grocery shopping mistakes
Updated May 26, 2020

19 Grocery Shopping Mistakes That Are Bad For Your Wallet

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Grocery shopping can easily eat up at least $150 of your weekly budget. And it’s hard to avoid the marketing tricks and gimmicks that often drive your food costs up.

But that price tag can be brought back down if you avoid making these 19 grocery shopping mistakes.

1. Forgetting to Make a List

Going into the grocery store unprepared almost guarantees that you’ll get distracted and pick up unnecessary items. Not only does this waste time, but it also drains your wallet.

It’s also more likely that you’ll be tempted by the unhealthier options during your shopping trip. Taking a list along will cut down on the amount of time you spend shopping, and make those sugary or salty snacks easier to resist.

It’s a good idea to keep a list of the items you already have at home, like pasta or tomato sauce. Doing this means you won’t end up buying things you already have plenty of.

2. Buying Household Items or Toiletries

It might seem like buying all your household necessities and toiletries at the supermarket would save you time and money, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, it can be a major grocery shopping mistake to drop these items into your basket without looking twice at the price.

If you’re going to buy your shampoos and toothpaste at the grocery store, look in the newspaper for coupons and wait to use them until a good sale is on. This will ensure that you get a fairer price for standard household items.

If collecting coupons and waiting for a sale that never seems to come is too much of a hassle, head down to a big-box store instead. These usually offer better prices and more frequent sales.

3. Not Planning Meals Ahead of Time

You see a recipe online that you’re dying to try out. It can be tempting to go out and buy everything the recipe requires.

Doing this leads to buying items at full price that might have gone on sale next week. Instead, take a different approach.

Search through the newspaper or online to see if there are any good sales and then look for recipes that utilize some or all of these ingredients. This will allow you to still try out new recipes, but also save money while buying ingredients that you can use throughout the week

4. Making Multiple Trips

You might think that going to the grocery store a few times a week for just a small number of items would mean you spend less. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Committing this grocery shopping mistake will actually make you more inclined to purchase impulse buys.

You are more likely to be enticed by so-called ‘deals’, which are designed to make you buy more than you need. Little luxuries items will also be harder to resist because you won’t be buying much alongside them, making them seem like less of a splurge.

Try to limit the number of times you go to the grocery store to once or twice a week. Even better, put a maximum on how much you allow yourself to spend on impulse buys.

5. Using a Large Cart

When you get home, you might wonder how you managed to buy so much. A large cart is rarely necessary to get everything on your list, but you’ll still feel the need to fill it up.

According to Consumerist, choosing a cart over a hand basket can actually increase the size of your shopping bill by 40%. So choose the basket.

Not only will you fill it up quicker with the things on your list, but you’ll be aware of how heavy the basket gets as you go through the store, prompting you to leave rather than search for tasty things that aren’t needed.

6. Going to the Grocery Store While Hungry

This is one of the most common grocery mistakes that people make. When you start feeling hungry, it naturally sparks thoughts of mealtimes and snacks.

But before you go to the store to refill your shelves, fill your stomach. Having something to eat beforehand will massively reduce the likelihood of piling junk food and sweets into your basket. You won’t have the same types of cravings either, meaning you’ll stick to your list and ignore the tempting middle aisles.

7. Only Shopping at One Supermarket

Most people have gotten into the habit of going to one store, usually a large chain supermarket. It’s easy to think that the buying power of these big grocery stores drive costs down, meaning cheaper prices.

Your local greengrocers’ or farmers’ market probably offer better quality produce at comparable prices. Especially if you buy organic, farmers’ markets are typically cheaper and fresher.

Once you visit several different food outlets regularly, you’ll learn quickly which items are cheaper at each seller and can plan your shopping accordingly.

8. Choosing Name Brand over Store Brand Items

Opting for name brand foods over generic or store brands is a major grocery shopping mistake.

You might be surprised when you choose store brand canned goods or crackers by how good they taste. That’s because there’s a subconscious bias against store and generic brands that isn’t always logical. Often these foods taste just as good and always cost less. In fact, they can cost up to $5 less than name brand items.

Remember to search the entire section of the food type you’re buying. You’ll find store brands lurking at the bottom of the shelf with less flashy marketing and more toned-down colors. Expensive, name-brand foods will be placed at eye-level because companies pay extra for better product positioning. This marketing trick will lure you into paying more than necessary.

9.  Buying Unnecessary Items Because They’re on Sale

How often have you seen yogurt or fruit being offered at a 10 for $10 sale? These types of sales are designed to get customers buying more of an item than they want, need, or will use.

These ‘deals’ aren’t even always deals. Sometimes they actually cost you more money by increasing the per unit price. And if it is a legitimate deal? Chances are you don’t need 5 or 10 of the same thing, so only buy the number you need.

10. Skipping the Salad Bar

Most grocery stores have a surprisingly abundant and well-priced salad bar where you can buy things like olives, sundried tomatoes, and loose vegetables. Rather than buying entire jars or multi-packs of produce, you’re able to buy the exact amount needed. This can be cost effective and cut down on your food waste.

Just remember to shake out any extra water or oil that might be clinging to your food. This will reduce the weight so that you end up paying less. Small changes like these can really add up over time, making your weekly food shop friendlier to the environment and your budget.

11. Not Signing Up to a Loyalty Program

You should definitely be signed up for a loyalty card at your main grocery store. If you want to take advantage of most of the sales advertised in the store or in flyers, you’ll need to have a loyalty card.

Loyalty programs are almost always free to sign up for and use. Plus, there are extra benefits attached. Usually you’ll earn points with every dollar that can be used at the store’s gas station.

These fuel savings add up quickly so be on the lookout for sales that will double or triple the fuel points you earn. Just don’t go overboard and buy things you already have or don’t need. While it might seem a bit weird to have your grocery store keep tabs on your spending, this means they’ll send you personalized coupons.  So not only will you earn points for free, but you get to save money on the things you buy most often.

12. Ignoring Frozen Foods

Frozen foods often get a bad reputation. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! If you’re choosing things like frozen fruits and veggies, they will actually be packed with more nutrients and vitamins than their fresh or canned alternatives.

That’s because frozen fruits and vegetables are picked when they’re perfectly ripe whereas fresh foods are picked before they reach peak ripeness, losing out on their full nutritional potential.

Frozen fish can also be considered fresher than the fish at the counter. So called ‘fresh’ fish may have been frozen and simply thawed, raising the price tag and sacrificing freshness.

You should also be utilizing your own freezer for staple items like meat, fruits, and bread. This will let you take advantage of sales and reduce food waste.

13. Getting Distracted by the End Cap

An end cap is the shelving display at the end of every aisle. End caps are usually decorated brightly and showcase special deals and sales. You should be wary of end caps or avoid looking at them altogether.

  • Often, there are better sales to be found in the aisles, but people assume the end caps are the best so don’t bother comparing the products with other options.
  • End cap displays will also place on-sale items with an expensive counterpart.

For example, you might find a great sale for graham crackers, but they will be placed alongside the most expensive marshmallows and chocolate. When this happens, you’ll lose a lot of the savings that first made the end cap deal so attractive.

If you’re going to shop the end caps, stay away from anything that isn’t on sale.

14. Choosing Convenience

There are a lot of convenient options at the supermarket, but choosing them over slightly more labour intensive alternatives will result in a price hike. When purchased whole, an onion will typically cost you around $1.10 per pound. A small box of diced onions, on the other hand, often cost more than $2.00.

It’s worth it in the long run to roll up your sleeves and cut and dice your own produce. The same goes for buying prepackaged salad mixes, which are more expensive and actually go bad much faster than loose greens.

Avoid pre-made salad bags that come with dressing and toppings. These come at a premium cost. It’s far cheaper to buy full sized dressing and toppings and only buy fresh salad on an as-needed basis.

15. Not Taking Advantage of Coupons or Apps

You’ve probably heard about extreme couponers before. While not everyone can spare that much time to hone their coupon skills, you should try to get into the habit of scanning the coupon pages of your newspaper every week.

Apps like Ibotta, Fetch, and Drop can save you at few bucks on every shopping trip.

16. Buying Store-Seasoned Meat and Fish

The meat counters at supermarkets often have appetizing cuts of steak or fish fillets that have already been marinated or covered in seasonings.  These options might save you a bit of time but are far more expensive than unseasoned meat and fish.

Not only this, but seasonings often cover up signs of aging in meat. For instance, if a cut of beef is losing its red color because it has been out awhile, the butcher might rub seasonings over it to disguise the greyish color. While still safe to eat, it certainly won’t be as tasty as a fresher option.

17. Not Looking at Your Receipt

Before you leave the store, double check your receipt. You shouldn’t just assume that you are being charged the correct amount.

Mistakes happen more often that you probably think. Scanners aren’t always accurate and items can be accidentally scanned twice, leading to a bigger bill than expected. It might take a few extra seconds, but it’s worth it to make sure you aren’t overpaying!

Even if the amount is correct, hang on to your receipt anyway to see if it contains any coupons on the bottom or back.

18. Buying in Bulk

We’ve often been told that buying in bulk will drive prices down. While this is usually the case at warehouse clubs like Costco, assuming this is also true at your supermarket is dangerous.

Make sure you are checking the unit price before you buy in bulk. And you don’t want to end up with more of a product than you can feasibly use. It will just go off in the end and you won’t have saved the money.

19. Shopping at the Wrong Time

If you regularly shop in the mornings or early afternoon, you may want to consider shaking things up a bit. Grocery stores steeply reduce prices late in the day in order to sell perishable items before closing time. Products like sandwiches, salads, and baked goods are almost always marked down during the evening.

If you find yourself craving unhealthy foods at night, it might be better to go in the morning. This is because you’ll be more alert and disciplined when you have just started your day. Shopping in the morning will likely reduce the amount of time you spend in the grocery store as well as your desire for impulse buys.

What are your grocery shopping tactics? Have you been using any of the above, would you like to contribute your own tips? Feel free to let us know in a comment below.

Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA, Certified Student Loan Professional, and founder of Money Done Right, which he launched in July 2017. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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