How to Save Money and Shop Like a Boss at the Grocery Store
While many grocery stores offer shopper-friendly policies (such as offering samples of almost every item—the way Trader Joe's does), there are also many tricks that nearly every grocery store uses to encourage spending more than you want, and buying more than you actually need.
If your goal is to save money while shopping, using coupons and planning shopping lists are a good start, but it pays to be aware of the gimmicks stores employ as well.
The way foods are placed on shelves, for instance, or even priced due to their status as a "convenience" item, can end up harming your wallet. Retail experts working within the grocery industry shared the following tips with NBC's Today, including advice on how you can shop smart at any grocery store you visit.
1) Shop from Left to Right on Any Shelf
According to Sara Lundberg, author of Budget Savvy Diva's Guide to Slashing Your Grocery Bill by 50% or More, grocery stores purposefully place items that produce higher profit margins on the right side of a shelf. Americans tend to look at things from right to left—just like they drive on the right side of the road, shoppers also wander down aisles on the right side as well—and could see a higher-priced item first if they scan shelves this way. Scanning items from left to right could help you identify the cheaper items first.
More ingenious hacks to help you shop smart:
2) Be Wary of End-of-Aisle Displays
Whether it's the week before Thanksgiving or the Friday before a big football tailgate, the special displays located at the end of each aisle may actually not be a deal. These areas are called "end caps," says Kimberly Danger, the author behind Instant Bargains: 600+ Ways to Shrink Your Grocery Bills and Eat Well for Less, and they're often just strategically placed regular-priced items.
If you head to the center of the aisle before purchasing the items located within the end cap, you'll discover whether these items are truly the cheapest—or healthiest—you can find. 61 percent of shoppers end up buying an item on impulse if it is located within an end cap, according to shopping experts Steve and Annette Economides' Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half With America's Cheapest Family.
3) Consider Bulk Bags When Buying Fruits and Vegetables
If you're buying a particularly cumbersome fruit or vegetable, packing a few in a loose plastic bag can actually be up to 50 percent more expensive than buying a bulk bag. For example: 79 cents a pound for potatoes can seem like a steal, but if the five-pound bag of potatoes next to it is just $2.99 (or 60 cents a pound), you'll save by opting for the bulk bag. This can often be the case for apples, carrots, and onions, where pre-bagged fruit and veggies could save you half the amount than packing a bag yourself, according to the Economides.
4) Head to the Butcher Counter Rather Than Buy Pre-Wrapped Meats
"Convenience" items—things that are pre-packed and portioned for ease, like ground beef—can be marked up significantly compared to other similar items that have yet to be portioned. Why buy ground beef when you can ask the butcher counter to grind up a wallet-friendly piece of round roast? Bruce and Jeanne Lubin, the team behind Who Knew? Supermarket Savings Secrets, claim that stir-fry meats as well as ground beef are two of the most aggressively marked up items in the meat section. Talk to your butcher to see if they can custom prep any meat free of charge rather than reaching for a pre-packaged item.
5) Bring Headphones—Seriously!
Data expert Martin Lindstrom discovered a link between the music playing in supermarkets and how much shoppers end up putting into their carts. Lindstrom, who penned Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends, told NBC's Savannah Guthrie that "elevator music" playing in stores is intentionally slower than the human heartbeat, encouraging people to slow down and spend more time wandering the aisles. If you bring headphones to the store (and play high-tempo music), it may help you cut upwards of 8 percent off your final grocery bill, Lindstrom says.