You’ve arrived at the grocery store with no plan. You didn’t review the sales flyer and you don’t have any coupons. Maybe you’re on vacation in a strange place, or maybe you’re just in a hurry and you didn’t have time to prepare. You may not even have a well thought out list. Is this financial suicide? Some savvy grocery shoppers would say yes; that arriving in any grocery store without a plan is wasting money. However, even if you arrive at the grocery store without a battle plan you can still take some steps to reduce your bill.
Buy store brands: While name brands can sometimes be cheaper if you have a coupon, if you come to the store without coupons, store brands are probably going to be your best bet unless there’s a great sale going on. Wherever you can stand it, go for the store brands.
Pay attention to the sale prices: Most stores keep copies of their sale flyer at the front door or at customer service. If you didn’t check it out beforehand, take a look at it now. Also look for sale prices as you scan the shelves. Most stores mark their sale items on the shelf as well as in the flyer.
Use your loyalty card for discounts or rebates: If you don’t have a loyalty card, sign up for one at customer service before you shop. They become active immediately and can save you money on your first trip. Some stores only offer sale prices to card holders, so if you want any savings you’ll need the card.
Look for coupons along the aisles or on products: You can sometimes find useful coupons in dispensers on the aisles, or on the product you’re purchasing. Don’t buy a product just because of the coupon but if you’re buying it anyway, use whatever savings you can get.
Buy in bulk, or at least price compare the various sizes: Sometimes buying the largest size (bulk) is the cheapest alternative. However, sometimes the smaller sizes are the better value. Take a minute to figure out the cost per ounce/pound of each size so that you get the one that costs the least.
Look for BOGO offers: Many stores put staples like milk, bread, cheese and other items on a buy one get one free or half off promotion. These can save you a lot of money, particularly if you know you can use all of the product before it goes bad.
Stick to the outside aisles of the store: Do most of your shopping along the outer edges of the store where the meats, produce, and dairy are shelved. These offer the best nutritional bang for your dollar. The inner aisles of the store are filled with processed convenience foods that are expensive and lacking in nutrition.
Don’t buy more than you need for this trip: Save the big buying trip for a time when you’ve made a good list, you have your coupons, and you know you’re getting good deals. Just buy what you need to get you through and get out.
Don’t assume that, “special” means sale: Sometimes end caps and other displays are labeled “special buy” or “special price.” But these items may not be the best price or value. Check the prices in the other areas of the store to make sure there aren’t other products that are a better value.
Look for displays selling damaged or about to expire foods: Many stores have a ding and dent rack, a shelf for day old bakery items, or an area where meat and produce that is about to expire is kept. These items are usually marked down and, if you can eat them before they expire, they are a great value.
Watch for pricing mistakes: Keep an eye on the screen as the cashier rings up your order. Sometimes things don’t ring up correctly which can cost you money. For example, if the BOGO doesn’t ring up right, you’ve paid full price for the items. Some stores will even give you the items free if you catch an error.
Don’t buy more than you have to: If something is “Ten for $10,” you probably don’t have to buy ten to get the special price. Some stores will make you buy all ten, but many price each item at $1. Buy the one you’ll use and leave the other nine.
Having a plan is still the best way to cut your grocery bill but if you should find yourself in the store without a plan or without your coupon book, you don’t have to pay a fortune for your food. Shop wisely and use some of these strategies and you’ll still come out okay.