Make a list. Don’t hit the grocery store when you’re hungry. Clip coupons. Buy stuff on sale. You’ve heard the same obvious grocery shopping advice before, but here’s the reality: Your mad supermarket dash after work (or squeezed between brunch plans and a quick workout on the weekend) isn’t always planned. These research-backed tips can make your next grocery run more efficient and way easier on your wallet.
1. Limit the number of aisles you cruise.
Pick the key aisles you need to hit (produce, meat, dairy, almond milk) and avoid those strolls down the spice, snack, or frozen-goods aisles just in case you “forget” something on your nonexistent list. Shoppers who hit most or all of the aisles in a store check out with plenty more impulse buys (researchers like to call this “in-store decision-making”) than shoppers who visit fewer aisles, according to a study conducted for the Marketing Science Institute.
2. Scan your own groceries.
Remember when you were a kid and loved to play pretend grocery clerk? Your childhood dreams are coming true. Most self-checkout lanes aren’t packed with tempting racks of candy, trashy novels, tabloid magazines, and novelty toys—impulse-buy items designed to grab your attention (and money) while you’re waiting for the clerk to get a price check on a can of tuna. In fact, impulse buys dropped 32.1 percent in women and 16.7 percent in men using self-checkout lanes, according to a study from IHL Consulting group.
3. Plug in to your workout playlist.
Bring headphones and tune in to your most up-tempo, upbeat playlist while shopping. Why? It’ll keep you zipping down the aisles quickly. The slow-paced easy-listening music played on store speakers actually encourages you to move slower, which can lead shoppers to buy 29 percent more, says Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.
4. Skip the handheld basket.
You’d think small basket = fewer groceries = less money, but a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that pushing a full-size cart could help you make smarter food choices. (Who knew?!) In the study, shoppers holding the basket opted for more pleasurable impulse buys (like junk food). One possible reason? The uncomfortable sensation of holding a basket may prompt people to choose items that offer immediate gratification.
5. Buy fresh and whole vs. prepared.
Pre-cut fruits and vegetables; pre-shredded cheese; deli-prepared salads; and boneless, skinless chicken cutlets may be more convenient when you’re cooking, but every extra step it takes to get food from the source to your basket increases its price. Example: The average retail price of a head of broccoli is $1.64 per pound. Cut broccoli florets average $2.57 per pound, and frozen broccoli averages $1.87 per pound. Pre-shredded cheese is not only more expensive per pound than block cheese (about $2.50 per cup compared to $1 per cup for basic cheddar), shredded cheese also contains additives like cellulose and potato starch to keep the cheese from clumping, and natamycin—a “mold inhibitor.”
6. Skip the health and beauty aisle.
Items like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and soap tend to be more expensive at your grocery store (where sales volume is low) compared to big-box stores like Target or Wal-Mart, where high volume sales keep prices lower. Of course, there’s always Amazon.
7. Buy spices in bulk or at an international food market.
Ounce for ounce, tiny jars of ground spices in the grocery store are significantly more expensive than the spices in bulk bins. You can also buy the exact quantity of spice you need. (The longer a dried spice sits unused, the more it loses potency.) International food markets are great resources for inexpensive (and exotic!) dried whole and ground spices.
8. Look high and low.
Always check the shelves above and below chest-level height—grocery stores tend to stock higher-priced items where they’re easiest to reach. One study states it clearly, “Eye level is buy level, indicating that products positioned at eye level are likely to sell better.” Look up, down, and all around.
9. Think beyond grandma’s coupon clipping.
Apps like Coupon Sherpa have changed the grocery-savings game—this is not the old-school coupon-clipping session from the Sunday newspaper. You can search for digital coupons as you’re shopping or use the app to find other deals in the store. ShopSavvy, with a bar-code scanning function, makes price comparisons super easy. Scan the barcode, and the app searches for the lowest price at various local stores and websites.