Playing the Grocery Store Game: 11 Tips to Save You Money

Grocery stores are designed to make you spend more money or con you into buying inferior products.  Use these 11 tricks to obtain more and higher quality food for less money. 

–Nearly all grocery stores are designed with the essentials (produce, meats, dairy, and bakery) along the outside walls, forcing you to walk past every aisle in the store.  Of course, at the end of each of those aisles are strategically-placed items which our cave-man bodies crave (fatty, sweet, or salty) to lure us into a trap.  As you foray further down an aisle your natural human curiosity kicks in and you continue all the way to the end and make the walk back to your point of original diversion via the next aisle over, exposing yourself to unnecessary marketing and temptations.  By the time you’ve picked up your essentials around the store’s edge you’ve also likely wandered down at least a few other unnecessary aisles.  Our advice:  if you have to enter into an aisle, come back out the same way you came in so you minimize your chances of consuming things you don’t need.

–Throughout the store, well-engineered-packages of bright, exciting colors placed at eye-level tempt you.  Stores are so smart as to place the items marketed toward children at their lower height!  Next time you’re in the store notice that the bulk items (which are almost always cheaper per unit), are usually on the very top or very bottom shelf, out of easy eyesight, and tend to have bland packaging.  Beat their marketing game by looking up or down instead of at eye-level.  Alternatively, when you see something at eye-level that you need, look up or down and find the same item, just in the bulk form or generic/store brand.

Stores pair items together so we convince ourselves to buy two items at once.  For example, peanut butter is next to jelly when in reality it makes more sense for the peanut butter to be next to other nuts and jelly to be next to sweets, fruits or pie filling.  Similarly, tomato sauce is placed next to pasta despite being two completely separate products.  To combat this simply stick to your mental list…you likely don’t run out of peanut butter and jelly at the same time, so just buy the thing you need at that moment.

–Stockers place the items closest to expiring in the shelf’s front so the unthinking customer helps the store profit by buying the item most likely to turn into a total loss.  This means the unsuspecting customer is voluntarily giving up shelf life on purchases.  This is especially true to things that go bad quickly, like dairy or meat.  Game the system by reaching way to the back of the row of items in the shelf and look at the expiration date.  You may be surprised how much newer the one in the back is versus the one in the front. 

–Shop from the store’s sale rack as much as possible.  Usually most perishables go there when they start to look bad but in reality still have the same nutritional value as a fresher item given it’s eaten or preserved quickly.  Maybe on that exact day you don’t need the three heads of broccoli that are about to go bad, but at 10% the cost of the original, you surely can eat half a broccoli head that day and preserve the rest in the freezer, electing in the future to add the frozen broccoli to an easy meal made in the rice cooker.

–Ask when your local grocery store puts sales labels on nearly-expired produce, meat, poultry, or fish.  There is usually a routine to this and if you are the first person in line when the items get marked down you can choose from many cuts at a steep discount and still preserve them for months in the freezer. 

Fully capitalize on sales.  When something is marked down 50 cents, most people think “great deal” and buy one, only to buy it again next week at the full price.  What they are missing out on is the number of items they could have bought at a discount considering the expiration date.  For example, if a can of soup is discounted, and you eat a can of this type of soup each week, and the cans last for a year, then buy 52 of those cans!  This means you’ve maximized your savings over the lifetime of the product, not just on the single occasion.  

Predict sales.  Buy frozen turkeys the day after Thanksgiving, frozen hams the day after Easter and Christmas, pumpkins (to eat!) after Halloween, and cases of your favorite seasonal beer two months after the season ends.

Read the fine print.  5 for $5 rarely means you actually need to buy five of the item to get the discount; usually it simply means the items are priced at $1 per.  Maybe you really only need 2 tubes of toothpaste instead of the five, and leverage the same discount while saving yourself the expense of the extra three tubes that will expire before you can use them.

Buy per unit price.  Professional marketers earn a lot of money making their products look bigger and more valuable to customers than they really are.  Don’t look at the packaging, look at the price per unit.  Many grocery stores make it easy by clearly showing on the shelf’s price tag the cost per pound, cost per ounce, cost per gallon, etc.  Compare between brands and sizes.  Usually you’ll get a better price per unit on a 64 ounce ketchup bottle than a 12 ounce ketchup bottle.  You just have to use your judgement to make sure you’ll eat all the ketchup before it expires!

–Most importantly:  be intentional; have a plan.  Get in, use a basket instead of a cart, grab your stuff, and get out quickly!  The more time you spend in the store, the more likely you are to notice and buy something that you don’t actually need.

Did you find this post interesting?  If so, check out our website at  If the subject material of this blog post caught your attention, I recommend reading our post on Fashion vs An Extra Year of Life.

4 thoughts on “Playing the Grocery Store Game: 11 Tips to Save You Money

  1. Great article! I always buy from the sales rack–it’s the first stop I make in the store. A few months ago I bought a ten pound bag of rice for $3 and I’m still eating it. On that purchase I’m pretty sure now each meal is costing just a few pennies.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s