This Is the Most Expensive Mistake You Can Make at the Grocery Store

No one can save you from a surprisingly high grocery bill. Supermarkets know the right strategies to make you spend your hard-earned cash. So we gathered the most expensive mistakes you can make at the grocery store. Avoid these errors and you’ll save money and time.

1. Not making a list

Family Discussing Shopping List in Supermarket

A vague list — or no list at all — won’t get you far. | shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin wasn’t talking about groceries when he said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” However, it still applies to your food budget. Without a list of needed groceries, you’re far more likely to grab whatever appeals to you, which will eventually shrink your bank account (and grow your waistline).

Next: Free samples come at a cost.

2. Trying the samples

Hand reaching for samples

It’s not worth the calories or extra cash! | Noel Hendrickson/Photodisc/Getty Images

Grocery and big-box stores know free samples work. (We’re looking at you, Costco.) Research supports the theory of reciprocity. In other words, as behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains, “If somebody does something for you, you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.” In fact, at least 25% of shoppers who sample an item will purchase it, whether they need it or not.

Next: A new excuse to snack before you shop

3. Shopping on an empty stomach

Young woman putting goods on counter in supermarket

Your cart will overflow if your stomach is empty. | photobac/iStock/Getty Images

You may have heard you should avoid grocery shopping while hungry — you’ll fill your cart with all your cravings — however, new research demonstrates you shouldn’t visit ANY kind of store on an empty stomach. A University of Minnesota study proves “being hungry amps up your desire to acquire things,” whether those things are food items, household goods, or clothing. So, before you run errands, enjoy a satisfying snack.

Next: Just like plate sizes, this grocery necessity has grown over the years.

4. Using a full-size grocery cart

Woman grocery shopping in a supermarket

Woman grocery shopping in a supermarket | Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

In 1938, the world was introduced to the original grocery cart: two tiers of wire baskets on wheels. Now, carts are nearly three times the size, with big-box stores even offering flatbed versions for bulk items. One study found that twice-as-large shopping carts encourage shoppers to buy 40% more. Sometimes it’s impossible to fit your groceries in a small basket, but if you can stick with a handbasket or mini-cart, you’ll be richer for it.

Next: How to “ground yourself” at the grocery store

5. Shopping at eye-level

Latin brunette picking up some food at the grocery store

Aim low, not high. | Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

Name-brand groceries are almost always located at eye level, encouraging you to grab those pricier items and move on. The next time you face the cereal section or canned goods display, take a knee and consider the more affordable brands near the ground.

Next: Don’t be afraid to bulk up.

6. Not buying staples in bulk

scooping lentils from a bulk container

Making smart food choice cuts costs. | David Silverman/Getty Images

You can keep many staples, like pasta, rice, and spices, for years before they go bad, so buy in bulk. Everything from honey (a two-year shelf life) to dried beans (at least a one-year shelf life) is worth purchasing in large quantities. The best way to save? Wait for sales and then stock up big-time. Other good bulk buys include lentils, farro, quinoa, granulated sugar, flour, nuts, and oats.

Next: Focus is the key to checking out.

7. Not paying attention during checkout

Male cashier with customers

Distractions will cost you. | Noel Hendrickson/iStock/Getty Images

It’s easy to get distracted by nearby magazines or a chatty cashier. Don’t let these distractions keep you from watching your groceries add up on the monitor. You could easily miss out on a sale or pay too much for a store or employee error. Speak up when you see something amiss on the screen or pay the price.

Next: It’s okay to have commitment issues with your grocery store.

8. Only shopping at one grocery store

Shopping carts at Aldi

Aldi shopping carts | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

It’s hard to shop elsewhere if you love Trader Joe’s or have gone to the same Aldi for years. But you owe it to your bank account to shop around. Make a list of your weekly groceries, track the costs at a few different grocery chains, and find the lowest prices. Many shoppers are shocked by their findings. You can easily save money by visiting different grocery stores for certain things. Not to mention each chain has its own reward system (more on that later).

Next: The best time for a babysitter

9. Bringing the kids

Family with children standing in supermarket

We know it’s hard to leave them at home. | JackF/iStock/Getty Images

Many people have neither the money nor time to leave the kids at home when they need groceries. However, if you can manage it, you’ll save money solo-shopping. First, grocery stores target children by utilizing colorful displays and placing kid-friendly items lower to the ground, where kids will grab them. According to Real Simple, shopping with kids causes parents to spend up to 40% more.

Second, shopping with little ones is distracting. With a get-in-and-get-out mentality, parents tend to compare prices less.

Next: Don’t take shortcuts.

10. Buying prepared foods

butcher helping customer

Don’t let the butcher convince you. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Grabbing the deli’s premade chicken kabobs or bacon-wrapped beef is appealing when you face a time-crunch. However, purchasing prepared foods will break your budget faster than you can say “pasta salad.” A similar money killer? Prepackaged foods, like washed lettuce, pre-cut fruit, and pre-bagged produce. Buy the basics and make it yourself.

Next: Trust these store brands and you’ll save.

11. Avoiding store brands

woman buying hair spray and shampoo at the store

Name-brands don’t always cut it. | JackF/iStock/Getty Images

Name-brand labels may look nicer, but you’re only paying for aesthetics. You save an average of 25% by buying generic groceries — and you won’t sacrifice taste, according to Consumer Reports. Research found consumers were highly satisfied with store brands at grocery stores. Who had the best generic brands? Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Publix, Costco, Raley’s, Whole Foods, and Harris Teeter.

Next: The “Clean 15” is a real thing.

12. Buying organic

Grocery shop cart in supermarket filled up

Not all produce is organically equal. | CreativeNature_nl/Getty Images

Have you heard of the “Dirty Dozen“? These 12 foods, including strawberries, spinach, apples, and tomatoes, should always be purchased organic. Other than the most pesticide-ridden produce, groceries don’t necessarily need to be organic. If you’re on a tight budget, then you can pick and choose your organic produce to save money.

Next: Swaps can save your bank account.

13. Sticking to your recipes

caucasian woman with shopping list

Don’t be too focused. | iStock.com/tanialerro

Your pasta sauce may call for fresh tomatoes and ground beef, but canned tomatoes and ground turkey may be on sale. Don’t be afraid to swap ingredients. Even traditional family recipes can handle a swap or two; it will save you grocery money in the long run. Other substantial swaps: cabbage for lettuce and frozen berries and veggies for fresh ones.

Next: Don’t cut corners with your toiletries and supplies.

14. Buying household goods at the grocery store

pet food

Pet food is better elsewhere. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Grocery stores should truly only be used for groceries. You’re better off buying most other household goods elsewhere. Need pet food or batteries? Go to a big-box store instead. Tools or kitchen supplies? Try a hardware or department store. Toilet paper or shampoo? Target may be best. Most grocery stores overcharge for all the conveniences shoppers tend to grab in order to avoid multiple stops.

Next: Just like life, groceries are all about timing.

15. Timing your shopping all wrong

Customers shop at an Aldi grocery store

A busy grocery store | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Timing is everything when it comes to grocery shopping. Go during peak hours and you’ll feel rushed; shoppers tend to grab what works (without much research) when stores feel overcrowded. Ignore the sales cycle and you’ll pay more for basics; many grocery stores run sales in six-week cycles.

Shop whenever you need dinner, and you’ll tend to spend more for less. Shopping on certain days of the week (like Wednesdays) could equate to double coupons and special markdowns.