Grocery stores are designed to encourage extra purchases while making you think you’re getting the best prices in town. Knowing how to shop at your neighborhood grocery store can help you steer clear of some common marketing tactics and avoid making costly mistakes.
Here are seven foolish grocery shopping mistakes you could already be making:
1. Always Buying Fresh Over Frozen
Do you insist on buying fresh fruits and vegetables over frozen produce because you think it’s healthier? You could be wasting your time — and money, because of food waste — by doing so. Frozen fruits and veggies have the same nutrient value as their fresh counterparts because most are flash-frozen before they’re packed and shipped. The great thing about frozen fruit and vegetables is you can save money by using smart bulk-buying strategies. You also reduce waste because you can use only what you need at a given time and leave the rest in the freezer.
2. Shopping on an Empty Stomach
Practically everything will look appetizing and appealing when you head to the grocery store on an empty stomach — even more so when the store is handing out free samples or baking up a storm of cookies and treats for the day. Make sure you head to the grocery store right after you’ve eaten a good meal, so you aren’t tempted to buy more than you need. Avoid snacking while grocery shopping as well. Delving into that bag of chips or cookies as you navigate the aisles will probably make you eat more than you would in a regular setting and you’ll have to buy a couple more packages to make up what you just ate.
3. Hitting the Produce Section First
Most grocery stores are designed to take you through the produce and bakery sections before getting to the main aisles. These areas usually have at least one or two “bins” filled with weekly deal items and other products that appear to be marked down — and are just so easy to grab. If you shop by starting on the other end of the store first and hit the perimeter by going to the dairy section or other frozen section before the bakery and produce area, you won’t be bombarded with the sale bins and advertised specials that can be too tempting to pass up.
4. Buying Anything from the Checkout Lane Aisles
The items conveniently located at the checkout lanes are designed for impulsive shoppers. The lineup usually includes items like individually-wrapped snacks, refrigerated beverages, stationary, small household gadgets, and other convenience items. Most items here have a fairly high markup and you could probably find a generic or cheaper version if you took a short walk to the aisle instead. Make sure you’re not falling for any of these impulsive buys that will usually end up being an unnecessary expense on your grocery bill.
5. Overbuying Sale Items
Whether you’ve scored a stack of coupons for a new product or have your eye on the latest “buy one, get one free” offer, make sure you’re only buying items that you’re actually going to use. Check the expiration dates if you do decide to buy in bulk and make sure you’ve calculated the total cost per serving. Buying too many items that end up being tossed or never even opened will cost you. Be mindful about how much you are actually saving when you buy extra and make sure you have enough space to store your haul.
6. Shopping without a List
It seems like an obvious step when you’re planning a grocery shopping trip, but how many people do you see at the store that are actually shopping with a list? Shopping without a list makes you more vulnerable to buying items you don’t really need, falling for the latest “sale,” and just picking up items on a whim. Going from aisle to aisle just picking up whatever you think you need for the week makes it very difficult to plan your meals and stay within a reasonable budget range. Put together a simple list (this task usually only takes about five or ten minutes), so you can check your kitchen’s inventory and pick up items your household actually needs.
7. Becoming Obsessed with Coupons
While many extreme couponers claim they save hundreds of dollars on groceries each week with their coupon-clipping tactics, the average shopper typically saves much less. Spending hours scouring for coupons and buying items you otherwise wouldn’t purchase is a costly venture. Only use coupons on items you buy regularly. And, remember that money saved needs to go back into the bank. When you’re using so many coupons for a purchase, it’s easier to justify buying more because you just saved some money.
Sabah Karimi is a grocery shopping guide for consumer blog Wise Bread and a top contributor to Yahoo!.