Insider Report: Avoiding Common Costly Grocery Shopping Mistakes

Common Costly Grocery Shopping Mistakes photo
Are your food shopping habits costing you money? A grocery clerk shares the shopping mistakes he frequently sees that drive up grocery bills.

According to the latest findings from the USDA’s Economic Research Service, you shouldn’t expect much financial relief at the grocery store this year. Price increases should be much slower than in 2023, but we shouldn’t expect any price relief.

The following money-saving tips were shared with The Dollar Stretcher by Bradley McHugh, based on his experience working in the retail grocery environment. He’s also a notorious tightwad. See if you could find more food savings by adjusting some of your shopping habits based on the costly mistakes he sees some in-store shoppers make.

1. Don’t overlook store brands and generics.

It’s a myth that national brands are always superior to less recognized ones. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Store brands, generics and smaller brands can often deliver comparable results for less. You just have to know where to look.

National brands tend to have larger displays, more colorful packaging, and more prominent placement. Most off-brands are simply packaged, tucked away in less obvious locations, and are given a smaller display area.

Pay close attention to the price per unit, which is often displayed on the price tag. If that information isn’t available in your store, simply divide the price by the number of ounces, pounds or units.

Here are some tips for getting your family to eat store brands if you have some picky eaters in your household.

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2. Come prepared.

Pay attention to the sales fliers and circulars from your local grocery stores. Many of us no longer get them in the mail or a newspaper like we did a decade ago. Look them up online or with your grocery app and create your weekly menus and shopping lists from these sale items.

This method of comparison shopping is more effective than clipping coupons or other methods commonly touted by some frugality experts — and much more effective than just wandering around the store and filling your cart with whatever looks like a good deal.

3. If it’s still on display, it’s probably still good.

I have worked in three of the most expensive departments in a grocery store, namely meat, deli and produce. These departments tend to attract sharp-eyed, discriminating customers who want to save a nickel.

  • Meat department: If the meat is not green, gray, or a funky shade of brown, or if it doesn’t smell bad, it is still good.
  • Deli department: Stay out if you want to save money! We often offer the same basic item in a vacuum-sealed package for much less.
  • Produce department: Markdown produce is only a deal if you plan to use that ingredient on the same day you bought it. If you want to extend the life of droopy vegetable bargains, you might want to try my secret produce preservation spray. Mix about a half-tablespoon of salt and about a teaspoon of baking soda in a one-quart spray bottle. Spray on wilting vegetables. This also works as a produce wash.
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4. Be nice to your clerk.

In return for your kindness, clerks have ways of rewarding you. We may be able to give you a small discount after speaking to our manager. We can inform you of specials, bargains and deals you may not know about. I know that I have shown some of my favorite customers the prime deals in the markdown bin before I’ve shown anyone else.

I will always help a nice customer save a bit of money. I do not do that for rude, impatient people.

5. You pay more for convenience!

The more processed a grocery item is, the more expensive it is. Precut fruit? Prepare to be taken for a ride. Our profit margins on that are close to 100% of the original value. Here are a few more examples:

  • We take a $5 watermelon and turn it into $9 or $10 worth of slices. Guess who pays for that? The convenience customer will. It takes less than 10 minutes to cut your own fruit in most cases.
  • Do you like the hot pizza from the deli? That was probably the same store-brand pizza offered in the frozen section for almost half the price per slice.
  • Do you enjoy the fancy gourmet burgers in the meat department? It’s just plain old hamburger that is mixed with a few spices.

The list of inflated convenience items goes on and on. The savings can, too, if you’re willing to put in a little time at home on food prep and cooking from scratch.

Are You Making Any of These Common Costly Grocery Shopping Mistakes?

None of these money-saving ideas are new, but some folks fail to take advantage of them. Before you head to the store next, analyze your shopping habits to see if you’re missing out on some of these savings.

Reviewed January 2024

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