How to save money at the supermarket

Buying food at the supermarket or grocery store is something we do once or several times a week. Eatingwell, TheKitchn and HuffingtonPost provide useful tips to save money when shopping at the supermarket. Start saving money now!

Tip 1 - Skip The Prepackaged Salad Mix

Sure, bagged salad mixes are convenient. And anything that makes it easier to eat your veggies is a good thing. But they’re also expensive and can quickly go from perky to wilted to downright slimy. So try buying heads of lettuce (which often last longer in your crisper) and make your own mixes. Try mixing up romaine, radicchio, red leaf and/or escarole. All you need in some imagination to make your own salad 🙂

Tip 2 - Grow your own

salad photoPhoto by 305 Seahill

Another option for salad greens is to grow your own—they don’t take up much space and they grow quickly. For about the cost of a bag of salad greens ($3) you can buy a packet of seeds for mixed salad greens. The packets have 500 seeds and will plant a 30-foot long row of greens. (We’re not sure exactly how many salads that translates into, but it’s safe to say you’ll be swimming in salads for weeks.)

Tip 3 - Buy Spices From The Bulk Bins

Spices are one of the keys to keeping food both healthy and delicious, because when you use bold flavors you don’t need as much fat. Look for a store that carries spices in bulk—the price per ounce is often less expensive. Plus you can buy a smaller amount, which helps you save in two ways: The up-front price is less. But perhaps more important, spices have a shelf life. After a year or two in your cupboard they just don’t have as much flavor. So when you buy smaller amounts, you’re less likely to have old spices sitting around that are ready for the trash can—a serious waste of money.

Tip 4 - Bulk Up When It Makes Sense

Compare the price per weight for other bulk items (besides spices) to those in packages before you assume that the bulk section is always a better deal. Sometimes the bulk section wins, sometimes not. In Vermont, grains like oats, whole-wheat flour and brown rice are often cheaper in boxes as opposed to bulk. And pumpkins seeds and pistachios are cheaper in bulk while other nuts are more expensive.

Tip 5 - Save On Staples

Stock up on staples, such as olive oil, nuts, pasta and canned beans, when they’re on sale.

Tip 6 - Love your potatoes

Russet potatoes, which are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C, are a great nutritional bang for your buck—they only cost about 30¢ apiece. And these babies are truly versatile. Try baking them, then stuffing them with beans, vegetables and salsa; mash them; slice and roast them; or turn them into hash browns for breakfast.

Tip 7 - Get chicken-savvy

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are super-convenient and practically fat-free, but they’re usually the most expensive way to buy chicken. Buy breasts when they’re on sale or, to save money, buy a whole chicken and roast or grill it. Use leftovers in soups, salads or sandwiches. Whole legs, drumsticks and thighs are also good bets if you don’t have time to cut up a chicken.

Tip 8 - Don't skimp on flavor

Fresh herbs are pricy. But as with spices, we would never say to skip them—they’re key to making healthy food taste great. Look for combination packages of fresh herbs; they may be labeled “poultry mix” and typically contain a couple of different herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and marjoram. That way you get a bit of a few different herbs and you’ll likely have less waste. Growing your own is another great option. In many areas you can grow hearty herbs like rosemary outdoors all year long. Though the flavors will be slightly different, you can replace fresh herbs in a recipe with dried. The rule of thumb is to follow a three-to-one fresh-to-dried ratio. So if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon (i.e., 3 teaspoons) of fresh thyme, use 1 teaspoon of dried. Rosemary, oregano, sage and thyme are good bets when going from fresh to dry. Avoid making swaps with cilantro, parsley or chives as the dried herbs don’t have much flavor.

Tip 9 - Bulk up with beans

At about 50¢ or less for a ½-cup serving of canned beans, you just can’t go wrong. They’re packed with fiber and protein. We always keep cans in the cupboard and whip them out to toss with salads, pasta, stir-fries, in soups or for an easy dip. Dried beans are even less expensive than canned. Cook a big batch then freeze extras for when you’re ready to use them in a recipe.

Tip 10 - Know your whole grains

Barley, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta are economical whole-grain choices. Shop around to find the best price on more expensive whole grains, such as quinoa and wild rice.

quinoa photoPhoto by diettogo1

Tip 11 - Ground beef is your friend

Saving money is all about meatloaf. Just kidding. But really, meatloaf’s reputation as a budget-friendly food is deserved because its main ingredient, ground beef, is inexpensive. And when you buy a lean grind, it’s also healthy. Meatloaf is not the only inexpensive meal to make with ground beef.

Tip 12 - Know the deals at the fish counter

Studies show that eating seafood twice a week can reduce your risk of heart disease. So make seafood a part of your diet. We always swing by the fish counter to look for specials. Also keep in mind that your best bet may be to buy frozen fish. It’s often less expensive, and you can defrost it when you’re ready to use it so you know it’s fresh.

Seafood labeled “previously frozen” at the seafood counter is often the same product you can find in the freezer aisle, but thawed and marked up about 40 percent. If you have the time to thaw it yourself, buy your seafood frozen instead. Another bonus: it will be fresher!

Tip 13 - Discover Great Ways To Use Canned Fish

Just like their fresh counterparts, canned salmon and tuna provide omega-3 fats, which help keep your heart healthy by lowering triglycerides and blood pressure. The difference is that they’re usually significantly cheaper. But think beyond mayo and celery. Try giving tuna an Asian twist with Sesame Tuna Salad (or combine canned salmon with shredded potatoes for a quick Salmon Rösti.)

Tip 14 - Stock up on frozen vegetables

We always keep frozen vegetables on hand for dinners when the produce drawer is looking a little bare. Frozen vegetables are nutritious because they’re picked at the peak of ripeness and then frozen to seal in their nutrients. And a bonus: most of them don’t have added sodium like canned vegetables often do. Plus they’re relatively inexpensive, especially when compared with their “fresh” counterparts out of season.

Tip 15 - Look for your favorite meats on sale

Not only is your freezer great for frozen vegetables, it’s also great because it lets you take advantage of low prices when you find them. Stock up on the meats you like when you find them on sale. Also buy extra fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re in season and less expensive, then freeze them for later.

Tip 16 - Don't feel the need to fill your shopping cart

Shopping carts are getting larger because testing reveals that they encourage customers to buy more. Make a conscious effort to not fill an enormous cart, or grab a basket instead of a cart whenever possible.

Tip 17 - Go beyond milk, bread, bananas and eggs when comparison shopping

These four items are the ones customers most commonly rely on to compare prices between stores, but you’ll have an easier time identifying deals if you make a longer list of the items you purchase most and the price you usually pay. Keep it in your phone for easy reference while out shopping.

Tip 18 - Start shopping in the middle of the store

You typically find the produce section in the front of the store, where the “bright colors put you in a good mood and inspire you to buy more.” Stay on your game and stick to your budget by starting more in the middle, surrounded by the less vibrant boxed and canned food.

supermarket photoPhoto by kozumel

Tip 19 - Don't be afraid to ditch items at the last minute

Supermarkets have started making checkout lanes more narrow to discourage the over 60 percent of shoppers who change their minds about an item while waiting in line. Personally, I think it’s more considerate to return the item where you found it or give it to an employee to return, but whatever you choose, don’t let the narrow confines of the checkout lane pressure you into buying something you don’t actually want.

Tip 20 - Wear headphones and listen to upbeat music while you shop

Stores intentionally play music with a slower beat to encourage shoppers to move more slowly through the aisles — and buy 29 percent more! Put on your favorite workout mix instead and you’ll automatically move at a brisker pace while shopping.

Tip 21 - Buy cheese from the dairy case instead of the deli counter

Stores often sell their deli cheeses in plainer packaging in the dairy case, for a lower price.

Tip 22 - Ask store employees about complimentary add-ons.

“The butcher will tenderize meat for you, the baker will slice a loaf of bread, and the florist will usually give you free greenery to go with your loose flowers,” says one supermarket expert. So don’t be afraid to ask!

Tip 23 - Buy baked items when they are on sale and pick them up later for a future event

Some stores will let you buy bakery items up to a month in advance, so if you see a sale, you can pay the lower price and bring in your receipt later to pick up the baked goods closer to your event. Ask at the bakery counter to find out if they allow this.

Tip 24 - Ask about discounts on bakery or meat items that are about to expire

Employees may agree to mark down prices on items that are expiring the next day — just ask!

Tip 25 - Double-check the details of a sale price

Often a sale will apply to a certain size package, but the store will advertise the discount between the sale-price item and a different-sized, non-sale-price item. Check the details to make sure you are picking up the right one.

Tip 26 - Do a little math before you buy in bulk

Buying items by the piece in the produce section can be cheaper per pound than buying multi-packs. (Plus you’ll be able to inspect each fruit or vegetable for defects, which can also save money.) Check out the prices and do a little math to figure out if you are getting a good deal or not.

Tip 27 - Take a closer look at 10 for $10 promotions

A “10 for $10” promotion boosts sales on an item — even if the promotion actually increases the price per item! So always double-check that these specials are truly deals.

Tip 28 - Don't assume endcap displays signal good deals

Supermarkets sell these end-of-the-aisle areas to companies so they can promote a specific product.

supermarket photoPhoto by Sean MacEntee

Tip 29 - Buy a larger cut of meat and have the butcher trim it for you

One supermarket butcher notes, “We’ve had people buy one big roast and have us remove the bone for soup, run half of it through the grinder for hamburger, and cut the rest into a pot roast. That can save you about 30 percent compared with buying everything cut.”

Tip 30 - Make a list with an estimated amount that you will spend

Before I go to the grocery store, I make a list and come up with an estimated amount that I will spend by browsing prices at a local online grocery delivery service. Then my mind is primed with a an amount I am going to spend on each item. I’ll be more reluctant to spend more on an item than what I have written on the list. I’ll pay in cash because when you have the money sitting in your purse, you’ll be more reluctant to part with it. It’s very effective in controlling grocery costs but it takes extra effort and willpower.

Tip 31 - what about generic options? Store brands?

You might be used to a particular brand of cereal or sugar, but the generic options are usually cheaper. The grocery store brands often use name-brand products with their own labels on it; and they offer it at a better price. Just check the ingredients to be sure you are getting the same.

Tip 32 - Prepared foods is more expensive

Don’t buy the pre-made foods such as potato salad at the store, when you can purchase the ingredients and make it for a fraction of the price at home. And it’ll taste much better fresh too

Tip 33 - Avoid shopping with children

While sometimes we can’t avoid shopping with children, it’s best to try to buy your groceries when they’re not around. Children will often want to buy food items that you don’t need, and it isn’t always easy to say no.

Tip 34 - Avoid shopping when you're hungry

Many of us go to the grocery store after work and before dinner, which is when we start to get hungry. If you buy your groceries when hungry, you’ll purchase more than you need. Try to get the shopping out of the way on the weekends, when you can shop on a full stomach.

Tip 35 - Pre-cut fruits

If someone is getting paid to do a job that you could easily do yourself at home (like cutting up a mango or watermelon) you’re going to be paying for it.

fruit cut photoPhoto by lisaclarke

Tip 36 - The inner aisles

Grocery stores are designed in such a way to have the essential ingredients such as dairy and produce on opposite ends of the store. This forces most shoppers to pass through all the aisles, often times picking up items they don’t need. Try to skip the middle of the store and stick.

Tip 37 - Not in season

You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: eat the produce that’s in season. Not only will it taste infinitely better, but it will save you serious money. Because it costs them less to produce fruit and veggies that are local and in season, it costs less for you to buy it.

Tip 38 - Spice mixes

Fancy spice mixes and marinade rubs can easily set you back $5 a piece. This is the biggest waste of money since you can make your own spice mix with seasonings you most likely already have on hand (a large portion of most of the mixes being salt).

Tip 39 - Microwaveable popcorn

This item is a major culprit of wasting your money. Sometimes you can pay almost double the price just for the convenience of having individual microwaveable bags. But what you’re really doing is paying more for inferior popcorn. Save money, pop your own, and enjoy the real.

Tip 40 - Look above and below

Since we tend to look at items that are at our eye level, grocery stores know to place the more expensive items on the shelves we see first. When shopping, look at the higher and lower shelves for cheaper items

Remember that premium items are often placed at easy reach and eye level. Look above and below that zone for better buys.

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