10 Costly Mistakes You're Making at the Grocery Store

Did you know that you can save money on your groceries simply by shopping in a different aisle at the same store? Do you know which meat labels actually mean something? Read on for more easy tricks for saving big at the supermarket.

Bruce and Jeanne Lubin
3-minute read

1. Look down!

When shelving items, grocery stores customarily put the least expensive items on the bottom shelves. That’s because most customers, when looking for a particular product, will just take the first item they see—at eye-level. When at the market, make sure to check the lower shelves for lower prices.

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2. Make one big trip rather than several smaller ones

Buying lots of groceries in one trip rather than a few groceries in several trips is better for your wallet. Not only do you save on gas money, but according to a study by the Marketing Science Institute, shoppers who are only making a quick trip to the store purchase an average of 54 percent more than they had planned. In addition to visiting the store less frequently, make a grocery list before you go cut down on impulse buys.

3. Remember that bigger isn't always better

It’s important to know that not all products are cheaper when you buy bigger sizes. Make sure to compare unit prices carefully at the store, because we have found that some items—like cereal and prepared frozen foods like French fries—are less expensive in smaller sizes. This is probably because the store knows these items are more likely to be purchased in bulk.

4. Cheese doesn't just come from the dairy section

When buying cheese at the supermarket, make sure to check both the cheese section (usually by the deli counter) and the dairy section for the best prices. The dairy section will have much less expensive processed cheeses, while you may find a deal on an equivalent cheese in the cheese section. Also check at the deli counter to see if they’re having any sales on Cheddar, Munster, and other sandwich cheeses. You can always ask them to just cut you a slab if you are planning on cubing or shredding the cheese.

5. Don't get your sundae toppings in the ice cream aisle

Never, ever let us catch you buying sundae toppings in the ice cream aisle! These nuts and mini candies are up to 50 percent cheaper in the baking aisle, which often even has sprinkles, too. Melt some chocolate chips in the microwave, then let them cool a bit and add to the top of ice cream for your own “instant shell.” 

6. Buy fruits and veggies in season

The best way to save on produce is to buy fruits and veggies when they are in season. Check out our list of what's in season when and plan your meals around these fruits and veggies, which will be cheaper at the store.

7. Make sure frozen vegetables are still fresh

When shopping in the freezer aisle, avoid packages of frozen vegetables that have frost on them. It’s a sign that the food has thawed and refrozen, and a percentage of moisture has already been lost. You should also give bags of frozen food a quick squeeze before putting them in your cart. If the food is solid, it has thawed and refrozen, and should be avoided.

8. Need just a few fresh veggies for whatever you're cooking? Check the salad bar

Many supermarkets these days have a vast salad bar. If the recipe you're making calls for a specialty item that you don't think you'll use a whole jar or can of, check out the salad bar. Salad bars can be a good source for olives, artichoke hearts, ripe avocado, bacon bits, and lots of other ingredients where a little goes a long way. It's often cheaper to buy them at the salad bar than elsewhere in the store.

9. Don't fall for sneaky meat labeling

Supermarkets have started using their own wording on meat packages to make you think that the product you are buying is a better grade than it really is. Most of the major chains are buying more select-grade beef, but may call it by any number of fancy names such as “top premium beef,” “prime quality cut,” “select choice,” “market choice,” or “premium cut.” Be aware that these titles don’t actually mean anything!

10. Shop later in the day

Shop later in the day to take advantage of markdowns that happen at your supermarket during the day. Especially make sure to check the ends of aisles (the "endcaps") as well as the meat department and bakery.

About the Author

Bruce and Jeanne Lubin

Bruce Lubin and Jeanne Bossolina-Lubin are the proud parents of three boys and more than a dozen books. After saving thousands per year using everyday tips and simple lifehacks, they started their own business in the hopes of sharing their knowledge with others. They have been known to go into their friends' refrigerators to turn their eggs upside down so that they last longer.