Money-Saving Secrets From People Who Never Overspend at the Grocery Store

Ever go to the grocery store for one thing and wander out an hour later $100 poorer with a cartful of groceries? It turns out you’re not alone.

On average, Americans spend more than $150 at the grocery store each week, adding up to more than $600 per month. Even if you shop at discount stores like Trader Joe’s and Aldi, grocery retailers are constantly employing tricks to get you to spend more — and make sure their stores remain profitable.

No matter how susceptible you are to BOGO sales or attention-grabbing endcap displays, there are some ways you can reign in spending during your weekly grocery shopping trip. Looking to save some money on the food you buy? Ahead, check out the best tricks and tips from people who never overspend at the grocery store.

1. Stick to the list

Woman with Shopping List

Smart shoppers make a list before they head to the store. | Cathy Yeulet/iStock/Getty Images 

Easier said than done, right? Shopping with a list (and not straying from it) helps you keep focus while you’re grocery shopping and can help prevent those pesky impulse buys. People who shop with lists can also skip aisles they don’t need, which takes away temptations that might be lurking in certain parts of the store.

Next: It turns out size does matter.

2. Get the smaller shopping cart

Woman checking shopping list on her smartphone

The bigger the cart, the more money you’ll spend. | grinvalds/iStock/Getty Images

It’s simple psychology — just like you’re more likely to eat more food when you use a bigger plate, you’re also more likely to fill your grocery cart when it’s larger. According to marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom, doubling the size of a shopping cart gets people to buy 40% more merchandise.

Budget shoppers always choose the smallest cart available or better yet, the basket.

Next: Spending 15 minutes on this could help you save big time.

3. Comparison shop

Customers shop at an Aldi grocery store

Comparison shopping takes time, but it’s worth it. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Sure, it takes some time to compare the price of apples at multiple different grocery stores. But the cost savings you get from comparison shopping will be worth it. Plus, if you frequently buy the same types of things, you’ll start to notice patterns around who has the cheapest prices at which times.

Next: Breaking this rule will save you money.

4. Shop backward

shopping cart in a grocery store aisle

You don’t have to follow the store’s suggested route through the aisles. | shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

There’s no law that says you have to traverse the grocery store like everyone else does. One reason stores stock their milk in the back is so you’ll pass by all the other aisles to get to it (and hopefully fill your cart along the way).

There’s a huge benefit to picking out refrigerated and frozen items first. It’ll set a mini timer in your head, ensuring you don’t spend too much time — and money — in the rest of the store.

Next: You’ll literally have to stick to a budget.

5. Pay with cash


Paying with cash can help you stick to your budget. | Paolofur/iStock/Getty Images

The best way to avoid overspending? Don’t bring enough money to allow it. If you’ve only budgeted $100 for groceries, then leave your wallet at home and just take enough cash to cover what you want to spend. It may be extreme, but it works.

Next: The reason membership clubs aren’t always worth it.

6. Don’t always buy in bulk

Shopper pushes cart through Costco

Buying in bulk isn’t always a money-saver. | Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Bulk buying can save you money. However, if you find yourself throwing away freezer burned chicken every month or never making it through that three-pound bag of popcorn before it gets stale, then perhaps it’s time to try a new strategy. Portion control your purchases and stop letting food go to waste.

Next: It’s a grocery store, not a carnival.

7. Avoid distractions

Woman chooses lecho tomato at grocery store

The more distractions in the store, the more likely it is that you’ll overspend. | sergeyryzhov/Getty Images

One reason Aldi saves people so much money is their minimalist design. You’re not likely to spend a lot of time there, and the less time you spend, the less you buy.

Shopping at Whole Foods is a feast for the senses. But if lingering there causes you to spend more on groceries, then that distraction comes at a huge cost.

Next: Skip these items even if your store carries them.

8. Shop in season

woman holding a bag of fruit

Buying produce in-season will help you save some cash. | Choreograph/iStock/Getty Images

There may be strawberries available at your grocery store all year long, but you’ll pay a lot more for them in January than you will in June. The savviest grocery store bargain-hunters seek out the most abundant local produce and pay less when they buy it.

Next: Always buy this type of item.

9. Buy generic

Penny-pinching shopers often choose generics over name brands. | Kwangmoozaa/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Some store brand products taste identical to the name-brand versions, but they’re usually much cheaper. People who spend less per week at the grocery store don’t mind stocking their pantries with private label products when the savings are so significant.

Next: Show your loyalty and save.

10. Get the loyalty card

Walmart checkout line in Chicago

Loyalty cards offer additional savings. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Store loyalty cards come with a ton of perks, including in-store promotional savings and even discounts on gas or other items. Some also have mobile apps where you can find coupons or free items on certain days of the week.

The grocery store wants you to be a loyal customer, so go ahead and let them woo you.

Next: That convenience fee isn’t worth it.

11. Avoid prepared foods

Meal prep

The prepared foods section of your favorite store might save you some time, but it will cost you more money. | Ben6/ iStock/Getty Images

No one likes cutting mangoes, but you’ll pay almost double for the pre-cut version. People with a strict grocery budget avoid any prepared produce and opt for the cheaper versions instead.

Next: Be smarter than the store marketers.

12. Don’t fall for supermarket tricks

Wegmans aisle

Savvy shoppers know all the tricks supermarkets use to get them to spend more. | Wegmans Food Markets

Grocery store owners are counting on you picking out two bottles of ketchup during the “Two for $5” sale even though you’d only pay $2.50 for the one you need. Unless the sale specifically states you must buy two to get the discount, stick to what you need and save money.

Next: Not all coupons save you money.

13. Be wary of coupons

Woman In Grocery Aisle Of Supermarket

Only use coupons on things you actually need. | Cathy Yeulet/ Images

Extreme couponing is a thing, but in the real world, no one needs 580 tubes of toothpaste. Be sure to only use coupons on the items you need and were planning to buy anyway and try to avoid planning your trip around the coupons you have.

Next: Buy these items strategically.

14. Space out expensive purchases

Cold cut meats

Space out expensive purchases to make each trip cheaper. | Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Buying all your meat in one trip could lead to a gigantic total at the register. Try spacing out large purchases like meat, seafood, and paper products to make each trip cheaper.

Next: Look at these places for cheaper products.

15. Avoid the middle shelves

Customers shop at an Aldi grocery store

Check the bottom shelves to find cheaper products. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Companies pay big bucks to get their products placed at eye level. And where does all that cost go? Right into the price of the item, obviously. Often you can score cheaper items from lesser-known brands if you’re willing to look up and down.

Read more: 16 Things That Are a Complete Waste of Money at the Grocery Store

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