11 Secrets of Supermarket Savers

Save time (and money) with these shopping tricks of the trade.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, Americans spent an average of $4,363 on food at home in 2017. And while shelling out money for groceries is an essential expense, it’s often tempting to overspend at the supermarket. So, if you’re looking for strategies to reduce your food bill and stay within your budget, check out these unexpected expert-backed tips and tricks.

Utilize a cash back credit card.

Many credit cards offer cash back rewards when you spend money on groceries. Generally, you can receive 1 to 3 percent cash back on a rewards credit card, though some cards offer more. For instance, the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express offers 6 percent cash back at American supermarkets for up to $6,000 a year. You’ll also want to keep in mind that many credit cards rotate categories, so you can invest in a card that offers 5 percent cash back on groceries for three months out of the year, and 5 percent cash back on Amazon purchases and travel for the rest of the year.

Rely on trusted shopping apps and coupons.

There are a number of apps that are designed to help you save money at the supermarket. For instance, with Basket, you can input your grocery list, and you’ll find the price of the entire list at a selection of grocery stores in your area. Grocery IQ is another popular shopping app, which allows you to create lists and then clip and print coupons. Even better, with Grocery IQ, coupons appear based on the items you put on your list. There are also a number of coupon websites to consider, such as Coupons.com and RetailMeNot.com, that enable you to download coupons and sync them to your supermarket loyalty card.

Stock up on loss leaders.

Summer Yule, a registered dietitian in Hartford, Connecticut, suggests taking a good look at the loss leaders on the front page of grocery store ads. Loss leaders is a term used for items that retailers mark down to entice shoppers in hopes that the shopper will buy far more than the loss leaders. “If you have several stores in close proximity, stocking up on the loss leaders at each store can mean big savings over time,” Yule says.

Skip shopping at busy times.

“Time is money,” Yule points out. She recommends shopping when the grocery store is less crowded, so you can get in and out faster. A good time is generally late in the evening on a weekday — after dinner,” she says. “You’ll save time on shopping and free up the weekend to do other things.” There’s another benefit to shopping when it isn’t crowded: You’ll likely feel less rushed and frenzied and make more precise spending decisions. It’s also less likely to be a time when free samples will be available, tempting you to buy more than you need.

Join a bulk warehouse membership store — with a friend.

Yule suggests joining a bulk discount store like Costco or Sam’s Club and splitting the membership fee ($60 at Costco; $45 at Sam’s Club). “Splitting the purchases reduces the amount of food that you need to store but still allows you to take advantage of the low prices,” she says. The only snag: You or your friend will have to each pay for a membership if you want to shop together. Otherwise, since you’d only have one photo ID membership card between the two of you, you must agree beforehand on what to buy.

Be mindful of how items are priced.

“Beware of the two for $5 specials,” says Ashli Dawn, the author of MoolahMogul.com, a personal finance blog. “Often, grocery stores will advertise an item on special as two for $5, making you think that you have to buy two items to get the discounted price. That’s not the case.” You’ll also want to keep in mind other tricks that supermarkets like to employ. The snacks, for instance, are often strategically placed in the middle of the store. Why? Those are popular items; the more popular items tend to be in the center of the store, the greater the odds that shoppers will pass by them and grab something.

Understand the store layout.

The end caps, the shelving units on each end of the aisle, often display enticing deals and promotions. But one common trick grocery stores employ to entice customers to spend more is placing two items on the end cap that fit well together. So maybe the peanut butter is priced cheaply, so you decide to grab the marked-up jelly strategically placed next to it. Meanwhile, typically, milk, eggs and dairy products are placed near the back of the store, so you’ll have to pass more food that lures you to impulse shop. Even the checkout aisles have been designed to discourage you from taking food out of your cart and leaving it.

Ask for a rain check.

If a discounted item is sold out, “ask the customer service counter for a rain check to get the same sale price when the item is back in stock, or to get the sale price on a comparable item,” suggests Jill Caponera, a spokesperson for Promocodes.com, a coupon site. Rain checks work not only for food items at the supermarket, but for bath and household items as well, she says. So, if you’re disappointed that a grocery store has run out of, say, a typically expensive piece of meat you were hoping to buy on sale, go to the customer service counter and explain your dilemma. You should be given a receipt explaining that you’re entitled to the item once it’s been restocked.

Check labels and look for store-brand products.

Optimize savings by searching for a supermarket’s particular brand of private label for popular and pricey foods, such as chips, pizza and lunch meat. “More often than not, generic brands are nearly identical to name-brand products. Shopping your store’s brand products can save you an average of 15 to 30 percent over name brands,” Caponera says. And think twice before buying products from the deli if your top priority is maximizing savings. “Pre-made deli foods, hot or cold bars, fruit platters and pre-made salads offer convenience at a high mark-up,” Caponera says. “Instead, get inspiration from the prepared meals you find at the grocery store and purchase the ingredients to create your own similar dish.”

Resist adding too many perishables to your cart.

“Don’t buy foods that are going to end up in the trash,” Yule cautions. “Fresh raspberries only last for a couple of days in the refrigerator. If you are going to want more berries during the week, purchase frozen.” Frozen and canned produce, she says, tend to be the least expensive. You might also want to buy fresh fruits and freeze them yourself. While this will require extra legwork, it may be worth the effort since buying fruit in peak season and freezing it can allow you to avoid buying fruit in the off-season and paying more for it.

Strategically search for clearance items.

“Seek out the discount shelf,” Yule says. “Many stores have a discount shelf filled with day-old bakery items, imperfect produce or shelf-stable items that are nearing their expiration date.” For an even greater discount, look to stores that specialize in selling food that is past its expiration date, often called salvage groceries.

More from U.S. News

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11 Secrets of Supermarket Savers originally appeared on usnews.com

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