7 Ways I Save Time and Money at the Grocery Store

posted by Andrea | 10/30/2015

receipt

Believe it or not, grocery shopping has sort of become a favorite pastime of mine and the kids!

Not that I anxiously await the immense amount of fun I’m going to have with all 3 of them — but I certainly don’t dread going anymore, and Nora and Simon actually have a lot of fun.

Nora holds my list and helps me “spy” for the right items on the shelf, Simon points and waves to everyone, they both enjoy their free “kids cookie” from the bakery right before we head to the checkout lane, and then they get to ride Sandie the horse as I look over my receipt before we leave.

James is usually quite content to lay in his shopping cart hammock, and if I know we’re shopping when he normally takes his morning nap, I’ll just wear him in my Boba carrier and he’ll sleep the entire trip!

There are definitely stressful, tense, and “hairy” moments when I question why on earth I didn’t just wait to get groceries until Dave got home… but for the most part, as long as I do a decent amount of pre-planning, our grocery shopping trips are relatively fun!

That said, I still like to get in and out as fast as I can — and, if possible, save a few bucks in the process.

If you share my “in-and-out” grocery shopping philosophy, here are 7 EXTREMELY simple ways I save both time and money at the grocery store (no coupon-clipping required).

groceries

1. Write your list according to the layout of your store.

I actually wrote a full blog post about this a while back — but it literally is the single most effective thing I do to save boatloads of time in the grocery store.

Plus, since I can just go right down my list in order, I almost never forget anything (which obviously saves even more time!) and I don’t buy impulse items because they aren’t on my list.

2 Do a quick price evaluation in the aisle.

It’s rare that I use any coupons anymore these days — mainly because we no longer get the Sunday paper, but also because there just aren’t a ton of coupons for the things I buy anymore.

So often when people don’t use coupons, they always buy the store brand to save money. And while this is often a good money-saving method, there are PLENTY of times when the national brands are actually cheaper than the store brands due to a special sale… so it always pays to quickly check.

Also, make sure you check the ounces of the products you are comparing. I’ve found that many times, the item on sale has fewer ounces, so it’s still less expensive per ounce to buy the non-sale item.

It only takes a few seconds to do a quick price check and you’d be surprised how much money you can save!

3. Look “up” and “down”

Advertisers and marketers know what they are doing — and they sneakily place higher priced items at eye level on the shelves. By simply looking on the top or bottom shelves, you might find an almost identical product for a significantly cheaper price.

This is especially true with cleaning products, cosmetics, paper products, and other non-food items. Just the other day, I had to pick up more mascara —  I almost mindlessly grabbed the one closest to me, but then remembered my own advice and checked the bottom row. The price was over 50% less ($4.35 versus $9 and $10)

Since I’m not picky about makeup brands, I was more than happy to snatch up the better bargain (and so far, it’s working just fine on my short stubby lashes!)

4. Look for discount produce, bakery, and meat products.

I can’t tell you how much  money I’ve saved by quickly scanning the discount produce, bakery, and meat racks at our store.

I realize that not all grocery stores have these discounted options available, but if your store does, definitely take a look. Sometimes there aren’t any great deals, but I’ll often get deep discounts on expensive bakery and meat items that are reaching their sell-by date — and then I just put them in the freezer when I get home.

I also regularly buy produce from the discount rack — the bananas are a steal and great for banana bread!

5. Find a competent cashier.

Please don’t think I’m being rude here — but I think we can all relate to wasting bucket loads of times standing in line, waiting for a cashier who doesn’t know what he or she is doing.

When I’m ready to check out, I try to quickly scan the row of cashiers and pick one who knows what they are doing. I have my favorites at the 2 locations I regularly shop, and I’ll wait in a little longer line to get them because they are more efficient.

Also, if I can find someone in a manger outfit, I’ll go to their lane — that way, if there is a question, price adjustment, or if I need a raincheck for something, they can do it right then and there without needing to call for additional help.

6. Check your receipt.

This is another biggie — and it only takes a second to do.

I always, ALWAYS check my receipt before I step foot out the store — and more often than not, I find that I was charged for something extra or that one of the items didn’t ring up correctly according to the ad.

If there is a dispute, I quickly bring my receipt to the customer service desk and it’s always taken care of immediately. Sometimes, I’ve even gotten an extra $5 because our store policy is that you get $5 if something is priced incorrectly!

7. Just ask!

If the store is out of something you want, don’t be afraid to ask them to check the back for more — or substitute with a different brand. Often times, a manager will let you do this… which saves you a trip back to the store to look for the same items later in the week

If they won’t let you substitute for a different brand, then ask for a raincheck so you can get the deal the next time you’re at the store.

These are just a few of the many simple no-coupon-required ways I manage to save time and money at the grocery store (even with the 3 munchkins in tow).

Do you have any great money-saving or time-saving tips or advice to add to my list?

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19 comments

  1. Lynn

    11/25/2015

    While this might not be specifically a time saving tip, it’s saved me a lot of squashed food. I place my items on the belt in the order I’d like them bagged (typically, hubby and I will use the self checkout – I put things on the belt in the order that he’ll bag them so we’re not squashing anything and the weight is evenly distributed among all the bags – two engineers shopping, lol!)
    I’ll even group together produce in such a way that the heavier, more sturdy veggies are on the bottom of the bag and the more delicate are on the top. (2 pounds of carrots on top of the bananas…really????). It doesn’t take me that much more time to do this. To me it’s pretty intuitive, but it’s helped. To add to your comment about a competent cashier, if we’re not using the self checkout, we have come to know who the competent baggers are!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, yes, yes. You’re right — maybe not specifically time or money saving, but still really smart! I do the exact same thing and I’m not even an engineer!

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  2. Kristen @ Joyfully Thriving

    11/02/2015

    Grocery shopping is one of our favorite outings as well…although Nathan hasn’t ridden on the horse yet! 🙂 Great tips, Andrea! I do all these things as well. I get rain checks but haven’t tried asking for a substitution. I’ll keep that in mind next time happens!

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  3. Carrie

    10/31/2015

    Do you use Mperks ? When your kids are a little older, you may want to consider a coupon or two….great for learning….also only one child can hold the grocery list

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yup, I use Mperks for every shopping trip!!

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  4. Julia K

    10/31/2015

    Nowadays I tend to do my grocery shopping online, but these were the tips I used when I used to go into the store each week / fortnight with my young children in tow.

    1) I use a preprinted grocery list in store layout order. I print off my list and highlight the items needed.
    2) This tip may be more relevant for hot climates ( I live in Queensland, Australia) and on those fortnighly (ie LARGE) grocery trips. The two stage shop. Load baby into trolley and shop for all the dried and canned goods – pay and load into car. Stage two – shop for all the chilled, fresh and frozen items – pay and load into car.
    3) On arriving home – bring in the baby and children first 🙂 , then bring in all the chilled, fresh & frozen items leaving the canned and dried goods in the car.
    4) Pack away all the chilled, fresh and frozen items. Get kiddos fed and settled.
    5) Bring in the canned and dried goods when the baby is down for a nap. These can be put away at your liesure. Sometimes I would even get my older children to put these items away later in the day.

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    Liane Reply:

    Hi Julia,
    I live in California in an area where temps average in the mid nineties from mid June through mid October. Yesterday it was 89.

    I no longer have children in the home so I can skip the load baby part. But what I do do, akin to your plan (in addition to my list which I use an app on my iPhone for) is I load a half dozen or so large cooler ice blocks into one of four insulated bags. They no longer allow plastic grocery sacks and they require you to purchase paper ones at ten cents each, which doesn’t seem like much but it is totally irksome. I used to use those plastic ones for all sorts of things. So I have washable bags and I use a combination of produce bags off the roll and other bags that come my way to bag my meats etc to keep my bags clean.

    Since I only shop three or so areas I take three large bags with me, and dairy goes into one, meat into another and produce into a third. Any canned goods like tomatoes or olives I put into a cloth bag to bring home. The worst part of this is store clerks who are determined to wreck the fresh produce by putting the heaviest melons on top of the grapes! So I bag it myself and that makes putting it away very quickly. And like you, the staples are bagged separately so I can put them away at my leisure. When my granddaughter was younger she loved putting things away. My one small shelf of canned goods like whole tomatoes, tomato paste, olives, tuna, pumpkin, chilies etc are all lined up like in a store. She even alphabetized my spices and seasonings. That did not work since it seems that like with clothes I use 20% of them 80% of the time so they got out of order.

    For the sundry household stuff I make a non food run to a big box discounter like Target. My Target is old and small and has no fresh food so it’s easy to get my laundry soap, paper goods, window cleaner, wipes etc in one monthly excursion.

    My car is black with a large rear hatch and it gets really hot in there parked. When I roll the cart back to the car I pull my ices out of the bag I have stashed in the front seat and transfer the food. It’s a pain but so is spoiled meat. I have about a 30 min drive and the internal temp of the car can go easily over 120 degrees even with the windows cracked. So, I totally understand the heat issue. And of course I would get any baby into the house asap. Every summer someone leaves a baby in a car and you read about it in the paper. Some succumb to the heat. Some parents are incarcerated and what a heartbreak for all involved.

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    Andrea Reply:

    This is great — thanks for sharing Julia! I’ve never done it this way before, but there are so many times when I just don’t buy frozen foods because I know it will take too long getting through the checkout lane, getting loaded up in the car, and driving home. I’ll have to remember this tip next time 🙂

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  5. Jacquie

    10/30/2015

    I totally scan for my favorite cashiers too! Some people aren’t able to chat and ring up food at the same time 🙂

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  6. Liane

    10/30/2015

    Money saving, not so much. Time saving yes. I too cancelled the Sunday paper and just before I did I noticed that the coupon sections were starting to consist primarily of mail order offers for (pick one) cigars, hideous slippers, equally hideous slacks, junk jewelry, ceramic dust collector collector items, sports logo throws, sports logo pillows and the actual coupons were for food items that fall into the not-on-a-bet will I eat that.

    But my time saving does save a bit of money. I quit reading labels. Gasp! I got tired of scanning package labels for seed oils, msg, carrageenan, maltodextrin, guar gum, etc. I found one brand of milk that is not ultra pasteurized and on brand of sour cream and yogurt and cottage cheese that have no added thickeners or gums. So I stick with those brands.

    In the produce dept I only by local. I prefer organic but I don’t stress over it. I buy fruit and veggies in season and never from Mexico or Peru. Which means if I want asparagus or avocados there is a very narrow window for it. But all that foreign shipping adds to the cost. So I go to a chain that supports local farmers. I buy individual items rather than sacks because things hide in the sacks. Like a rotten potato or a wormy apple. I try to go to the farmers market also just before they are about to close up for the day. They mark stuff way down so as to not have to haul it back home.

    In the meat department I ignore all those enticing pre seasoned and very salty packages. I usually pick up two cut up chickens, a package of thighs and one of breasts to cook in a batch for salads etc. I’ll ask the butcher to grind and wrap several pounds of good sirloin and nice pork shoulder. Not every week though.

    One advantage of following a primal diet is we eat no grains except white rice very rarely. Never gluten grains. I eat oatmeal occasionally. I bake with coconut and almond flours and do all that over the Internet mostly at Amazon. We do eat dairy, which we tolerate.

    The biggest money saver of all however is not eating sugar! That eliminates several aisles. Every aisle you avoid is money in your pocket.

    And I never ever buy household supplies or personal care products at a grocery store. I go to Amazon for a lot of stuff like toilet paper and paper towels, etc. since those things take up the whole cart and half the car as well.

    Shopping around the perimeter and avoiding toiletries and cleaners that I can get at Target helps. But target is another story!

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  7. Melissa @ teammadefamily.com

    10/30/2015

    I agree wholeheartedly with your list. I am also pretty selective about which cashiers I will utilize at my favorite grocery stores. When I am in a hurry or have kids in tow, I need to know that the person operating the register knows what they are doing.

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  8. Chris

    10/30/2015

    I LOVE the discounted produce! At Kroger they are usually 99 cents. I bought a big bag of brussel sprouts the other week. I thought I saw some the other day and bought them. They are in mesh bags, so I just grabbed. When I got home, I found out I had bought two bags of key limes. So I cut them up and squeeze them in my drinking water. It was kind of funny. 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    I’ve never been to a Kroger before — but it is amazing the fabulous deals I’ve found on the discount produce rack. It can be “hit or miss” — but the bargains I’ve gotten over the years definitely makes it worth it for me to spend 10 seconds weeding through the discount rack.

    Also, that’s IS a funny story. One time I accidentally bought key limes from the discount rack and ended up using them as a decoration until they started to shrivel up 🙂

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    susie Reply:

    I do the same- lots of good deals!

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  9. Julie V.

    10/30/2015

    Andrea, do you ever shop at Aldi? I have found that there is no faster store in our area. ( I live in the same town as you). The store you shop at is a total frustration for me and I don’t have little children. Aldi also has items deeply discounted if the sell by date is getting close. Just wondering your thoughts?

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    Emily Reply:

    I agree with Julie! Love Aldi!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Julie,
    yes, I have shopped at Aldi before, but I rarely ever go there because there are so many things I can’t get there (plus, I don’t often carry cash or a debit card). Here’s a more detailed post about why I choose not to shop at Aldi: https://andreadekker.com/why-i-dont-do-my-weekly-shopping-at-aldi/

    I have TONS of friends and family who love Aldo — so I personally have nothing against it. I just don’t love shopping there myself 🙂

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  10. Lauren D

    10/30/2015

    Morning, Andrea!
    Great list! I usually shop at Aldi and when I do go to Meijer I stock up on the things I commonly use that I don’t care for at Aldi or that Aldi does not carry.! I’m working through your freezer meal recipes as I prepare for our baby Dekker #2 in March!
    Have you tried Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Spaghetti? So good and a great freezer meal!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yay for freezer meals and yay for baby #2 — congrats!

    Speaking from experience, March is a perfect time to have a baby because after a month or so inside during the tiny newborn stage, you’re ready to get out and about — just as the spring weather is warming up. Plus, you’ll have a little more time to lose your baby weight before shorts and tank top season (July babies aren’t nearly as figured friendly for summer clothes!! )

    Also, I have not tried the Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Spaghetti. In general, I’m kind of intimidated by her recipes — but maybe I’ll have to go search it out! Thanks 🙂

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