually aren’t marked down more than 50% and often are damaged, Gault says. You frequently can get better prices when items go on sale. The exception is spices, which rarely are marked down 50%. So when you see them on the clearance shelf, grab them.
Haggle. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount on food items that are near their “sell by” date, Gault says. Stores must sell items by that date, but it doesn’t mean the item will be bad after that day (see Confusing Packages Lead to Wasted Food, Money). If you buy sandwich meat at the deli counter, ask the deli manager if the store has meat that’s about to expire and is discounted. It still should be fresh several days after its expiration date.
Be diligent at the checkout. It might be hard to pay attention as the clerk is ringing up the items from your cart – especially if you have young children begging you to buy all that candy by the register. But you need to watch the prices as they appear on the checkout screen to make sure you’re getting all the discounts you deserve, Gault says. For example, sometimes scanners haven’t been programmed for sales, so you get charged full price for an item that’s supposed to be 50% off. Check your receipt, too, for any errors.