Buy This, Not That: Pro Tips for Saving at the Grocery

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Food prices rose 1% in February, the largest monthly increase since April 2020. Over the past 12 months, overall food prices rose 7.9%, the biggest jump since July 1981. Grocery prices have risen at an even faster rate.

All foodstuff tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was more expensive last month than a year ago. Prices for meat, eggs and soup have the biggest deviation from last year, jumping double digits through February.

“When it comes to saving money on groceries, consumers have many options, but it requires changing our routines and making informed decisions,” said Carman Allison of NielsenIQ.

Here are some pinch-a-dime tactics recommended by the pros.

Make a shopping list

Grocery stores are well trained in the science of stimulating your taste buds.

The best way to avoid impulse purchases that add to your grocery bill? Make a list in advance of what you are going to buy and stick to it. Don’t get distracted by all those desserts and snacks that aren’t on your list.

Planning ahead and shopping with a list helps you stay focused on what you need and reduces time spent browsing where temptations can set in.

Be deliberate at the store and don’t add extra items to your cart while you wait in the queue, where stores tend to put hard-to-resist candies and other eye-catching items.

Compare the prices

Finding the best deals means shopping around and comparing product prices at different stores. One might have better prices for eggs, but another might be cheaper for fish.

“I have no allegiance to any supermarket. If you have the best price, you are my best friend at that time,” said Edgar Dworsky, former Massachusetts assistant attorney general and founder of consumer worldan educational resource.

But don’t just compare prices between the same types of stores. Supermarkets, big box stores, wholesale clubs, discount grocers, and dollar store chains all have different pricing and promotion strategies. Also discover cooperatives and farmers markets.

“People can save a lot of money if they know how these stores are organized,” said Victor Martino, founder of grocery consulting firm Third Wave Strategies. He recommends shopping in at least two different store formats.

Look for promotions and offers

Stores post weekly advertisements for items for sale in print and online.

Find out when a store posts these deals. Many post their circular ads on Wednesdays, so that’s often the best day to find deals. Check them out and compare.

If there are many, consider stocking up on products.

“When apple juice is 99 cents a gallon, I’ll buy a case or two,” Dworsky said.

And to make sure you’re getting a good deal, check product price history on websites such as CamelCamelCamel.

Use a loyalty card in store

Most supermarkets offer free loyalty cards with special offers and savings for members. Loyalty cards from some grocers also offer savings on gas.

Use them.

If you don’t use a loyalty card, “you’re wasting money,” Dworsky said. “This is completely crazy.”

Switch to Private Label

Private label stores were once considered cheap counterfeits. But grocers have spent a lot of time and money in recent years improving their products.

Store brands are often produced by the same manufacturers that make the name brand items, but they are usually less expensive. Switching to a private label alternative can save shoppers 10-40%, according to David Bishop, partner at grocery consulting firm Brick Meets Click.

Experts consider Costco’s Kirkland Signature to be one of the best private label brands. Other store brands include Walmart’s Great Value, Kroger’s Simple Truth and Target’s Good & Gather.

Beware of “shrinkflation”

Less cereal in the box. Small snack sizes. Vanished ice cream in a container.

You don’t lose your mind. You’re actually paying the same price or more these days for everyday items, but you’re browsing through them faster because they’ve shrunk in size.

The reason? A sneaky tactic known as “shrinkflation”, deployed by consumer brands and grocery stores. The phenomenon has been going on for decades, but it generally becomes more common when business costs rise, such as during the inflation spurt we are experiencing today.

However, according to experts, there is a way to combat shrinkage: compare unit prices — the price per ounce or per 100 units — on similar products to see which is cheaper.

Buy frozen meat and vegetables

Meat has seen some of the steepest price increases during the pandemic.

In February, meat prices were up 14% from a year ago. Chicken was right behind, up 13%.

“Frozen chicken breasts are good quality, can be thawed one at a time, and the savings are significant,” said David D’Arezzo, former chief merchant at Dollar General and an executive at drugstore and supermarket chains.

Frozen vegetables are also a good option, he said. They don’t spoil or spoil like fresh vegetables, a big blow to your wallet.

Another tip for buying vegetables: buy them in high season. If you buy tomatoes or other produce out of season, you will probably pay more.

“If you shop seasonally, you can save 25% to 30%,” said Martino of Third Wave Strategies.

Look for ugly products

Look at one-day produce shelves or produce outlets in your area to save.

There are also online “ugly” vendors, such as Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market, that buy and resell quality fruits and vegetables that grocery stores have rejected at great value prices.

“Why not pay half price for slightly stained products? said Dworsky.

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