15 Money-Saving Secrets That Grocery Stores Don’t Want You to Know

How often are you whipping into the grocery store to grab an item here and there? While the average shopper frequents the market 1.5 times per week, if you’re anything like my mother, you visit the local grocery store about three times every week.

From the devious layout to the sneaky advertising tactics of grocery stores, it’s no surprise shoppers end up spending way more than initially intended. Knowing these 15 money-saving secrets will keep you from being bamboozled into spending too much on your grocery runs.

1. Your list is more important than you realize

Woman with Shopping List

Save yourself from impulse buys. | Cathy Yeulet/iStock/Getty Images

Before ever stepping foot outside of your home, take a pantry inventory and create a solid list. Typically, a bi-monthly meal plan will better guide your list-making endeavor and save you a lot of time and money. Approach your grocery list like a money-saving game plan. You’ll be more likely to impulse buy if you’re not armed with your list. And if you have trouble keeping track of pantry inventory, utilize the Out of Milk app.

Next: It’s free for about five seconds.

2. Samples are tricking you

Costco samples

They definitely boost sales. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The highlight of a grocery run is the samples. Mini pizza bagels, a taste of a new gelato, you already know the slippery slope of samples. The psychology behind samples rings true to increased sales for supermarkets. In some cases, offering samples at the grocery store have boosted sales by 2,000%. Be especially wary of how you opt for samples at Costco. The next thing you know, you’re walking out of the store having purchased a 10-pound case of frozen chicken taquitos.

Next: Don’t be a sucker for sales.

3. The “sales” are not always sales

Young woman putting goods on counter in supermarket

You may realize that you didn’t get that great of a deal. | photobac/iStock/Getty Images

Cruising down the canned food aisle is an invitation to give in to 10 for 10 sales. It may seem like a screaming deal but don’t be so easily fooled. Observe the prices to make sure you’re not overpaying for that can of diced tomatoes. You may be surprised that the product of choice may sell for less than $1 per can. More importantly, the 10 for 10 sale may still apply if you only purchase, say, three cans.

Next: A good reason for not being a daytripper

4. Just say no to day trips

Supermarket interior,

You’ll spend less if you don’t go all the time. | gyn9038/iStock/Getty Images

When I said that my mother visits her local grocery store three times each week, I was serious. Granted, I think she enjoys the social aspect of it all, but the more often you visit the market, the more money you spend. You’re less likely to impulse buy when you visit the market for the items on your bi-monthly grocery run.

Next: Your store is all out? Don’t worry. 

5. You’re allowed to ask for a rain check

Male cashier with customers

You can get a rain check for sale items. | Noel Hendrickson/iStock/Getty Images

It’s true, back in 1989 the Federal Trade Commission instated the “unavailability rule.” If you visit a grocery store for a specific sale item, and the item has been swiped from the shelves, ask for an IOU. If you aren’t interested in returning to the store, you can opt for a similar item at the sale price.

Next: Cue your Lady Gaga playlist.

6. The background music is making you spend more

Latin brunette picking up some food at the grocery store

Slow music will make you dawdle. | Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

You know that ever-so-relaxing background music always playing at your local market? It’s serenading you to lollygag. A 1982 study found the pace of shoppers was directly related to the tempo of the music played. The slower the background music, the more time shoppers spend in the store. That slow movement directly correlates with increased sales. What’s the solution? Put on your power-shopping playlist and don’t dawdle.

Next: Why scanning the shelves will save you big

7. Big manufacturers pay for product placement

Check above and below. | iStock/Getty Images

Products are not haphazardly placed on the shelves at your local market. Many manufacturers are paying millions to get their products on shelves and in front of your eyeballs. While slotting fees allow grocers to cut through the clutter of endless products, slotting fees also make much of your shopping decisions for you. And those fees increase the prices of your groceries. Make sure that you look at upper and lower shelves to find lower prices on similar go-to products.

Next: There’s a reason the milk is always in the back.

8. Knowing the lay of the land is important

People shopping in a large supermarket

Avoid the center aisles for less chance of impulse buys. | Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images

There is both a rhyme and a reason for grocery store layouts. Supermarkets far and wide are laid out in such a way that shoppers are forced to walk through unnecessary aisles to reach staple products like milk, bread, and eggs. Because the entire plan of the store is intended to stimulate your spending, two-thirds of the products shoppers purchase are completely unintended. Learning the lay of the land will keep you purchasing the bare necessities.

Next: Why you should shop around

9. Compare prices with other stores

View of happy shop assistant with customer

Know how much things cost elsewhere. | leaf/iStock/Getty Images

If saving money really is important to you, then you owe it to yourself and your wallet to shop around. Consider your staple household grocery items, write them down, and take an afternoon to visit a few of your area’s stores. The objective is to learn whether you’re shopping at the store that offers the lowest prices. You may be surprised by your findings.

Next: Shopping the sale cycle may be better than buying bulk

10. Sales run in cycles

Many different drink bottles

Buy enough for six weeks. | Kwangmoozaa/iStock/Getty Images

The majority of grocery’s sales run in six-week cycles. If you are loyal to a certain supermarket, make sure you know the sale cycle. Once you know when your staples go on sale, you can buy enough to hold you over until the next sale cycle. Buy what you need and are able to store, and keep up that approach for each sale.

Next: Why you should sub out some of your staples

11. Calling in the substitutes will keep money in your wallet

empty supermarket aisle

Little swaps can mean big savings. | paulprescott72/iStock/Getty Images

Consider your options when your working to whittle away at your grocery bill. You probably already know that subbing in off-brand products will reduce the cost of your groceries. But consider this. You could substitute ground turkey for your usual ground beef and save a few cents every week. The same goes for bone-in chicken versus boneless.

Next: There’s a reason your kiddos can’t go down the cereal aisle.

12. Your kids are being targeted

family shopping in a supermarket

They want sugary cereal at kids’ eye-level. | XiXinXing/iStock/Getty Images

Your children are a product of their environment, right? When it comes to the grocery store, that theory is certainly true. Heavy-hitting manufacturers like General Mills and Kellogg are able to pay massive slotting fees to make sure their cereals are on shelves at eye-level with your children. The next time you’re pushing the cart down the cereal or candy aisle, keep that in mind.

Next: There’s a reason shopping carts are larger these days

13. The bigger the shopping cart, the bigger the payout

lady shopping with a full filled cart in a supermarket

Carts have gotten massive. | Freer Law/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t be shamed into filling up that shopping cart. Since 1975, grocery carts are said to have tripled in size. Yes, tripled. Despite all speculation for why the carts have grown, one certainty rings true. The larger your grocery cart, the more space you have to toss in this and that. Opt for the smaller carts or handbaskets when possible, and you’ll avoid racking up the unexpected.

Next: Slotting fees return.

14. Opting for self-checkout is cheaper

Empty cash desk

Impulse buys decrease with self-checkout. | Grigorenko/iStock/Getty Images

Although the convenience factor diminished when self-checkouts came along, shoppers have actually saved money self-serving. After all, it’s in the checkout lane that most impulse purchases seem to occur. IHL Consulting Group conducted a study to find impulse purchases decreased 32.1 percent in women and 16.7 percent in men when the self-checkout lane was used. Of course, this is primarily due to the avoidance of candy bars and travel-sized products taunting shoppers.

Next: Why you should check your local grocer’s website

15. Order your groceries for pick up

young woman holding a basket full of groceries

Save yourself the trouble and get them to do it for you. | Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

If all else fails, order your groceries from the comfort of your computer and pick them up. Slews of grocery stores are now offering online ordering as an option. And some stores like Walmart and Safeway will even load the groceries in your car. There is no better way to stick to your guns and your grocery budget.

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