Top 10 tips for smarter grocery shopping

Aug 23, 2012 at 2:30 p.m. ET

For many families, their biggest monthly expense is food. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that an average American family of four spends anywhere from $650 to $1,300 a month just on groceries! Instead of shelling out the equivalent of a new car payment on food each month, use these money-saving tips to save at the supermarket!

Woman grocery shopping with coupons

Luckily, saving hundreds at the store isn't a science. In fact, it just takes some smart shopping! Follow these 10 easy tips and watch those pennies add up! You may even save enough for a new car (or at least some fancy shoes).


Buy in bulk

Take heed of what you and your family use the most, then buy it in bulk! You will spend more money upfront, but you'll save money in the long run. For example, one package of four sticks of butter costs anywhere from $3 to $5 at the supermarket while one package of 16 sticks from a bulk superstore costs around $9. If you do the math, you are essentially getting two packs of butter free by purchasing in bulk.


Skip precut and
prepared items

Ever notice your grocery bill jump when you buy items like precut fruit, vegetables or sandwiches, salads and entrees from the deli? It's easy to see why; these items are often two times the cost of the uncut or unprepared version. Save yourself the money and buy the vegetables and fruits whole. You may have to exert a little more effort, but it could mean saving up to $100 a month!


Time your visit

For starters, never plan a trip to the supermarket if you're hungry. A recent study in Men's Health found that men with decreasing levels of glucose were more likely to buy a high calorie meal and impulse shop than those who with higher levels. In addition, going on certain days could mean savings. Many stores offer older baked goods and produce for a discounted price on Sundays (when most shipments come in). Shop earlier in the morning or later at night to avoid crowds because if the store is overcrowded, you'll be less likely to spend time comparing prices and sticking to a list.


Compare store prices

Chances are, you have one or two stores in a 20 mile radius to your home that you go to often to get groceries. As comfortable as the routine is, going to same store could actually be costing you money. Compare the prices you paid for your groceries at your store with those at other stores near you. If you're paying a substantial difference on the same items, you may want to take another look at where you shop. Also compare prices at drug stores and large-scale stores, like Wal-Mart and Target, as these often offer very competitive pricing.


Utilize coupons

Only clip coupons for items or foodstuffs your family will use or uses already. Don't clip just because you see a sale; you may end up spending more on items you wouldn't have bought before. Also, utilize the internet and brand websites to find exclusive coupons. Sites like Coupon Mom and Valpack have hundreds of printable coupons for many common products. Another tip to successful couponing is to combine factory coupons with store coupons for double the savings.


Pay in cash

You can't spend more than you have on you, right? Casey Slide, of, swears by this practice. She sets a budget of $100 a week for groceries and places that cash in an envelope. She leaves her credit cards at home and only brings the envelope of cash, so she can't be tempted to spend more on impulse items. Set a budget for food and take out that amount in cash to avoid random, on a whim purchases.


Buy generic brands

For most products, there are very few differences in the name brand product and the generic product. When it comes to many items, buying the grocery store's brand saves you anywhere from 50 cents to $5 and more! However, not all generic products are better. Many generic brands of toilet paper or paper towels don't hold up, so you end up spending more money than you would if you bought name brand. Same goes for certain cuts of meat.

When it comes to staples, like milk, flour, peanut butter, frozen produce and canned goods, generic brands are the same, if not better, quality than the more expensive brands. Check out this article on the true difference of generic versus brand on


Buy in season


The reason so many people flock to processed foods and prepared meals is that they are cheaper than fresh produce. The key to saving money on produce is to buy in season. If you aren't sure what's in season where you are, check out this guide by Field to Plate. The price difference in buying in season versus out of season is substantial. For example, a pint of strawberries now costs anywhere from $3 to $5. However, if you tried to buy the same amount during the winter, you can expect to pay double the amount.


Get a store card

Getting a store card at your grocery store not only saves you thousands of dollars a year on what you buy already, but can also help you save money at the gas pump and earn points for your local schools. Many store cards also send you coupons in the mail and at check out for products you often buy, which helps save you more at your next visit.


Create a menu & write a list

Avoid the lure of the end of the aisle junk food displays and two-for-one deals by going into the supermarket organized and determined with a grocery list. Sit down every week and make a standardized list of what you buy regularly, like toilet paper, milk or laundry detergent. After this is complete, create a menu for your week. Menu planning will not only make lunch and dinners at your house a little less hectic, it'll save you money on impulse buys.

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