Grocery shopping can be daunting. There are so many choices. So many temptations. So many different flavors of Ben & Jerry's. And so many ways that you can waste an entire paycheck making amateur mistakes.
To help you navigate the aisles, we enlisted the advice of Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game. She's dedicated her life to helping folks save money, so we asked her for some tips for surviving grocery stores with your credit intact. Here are 10 of the costliest mistakes you can make, and how to fix them.
Perhaps no other department holds the same savory riches as the butcher section, but it's a sinewy minefield of potential mistakes. “I see people all the time thinking they’re getting the sale deal, but putting the wrong one in their cart,” Gault says. “There are different-sized packages, different cuts and grades of meat -- boneless, with bone, etc.” Her advice: always ask the meat man where to find the deal.
Not checking if sizes are accurate
“A pound of bacon is often now 12oz,” Gault says. As illegal as this sounds, it happens, so always check that the numbers add up.
Buying produce by the bag
“Unless the bag is on sale, often the per-pound price can be better,” Gault says. When you see how much extra you're spending on onions, you will cry and cry again.
Getting enough potatoes to feed Idaho
This is a caveat to price per-pound bag rules. “Potatoes are almost always cheaper by the bag than by the pound,” Gault says. But she cautions that two 5lb bags could be cheaper than one 10-pounder, a rule of thumb that also applies to items in the rest of the store.
Sticking to the front of the dairy case
“Haste makes waste,” Gault says. The newly stocked dairy items are always in the back, with older items pushed to the front. Reach into the cold depths of that case and check the dates to make sure you're buying the freshest product.
Shopping week to week
Gault lists this as her top general mistake that people make. “When shoppers buy only their weekly needs, they are forced to pay full price for 50-80% of what goes in their cart. By contrast, stocking up on sale items for what they will eventually need will reap savings over the course of eight to 12 weeks.”
Being lazy with produce
Of course you're lazy and baby carrots are adorable, but they'll last half as long as regular carrots since they're peeled. If you plan on using pre-packaged produce right away and they're on sale, don't hesitate to adopt those babies, but know that you're getting hosed hard. “That container of carrots and celery sticks will cost three to four times per pound more," Gault says.
Not using digital coupons
Coupons might have a grandmotherly rep, but technology has caught up with grocery store savings via apps with personalized deals that aren't physically tagged on the shelves. “You could save 67% on a particular produce item that's not on sale otherwise,” Gault says.
“Some of the best deals are indeed on the end cap. However, they are often paired with other items that are not the best deal,” Gault says. So, don't blindly Supermarket Sweep everything off the end cap into your cart.
Failing to check cost per unit
Most supermarkets have a tag that tells you how much you're paying per unit or ounce, and the store brand isn't always the cheapest. Surprisingly, Gault says that where there are three sizes, often the medium size costs the least.
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Dan Gentile is a former staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. He always wanted to be on Supermarket Sweep, but would settle for Shop 'Til You Drop. Follow him to all the prizes at @Dannosphere.